11 years and who knows how many six-packs later, MT6, Baltimore's most underappreciated record label, marches on
Ask Alex Strama where MT6 Records--the local label he and wife Amanda have operated for 11 years--fits into Baltimore music, and you might be surprised by his answer.
"Nowhere, I guess," Strama muses in a late October e-mail interview. "The other labels only rep Baltimore because they have better PR skills. The music released on this label could go up against anything being put out today. Not in a competitive way, but I believe it's quality Baltimore music and art."
If there's anything that MT6 recording artists can agree on, it's this: Strama is a National Bohemian man. He draws a correlation between his favorite beer and the artists whose albums he releases. "Natty Boh appeals to me the same way the bands on the label do," he says. "They are local and are quality. It is a great smooth beer at a great cost."
So are MT6 products. Albums are generally priced around $6. Admittance to this weekend's MT6 Fest--featuring Strama in anything-goes Newagehillbilly mode, free-jazz terrorists Female Topics, NYC thrashers White Suns, and most of the current MT6 roster--will run you only $5.
MT6 can't claim to have intoxicated as many comers as the Baltimore-originated brew, but Strama's been no slouch in terms of releases; the label has issued somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 limited-edition CDs, CDRs, DVDs, 7-inches, 12-inches, and cassettes, many of them uniquely hair-raising, lo-fi collaborations between various MT6 artists.
This august coterie includes the likes of circuit-tweaking scree fiend Whistletips, the space-rock escapades of Cosmic Sonic Tag Team, the electronic noise of Needle Gun, bucket o' downers duo Rosemary Krust, the catch-all crunch and twitter of Abiku, and Bad Liquor Pond's stoned, triumphant epiphanies--not to mention MT6 alumni such as Human Host, which now records for Semaphore Records.
Human Host frontman Mike Apichella credits Strama with seeing the band's potential early on. "I remember him being a really cool guy into a lot of different types of music," Apichella says in an e-mail. "And myself and my band mates also liked all kinds of music, so when he asked if we'd be interested in playing some more of his shows we said 'Yeah.' He booked all kinds of bands, so playing at one of his shows meant we wouldn't be trapped in some kind of genre box or whatever, which unfortunately is what most promoters were trying to do to pretty much every act playing around Baltimore in the pre-Wham City days.
"When Alex came into the picture, Human Host was kinda still finding its voice, so we really appreciated the fact that he was psyched about booking us even though we had yet to develop a recognizable, obviously good sound," Apichella continues. "Alex and Amanda are just really nice people who love weird music, and that love really comes [through] in how they run their label."
Decapitated Hed's Timothy Wisniewski recalls MT6's rowdy early live shows. "What sticks in my mind about my first encounters with Alex is just how rowdy Alex and those MT6 guys were on their own turf," he says in an e-mail. "They had a regular thing at the Mojo Room called the 'development series,' which was basically a private MT6 party disguised as a show. The music made at those events was quite interesting, but the level of partying was reminiscent of Hollywood's most outlandish depictions of college life, set within the claustrophobic setting of a dive bar in Northeast Baltimore with a PA."
At a time when the hallowed, nationally tracked DIY infrastructure this city now has was nowhere near as calcified, the label was scraping together its own community. Despite the roster's diversity, correlations abound: a shaggy non-conformity, a tendency to embrace distortion and humor, the sense that limits are little more than illusions. Thus, records as stylistically disparate as The Sounds of Megaphone Unlimited--a dynamite, discordant odds-and-sods album by Half Japanese's Jason Willett and his related bands--exist comfortably within the same tent as the Agrarians' daft folk and Herschel Hoover's witheringly dry, dynamic rock action.
"The collegiality is nice, and Alex basically gives you carte blanche with new releases, which means a lot for hyper-prolific artists," Wisniewski says. "I think one year Alex put out maybe four or five full-length Agrarians releases. I can't imagine anyone else doing that."
Dave Gibson, frontman for Bad Liquor Pond and Dr. Tuborg, salutes MT6's collaborative aesthetic, calling it "a cool collection of open-minded artists--people that are into strange music, that like recording in their houses and making it happen." And while his one-phrase summation of the MT6 sound--"mindfuck"--is succinct, Patrick Grant (Pat Grant and the Blown Fuses) does him one better, terming it "experimental punk for modern times." Apichella prefers "a cross between experimental music and Animal House."
Meanwhile, Strama's own description is telling, and says a great deal about the man and his enterprise: "Do unto others as you would have them do to you."