Down With the Scene
Baltimore Trio Double Dagger Cuts Through Fashionable Pap with a Different Type of Punk
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"The last time I was sledding, I hit this ramp and got turned around and was going down half the hill headfirst and landed on my neck," says Bruce Willen, the bassist for art-punk instigator Double Dagger. "It was pretty fun, but now my neck hurts."
Willen is talking about sledding the hills of Wyman Park in the aftermath of the recent blizzard, but he's also describing what it's like to see Double Dagger perform. While Willen and drummer Brian Dubin churn up a furious, jittery, bottom-heavy assault, vocalist Nolen Strals runs into the crowd, screaming directly into the faces of any bewildered witnesses.
"I want the crowd to get into it and feel like they're a part of it, rather than watching this band at a distance," Strals says. "I'll usually spend half the show down on the floor because I think you make a better connection with the crowd when you're at their level. And plus, it's fun to fuck with people."
Strals' confrontational tactics should be familiar to anyone who remembers League of Death, Strals and Willen's previous band, which broke up early in 2002. "With League of Death, I punched people in the face accidentally, and I think that's taking it a bit far," Strals says. "But with this band, it's not like shoving people around. It's more about bringing the music to them. I'm just trying to make it fun."
"[League of Death] was our idea of metal for people who don't know how to play metal or listen to much of it," Willen says. "And it sort of became a hardcore band." When it disbanded, Strals and Willen enlisted drummer Brian Dubin, a former member of Charm City Suicides and Stars of the Dogon.
"When [Double Dagger] first started, we threw around names like the Ramones and the Liars, bands that we liked," Strals says. "But we ended up not sounding like that at all, which is good because you don't need another band like the Ramones." Instead, the trio developed a punchy, angular punk, eschewing guitar for a stripped-down, rhythmic bass-and-drums sound.
"When people ask us about what we sound like, I say we're a dancey punk band," Strals says. "But at the same time, we don't sound like three-chord punk. The songs are short and loud."
"We always play sloppily," Dubin adds. "I don't think it would be much fun if we were this perfect robotic band."
Both Strals and Willen are graphic designers (who have contributed illustrations to City Paper in the past) and graduates of the Maryland Institute College of Art, and their work is a common subject for the band. "Probably half our songs are about graphic design and how it relates to how people are and societal blah blah blah," Strals says. "[Our newest song] is about how the use of bad fonts like Comic Sans and Tekno is the equivalent of moshing." In fact, the name "Double Dagger" comes from a typographic symbol, and one of its songs is titled "I Don't Know Which I Hate More, You or Quark."
Although all the members of Double Dagger are in their early 20s, they consider themselves to be part of a new wave of younger, more inventive Baltimore bands that embrace the do-it-yourself punk ethos and reject hipster apathy. "There are these bands coming out that you can get excited about," Strals says. "The music they're playing isn't just a mature hipster rock."
"The Economist, Flowers in the Attic, and the Organ Donors are the three bands that I think are going to take over Baltimore," Dubin agrees. "All those bands' [members] are like 18 years old or all a little bit younger. The drummer from Flowers in the Attic is 17."
Double Dagger sees this new wave of bands as the antidote to the sedate hipster posing common in Baltimore's music nightlife. "The majority of the hipsters don't play music and are using the scene as the catalyst for a fashion trend," Dubin says. "There's kids wearing pointed shoes that are dressed to the nines to go to a show."
"A lot of times, people are really bored," Willen says. "They're at a show, and they look like they're hating it."
League of Death played its final show last year at the Ottobar with the New York fashionista buzz band the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, a group that, Strals says, epitomizes everything wrong with the contemporary independent music scene. "[The Yeah Yeah Yeahs] were nice people, but I couldn't stand them," he recalls. "And [singer Karen O's] whole thing like, 'Oh, look at me, I'm so crazy because I'm spilling beer on myself and I have a ripped Versace T-shirt!' Who gives a fuck? That is so forced!"
In its lyrics, Double Dagger attacks the premeditated, theatrical posing that its members see in indie rock right now. "You've bastardized the past and watered down the source/ Your prefab-broken heart is just par for this course," Strals sings on "Attack of the Clones." "There's a difference between trying to be a rock star and just playing rock," he says. "With our shows, I try not to think what's going to happen."
In the coming weeks, Double Dagger showcases its passionate, furious take on punk at a handful of gigs. The band headlines a show at the Charm City Space Feb. 27 and then plays again March 1 at a local underground festival that Strals helped to organize (see the band's Web page, www. posttypography.com/doubledagger/index2.html, for details). Double Dagger also opens for the Prom (says Strals, "some sad indie-rock band") at the Talking Head on March 6.
The group has recorded a six-song demo, some of which can be downloaded on the group's Web page. Ellicott City's Hit Dat Records plans to release a split seven-inch record between Double Dagger and the Economist soon, and Strals also mentions another possible split with Flowers in the Attic to be released by "some guy in Philadelphia."
Double Dagger plans to spend the next several months playing shows around the area and in nearby cities. The band prefers to play small, DIY-style shows, and the members see a growing demand for this vision of punk rock in Baltimore. "In general, there's a lot more kids that are excited about the music and are doing stuff like the DIY Fest and the Charm City Space," Willen says. "People are really dedicated and aren't just in it for the scene."