Weird Like Us
Local Label MT6 Records Wants Experimental Music Just To Be A Good Time
Alex Strama is not your typical record executive. Nor is he your typical egghead experimental musician. Bearded and in shorts, gracious to a fault, with a booming voice that bounces around the City Paper offices, Strama seems like a guy who’d rather be at a barbecue with a beer in his hand than hunched over a spread of electro-acoustic devices.
“Every time we play [the True Vine], at the end of the night, they’re always like, ‘You guys are fucking crazy,’” he says. “Because there’s always like five cases [of beer], we party, yell, laugh. But every other show I’ve been to there . . . ”
Strama’s label, MT6 Records, has been steadily pumping out releases for a few years now—27 so far, with nine more planned, and many of those bands are playing the label’s fest this weekend. Though a few have leaked out in plastic jewel cases with “properly” printed booklets, the bulk come in plastic baggies or photocopied sleeves, little handmade CD-Rtifacts from the bubbling network of untaggable mutants lurking in Baltimore.
The packaging isn’t necessarily an aesthetic strategy. “It’s definitely to keep the cost down,” Strama says. “I mean, there’s no budget. I’m starting to get a few sales online. I mean a few. There’s a lot of stuff I’m releasing right now that probably doesn’t have a chance of ‘blowing up.’ So you just do a hundred copies, you do the packaging cheap, but it’s documented.”
The packaging fits MT6’s sound, which ranges from the squalling no-wave of the New Flesh to the “acid hip-hop” and wanking metal of Cavemen!! to Zind’s creaking electronic beats. Is there an MT6 sound? “It’s definitely got an identity now,” Strama says. “I think people think Baltimore.” Maybe it’s just, as one description goes on the MT6 web site, “punk rock for the open-minded.”
Strama got his start listening to “straight-ahead rock.” His initiation into the world of experimental music occurred in 2001, at the Red Room at Normals Books and Records. “They opened me up to a whole different world, a different way of playing music,” he says. “So there was that, and then electronic music, like real weird electronic music, and ambient.”
MT6 was formed in 1998, as a vehicle for Strama’s own bands at first. It’s still home to his solo Newagehillbilly project, “something I can pretty much do whatever I want to with.” He’s also a member of the Wire Orchestra, “which will hopefully be around forever because it’s an improv band. No boundaries. I don’t even know what I’m going to bring with me until that night—guitar, drums, sampler.”
If improvisation or experimental music has a reputation for being dry, Strama wants to erase that idea for good. “Man, I can’t tell you how many shows I’ve been at, whether I’m playing or watching, where me and my friends are the loudest people there, just partying, trying to have a good time,” he says. “Even if it’s a real low-key show. And we get looks all the time.”
And after a hard day’s work, it’s no wonder he wants to unwind. All the money for the label comes out of Strama’s pocket. “I work with my father in the mornings,” he says. “He’s a retired Baltimore City schoolteacher. We take out oil tanks, heating oil tanks. So it’s like backbreaking shit. I also work with my mother-in-law—she owns a packing company—so it’s all in the family.”
Strama’s wife, Amanda, also helps out with the label, both creatively and financially. She is releasing a solo album on the label next year under the name Mother Orchid. They both live in Strama’s grandmother’s house in Parkville, which they recently bought and where he’s got a digital workstation studio set up. “I’ve got a band coming into [the studio] called Blakk Sweat,” he says. “Just come in for a day and record, get a few cases of beer.”
For Strama, keeping everything under one roof is one of the chief virtues of being a small label. “By the time I get home, I’m just tired as shit,” he says. “I admire people that tour. I would love to, but I’m pretty domesticated. With the label, I can just sit on the couch with my dog in the comfort of my own home.