College Rock?: A gap exists between colleges and the local music scene, even when students are the ones making music

Baltimore colleges and their student bodies seem to lack interest in their student artists

Artist and musician Sunatirene, a MICA student who makes "electronic, acoustic, storytelling music," has been going to local music shows since she was in high school. She has lived in artist spaces like the Penthouse Gallery and the H&H Building, and often performs in Baltimore galleries, DIY spaces, and bars. But Sunatirene feels that she's among a small group of MICA students in this regard.

"I've noticed that a lot of MICA kids don't go to shows anymore, even in my year, and definitely in the younger years," says Sunatirene, a Baltimore native. "I just don't see as many kids out at music shows anymore."

She feels that while MICA students have made significant contributions to Baltimore's music community, it isn't actually "coming from the school" anymore. While some MICA graduates and students still hold shows in spaces like the Copycat Building or the Penthouse building, their numbers are dwindling.

In a city where college musicians are finding success in the music scene, Baltimore colleges and their student bodies seem to lack interest in their student artists and the local music scene as a whole, often driving these musicians off campus for opportunities.

"It's funny because when I was in high school, I was going to shows and I thought going to MICA would mean being a part of that community. And when I started actually going to school here, people had gotten older, it's not really the same anymore, and people that I looked up to at MICA have graduated," she says.

She believes that the rise in tuition in recent years at MICA has attracted, naturally, students from wealthier backgrounds who just aren't used to going to some of the neighborhoods where a lot of the venues are. She says she remembers seeing a lot of MICA students in the audience at places like Floristree when she was a teenager; this is no longer the case.

Emily Wagner, a recent Johns Hopkins graduate and member of indie pop band Prettyboy Tapwater, believes that, similar to MICA, very few people from Johns Hopkins go to Baltimore music shows. Wagner, who performs with her bandmates and Peabody graduates Robby Neubauer and Niall Casey, remembers contacting someone to play at Hopkins' Music on the Beach, but received little to no interest from the event coordinators.

"The people they get don't play at Baltimore," says Wagner. "I don't think whoever does the booking for [Hopkins'] Spring Fair goes to Baltimore shows, ever. If they did, they'd probably book Baltimore bands."

She's probably not wrong. Only eight of the 23 acts for this year's Spring Fair were from Maryland, let alone Baltimore.

Baltimore club music producer DJ Dizzy has faced a different kind of challenge at his college, the University of Maryland Eastern Shore.

During his freshman year, the university decided to stop sponsoring the annual spring party The Pandemic because "it got crazy" the previous year. Dizzy, who returned to school as a sophomore this year, says it hurts that the university's new management has been trying to shut down its events, perhaps in hopes of changing the school's reputation as a "big party school."

However, Dizzy isn't complaining. Even while larger school-sponsored events have started to disappear, the opportunity to play smaller events organized by campus and local community groups have been plentiful.

"There's been times when I DJed every day for weeks," Dizzy says. "I would go to class, change my clothes, get something to eat, and go DJ."

Some of the organizations that he works with, like the Men of Distinction, have given him lists of 15 to 20 events he can play at, and told him to simply name his price. Along with this success on campus, his reputation in Baltimore, where he plays in private gigs, hookah lounges and clubs like The Paradox, is growing just as quickly.

"People like me because I'm young," he says. "Most top DJs are 26, 27. You don't see any top DJs that are 18, 19 years old."

When he came into the school last year, four or five local DJs had just graduated, which has been a sort of blessing for him, Dizzy says. As a member of the Dream Team DJ's, who have taken over UMES over the last decade, Dizzy says he faces little competition from other student DJs. Unfortunately, not everyone is as lucky as Dizzy.

Hear No Evil (HNE) Music, a hip-hop label from Towson University, won the school's annual Bring the Noise contest this past February, securing it a gig at Tigerfest, Towson's annual end-of-the-year festival. But the group, which is made up of rappers Eman the Heartbreak, Mike Bell, and rapper and producer Brecreation, feel that they have had more negative than positive experiences performing and rapping at Towson.

"When you're doing a show off campus, you get treated like an artist, but when you're doing a show on campus, you get treated like a student," Bell says. "People don't take you as seriously at school shows as much as they would if you do a show outside of school because they think everything's a talent show."

It explains why, while HNE has done some shows in Towson, they've been glad to expand out and perform in cities like Baltimore, Brooklyn, and Detroit. Brecreation says, "We still want to give shows on campus, but we're looking to expand to the rest of Baltimore and the DMV. We're trying to expand from Towson artists to Baltimore artists." •

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