"I have absolutely no idea when I'm going to play a show again," says Mike Apichella.
That's a strong statement coming from a 38-year-old artist, writer, and musician who has made music and played shows since he was a Baltimore County teen in the 1990s. Since 2002 Apichella-best known to a segment of East Coast hardcore as the vocalist/de facto leader of the Charm City Suicides from 1997 to 2002-has appeared onstage as Human Host, the amorphous, genre-defying exploration of multimedia music performance.
Last year Apichella completed a five-year movie project inspired by his experience in Human Host. Titled The Human Host Movie, it's an episodic, low-budget plunge into the sort of musical freakouts the band orchestrates onstage and records. Imagine Holy Mountain crossing streams with Don't Look Back on the sort of budget that produced the Butthole Surfers' VHS home movie-qua-concert film in 1985. It makes its local debut this week.
Like a Human Host show, parts of it don't make any sense, parts of it are inexplicably weird, and parts of it produce strong emotions for reasons you can't really explain. Human Host has been Apichella solo. Human Host has been a large ensemble making a racket while delivering something akin to a Living Theater spectacle. Most tellingly, Human Host was Apichella's way to reconnect with the creative energy he felt when he first started making music as a teenager in the '90s. "Human Host was a way for me to get back to my roots," he says.
Thoughts of that time flooded Apichella's mind in 2008 during a two-month U.S. tour. Apichella was touring solo, driving 11- to 14-hour stretches through Idaho, Nevada, Utah, and Wyoming alone. These are highways that are dotted with water troughs in case of overheating cars and lined with the occasional military base that doesn't welcome visitors. "I had a lot of time to think," Apichella says. "And the main thing I thought about was, Why was I out here by myself doing this? Didn't we once talk about doing stuff like this when we were 18? Where did everybody else go? Why aren't they doing this? Why am I?"
It wasn't an existential crisis as much as a reconnection with the impulses that originally inspired him to create. And what immediately came to mind was the creative explosions put out by his peers in the Baltimore suburbs of Towson and Glen Arm in the 1990s. "Other than Sun Ra, there's not too much other music I look to for inspiration," Apichella says. "So I thought I should try to figure out why it happened and I should try to figure out why I love it so much."
When he returned from tour, he started rooting through his own materials from the time, pulling out old cassettes, fliers, zines, etc., and, yes, he recognizes there's more than a little nostalgia powering the effort. He was there. It mattered to him.
So he started contacting other people who were there. Some people are still in the area, some scattered far and yon. This was a community that included future author Claire Mysko, future artist Tricia Lane-Forster, future poet Alicia Rabins, future graphic designer Lisa Starace, future writer Violet LeVoit (a CP contributor), and musicians Cory Davolos, Scott Gilmore, Rjyan Kidwell, and brothers Chris and Walker Teret. He reconnected with some of them, remembering bands like the Lesbian Chicken Maggot Blasters, the solo project of Eli Jones, who passed away at 23 in 2000, and the many musical projects of Dave Willemain, who took his own life at 19 in 1997.
Apichella produced an impressive slice of underdocumented local music history. Last summer he launched the Towson-Glen Arm Freakout blog (towsonglenarmfreakouts.wordpress.com), and this year he digitally released one compilation of bands, Towson-Glen Arm Freakouts 1992-1999, with a second comp due in early 2014. Both are impressive not just for the music dug up and stories recounted but as examples of the embryonic culture these young people kindled, a response to what they were being fed.
The past decade has witnessed any number of "scene" chronicles, from the documentary You Weren't There: A History of Chicago Punk, 1977-1984 to the book Why Be Something That You're Not: Detroit Hardcore 1979-1985, from any number of explorations of New York's no wave art/music activity, and to punk scenes around the country. En masse, these tell the story of American do-it-yourself culture, but it's worth remembering that each tells of a very specific DIY culture.
To Apichella, the Towson-Glen Arm project "reveals that there was a lot of other things going on in the '90s besides flannel shirts and Sassy magazine and Marshall stacks," he says. "People did like punk and emo and stuff from that time, but the cultures surrounding that music and the more established DIY culture as chronicled in Our Band Could Be Your Life were not things that people in Towson-Glen Arm had a lot of respect for. It had nothing to do with the quality of the music. I just think the Towson-Glen Arm culture was a reaction against the culture of the alternative nation and indie rock and crust punk and Maximum Rocknroll and all that."
That's why, for Apichella, the music this group of young people created flirted with experiments with ska and dub and improvisation as much as rock and punk, why the art and poetry and writing was exuberantly experimental, and why a political consciousness ran through all of it in some way. The Situationists were big for a number of these young people, even though Apichella didn't wrap his head around that until later. "At that time I actually didn't know who Guy Debord or Raoul Vaneigem was," Apichella says. "But now I see that's definitely a parallel. And how did people find out about that? We were 14-year-old kids struggling to get Mudhoney 7-inches. Why is some 13-year-old kid introducing me to the theory of the dérive? Why did it fit so well in [with] what we were doing?"
It's a good question: What are the politics of boredom? In Lipstick Traces, Greil Marcus sketches the history of punk through a common voice of disenfranchisement, recognizing that nihilism, a tag thrown at punk since 1976, is solipsistic, but that negation is "always political: it assumes the existence of other people, calls them into being." Apichella hasn't quite formed a comprehensive theory of why what happened in the Baltimore suburbs in the 1990s happened, but he has his suspicions.
And he believes it's something even people who weren't there might understand. "I think people who enjoy outsider music will be able to find something good" in the Towson-Glen Arm comps, Apichella says. "Every period of history has somebody that deviates from the norm and not for random reasons. People create their own world because what they've been offered in the prefab pop culture isn't satisfying them or enlightening them or making their lives better. There's a lot more to the '90s than what's in a Wikipedia entry."
The Human Host movie screens July 26 at the Current gallery with shorts from Ann Everton, Nicky Smith, and the Sike Trike collective. For more information about the Towson-Glen Arm Freakouts 1992-1999 compilation, visit nunsliketofence.bandcamp.com.