|Maryland Deathfest X|
Maryland Deathfest X
Break out your illegible black metal t-shirts and your patch-infested denim vests, folks- it’s Maryland Death Fest time again! Now in its Xth installment, MDF 2012 is shaping up to be one of the best lineups yet. I got the chance to speak with Ryan Taylor and Evan Harting, cofounders of the thing, and they gave me the lowdown on the genesis of MDF, and it’s evolution into THE mecca for extreme metallers, both in the states and abroad:
SW: So were you guys big metal purists in high school? How did the concept come about?
Ryan Taylor: Fortunately I started early – so did Evan – with listening to metal, but when I was younger, say, ten or eleven, I had all the Metallica, Megadeth and Black Sabbath – mostly the stuff my Father exposed me to, which got me interested in metal to begin with. Then, at around fourteen, I started getting into the more underground stuff; discovering all the different subgenres of extreme metal which, as we all know, can seem…endless. So Evan and I met in high school, which was at Parkville High, I guess I was probably sixteen and he was fourteen, and over the next three or so years we discovered that we had pretty similar interests in music, which made it pretty easy for us to work together and throw the first festival.
Evan Harting: Yeah, in high school I was (a metal purist) a lot more so than I am now; now I am a lot more open minded, but back then it was strictly death metal, basically. So that’s why for the first year of the fest, it was all brutal death metal, for the most part. That’s pretty much all we both listened to at the time. The concept for MDF came about when we both worked together at this restaurant in Perry Hall, we were pretty active in the scene, we were at shows all the time and we had friends in bands like Dying Fetus and stuff like that, so about two years before we threw the first MDF we went to the last year of the Ohio DeathFest, which inspired us a little bit to start something similar… so when that festival stopped, and then the Milwaukee Metalfest, I don’t know if it stopped or it just became no longer credible – Anyway, there was no longer anything along those lines happening anymore. So initially we just wanted to get some band from the east coast and kind of just have a one day thing. But soon after we announced that, bands from all over the place began writing, and it just sort of blew up, so the first year ended up being three days long, which we never intended.
SW: Did you guys have any experience starting out, or any context you could pull from as far as booking all these bands and coordinating the thing?
RT: No, not really. I was twenty years old, andEvan was eighteen, so I had some experience booking local bands I played in between the ages of fifteen and nineteen, but when you look at that versus booking a multi-day festival, there’s no comparison! No credit limits to tear through if people didn’t show up, so fortunately that first year enough people showed up for us to just barely hit that break even mark. We didn’t make any money, but that’s not what we were after – we just wanted to survive the damn thing and hopefully try it again…which we did. We’ve never had any actual sponsors ever. No one’s ever actually paid us to put their name on something; you know how a lot of these festivals have the “Red Bull Tent” or the “Jagermeister this or that…” Really, word of mouth is the best advertising you can have anyday. Ithink our advertising budget is maybe a hundred dollars a year or something like that.
SW: How does the booking process differ now from what it was for that first show?
EH: It’s very similar; the style of bands we book now is definitely a broader range of genres and we have some bigger names and such, but the whole process is pretty much the same as it was in the beginning. We start booking bands, and once we have a good idea of what bands we’re going to get, and how much it’s going to cost, we can set the ticket prices and just go from there.
SW: Is there ever any friction between you guys about what bands you’re going to book?
EH: Not really, every once in a while there will be a case where Ryan will think that booking a certain band is a good idea and I will disagree, but then they do really well and draw a lot of people - and vice versa…. But there is very little conflict, we usually agree and it is pretty straight-forward and easy.
RT: Nine times out of ten it’s usually us writing the band with an offer just to see if they’re interested, and we are usually on the same page about which bands we’d like to contact.That alone is an amazing thing, to work with someone for ten years and never really have any disagreements about anything, especially the bands you’re booking. With the kind of variety that we book now, we know how to keep it balanced; we want to make it the best of each subgenre, and I think this year we did it the best out of all the previous years as far as the variety in general, and the caliber of bands for each subgenre. That’s what makes people’s eyes pop out when they see the list, and this year I think we hit the nail right on the head.
SW: Yeah, Thursday sold out pretty fast this year…
RT: Yeah, we knew it would sell out fast but we didn’t think it would be in the first week of December! We thought about saying there would be a handful of tickets at the door, but then we figured it would just be a bloodbath because of all the people that wanted them! But, we were pretty explicit about how the tickets for Thursday were selling fast and if you want one you better jump on it. We don’t like seeing people who’ve traveled all the way from Australia sitting in the street because they couldn’t get a ticket, so we tried to spread the news about that.
SW: Do you get many requests from local bands to play the fest?
EH: We used to get a lot more in the past, I think some them think we are assholes because we don’t book more local bands, but I don’t know, it’s not easy- we’ve had several bands from Maryland, you just have to be very selective. There’s a lot of bands in Maryland and some of them are not very good, I’m not saying that’s the case with every band that hasn’t played MDF, it’s just very difficult looking at this huge list of bands and deciding who gets to play and who doesn’t, and not hurt anyone’s feelings.
SW: What about the demographic of the festival heads, how much of the ticket sales are local, versus out of state?
RT: Actually not that much, I’d say ten percent or less, at least for presales. Especially around this time and into May, that’s when I see more of the locals come out of the woodwork and buying a ticket for just one of the days. But when you look at the bigger picture I’d say ninety percent of the ticket sales are out of state or out of the country, between fifteen or twenty different countries, and thirty-five to forty states. The only states I haven’t seen are the Dakotas, Montana and stuff like that, so roughly forty states. It’s pretty incredible to think about where we started and how now people are willing to travel from all over the world just to be there. It’s the “metal meet-up,” in Baltimore, of all places! We get asked that occasionally, “Why Maryland?” and we’re like, “Well, we’re from here so it made sense to look into a club where we live….”
SW: You guys have managed to coordinate some pretty big “gets” with the Autopsy reunion and Bolt Thrower playing their first U.S. show in fourteen or fifteen years, what are the odds you’ll get VargVikernes to play his first ever live Burzum show?
RT: Oh yeah, I don’t know about that, especially now- I don’t think Varg would really want to bein public and get things thrown at him – We’d be a little concerned for his safety if he got up on stage, so I don’t think that would happen but uh… you never know. Darkthrone is another band that continuously turns down large offers, but that is one of those things where you never say no… I think NocturnoCulto would play but I’ve heard that Fenriz has received very substantial offers and he still says no. But that’s one of those things where he may change his mind, so you never know….
SW: What bands are you guys super excited to see play this year at the fest?
EH: A lot, actually- Electric Wizard for one, Church Of Misery, Bethlehem, Napalm Death is always great; they’re definitely one of my favorite live bands, most of the black metal bands that are coming like Horna, Setherial and Tsjuder. Of course, most of the bands I’m pretty stoked about seeing, so hopefully I’ll get to see them, but I know I won’t be able to see all of them.
RT: I’m into everything but the past couple years I’ve been into the stoner doom stuff, so Electric Wizard, Church of Misery, pretty much all of the doom stuff on Sunday, especially Electric Wizard. I’ve seen them before in Europe but they haven’t played in the U.S. in about ten years, so just to see them play in Maryland will be pretty cool. Godflesh I’m looking forward to, I’ve never seen them and it’ll be their first U.S. show in fifteen or sixteen years.
SW: How many more years are you guys expecting to do this thing?
RT: I don’t see any reason to stop, it’s kind of been a year to year thing, and I’ve been saying that for ten years now, so ten years from now we could still be talking about how I don’t know! You know, we sort of figured that at some point, we’re going to hit a ceiling, before it reaches a point that you have to “sell out” in order to keep it going as big as it is, or to make it even bigger – but we’re pretty comfortable with how it is now, it’s not like we want to bring in thousands more people. We don’t want to bring in those numbers by booking bands that… there are some bands that people could accuse us of being “sell outs” for and that kind of crap so, as long as people are interested in what we’re booking and we have that reputation where people don’t have to be concerned about whether or not the bands are actually going to show up, I don’t see it ending anytime soon…
Maryland DeathFest X will be at Sonar Thursday thru Sunday, May 24-27 get tix at www.marylanddeathfest.com