Baltimore’s hardcore and punk scene is thriving. In the past couple of years, I’ve seen more sold-out shows, more local bands going on tour, and more cross-collaboration between bands. The first hardcore and punk shows I attended were at the Ridglea Theater in Fort Worth, Texas, decades ago. I remember vividly being one of a handful of black folks in attendance. I cannot remember seeing a hardcore band led by a Black singer until I moved to Baltimore. The experience of seeing bands like Zulu, Soul Glo, and End It since moving here seven years ago has been remarkable. At the same time, I’ve seen news of John Tyler steadily producing his Love Groove festival and his own blend of R&B, jazz, and pop music.
In this occasional section, Baltimore Beat will check in with movers and shakers in Baltimore’s music scene.
Che Figueroa and Ricky Singh co-founded Flatspot Records in 2004. This hardcore label represents a growing number of bands, some of which are racially diverse and femme-led. The label has become a staple in the world of hardcore and heavy music in Baltimore and beyond and is home to bands like Trapped Under Ice, Jivebomb, and End It, as well as new POC and femme-led groups like Zulu, Buggin’, and Scowl.
Flatspot Records is a vehicle for the elevation of hardcore music and a place where Black hardcore and metal artists can find a home. In 2022 the record label held its first festival showcase, Disturbin’ The Peace, and in 2023, the festival sold out Baltimore Soundstage in hours.
“I knew it was gonna sell out eventually. I thought it would have taken like a month because the Soundstage is a thousand people. When it sold out that quick, I was like, ‘I think we got something special,’” Che Figueroa told Baltimore Beat.
Figueroa created his festival after noticing national festivals were overlooking the talent that he believed in. He started Flatspot Records in 2004 for similar reasons.
“When I was a kid, I’d be cool with these bands, and nobody would be putting them out, so I was like, ‘you know what? Fuck it, Imma do it myself.’”
Figueroa said he wanted the festival’s name to be an homage to a single by Baltimore hardcore band.
“This city is kind of special. There was a band that came out in the late 80s called Gut Instinct. They actually had two black dudes in the band, they’re phenomenal, iconic, and that was kind of the initial band that was playing this kind of music in the city.”
Figueroa’s family is originally from San Juan, Puerto Rico. He grew up attending hardcore shows in Baltimore and in DC. I asked Figueroa his opinion on how the scene has changed and if this moment feels particularly special.
“I began going to shows when I was 16 in 2001,” he said. “This is the moment, as long as I’ve been doing this, this is as big as I’ve seen it.”
Figueroa offered some advice for people interested in the spirit of this work and supporting the Flatspot roster.
“If you like a band on Flatspot, pick up the LP, and the hoodie on our website. Go to shows. Any show that we post is because we booked it, so you know it’s gonna be quality.”
He also encourages folks to start their own projects.
“It’s all about the community. Get involved, begin booking a show, make a band, put out a zine, make a podcast, do anything, get in touch with me, and I’ll help you in any way I can.”
For anyone getting caught up in the wave of momentum that’s happening now, Che Figueroa made sure to suggest taking a moment at those who have been doing the work in the past.
“Look into the old bands. Get into bands like Gut Instinct. That’s the foundational band that set this whole shit off in Baltimore City. Get into bands like Stout. Stout changed the sound of the whole city. They came out in the mid-90s. This is a special city. Special things and special people come out of this city. It’s a beautiful thing.”
Zulu’s sound is a representation of rock’s roots, which are inherently and inextricably Black. Anaiah Lei, the lead singer, started the group in 2019. Lei is joined by Dez Yuzuf on guitar, Braxton Marcellous on guitar, Satchel Brown on bass, and Christine Cadette on drums. Zulu’s first full-length EP, “A New Tomorrow,” is to be released on Flatspot Records on March 3, 2023, following the releases of “Our Day Will Come” (2019) and “My People..Hold On” (2020).
Zulu played at Disturbin’ The Peace in late January, and their set was radical, righteous, and fun. They began the show with a crescendo of furious beauty, and after getting the crowd to move, lead singer Lei paused to say “thank you” to and shout out the Black folks who had gathered in the venue.
“A big part of doing this project is that we deserve [it]. We have a right in this genre, in this space. Being the founders, the originators of all things music. We deserve to feel comfortable in the space that we helped cultivate,” Lei told me. “I know what it feels like. We all know what it feels like to not feel comfortable in a space we come to, that we all seek refuge in.”
Zulu enforces this true sense of taking up rightful dedicated space on the first single for their upcoming EP. “Where I’m From” opens with the lyrics, “you wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for us…We’ve been here, we ain’t going nowhere.” “The song is for anyone that’s taken claim to this music. They have that sense of entitlement. It’s because of us. You literally wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the influence of American jazz. And jazz in itself is an American genre started by Black people,”
“It’s not just about talking about the struggle, but also without it being in an ostentatious way,” Lei said. “We’re amazing. What we do as a people is amazing. And you can’t take that.”
Disturbin’ The Peace was headlined by End It. The group’s sound is chock full of ferocity and swagger. Akil Godsey’s raspy deliverance of “You know where I be at /so bring it to me whore” is peak Baltimore bravado on their latest single, “Familia Finito.”
End It consists of lead singer Akil Godsey, Chris Gonzalez on drums, Johnny McMillion on guitar, Pat Martin on bass, and Ray Lee on guitar.
Lead singer Akil Godsey says he wrote the End It’s first single, “Give Up,” the first day the group met and practiced together in 2017. Godsey, who also works as a bouncer at Ottobar, has noticed a shift away from being the predominantly white scene it once was. He also said he’s seen this scene expand to include people who don’t have roots in this city.
“In terms of this hardcore thing in Baltimore, it’s special. Baltimore is becoming a transplant city [now]. But before, you either was from here, or that’s it.”
Now based on End It’s years of performing, the traction they’ve gained touring and online, and the years of hard work with an assist from Flatspot, the group has a more expansive audience than ever before.
DIY culture reflects Black culture’s habit of making something out of nothing. When resources are scarce, creatives of color manufacture brilliance in the wake of seemingly insurmountable odds. Like Che Figueroa, John Tyler saw an opportunity to make space for Baltimore artists he believed in.
Tyler is an artist, producer, and curator. His Love Groove Festival will take place this summer, an outdoor affair that will showcase Baltimore’s creativity and talent. He started the festival in 2017 and has put on six so far. The goal is to offer up-and-coming artists not just a stage but the skills to support a career in music through educational workshops and networking opportunities. This edition will be an all-day outdoor festival, and he is looking for various kinds of artists, vendors, volunteers, and sponsors to be involved.
Tyler’s most recent project, “Free Spirit,” was created during a time of emotional stress and turmoil. He says he produced and recorded the project in one day. A few days later, he created a second project, “Music To Free Your Spirit,” which he refers to as “an instrumental project made for relaxation, meditation, contemplation, and reflection.” Tyler documented the entire process of this rest, reconciliation, recalibration, and creation and turned it into a three-part documentary.
His second album, “Men Do Cry,” is set to be released in early spring 2023. Tyler said he began working on it after a breakup, realizing he could not cry or express himself adequately.
Tyler told me the work “unpacks romantic and parental relationships.” He said he used the project to address the trauma of life, including gun violence, death, and alcoholism.