By Laina Dawes
Call me cheesy, but Maryland Deathfest (MDF) is a magical place. The three-day event (not including an evening pre-festival show) not only boasts a plethora of some of the best extreme metal, punk and hardcore bands in the world, but also a relaxed atmosphere to chill with like-minded folks. For those in straight-laced day jobs, MDF serves as not only one of the only times in the year where metal fans from across the globe can congregate and share their passions during a jam-packed long weekend of good music, cheap booze and great weather.
For filmmakers Dave Hall and Dave Cardoso, 2009’s MDF not only served as the subject matter for their recently released documentary, Maryland Deathfest The Movie, but an event that not only matched their musical preferences, but also their perspectives on the art they wanted to create. Even after they packed up their gear, soaked their blistered feet and recovered from hangovers and other drug-induced maladies last year, Baltimore continued to serve as an inspiration to the ethos of their company, Handshake Inc. The festival, just like Handshake’s previous films (the Today is The Day-inspired Axis to Eden and Disgorge, Mexico which was created for the Fuck the Facts album of the same name) the festival and the city where MDF has been held for the past eight years, is raw, gritty and uncompromising, representing the truth as objectively as possible, providing real art and truth (anyone see The Wire?) in a world in which complacency and avoidance is not just preferred, but enforced.
Within hours of arriving in Baltimore, the crew was up and running, as the pre-festival show needed to be filmed. Last year there was no physical space for the Handshake crew and the camera crew spent their days running from show to show, simply trying to capture footage. This year a tent was erected to sell the MDF DVDs posters and later some merch from Jucifer and Sigh’s Dr. Mikannibal, who flew in from Florida just to party at MDF (Handshake has previously produced videos for both bands). A picnic table served as an editing booth, as the camera crew brought their Macs, external hard drives and several camera battery chargers. Cardoso managed the crew, distributing set schedules and DLSR cameras for each day, ensuring that there were at least 2 to 3 cameras at each of the show they had received permission to film.
As for the content itself, I asked Hall, who prefers the Cinema Verite approach to filmmaking, if he and Cardoso had given the crew specific instructions as to what images they were to capture, he said that he preferred not to. “I just decided to let them film the images that invoked something in them, to focus on what they felt was important to convey to the viewing audience about the performance, he said. “I trust these guys and know that they will come up with something great. How you make a film is just as important as what the film is about…and the way we make movies is to keep it real.”
From what I saw, his idea worked. Cardoso was front and center at many of the shows, filming on a Canon 5D Mark II. I watched him as he slowly followed the movements of the artists onstage with his camera. He, just like Hall was very familiar with the bands, knew their mannerisms and what was important to capture. For the camera crew who were not as familiar, they seemed to have an innate sense of capturing what was unique about the mannerisms and performance and what was a cliché, trying to find the original aspects instead of pumping out a stereotypical video shot.
Being nosy, I sat beside Cardoso as he played back his footage and was impressed by not only the images but how well they conveyed the raw emotion of the music. While Mel from Fuck the Facts is a petite, unassuming woman, the images of her on video show a raw aggressiveness that only seemed to appear in that extremely hot and dark environment. Seeing her later at the tent, wearing a demure black dress, one would never think that she was even in a band. With Amber and Ed from Jucifer, Cardoso captured the density of their music, matching the smoky blue and red haze of the stage lights and dry ice with the raw sexuality of the duo. Setting up a tiny, waterproof camera in front of Ed’s drum kit, the results were staggering, as they gave the viewer an honest depiction of Ed’s remarkable intensity.
Despite the challenges that Hall and Cardoso faced during the filming and the post-production stages of Maryland Deathfest The Movie, such as damaged audio files, difficult PR reps and arduous administrative tasks,there was no hesitation in coming back to film a sequel. The current film has not been without criticism, but by watching the faces of the fans who stopped by the Handshake Inc. tent to purchase the DVD and / or catch a few minutes of the film, (it was aired on an outside projector for the duration of the festival), many were impressed, as the DVD is the first of its kind within the extreme metal scene.
One of the criticisms comes from online commenters not understanding the realities of the music industry. Some wondered why the DVD hadn’t come out sooner (Hall and Cardoso had 80 hours of footage to wade though and gathering permissions from all of the featured artists was arduous). A couple of people I talked to at MDF were disappointed when they realized that Mayhem wasn’t on the DVD and wanted to know why. “Simple. They didn’t want to be,” recalls Hall, noting that some of the bands, both with established labels and independent bands – some who choose to remain independent and relatively underground because of their distain for the industry, and / or for creative control – were skeptical of their motives. In addition, last year was their first year Hall and Cardoso attended the festival. Despite being friendly with a number of artists prior to the festival through previous projects, they were relatively unknown in the MDF inner sanctum.
Hall adds that one of the most unnerving aspects about creating films and music videos (Today is the Day, Hail of Bullets, etc.) within metal culture is that the fans are extremely critical and sometimes the criticism (“which is to be expected”) veers into a very negative side. “Negative comments just push us forward make us work harder, but while we value the feedback on our work, we have a vision that is uncompromising.”
Within the past year, not only did they develop a deeper relationship with MDF founders Ryan Taylor and Evan Harding, both, recalls Hall, “took a chance on us last year,” through word-of-mouth, bands felt more comfortable that Hall and Cardoso would respect their work and climbed onboard for the sequel.
While the majority of artists that Hall and Cardoso approached agreed to have their sets filmed and those who made the final cut eventually gave their permission to be included in the film, some simply did not. Both Hall and Cardoso took the refusals in stride, noting that while they will always have enough footage, it is ultimately the fans, especially those who cannot get to Baltimore and are relying on the films to see their favourite acts live, are the ones that are losing out.
For the filming of the sequel, permissions to do the initial filming ran a lot smoother but in show business, things will always happen at the last minute. After reading an article on the legendary band Pentagram, Hall reached out and the band agreed to the filming and an exclusive interview with their notorious singer, Bobby Leibling just two weeks before the festival. Despite trying to contact the band previous to landing in Baltimore, it was a chance meeting with Eyehategod’s drummer Joey LaCaze (who had ventured by the Handshake tent to view the screening), that led to a group interview and permission to film their set the next day. One of the most cool instances I observed was when watching Joe Mack’s (frontman for Pittsburgh’s Complete Failure) reaction when asked to interview the band. Bubbling over in excitement, I watched as he gathered his thoughts (knowing that rabid fandom wasn’t going to cut it with the controversial band), jotted some notes and while extremely nervous to talk to his heroes, nailed the interview.
I saw how lucky Hall and Cardoso were: they have enough friends who are knowledgeable and passionate about the music that important interviews, like with Liebling, were conducted by people that in some cases were not journalists but were well-versed in the artist’s history and passionate about their music. Pumping up their 2009 crew from 10 to 15, well-known artists in the scene, such as Agoraphobic Nosebleed / Enemy Soil / Drugs of Faith’s Richard Johnson (who was a producer on the first film) conducted interviews and New York- based photographer Justina Villanueva, Joe Mack, Daiquiri frontman MikeH and Wetnurse’s Curran Reynolds volunteered their time and services. Looking at the footage, you could see how the dynamics worked. While temporary in nature, the relationship between the interviewee and interviewer that developed through these brief interactions looked amazing.
The drive from Baltimore to Toronto via a quick stop in Pittsburgh in the rain would have been extremely painful if it wasn’t for the opportunity to listen the audio files. Working closely with a sound engineer and downloading files into the wee hours of Monday morning, the audio was mind-blowing. Eyehategod’s (who played on one of the outside stages that was plagued with sound issues through out the event) set sounded even better that the actual performance.
On the way home, Hall and Cardoso revealed plans to film the Amphetamine Reptile 25th anniversary show (Melvins and Today is the Day will be headlining) in Minneapolis this August. They will also be completing the editing for the Brutal Truth documentary they filmed at the Manitoba Metal Fest this spring and working on a video for Drugs of Faith.
I really have to thank the Handshake Inc. guys for inviting me to join them on this trip, putting up with my stupid questions, lighter stealing and my snoring (yeah, I’m a real catch). Thanks guys.
To purchase Maryland Deathfest: The Movie, please head over to the Handshake Inc. website.