Whartscape's last hurrah

This weekend, Whartscape hits two milestones.

The annual celebration of underground arts and culture marks its fifth year — and it won't be back for a sixth. After half a decade of sweaty lo-fi spaces and experimental bands, videos and art, this will be the last Whartscape, according to co-organizer Dan Deacon.

"We've taken the idea of we want to do with Whartscape and brought it to a pretty good place," Deacon said. "We do it for the love of arranging the festival, and I still love doing it, but I don't want to repeat it. I don't want it to become an institution — something that just happens. I'd like to try something new next year and branch out."

Deacon and the other members of Wham City, the arts collective that produces the festival, are making sure Whartscape goes out on a high note. This year, they expanded Whartscape from three days to four, and lined up about 120 performances at a handful of local venues, including the H&H Building, Current Space and the Charles Theatre.

Among the artists: ambient pop duo Beach House, Washington DIY masthead Ian MacKaye, hardcore trio Double Dagger and down-tempo folk group Small Sur. The events started Thursday and run through Sunday. Deacon expects about 1,000 people to attend each day — about as many as last year.

"I don't think it could get larger in all respects," Deacon said. "I tried to get as many of the acts that I wanted to get for a long time, and I secured most of them."

Originally, Whartscape was Wham City's outlaw answer to Artscape. For the first three years, Whartscape was held the same weekend as the free Mount Vernon festival, mostly because Wham City could get away with it then, Deacon said. The police were focused almost exclusively on Artscape, which meant there was less of a chance they'd shut down Whartscape. All three of those first Whartscapes went off without a hitch, Deacon said.

Looking back on five years' worth of Whartscapes, Deacon says, a few moments stick out in his mind. The second year, Beach House put on an impressive set in an alley behind the Load of Fun gallery in the Station North Arts and Entertainment District, he said. Ditto for the experimental local duo Matmos' show at the Charles Theatre. But Deacon's favorite memory is when a police helicopter flew over Oxes' set in 2008 in a Maryland Institute College of Art parking lot.

"We don't have lights or anything like that," Deacon said. "So when the helicopter flew over and lit up the entire audience, it was a magical moment."

While tickets are still on sale, they're "fairly close" to selling out, Deacon said. Tickets are available in one-day and festival-long passes, called Mega Passes. This year, the high-interest groups are West Coast rapper Lil B and noise-rock duo Lightning Bolt. Deacon will be performing with the Dan Deacon Ensemble, the same group that joined him for Bonnaroo.

"It will be a bunch of dirty musicians headed by a dirty idiot," he said.

This might be the last Whartscape, but it's not Wham City's final festival. Though Deacon is not divulging any specifics, he and the rest of Wham City are toying with the idea of staging an outdoor event, complete with camping.

"We'd want to keep it similar in size to the first Whartscape — start real small and build back up," Deacon said. "We've learned a lot over the past five years. If we're going to start a whole new beast, it would be nice to bring it back down to a cozy level before it gets bulbous."


Whartscape runs through Sunday at several locations. Mega Passes are $50 and day passes are $20. For a full lineup, including showtimes, go to whamcity.com.

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