A Collective effort: Five musicians combine to energize the local music scene | Arts & Culture
Story by Jack Ellenberger
It’s a hot night in Uptown Cincinnati, and inside dark rooms decorated with strands of lights and webs of yarn strewn over chandeliers, 40 or so people gather to hear peers, local artists and traveling performers play at the Marburg Collective’s Open Mind Night. A performer takes the stage, and strange, beautiful music wafts out through the audience and onto Ludlow Avenue.
It is a night that has been replicated dozens of times over the last three years. Now expanding to a new abode, bigger shows, art openings, even documentaries, the Marburg Collective always brings something to the local artistic scene, something unlike anything seen before.
An example is the Marburg Collective’s ongoing series of new music compilations, the Friends with Friends albums, which saw the release of the fourth album in May. Entitled Underwater, it showcases one of the Marburg’s newest bands, Gorges.
The Marburg Collective began four years ago, when a group of local musicians and artists moved into the Marburg Hotel, a 19th century hotel on Ludlow Avenue in Clifton that had been renovated into apartments. They had all serendipitously found their apartments on Craigslist. Adam Petersen and Ben Sloan, two native Cincinnatians and students at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music (CCM), moved into a ground-floor apartment. Peterson studied classical piano, while Sloan studied jazz percussion. Moving in above them were Steve Patota, originally from Philadelphia, Eddie Kwon, a Minnesotan, and Peter Gemus of Cincinnati. The three were also students at CCM, and studied jazz guitar, classical violin and jazz bass, respectively.
This coincidental renting of living space proved to be more than just a meeting of new neighbors. The five meshed and bonded through their love of music. All shared an urgent need to express their creative energies. The tenants of the second floor were members of the band The Happy Maladies when they moved in, and after meeting their downstairs neighbors, saw a perfect opportunity to join creative forces and record an album. The lower floor acted as a makeshift recording studio, and after completing the album Sun Shines the Little Children, they decided to have a basement show to celebrate its release. With the momentum of the new album, and after a year of living together, they wanted to share their collective music.
That is when the Marburg idea first developed.
“Being performing musicians, we were all interested in having public events in our living space, and in general, creative expression, so we began the Open Mind Night,” Petersen says. “We found it successful, and from that initial spark… it began jump-starting the energy that carried us to define ourselves.”
Open Mind Nights at the Marburg became a haven for local bands and untrained musicians alike. Every last Friday of the month, the Marburg’s open doors led to Peterson’s living room, where a willing crowd awaited. On a typical night, an observer could be treated to a classical violin piece, followed by distorted crackling and reverberations from a guitarist creating vast soundscapes, to a spoken-word piece so sensual it would make one remember one’s first frenzied love. Unlike a usual local bar’s “open mic,” the Open Mind Night was a place where people gathered not just to express their creativity, but also to feed on each other’s. A performer was guaranteed a ready and willing audience, unbiased and, importantly, open-minded.
This is how the Marburg Collective flourished.
Shows featuring traveling performers, some nationally known, began to shake the basement of the old hotel. The larger area was better suited to bigger-named bands and their crowds. Morgan O’Kane and his band from New York, Simeon Soul Charger from Akron, Ohio, Phil Roebuck, a one-man band From New York/Orleans, and others graced Cincinnati for what felt like secret shows. Posters hung around the city seemed to elicit only die-hard fans, ensuring an enthusiastic crowd. Those who knew the secret jammed into the basement, leaving little room for the bands.
Then the collective began organizing shows at venues all over town, like the Rohs Street Café, Clifton Heights Music Festival, and the Contemporary Art Center of Cincinnati, to spotlight the multitude of bands spawned from members of the Marburg.
In addition to The Happy Maladies, noted local bands SHADOWRAPTR, Honest Abe, ADM, and Methgirlfriend, among others, are made up of Marburg members. Their music has pushed the boundaries of Cincinnati’s local music scene.
Cellist and singer Brodie Johnson moved into the Marburg Hotel and introduced new groups to Marburg’s repertoire. Johnson’s latest band, Gorges, released its first track at an album-release party May 11 at the Northside Tavern. Sloan and Peterson, along with friend Aron Modaresi, began recording for other bands, creating a library of different sounds from improvised vocalization and drumming, to raucous fun with keyboards and guitars.
The Friends with Friends series is produced every three months, and includes four tracks from four local artists, marked by live performances of the bands at venues around Cincinnati. The Marburg Collective also has begun bringing their creativity and know-how to the Clifton Cultural Arts Center every Saturday morning with a team-led improvisation class that is open to the public.
All of the original members of the Marburg Collective have moved out of the hotel, but this has in no way undermined their momentum. Sloan, Peterson, Patota, Kwon and Johnson found a house in the Northside neighborhood, but days before moving into the house, their arrangement fell through, causing a temporary dispersal. The collective was up in the air, and they feared the worst. They stayed on the hunt and found what they deemed the “Eureka House,” on Eureka Avenue, near UC’s main campus. Petersen sees this as a chance to grow, to move forward with the collective’s many goals – to create new music, drum up artistic projects and inspire people. But most fundamentally, to provide for the expression of creative energy. For all.
Jack Ellenberger is a journalism student at the University of Cincinnati and on the staff of the department’s New Media Bureau.