For most fans of extreme music, The Maryland DeathFest is a summer metal party that needs no introduction. Since its in inception in 2003, The Maryland DeathFest has drawn in some of the most legendary bands from around the globe. The support for the fest is immense, with concertgoers that fly in from over two dozen countries and a band line-up that is equally as diverse. This year’s line-up promises to continue the Maryland DeathFest’s legacy as the premiere metal fest in the US. MDF Co-Founder, Ryan Taylor has taken time out of his incredibly busy schedule to give Blow The Scene readers the inside story behind the one of best metal fests in the world!
Josh: So let’s begin by having you introduce yourselves: Tell us a little bit about your backgrounds; where you are from, how you two met, and the circumstances that surrounded the development of the now infamous, Maryland DeathFest:
Ryan Taylor: Evan and I are both from Baltimore, and we met in high school about 12 years ago. If I remember correctly, I was 16 and Evan was 14 when we first met. It didn’t take long for us to realize that we shared a common interest in music back then, and we both got into more underground bands when we were in high school as well. We were friends for at least 5 years before the concept of Maryland Death Fest was spawned in late 2002, and the concept of the fest randomly came up in a discussion when we were bored at work in a restaurant that we both used to work in. Originally, in December of 2002, we were just thinking about doing a show of one long day of bands, mostly from the East Coast and Midwest. However, once I threw together a website and it was announced that we were throwing a festival, the interest just kept growing, especially once the return of Suffocation to the stage for the first time in 5 years was announced. The fest actually ended up being 3 days in the first year, but we scaled back to 2 days for a few years after that. Since 2003, we just haven’t really stopped, and over the years we’ve been able to spend more on bands as we see an increase of attendees. The first year was a the biggest risk we’ve ever taken because it was new to us, we were quite young, we had no business experience, and we didn’t have high credit limits to tear through if enough people didn’t pay for tickets. We were just a couple of random metal fans that took a risk, and fortunately we just barely broke even in the first year. Had we lost a lot of money in 2003, who knows if we ever would’ve tried to do it again.
Josh: I can honestly say that I am not aware of any other American extreme music festival that creates as large of a word-of-mouth hysteria as the Maryland DeathFest. It seems as though everyone and their cousin is talking about this show. I know I’ve heard “Dude, have you seen this line-up for the MDF this year? It’s ridiculous!” at-least a dozen times in the past month. In all fairness, you book some of the most exclusive, sought after bands in extreme music from around the world. Can you tell us how these amazing line-ups came to be and your process for determining which bands will make in on each year? Can you explain how the process has developed over the years? Do you two ever disagree over which bands should be approached? And if so, how do you reach a reconciliation?
Ryan Taylor: It’s true that word-of-mouth is one of the biggest keys to the success of MDF. Actually, we don’t spend anything at all on advertising, and we don’t have any sponsors to rely on to create awareness of the event. In the last few years, we’ve barely printed any flyers, and we didn’t bother printing many posters for this year’s festival because people usually just steal them off walls to keep as a collectors item. Our process for determining who plays is usually shaped around bands we listen to and know other people would want to see as well. There are so many bands that have never been to the US or never made it to the US before playing MDF, so that’s always been a focus of ours as well. We don’t give a flip about bands offering to pay to play, or which generic metalcore band has the most myspace plays. We just set out to book the best possible billing each year with the budget we have to work with based on ticket sales. Surprisingly, I don’t ever recall having any disagreements with Evan over who should or shouldn’t play. We’ve always had a pretty like-minded idea of who to book, and I think the diversity of what we listen to has been on display over the years of booking MDF.
Josh: With so many amazing bands from around the world, how do you determine set orders? I know egos and attitude vary widely from band to band and even band member to band member – do you ever have any problems making all the bands happy with their set times, stage assignment, and performance day?
Ryan Taylor: I don’t ever recall hearing anyone complain about their set time or stage assignment. The addition of more than one stage happened for the first time in 2009, so I only have that year to go by as far as stage assignments go. In general, most bands stay all weekend to hang out unless they’re on tour, so the day of performance is usually never an issue. Often times it’s necessary for us to ask certain bands how long of a set time they’ll need, but that’s about it. Most bands seem to be really excited about playing MDF, so complaining about something that really isn’t that big of a deal usually isn’t in the mix. I mean, I can’t imagine a Swedish grindcore band coming up to me asking where their deli trays and bathrobes are, just as long as they get some beer tickets. Hopefully that trend continues this year as well.
Josh: Keeping the paying supporters of any festival happy during their time spent is a priority at any music festival. Some festivals are organized better than others. What do you find are the key organizational elements of the MDF that keep fans coming back year after year? Can you explain your thought process when figuring out what vendors to feature, pay scale for tickets, stage set-ups, etc? Do you find extreme music fans have a unique set a needs as oppose to booking mainstream or other types of live performance?
Ryan Taylor: I think the fans keep coming back mainly due to how much fun they have, meeting up with old friends while making new ones, and seeing a ton of awesome bands all in one place. I’m not sure if you can label any of those things as the result of an organizational element, but as long as we take care of the bands and keep the schedule running on time, everyone should have a jolly ol’ time.
Most of the vendors are return vendors, some of which have been at MDF every year since 2003. It seems like the vendors that actually pay to reserve a table space are the ones that fest attendees would like to see there, so we don’t really have a screening process for who can be a vendor. We basically just have to cut off the amount of vendors at a certain number, and we generally aren’t interested in having anyone sell something that isn’t of much interest to most people attending the fest. It’s safe to say that you won’t be seeing the 100% pedophilia sweatpants/DVD bootleg/beastiality guy at MDF again.
The pay-scale for tickets is really just based on how much we decide to spend on bands. In the past 2 years, that number has gone up significantly, but we haven’t had to jack the prices up to a ridiculous amount because more people end up coming as the billing gets more insane.
Stage set-ups are a pretty new thing for us, considering that we only used 1 stage for the first 6 years of MDF. The addition of the outside stage went over well in 2009, and with the amount of “headliner” quality bands we booked in 2010, we thought it would be best to have 2 outside stages in addition to the main room stage inside. It’ll allow for longer set times from those bands, and they’ll all have more than enough time to get things situated on stage before they play.
Josh: What is your most memorable moment or moments at a MDF? Whether it be an amazing performance, crazed fan, or act of god…When you are looking back 30 years from now on the MDF what moments will stick out in your mind and why? And do you see the MDF sticking around for decades to come?
Ryan Taylor: That’s a tough question because I have too many moments to choose from, but at least in recent memory, watching Bolt Thrower finally play the US again outside in downtown Baltimore was a pretty surreal feeling. I guess that’s one of those moments that could stick out in my mind 30 years from now, particularly because 2009 was a new chapter for MDF with the expansion and addition of the second stage.
MDF sticking around for decades to come is not likely. I figure we’ll both be pretty burnt out in 15-20 years from now, especially considering that we’ve already been doing this for 8 years. We just take it one year at a time, but there’s no reason to believe that at least 3-5 more years of MDF aren’t ahead. If it ever got to the point where we can’t put together the kind of billing like you see now, or even better top the previous year’s billing, it would be time to call it a day, I think. Our ambitions are set pretty high now, so the next few years of MDF could be something really special.
Josh: The MDF has become a staple of the Baltimore Maryland Music Scene. Can you tell us what the local support is like? Any plans to hold more than one show per year? I know our West Coast and European readers would be interested in a Marlynad Death Fest Style show in their neck of the woods..
Ryan Taylor: I think MDF has become a staple of the International music scene just as much as it has become a part of the scene in Baltimore. Honestly, local ticket sales make up a very small percent of overall sales. Traditionally, MDF brings in people from all over North America and abroad, and this year we’ve sold tickets to approximately 40 US states and 20 countries. Baltimore is a medium-sized city with a similar sized market for music and live shows, so MDF simply wouldn’t be what it is without support from people internationally.
We don’t have any plans to do more than one fest a year. MDF is time consuming enough as is, and we work on it for a full 12 months each year. If we were to put together something of a similar scale for a second time in one year, it would take some wind out of the sails of MDF. That’s not the say that we wouldn’t be interested in doing a similar festival in Europe, but it wouldn’t be realistic at this point.
Josh: It is clear to anyone who has followed the MDF that you both are not egotistical booking agents with a hidden agenda looking to get rich or trying exploit the scene for personal gain. The care and level of detail of planning that goes into this show implies to me that you both are passionate about extreme music. Should we expect to see either of you on the other end of spectrum? Ie are you involved with any current musical or art projects? Whether it be performing, recording, or otherwise? What ties do you have to extreme music other than booking the Maryland Death Fest and what should we expect from you in the future?
Ryan Taylor: Yep, that’s true. We are passionate about what we do because we’re fans that are part of the scene, and that’s how it’s been since the beginning. I haven’t personally been involved in any bands since 2002 because I’ve been living abroad and traveling around the world for the better part of the last 5 years, but Evan is in a new band that’s still without a name, and before that he played in Quills. I was in a few different bands between the ages of 13-20, and I’ll probably start writing again in the next couple of years. I’m not sure what other ties to extreme music we have outside of booking MDF, but we do end up becoming friends with a lot of the bands that play the fest. I’ve drank under the midnight sun in Finland with Rotten Sound and eaten lasagna in Sweden with General Surgery, for instance.
Josh: For first time fest attendees this year: What can he or she expect at a MDF and what is different this year as oppose to past years for your loyal attendees?
Ryan Taylor: Expect to have good times, and expect to see some killer performances. The only difference this year is the addition of the second outside stage, so other than that, expect what you’re used to. See you in a few weeks!
Thursday, May 27th (pre-fest party)
Ex-Dementia – 7:15 – 7:40
XBRAINIAX – 7:55 – 8:20
Swarm of the Lotus – 8:35 – 9:05
Nekromantheon – 9:20 – 9:50
PLF – 10:05 – 10:35
Iron Lung – 10:50 – 11:10
Birdflesh – 11:25 – 12:00
General Surgery – 12:15 – end
Doors open at 6:45 PM Friday, May 28th
3:30 – 3:55 – The Communion
4:10 – 4:35 – Putrescence
4:50 – 5:20 – Defeatist
5:35 – 6:05 – Tombs
6:20 – 6:50 – Jesus Crost
7:05 – 7:35 – Birds of Prey
9:00 – 9:35 – Trap Them
10:45 – 11:20 – Gride
11:35 – 12:15 – Coffins
12: 30 – end – D.R.I.
11:45 – 12:10 – Howl
12:25 – 12:55 – Sulaco
1:10 – 1:40 – Fuck the Facts
1:55 – 2:25 –Ingrowing
2:40 – 3:10 – Obliteration
3:25 – 3:55- Jucifer
4:10 – 4:45 – Impaled
5:00 – 5:50 – Blood Duster
6:10 – 6:40 – Verbal Abuse
10:45 – 11:20 – Deceased
11:35 – 12:15 – Wolfbrigade
12:30 – end – Portal
Sunday, May 30th
Entrance opens at 11:30 AM
11:45 – 12:00 – Honkey Kong
12:15 – 12:45 – Rottenness
1:00 – 1:25 – Surroundings
1:40 – 2:10 –Massgrave
2:25 – 3:00 – Rompeprop
3:35 – 4:05 – Crucifist
4:40 – 5:10 – Gridlink
6:20 – 6:50 – Black Breath
8:00 – 8:30 – Captain Cleanoff
9:35 – 10:15 – Converge
10:30 – 10:55 – Magrudergrind
11:10 – 11:40 – Capitalist Casualties
11:55 – end – From Ashes Rise