As usual, Ryan Avery had a hundred other things to worry about that night. He had booked two touring sludge bands at a small venue in downtown L.A. All night the bartender was rude to audience members trying to buy drinks, loudly complaining about the quality of the bands.
Then the bouncer, who had been sneaking people in for free, told Avery to send any patrons looking for powder his way. The 30 year-old booker had had enough. “I don't want to jeopardize what we're doing,” Avery says. “Truth told, I will not hesitate to throw out that person who's basically fucking over the crowd and the bands playing.”
The bouncer ultimately fell in line, but the story reveals the high standard to which Avery holds himself. He is very protective of his creation, the influential booking agency Ear/Splitters.
Over the last four years Avery has worked to keep doom and sludge music alive in L.A. and Orange County. (For the uninitiated, doom and sludge are two subgenres of slow, loud, downtuned metal inspired by equal parts Black Sabbath and '80s hardcore punk. The differences between the two are subtle but important; doom builds the cathedral, while sludge tears it down.) His past shows have boasted breakthrough names like The Atlas Moth, Ides of Gemini, KEN mode and Cough.
Now Avery is ready to expand his repertoire. In November, Ear/Splitters will become Midnite Collective and begin presenting hybrid shows that combine concerts with art exhibits. Also in the works is a new digital presence, which Avery hopes will function as a platform for L.A. bands: “Our new website will be like Brooklyn Vegan for L.A. I want to put that kind of focus on local culture and strengthen the metal community.”
Ear/Splitters was born of this same localized spirit. In 2009, Avery and fellow DIY enthusiast Ricky Eisenacher decided to help out the stagnant sludge and doom community by setting up a few shows. Today, Eisenacher still runs record and merchandise distribution, but Avery remains the agency's driving force, handling everything from band research to event coordination. He even stage-manages some shows.
Much like the hardcore punk scene of the '80s, this is a niche scene with a broad influence that remains little known, save to its fans. Without DIY agencies like Ear/Splitters, sludge/doom bands would be far more rarely booked.
“Gypsyhawk played their very first show with us,” says Avery. “Behold! The Monolith, National Sunday Law and Destroy Judas are other great local bands who've supported us over the years.” His niche is bands that are right on the cusp of breaking through. “Many of the bands we've had play in the past,” he says, “I can't even book anymore because they're on big package tours now.”
Avery's suffered his share of grief over shows getting shut down. A couple of years back, he booked UK death metal outfit Cruciamentum for a show at Chinatown's now-defunct Mountain Bar. It turned out to be a disaster. “Someone tipped off the police that the bar didn't have its permits in order. That turned out to not be true, but they still shut us down.”
Surprisingly, it is often bookers from established venues who call the cops on these shows, in order to eliminate competition. “It's a little cattiness on their part,” says Avery. “Certain larger venues have been adamant in trying to shut down DIY shows.”
Ear/Splitters next presents female fronted, Virginia-based doom metallers Windhand at Complex in Glendale on September 22. “There's an example of a band breaking through,” Avery says. “They're touring with High On Fire in the fall. This will literally be the last time they play a show on this scale.”
Avery's girlfriend, illustrator Jas Helena, has recently begun curating artwork for the upcoming Midnite Collective shows. Starting on November 23, the series “Midnite Communion” will feature bands and art from the underground metal community at MonkSpace in Koreatown. The first installment will showcase work by Stevie Floyd of doom metal band Dark Castle. It's all part of Avery's vision for Midnite Collective: “I want our shows to be profound experiences.”
This Sunday, September 22, Ear/Splitters presents Windhand, with support from Pendulous + A'rk at Complex.
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