Atlanta music venue goes out with a bang
Speakers blasting music so loud the audience can feel the bass vibrating in their chests, music played by bands standing on the same stage bands like Nirvana and Radiohead once played on, music uniting a diverse crowd of music lovers. This intimate interaction between music, artist and audience can be found at the Masquerade, a live music venue that is leaving its location of 26 years.
October 18, 2016
Since its establishment on North Avenue in 1990, the Masquerade has provided not only a stage for local bands, like junior Nate Peters, and musical artists of all genres, but has had a powerful impact on the Atlanta music scene and concert-goers in Atlanta according to Decatur literature teacher Christopher Simony, who has frequented the Masquerade since its establishment.
According to Greg Green in an interview with the AJC, coordinator of artists for the North Avenue location, the move from 695 North Ave. to 1421 Fairmont Ave. will be a time for change. Green says parking and sound systems are improved and the new location is single-story, but the venue hopes to hold true to their history by hosting bands of various genres, including local artists.
To commemorate the final weeks of the North Avenue location, the Masquerade hosted punk rock-based music festival Wrecking Ball ATL for the second year on Aug. 13 and Aug. 14.
Punk bands like Dinosaur Jr, The Julie Ruin and American Football headlined the festival, but according to siblings Alix and Maddy Lang, who attended Wrecking Ball ATL 2016, the crowd was full of not only punk music lovers but lovers of the Masquerade itself.
For Simony, Peters and the Laing siblings, the Masquerade has provided unique musical experiences and a music venue with a remarkable history.
Culturing Atlanta in the 1990s
A three-story building near what is now Ponce City Market and the Beltline was home to the Masquerade, providing Atlanta with a music venue that would make 695 North Ave. historic.
As the Masquerade hosted bands like Nirvana and Radiohead on its three stages, Heaven, Purgatory and Hell, Simony was beginning a musical adventure of his own.
Simony’s band, Sharks and Minnows, started in 1988 and coupled with free tickets from the college radio station he worked at, led him to explore Atlanta’s music scene and the Masquerade in the 1990s.
After attending about 50 concerts at the venue, Simony knows what he likes – and dislikes – about the Masquerade. Simony said although the parking is not ideal and the sound is not amazing, walking into the Masquerade for the first time was ethereal.
“It was like stepping into another world,” Simony said. “You weren’t dancing in your bedroom mirror, you were losing your inhibitions and dancing in public, you were singing along, you were jumping, you were rushing the stage. It was a religious experience.”
Since that first concert, Simony has observed changes in the Masquerade, including a shift to music genres that are undesirable to Simony.
“Even back in the early ‘90s, [the Masquerade] seemed to embrace bands that I did not like,” he said. “They liked a lot of these theatrical, testosterone-laden bands, and as the ‘90s progressed they moved away from the indie rock and hip-hop that I liked, and they moved a lot more towards what I have heard as referred to as rape rock. [In the late 1990s and early 2000s], the Masquerade became overrun with these bands that had a lot of misogynistic, violent overtones, and I stopped going.”
Because Simony has not attended the Masquerade recently, he believes the venue’s move will be less distressing for him than for regulars. However, Simony admits that the move will change Atlanta.
“I began the ‘90s at 14 and ended the ‘90s at 24, so that was my prime time,” Simony said. “I don’t think that its leaving is going to make the same bittersweet impact on me as it will on others, but it was comforting to know that it was there. It was a tradition, it was a piece of bedrock, and, like everything else in Atlanta, it seems to be migrating.”
According to Simony, the Masquerade will lose its most historic moments that are “tied to that location [North Avenue]” with the move.
“The fact that these important bands – Jeff Buckley, Radiohead, Wu-Tang Clan – that these groups stood in that location, I think that that location becomes sacred and not necessarily just the name of the place.”
From seeing live bands throughout the ‘90s, noticing graffiti on his way from Criminal Records to the Masquerade and feeling the historical significance of standing where Nirvana once played, Simony describes his experience at the Masquerade in one word -fmas formative.
“It shaped my tastes, it shaped my style, it shaped my sense of art and it shaped me as a person. It formed part of who I became as an adult.”
Photo by Ellie Butterfield
Supporting local artists
Since freshman year, Nate Peters has been able to stand on a ledge at the edge of the same stage Nirvana once played at, looking out at a sea of people and hearing his own music reflect off the walls of the Masquerade.
The junior first played live shows at the Masquerade as guitarist with groove rock band Free After Three. After earning $100 at a show, the band started playing more gigs at the Masquerade, and Peters learned about what being in a band is like behind the scenes.
Peters now knows how to plan for a show and how to set up at a venue like a professional. Because the Masquerade is such an accessible first stage for young artists, high school bands are able to develop a stage presence.
Although Peters has some dissatisfaction about the cleanliness of the building, he welcomes the way artists are treated when playing shows at the Masquerade.
“If you’re a high school band playing in Decatur, you’re not treated as an actual group as much as ‘Here are some kids we’re going to support and let play here out of the goodness of our hearts,’” Peters said. “The nice thing about playing at Masquerade is they don’t know who you are or where you’re from, so they treat you just as an artist, not as ‘these people we’re letting play.’”
Radiohead and Nirvana played shows at the Masquerade during their earlier years, and Peters appreciates the importance of sharing an artistic platform with iconic bands.
“A lot of really famous bands have played there,” he said. “[The Masquerade] used to be the place people went if they were touring and came to Atlanta, so it’s a cool building and now it’s where a lot of smaller bands get to play on the lower two stages.”
At the concerts he’s attended at the Masquerade, Peters noted the thrilling experience of dancing in a structurally unsound building and the intimacy of the shows where, “even if you’re in the back, you can hear the music like you’re right there and see everybody really well.”
Now that he plays and attends live shows, Peters is able to appreciate the building’s role in a concert from both sides.
“It’s cool because they have monitors there that play back what you’re playing, but your sound is just reflected right back at you so you hear what the audience is hearing,” Peters said. “The stage has this dip and then there’s a wall and their heads are right over the wall, and you can see all these people by standing up on the wall. You’re in a cage when you’re playing there.”
Despite his appreciation for bouncy floors and sound “so loud you can feel it in your chest,” Peters thinks that the location change will be good for the Masquerade.
“It’s a good for them to leave that place before it collapses and somebody dies – it’s not the most well-built building,” Peters said.
Although Peters will no longer be able to play his original music on the same stage where The Ramones once rocked, he does not fear losing memories of the Masquerade.
“I have more sentimental value attached to the concerts themselves than the venue, anyways.”
Listen to Peters’ original music below.
Photo courtesy of Nate Peters
“One last hurrah” – Wrecking gentrification through music festival
To celebrate the quarter-century of hosting famous bands, providing the first stage for many local musicians and preserving the three-tier house of music for rhythm-crazy Atlantans, the Masquerade gave homage to the history held in the North Avenue location of the venue with the Wrecking Ball music festival.
The punk rock-focused festival featured The Julie Ruin, Dinosaur Jr. and the Joy Formidable, but a diverse crowd of music lovers came to the festival to celebrate the last moments of the Masquerade according to Maddy Laing, who attended the festival with their sister, Alix Laing.
“There were the middle aged blue collar dads who went there in their 20s and brought their 12-year-old sons, and then there were the teenagers, and then there was the crowd of older people who had that as their thing for the week,” Maddy said. “It was really cool because there were so many generations of people out there coming to celebrate the last big hoorah.”
Maddy first heard about Wrecking Ball while seeing a Girlpool show at the Masquerade and was instantly attracted for its predominantly punk lineup. Maddy holds a place in their heart for punk music but recognizes that other attendees of the festival, like their sister Alix, are more interested in experiencing one last musical experience with fellow Masquerade veterans.
“To feel so much emotion from someone and how important all those songs are to them and be able to share that with someone is really beautiful,” Alix said.
The first band Maddy and Alix saw at Wrecking Ball was hardcore punk band Turnstile on the Hell stage. For Alix, such an intense punk show was unfamiliar territory.
“People were punching each other and spiraling into crowd surfing and there were people leaving that were passed out with blood dripping down,” Alix said. “Music is about feeling emotion, and that’s just not usually the emotion that I go for.”
The festival showed bands on the Heaven, Purgatory and Hell stages as well as two outdoor stages.
“You could go to big stages and see wild stuff, then go out front and see softer stuff like Diet Cig and Sorority Noise, then go upstairs and get kicked in the face at Turnstile and get your brains pulled out in the mosh pit,” Maddy said.
Although Maddy and Alix recall seeing Diet Cig and Turnstile as highlights, the siblings found that the best part of attending Wrecking Ball was reminiscing with the artists, the other attendees and even people who weren’t at the show.
“Everyone has a story from the Masquerade, you know? It’s just been a part of our community for so long,” Maddy said.
Alix remembers feeling that “a big thing is happening” and being excited to swap stories with her mom about the Masquerade.
“My mom saw Radiohead when they were really small, so I know that so many people have had so many experiences, and to be standing in the same place as them doing what they were doing is very special,” Alix said. “[I was] thinking about things to go home and tell my mom about because she went there at the beginning and we [Maddy and I] were there at the end.”
Wrecking Ball was a successful celebration of the Masquerade’s move away from the historic location to Maddy, and they have hope that the new location will “bring some of its history with it.”
“[The Masquerade] is all about the people,” Maddy said. “It’s gonna be harder and it’s gonna be a change, but we can make it happen.”
Photos courtesy of Alix Laing and Randy Butterfield