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Dope Body: Noise-Rock Bros Restore Baltimore’s Hard Edge

Dope Body / Photo by Angel Ceballos

Who: Four testosterone-mainlining, noise-rock ruffians from central Baltimore who joined forces in late 2008 for a one-off show at local DIY space the Natural History Museum. That night left such a strong impression on frontman Andrew Laumann, 25 (who was living in San Francisco at the time), that he moved home to Baltimore a couple of weeks later so Dope Body could ride again. “It was the most fun I ever had,” says Laumann, a visual artist, of the sweat-blanched set that birthed the band and provided titular inspiration for their Drag City debut, Natural History. “It felt like performance art to me. I didn’t feel like a musician, didn’t feel comfortable being a musician. But I could be a character for this.”

Sounds like: A savage break from (and polar opposite to) the hyperactive, hyper-smiley, Hypercolor basement pop that’s come to represent Baltimore’s underground in recent years. Dope Body specialize in an outrageously heavy, particularly potent dude-rock hybrid wherein the squelch and belch of noise and classic alterna-rock radio are knotted up together in a primal, free-form howl. While hints of the Chili Peppers and Sublime (just two hamboned examples) make brief appearances amid their din, it’s the uncompromising edges of post-hardcore maniacs like Shellac and the Jesus Lizard they clearly celebrate most — bands who, according to Laumann, were “a bit better than regular rock bands” for “adding a bit of screech on everything.” Their sound is as much a product of its birthplace as its giddier counterparts. “That decrepit, postapocalyptic vibe of Baltimore carries over into the music in both extremes,” Laumann explains. “Really happy and positive or really dark, negative stuff.”

Six-pack of lies: Because they didn’t intend to play together more than once, Dope Body didn’t spend a lot of time seeking out that one perfect band name. “The name actually came from a YouTube video of this girl named Lil J, talking shit into the camera,” Laumann says. “There’s this one line where she slurs, ‘What up, y’all. It’s your girl Lil J, and this little girl here ain’t scared of nobody.’ But it sounds like she’s saying ‘dope body.’ It just stuck. It’s pretty bad.” It has also brought about its fair share of misinterpretation. “People always think we’re called that because I take my shirt off and I’m ripped,” Laumann deadpans. “But I’m not. I’m trying to squash that a little bit, if possible. I don’t think I’m going to be able to.”

Loose, footloose: Though Dope Body count themselves as one in a small but expanding group of rock bands that call Baltimore home right now, their ferocious live set has proven every bit as cathartic as those dance parties brought forth by the Wham City collective in its mid-aughties heyday. “You find yourself doing all these weird things that you wouldn’t expect to do, or wouldn’t be socially acceptable,” says Laumann of his live persona. “I love dancing when we play. Otherwise I’m so self-conscious about it. I wouldn’t be on the dance floor doing what I do onstage. Being able to be in front of people and scream your lungs out is something everyone wants to do constantly. This is my time to let loose and not give a fuck about anybody. I don’t have to put up any walls.”