Eyedrum: An oral history 

How a series of scrappy loft art parties helped incite Atlanta's underground art scene

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  • Matthew Smith/Shadowboxer Photography
  • The Back Pockets perform in 2010.

Marshall Avett, Eyedrum co-founder: We were doing shows in our living room, an old-school loft apartment in this rickety building on Trinity Avenue. We would basically cram all of our furniture into my bedroom, so the front room was like a gallery. And then we just invited a friend to come in and put on a one-night art show and some music. And then some people would bring food; we'd try to get a keg or something. The first night we started with maybe 20 or 30 people there. And then within two or three months it was 100 or a 150 people there. It was a little crazy. We were kind of like, "Wow! Who are all these people?"

I tried to paint the ceiling, but it was so water damaged that the paint never really took. It was gross. So we took a page from the Andy Warhol playbook and got a bunch of aluminum foil and did the ceiling, the whole ceiling was covered in sheets of aluminum foil.

I think Andrew Barker or Charles Waters came up with the name [the Silver Ceiling].

The Silver Ceiling was in 249 Trinity Avenue, upstairs. And then the guy who owned the building had a space on the street. It was 253 Trinity Avenue. It became available. Woody [Cornwell] and I talked to him and the rent was like $800 or $900. It had a good door and windows and then the space went back, however far it did. There was also a basement component with a scary little staircase you could walk down and a little makeshift bathroom down there.

Karen Tauches, curator and artist: The Homage, which was an amazing art bar, preceded Eyedrum over in that space on Trinity Avenue. And somehow — that might be the reason I went to Eyedrum to begin with, because I was thinking it was somehow connected to the Homage, which it wasn't. I remember a glow-in-the-dark show, someone had a piece that was using iridescent paint or something like and that and it was just an awesome party.

The most exciting thing that was happening was in the basement, which is usually the case at Eyedrum. It was a low-ceilinged, dark and lascivious place where often a make-out would occur. An indeed that night, that's exactly what was happening.

There was stuff upstairs, but you always wanted to get down to the basement, because it was just protected in such a way. You know, Eyedrum was always a place that would say 'yes!' to everything. And when you give people permission to do whatever they want, both the best and the worst things happen. And the basement seemed to be this uninhibited place.

Hormuz Minina, artist: There was a really great free jazz show one night with one of the guys form the Art Ensemble of Chicago, and Randy Castello, who had been booking shows there, got into some sort of altercation with the bouncer at the bar next door. The bar that opened up next door was interfering with Randy's aesthetic for what Eyedrum was supposed to be. They were charging for parking, so Randy jumped on the bar and threw a bunch of Art Papers magazines at them and called them all posers, and he got into a fight with the bouncer. So he came running down the stairs and hid. Shortly after, two cops came down looking for him, but then they stayed for the show. The music was so powerful.

Randy hid for like an hour before he could finally come out.

Omar Khalid, former Eyedrum board member: I first heard about Eyedrum through the Creative Music Association mailing list. I was living in Athens at the time, which must have been around 1998 or so, and received a flier in the mail announcing the German Reeds series with Hans Koch, Peter Brötzmann and, I believe, Frank Gratkowski. Wait, was it the Silver Ceiling then or Eyedrum? Anyway, I was so excited that these types of shows were happening anywhere in the South that I just went ahead and taped that partially folded flier up on the wall of my apartment. Anyone who came over and saw that thing was like, "What the fuuuuck?"

Avett: It got to the point at Eyedrum where, if it was an opening for somebody, an artist or whatever, there could be a serious overflow of crowd, because that person has a lot of fans or friends that wanted to come out for that event. Then, like, two nights later we'd have, you know, Carolina Rainbow come in to play, and there'd be like 10 people there. And then there would be some jam band and that scene would show up. Then there'd be some off night and it'd be like some local guys goofing off in the basement just kind of hanging out, talking and chilling. It was an odd mix.

Andy Ditzler, film historian and curator of experimental film series Film Love: It sort of always had that feel of definitely a gallery but also a club and not quite either of those things. It felt like a free space and the people were very approachable. So you got hooked.

Avett: I can remember all kinds of people coming in and walking down the steps to the basement, looking around, and just standing off in a corner and assessing the scene. Adam Overton [co-founder of Electric Arts Alliance of Atlanta] and that crew may have been freshmen at Georgia State, just trying to explore Atlanta and what it had to offer.

The thing is, almost anybody could play there if they approached us about doing shows. We were like, "OK, fine. Go play in the basement on Thursday, or something." Part of it was, you know, giving people the freedom to do that kind of thing, to fly their freak flag and see what they could do.

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