Walking down the steps to the basement of the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) there’s a graffiti sign that reads: The Dramastics are Loud. A few steps later and it feels as if you’ve taken a wrong turn and ended up in the bedroom of a teenage girl.
Each wall, beam and surface is covered with pops of colors and mash-up craft projects with traces of the usual suspects: pipe cleaners, hot glue, stamps, hole punches, googly eyes on rocks, magazine clippings and strings of Christmas lights, with more than a few bulbs not shining. A picture of Taylor Swift hangs near another of ballerinas; among those are pictures drawn on graph paper and crude mock-ups of fashion designs.
Upon closer inspection, a narrative emerges — the story of the rise and fall of a punk rock band — in an exhibit called Ladies and Gentlemen, Meet The Dramastics. The show, created by artist Nathan Carter, is on display at the MCA Denver through Jan. 29.
Spoiler alert: The Dramastics are not technically a real band. They’re a creation of Carter’s imagination, represented by paper dolls and dioramas and brought to life in Carter’s film The Dramastics are Loud AF, which screens daily at MCA. The film and the exhibit follow four girls who decide to start a band, and it illustrates milestones in their explosive, if short-lived, career, from their first rehearsal all the way to their break-up concert. The movie also features performances by the band, with music and lyrics written by Carter, counted down by their signature, “One, two, fuck you.”
The girls drip with a rowdy attitude — as the drummer says in the film, “Play rock music now. Play it right fucking now. Make it hard right now.”
Ladies and Gentlemen transcends the typical art gallery show. The exhibit features various mediums and multiple artistic genres, including minimalism, abstract expressionism and the do-it-yourself (DIY) aesthetic of the punk music scene.
“The show is a little crazypants, I get that,” Carter says with a laugh.
Carter set out to create an all-encompassing fictional world — a process he’s worked on since childhood.
“When I was a kid, I made these things called set ups. It was like world-building,” he says. “It wasn’t just one kind of toy. It was everything mixed together with a lot of found elements like sticks and pieces of fabric and small pieces of metals. Anything I thought was an interesting looking thing, mixed with Legos, and I loved things like masking tape, matches or even fireworks.”
With two artists for parents, Carter was exposed to art early on, and he eventually went to art school. He became interested in sculpture, continuing to utilize found objects. His work grew to include large-scale drawings and various other media. Four years ago, he started to notice a trend in his work: While his pieces were filled with elements and figures, they lacked an overall narrative.
“I just really wanted to tell stories, and I wanted the work to reflect the stories,” he says. “I had never in my life made a story before making a piece.”
Soon after this revelation, Carter visited another exhibit, where he ran into a friend who told Carter, “You have to make a film. Look at all this sculpture. It’s shit. Nobody has any room for sculpture. You have to make a piece of art that can be on a thumb drive.”
As Carter edged away from his rambling, disgruntled friend, he paused.
“I got about 10 feet away when I turned around, and I said, ‘I’m going to make a film about these four women who get out of high school and start a punk band and go on tour,’” he says.
The thought wasn’t completely random to Carter. It was a world he knew well since the early ’80s. A lover of punk and hardcore music, Carter picked up the bass guitar in junior high. He was a fan of bands like The Slits and Blondie and then later Riot Grrrl groups like Bikini Kill, which boasted a male bass player, who Carter was admittedly jealous of.
“I wanted to be around sweaty, angry punk rock women,” he says. “It’s as simple as that. It was an attraction, a fantasy.”
So from a friend’s not-so-gentle nudge and this past longing, The Dramastics were born. Carter had never made a film, but he embarked on the process by writing vignettes of anything that could happen to a band on tour. And later his four leading ladies appeared: the electric Molly Blowout on lead vocals, the smart and studious Crimson Ivy on guitar, the Breakfast Club basketcase-esque Melancholly on bass, and the hot-mess-express Calamity on drums.
“What happens is the guitarist and the singer do this classic thing of, ‘Let’s start a band!’ And then I feel like a lot of times bands come together because there’s only one person who plays the bass … then there’s some other person who’s a drummer,” he says. “They wouldn’t necessarily hang out with each other. But when they’re a group they’re suddenly like a street gang.
“They’ve got each other’s back, and nothing can come in between them,” he continues. “And then inevitable stuff happens. In a way it’s the classic story you’ve seen on VH1 a million times. Like, band has nothing, band tries hard, they make a song, they play a show, they play a bigger show, boyfriends, girlfriends, drugs, things go to their heads, they break up.”
Throughout the three-year process, Carter created everything in Ladies and Gentlemen. Some of the pieces were made directly for the film, while others served as developmental material for the show as a whole.
Carter calls the entire process organic, never feeling pressured to cross off certain items on a checklist. In all, the exhibit can feel like a hodge podge of different ideas and inspirations, but that is its strength in capturing the subject matter. Creativity is a hard concept to illustrate, and Ladies and Gentleman puts its methodology on display. It’s the chaotic yet focused energy of youth, and that excitement of embarking on a journey bigger than yourself, where everything feels important and sacred.
Overwhelmingly, the exhibit has a homemade feel to it, free from the reigns of perfection. It captures and explores the importance of the DIY movement — a creative cycle with a mission that screams, “If I can do it, you can do it.”
Carter had no experience with making a film, but he felt the calling to do so, and he hopes others take his leap of faith as fuel for their own creative work.
“There’s this thing about wanting to make something in a way that inspires somebody else to make something,” he says. “I didn’t set out to do that, but it just happened I think. If I don’t know what an F-stop or ISO is, then anyone can make a film.”
On the B
ill: Ladies and Gentlemen Meet the Dramastics — Nathan Carter. Museum of Contemporary Art, 1485 Delgany St., Denver, 303-298-7554. Through Jan. 29.