Say the words Mount Dungeon to those who aren’t in the know, and you will likely be greeted by either quizzical looks or taunts of being a Dungeons & Dragons nerd. But to a growing audience in Asheville, the name Mount Dungeon is fast becoming synonymous with relevant, original and interesting local music. But what does it mean?
“When I was coming up with the name I was on painkillers” laughs Ben Robinson, producer and creator of Asheville’s slightly psychedelic public-access music show.
“OK, I wasn’t,” he corrects. “I was thinking mount, like mountains, like Asheville, and dungeon, like underground. When we started doing this, I thought we’d get nothing but weird bands, but now we get a lot of pop bands, which we thought the name would scare away.”
Robinson says he started Mount Dungeon largely because he “just wanted to do music videos.” Although he had many big ideas for the show, he and his team also had a shoestring budget with which to work. As a result, the show has a decidedly DIY and almost retro feel to it, in a sense reflecting the area’s own quirky, retro-leaning and decidedly eclectic music community.
But according to Matt Howard, the host of Mount Dungeon, it still took Robinson some time to sell him on the concept of the show
“I’m not a music expert; I just play one on television,” is one of the first things out of Howard’s mouth. “I stopped listening to new music 10 years ago. The past year has been a crash course in local music for me.”
But even though Howard’s musical vocabulary may contain dated references, he (along with the people behind the cameras at Mount Dungeon) has become an unofficial authority on local music, documenting the fragmented yet deeply intertwined Asheville scene. From laptop-based DJs to thrash metal to acoustic old-time music and all points in between, Mount Dungeon has become an unlikely curator local music culture.
At the same time, the show is also helping to define the way that same community perceives itself. Not many people tend to associate wild and distorted background video graphics with, say, a bluegrass band’s music, but such a thing is a common sight on Mount Dungeon. And it’s not just experimentalism for its own sake, either; these production values have a vision behind them.
“We wanted something that looks like those old Black Sabbath videos,” says Megan McKissack, the program’s video editor and the person responsible for the psychedelic chroma-key freakouts that have become the show’s visual trademark.
“I wanted something that looked like the performances on the old Dick Cavett Shows,” Robinson adds.
Watching Mount Dungeon is a feast for the ears, eyes and brain. While some of URTV’s music-based shows merely show off the music of the band during a live performance, Mount Dungeon also features in-studio interviews with the artists that help people get to know the band’s personalities. It’s something that makes Mount Dungeon must-see (local) TV.
“We weren’t trying to be the people to document the scene, but it’s worked out that way,” Robinson says. “Bands love being on television. It’s a winning formula.”
When talking with Howard, Robinson and McKissack about the program, their enthusiasm for the show is palpable. They seem to love bringing Mount Dungeon into homes across Asheville on a weekly basis. Given that the project is paid for out-of-pocket, and that the entire production takes place in the creators’ free time, perhaps it’s no surprise that it’s the enthusiasm that keeps them going. (According to McKissack, the video editing alone can take some 10 hours a week.)
While some casual viewers may not think much of the show, perhaps seeing it as little more than standard fare for a public-access station, the show has developed a fiercely loyal following in the local-music community. More importantly, however, the team seems to be more devoted than ever to the show.
“I love this,” says Howard. “I won’t say ‘dirty,’ as in I’d do something dirty for this show, but I would fight dirty for this show. I would step over a body for Mount Dungeon.”
[Jason Bugg is a freelance writer based in Asheville.]
New episodes of Mount Dungeon air every Thursday at 11 p.m. on URTV (Charter Cable channel 20). Complete episodes can also be viewed online at www.mountdungeon.com.