Dungeon masters

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?

Out of the Dungeon, and into the spotlight: The cast and crew of the URTV local-music show Mount Dungeon.

“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.”

Strut goes to the Dungeon

“We grew up together with dreams of being in a rock ‘n’ roll band, and now it’s coming together,” says Elijah Cramer, bassist for local funky jamband Strut, who will appear on this week’s episode of Mount Dungeon.

After nearly a decade of touring and two self-released albums, Strut has firmly entrenched itself in both the local and regional scenes as an energetic and engaging live act.

“We’ve always been a band that bounces from style to style,” Cramer says.

Bridging the sonic gap between hard-driving rock, groovy funk and spacey jams, the band members can pride themselves on possessing a tighter-than-tight musicianship. Strut’s musical dexterity may make them one of Asheville’s best party bands—perfect for both the laid-back sounds of summer and raucous booze-filled Saturday nights, sometimes within the same song. The band’s songcraft may be the secret to their growing success.

“We finally feel like we aren’t always bouncing around all different styles in our music,” Cramer says. “Instead, we are playing shows and songs that have our sound and our style. We feel like we’ve finally created a style of music that is ours.”

But that doesn’t mean that the band has totally abandoned their jam-based roots altogether.

“We’ll always have a psychedelic edge to our music,” Cramer explains. “We leave room for improvisation and to let the songs breathe.”

 

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.

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3 thoughts on “Dungeon masters

  1. Johnny Lemuria

    His name is Ben RobinSON. Ben Robinson. Learn it, live it, love it. Additional shout-outs must be made to John Blackwell, Mount Dungeon’s sound engineer & guru, who is responsible for making the show sound so pretty; and JJ Jackson, cameraman, who is responsible for making it look so pretty. Major kudos must also be given to the staff at URTV, without whose vision, experience, and superhuman patience, Mount Dungeon would not have had a chance to be made.

  2. Whoops! Sorry about that. Our apologies to Mr. Robinson. We’ll be running a correction in next week’s print edition, and the online version should be corrected shortly. Thanks to Lemuria for pointing this out.

  3. These guys are ABSOLUTELY amazing! I often visit URTV on Saturdays during their studio time to turn in my own programs. There is always a good show going on, exciting vibes, and Dr. John Blackwell playing the control board with great verve as if it was some great cathedral pipe organ.

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