When TT The Artist brings her Baltimore club music documentary Dark City: Beneath the Beat to the Parkway Theatre June 26 and the Reginald F. Lewis Museum June 28 for first-look screenings, she’ll be putting the final touches on an idea that’s been kicking around her head for more than a decade. The musician, producer, record label founder, and now director first started thinking about making a club music documentary when she was a Maryland Institute College of Art undergrad. A Florida transplant, she first heard club—Baltimore’s homegrown dance music, an explosively heady amalgamation of house, Miami bass, hip-hop, and attitude—on the radio before she started hitting one of the nightclubs where club thrived in the 2000s.
“I worked at Club One as a go-go dancer and then I would go to Paradox on Saturdays just to dance,” she recalls. “And right then and there I thought, ‘The world needs to know about this.‘”
Photos by Kirby Griffith, E. Brady Robinson, and courtesy of TT The Artist
She was still Tedra Wilson at the time, and she understood that she wasn’t part of the music and dance community that created and sustained club. After graduating from MICA in 2006, she moved to New York and returned in 2008, where she started becoming TT The Artist, working with and among the club community and collaborating with local producers such as Mighty Mark (Marquis Gasque) and Debonair Samir.
In 2011 she put together a short club music teaser reel for a project she called Dark City: Beneath the Beat. A first-time director, she was learning as she worked, which included one of the worst experiences for any aspiring filmmaker: Her small crew’s equipment was stolen from the Copycat building. “I had envisioned this being feature length but I had no idea what went into making a feature length film,” she says. “We tried crowdfunding, because there wasn’t really a budget, and at some point I had to put it on pause because it felt so overwhelming.”
Flash forward five years: In 2016 she received two grants—from the Greater Baltimore Cultural Alliance and the Saul Zaentz Innovation Fund in Film and Media at the Johns Hopkins University—to fund the project. And during the intervening years, TT worked with and among the club community to make a name for herself as a rising local artist. And what had started as a documentary project by a young filmmaker became a collaborative music and dance visual experience from a rapidly maturing artist.
Dark City: Beneath the Beat isn’t a conventional music documentary; it’s an immersive audio-visual experience that treats Baltimore as the fertile ground that birthed a wicked party music and the dances that go with it. TT shot all around the city, working with a number of local artists—Blaqstarr, Scottie B, Mighty Mark, the Team Squad Up dance crew (TSU), and more—to tell club’s story. It has a few conventional documentary flourishes, but it’s much more effective allowing music, dance, and visual to tell the emotionally potent story of the creative music culture cultivated by an underclass in a city that continues to ignore them.
The film “ended up being a beautiful audio visual experience where you get to see the faces that are really pioneering the sound and you get to see the characteristics of this city that breeds these artists,” she says. “We wanted to open the window to Baltimore to show you it’s not just drugs, violence, and things like that but there are amazing hidden figures and creators in the city.”
Photo by E. Brady Robinson
Date: Friday, June 28, 2019
Location: Reginald F. Lewis Museum, 830 E Pratt St., Baltimore, MD
5:30 p.m.: Opening Mixer Hosted by Bmore Than Dance music by DJ Ayymello
6:40 p.m.: Film Presentation
7:50 p.m.: Behind The Lens: Meet The Cast Panel
8:30 p.m.: Closing Reception Featuring music by Mighty Mark and live performances by TT The Artist, TSU Dance Crew and special guests.
Admission: $6 students & members | $8 general admission