Nestled in between the storefronts of the family-owned antique stores and bars chock-full of hipsters celebrating happy hour stands Asian Taste, one of Hampden’s best kept secrets. To the casual patron, the local restaurant appears to merely be a more sophisticated iteration on the hundreds of other carry-outs that crowd Baltimore’s streets.
Inside, customers are greeted by a curtain, rubbed thin from all the wandering hands that have grabbed at it over the years. Cheap plastic plants hang from the walls, accompanied by various ceiling decorations covered in Chinese lettering. Soft music plays in the background, creating a relaxing mood.
The typical decor of a carry-out restaurant offers no indication that this dining area boasts hundreds of music lovers each weekend, for only a stack of speakers, a Gordian knot of wires and a Biz Markie poster hidden in the shadows of the bar are the only indicators of any musical interest. Yet, after the final customer is served and the last egg roll is fried, this ordinary restaurant shifts into a bustling music venue.
The man behind all of the magic is Dirck Keyser, a Baltimore native with an intense passion for the underground music community. Beyond a few suggestions over the years, he made no serious effort to put together an actual concert. Little did he know that his suggestions planted a seed in the minds of Asian Taste’s ownership, and they invited him to pioneer a concert series at the establishment he once knew so well. He happily obliged, and the once unrealistic dream quickly came to fruition. Three years later, he insists that it is still well worth it. “I do it so I can enjoy great shows honestly,” he says smiling.
Maintaining an independent venue has become increasingly difficult over the years. “The goal is to provide a DIY space in Baltimore, but it’s getting harder to spaces going,” says Keyser, “Gentrification and landlords treating property differently have changed things for the worse.” Unfortunately, Baltimore’s underground culture is damaged by politics. It is now up to the remaining venues to keep the culture alive.
The most promotion an Asian Taste show receives is an announcement on Facebook. Beyond that, the news of shows is spread by word of mouth, making the large turnouts far more impressive. In a world dominated by digital media, seeing events succeed with old-fashioned promoting is refreshing and generates constant discourse about the local music scene. Independent music has an organic, do-it-yourself culture that prevails against adversity and possesses a genuineness that can not be duplicated with big stars and record labels.
Of course, a night at Asian Taste is not the same concert experience as going to a major venue with a stage and ample standing room. One night in this restaurant will leave you with a newfound appreciation for Baltimore’s underground music culture. The beauty in the struggle of upcoming musicians and watching the rock stars that we idolize is a stark contrast. Venues such as Asian Taste give artists their beginnings. Next time you are looking for a concert, give an underground show a chance. You very well could witness a star being born.