Launch Music Conference ft Ice Nine Kills & more!

I feel I’ve earned the title of the “ Ice Nine Kills girl ” in my local concert scene. With their logo tattooed on my arm, my Google Drive full of photos from the last 5 years, and my car full of CDs spanning their entire career, my love for this band has become no secret. So at 10 pm, September 10th, seeing in my inbox, I was approved to shoot another Ice Nine show, I just about cried. 2 years without a concert is just about the worst possible thing for a concert photographer, especially two years without my favorite band playing shows. So I loaded my car, and drove the 3 odd hours to Lancaster, PA for the Launch Music Conference.

A venue of this size is intimidating after not shooting a show for a long time, so making my way to the photo pit was the scariest thing I had done in months. The night kicked off New Jersey natives, Enox.

 It was hard not to bang your head to the punchy guitars, crashing drums, and the vocals full of emotion and frustration. They started the night off with an insane amount of energy, getting the crowd warmed up for what else was to come.

Gladiators took the stage next, offering a vibey, heavy performance. The melodic vocals mixed with the deep and bassy guitars, I was in awe of the somehow soft, but powerful performance. The PA band offered a different vibe to the night, setting them apart from the heavy, angry acts we’d see with them. Speaking to them after their sets, they were overwhelmingly kind, and super supportive of all the artists attending the show. It was heartwarming to see a band connecting with fans after two years of isolation, and I could tell how much it meant to the guys in Gladiators.

Lancaster hometown act Hawk was a band I had never seen, despite following singer/guitarist Ricky Armellino’s music since This Or The Apocalypse. It was exciting to see a band I knew, and being able to scream the words back at them had me smiling their entire set. They offer a simple, yet insanely unique approach to metalcore. Ricky’s vocals pack a punch, complimenting the heavy, beautiful guitar work. I could see the emotion in their performance, the entire band clearly overwhelmed to be performing in front of their hometown. There were familiar faces I had seen at shows, all of them looking at the stage with happiness, excitement, and a proudness you rarely see at shows anymore.

Currents was a band I had seen open for bands before, and I heavily regret not giving them my full attention in years past. The energy was turned up to eleven, crowd surfers hammering the barricade. Currents may seem like a traditional metal band at heart, but their music seems to fill your body, forcing you to start moving. It was a chaotic set to shoot, all of us photographers moving to try and capture the incredible stage presence of the band in front of us. After the shoot, I was beyond excited to hand my camera off to a friend, and jump in the pit myself.

I had seen Ice Nine Kills 10 times before this show. I knew all the songs. I knew all the words. I was expecting a typical, incredible set from them. But this set seemed to move me more than usual. INK isn’t exactly a band with sentimental songs, as horror movies and theatrics have taken a hold on their music. But I felt myself getting choked up watching their set. It had been so long since I saw them, that the tears filled my eyes before I even knew. It’s a bit awkward to have tears pouring down your face while your favorite band sings about slashers and demons, but it wasn’t about the music. It was about all the people I had missed over the pandemic. The friends I made and haven’t seen in years. The ability to use my camera and make more art. Their set was, as usual, outstanding. Spencer works the crowd in a way that no frontman could, the other members of the band adding to the chaos happening in the crowd behind me. The horror behind their music comes to life with chaotic vocals, costumes, and of course their amazing makeup artist, Shevy, dressing up as the final girls from the movies inspiring their songs. They make the movies you love come to life before your eyes. It was so rare to see a band who sounds just as good live as they do on record, their entire performance rivaling any movie you could see. My 15 minutes were up before I knew it, and I made my way into the crowd, and finally let loose. Two years without a moshpit, without friends to headbang with. It was an emotional night. The exhaustion didn’t hit my bones until I finally sat down in my bed. 

This tour is a gift for everyone involved. Fans, bands, crew and security. Everyone missed this. I know I did. I eagerly look forward to seeing Ice Nine Kills on the second leg of this tour. And I can’t wait to see what every single band on this bill has coming for the future.

Review & photography courtesy of Emily Sulkowski

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A Photographer’s Return to the Local Pennsylvania Music Scene

A year and a half off of work will put a dent in anyone’s career. In my case, my career has never been my 9-5 job, it was always my work done in the music scene. I felt as if 2018-2019 was a nonstop time, show after show, album after album. When the world slammed on the breaks, I didn’t know what to do with myself. I sat at home, my camera in its case collecting dust. How does a concert photographer do her job with no concert? It was a horrible 19 months for me, my love for art crashed and burned, and I didn’t know how I’d be able to get back into it. Luckily, on July 11th, everything fell right back into place.

This show was a local event, not a huge tour with flashing lights and pyrotechnics. But it was exactly what I needed. Heavy music, friends, and a damn good location to take some of my favorite photos to this day.

Two of these bands I didn’t know very well, Elsewhere and Escape Artist. Their live sets blew me away, full of passion and an eagerness to get back. I wish I could recite their pre-show speeches word for word, but the tears in everyone’s eye told me what I needed to know. I was happy to take photos, banging my head to the infectious music as I always do. While not knowing these bands before that day, I made new friends and connections that I already plan on working with in the future.

Elsewhere

Escape Artist

Toothless

Toothless and Renovare are bands that have been in my life a long time, and been my friends even longer. Every time I see them, I’m reminded of the overwhelming support I have in the scene. Toothless has been allowing me to photograph them since I was in middle school, and have always been supportive of my growth. Renovare is the same way, and have always been a band that has supported me growth and fought for me to be respected as an artist. Their music drew me in first, Toothless having the chaotic, heavy sound that makes you want to get moving. Renovare has intricate riffs and long, drawn out songs to show the sheer talent of everyone in the band. The lead singer, one of my closest friends, shows her vocal talent in melodic, ethereal performances, mixed with grit and anger from her lyrics. 

Renovare

This show was less about seeing my favorite bands, and more about seeing those who gave me my photography career. There were tears, laughter, hugs, and moshpits. It was the most beautiful welcome back I could have wanted. And I cannot wait for the scene to come back swinging.

Photos and review courtesy of Emily Sulkowski

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Sleepsculptor Interview

 

In a genre like metalcore where so many bands fade into the back, patterns often repeating, and a lot of songs falling into a similar sound, how do you make yourself stand out? Sleepsculptor’s answer is to create intense, chaotic music that will leave your jaw on the floor. Of course many bands fall flat by doing too much. Sleepsculptor has done the opposite, taking a huge hold on the scene they’ve become a part of. I talked with Ben Pypiak and Hunter Derr, lead vocalists of Sleepsculptor to ask about what makes the band special. 

What inspired Sleepsculptor and the sound you guys were going for?

Hunter: Definitely bands like the Tony Danza Tapdance Extravaganza, Arsonists Get All The Girls, IWrestledabearonce. We were going for a more mathy approach to metalcore.

Danza was a metalcore giant that had a huge influence on the scene with the same sporadic, chaotic sound Sleepsculptor achieves. The band regularly covers them in their live shows, giving insanely impressive performances of Rudy X 3 and The Alpha The Omega, a song that the TDTE never played live themselves. Their cover of Rudy X 3 can be seen here: https://youtu.be/h8gE8z82Xc

The inspiration coming from bands of the same genre brought me to my next question. 

Is that where you pull inspiration from while writing. Is it solely mathcore/sporadic metalcore based or do you pull inspiration from other genres?

Hunter: I feel like we most definitely pull from a lot of genres. I mainly listen to Captain Murphy and Earl Sweatshirt. Everyone else listens to some pretty niche stuff I’d say.

Do you ever worry about how your music will be received based on how unique it is?

Hunter: Nah not really I feel like we just write what we want to write and if people like it, that’s cool. If not, I don’t really mind because I make music for myself at the end of the day.   Ben: It’s pretty cool to hear that people like what we make anyway. 

Sleepsculptor isn’t for the faint of heart for sure. The live shows feel claustrophobic in the best way possible. The constantly changing guitar, the vocalist’s fast and angry tonal changes. It’s enough to make anyone want to get moving, and their shows certainly deliver. It’s amazing to see them move as a unit, which is difficult for bands so large sometimes. Along with two vocalists, they have two guitarists, Jake Moyer and Kuyler Massam, who offer intensely technical playing along with the classic breakdowns everyone knows and loves. To help with the fast paced performances, James Slattery as drummer, and Travis Antoniello on bass, are both well versed in the metalcore scene, both being in the Wilkes Barre local band Toothless. With so many amazing creative minds, I always wondered who took the reins while writing. 

Is there any difficulty having 6 member’s input while making music?

Hunter: I don’t think so, we’re all generally into the same stuff. It’s easier to get weirder ideas.    Ben: We’re all pretty connected. 

Do you two (Ben and Hunter) ever disagree on where to go vocally/lyrically or does it work best when you bounce your ideas off of each other?

Hunter: Not that I can think of, we’ll usually write in chunks and then go back and dissect/ split parts up.  Ben: Not really, sometimes we swap lyrics.  

Their first album, Untimening, was well received, but their most recent album, Entry: Dispersal, was beyond unique. 

Entry: Dispersal was different than Untimening, do you plan on leaning towards more of a drastic change with your next release?

Ben: We all decided to get pretty experimental, but not straying too far. 

Hunter: It’s definitely gonna be a lot weirder than anything we’ve released yet. 

Weird has turned out to be an amazing thing for Sleepsculptor. The band constantly works and writes, which explains why in seemingly less than 2 years, they have grown into a force to be reckoned with in the Pennsylvania metalcore scene. Entry: Dispersal was a fantastic album in every sense of the word, every song having the same vibe, but every one felt insanely unique. Every piece of music released by Sleepsculptor has its own personality and own breath of life, making them an absolute joy to listen to. It’s exciting to support them, and I cannot wait to see what they do in the future. 

Follow them on Instagram , you can listen to & buy their music on ITunes, Bandcamp, Spotify, and other streaming services

Interview + Photos courtesy of  Emily Sulkowski  –Instagram| Twitter

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Diseased & Disguised Tour 2020 | Photos + Review

Metalcore is a genre that never seems to go away, and that’s a good thing. When two giants of the scene, Beartooth and Motionless in White, announced their co-headlining tour, everyone knew we were in for a treat. With Limbs and Stick To Your Guns as support, this tour set the tone for the rest of 2020. 

Limbs was a band I had never heard of, but I was pleasantly surprised. They brought an energy no one in the crowd expected so early in the night. I’m used to watching openers have a few courtesy head bangs and nothing outside of it. The pit soon opened and the night began. With only one album, a few EPs and singles in their discography, you’d never expect a band to pack such a punch. 

Stick To Your Guns made their mark in the scene years ago, but something about them is always refreshing. Hardcore is a genre on a steady resurgence, and it’s easy to understand why. The set contained mostly classics such as “ Amber “ to spark memories in the crowd. The anger was obvious, but the band always has a way of bringing everyone in a room together. 

I can never stop suggesting Beartooth to anyone. Caleb Shomo has a voice that fills you with every emotion you could feel. The production of orange lights and fog created a vibe that made you want to move. Crowdsurfers made my job as a photographer difficult, but even my fellow photographers in the photo pit couldn’t help but bang their heads. Classic metal riffs with the anger and punch of a new hardcore band, Beartooth is a treat every single time. 

Few bands can pack a punch for over a decade. Motionless in White have the honor of being within those select few. The ambiance before they even walked on stage was enough to send shocks through the crowd. The spooky purple and blue lighting, strobes, and the skeletons on the stage, the band was sure to come out with a bang. Motionless mixes old songs with new, but the crowd knew the words to everything. Frontman Chris Motionless works the crowd into an angry and violent pit every single time, yet expresses his love and appreciation the entire time. With heavy hitters like Devils Night and Abigail, the crowd had plenty of energy to burn before the softer side of things came out towards the end with Another Life and Eternally Yours. The entire show was a mix of beauty, chaos, and spooky vibes. 

The Diseased and Disguised tour was an incredible start to the 2020 metal-core tour season. No mixed genres were needed to carry this tour around different fan bases. Solid, to the point heavy music was all it took to sell out shows, and created what I can say is one of the best shows I’ve been too.

Photos + review courtesy of Emily Sulkowski

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Ice Nine Kills’ The Octane Accelerator Tour 2019 | Photos

  Photos courtesy of Emily Sulkowski

 The Camera Affect Promotions |Instagram Twitter | Youtube

** Review + more photos from other bands on the tour to follow **

Keeping NEPA Strange an Interview w/ Josh Balz by Emily Sulkowski

 

Being odd is typical for artists. It’s what makes us all unique. Josh Balz took the idea of odd and amplified it. Owner of the Strange and Unusual Oddities Parlor in Kingston and Philadelphia, PA, Josh has certainly added a little gem to the often dreary North East, PA. I sat down with him to talk about how life has been after his transition from being in a touring band to running his store full time.

I started by asking if the transition from touring to being grounded back in PA was strange?

“ I love the area, I grew up here and always lived here.” He says.

He certainly thought the transition was strange, since the hectic touring life took a lot out of a person, “ I never felt busy, I felt like I wasn’t doing enough, since I was only running the store, not doing both.” He said while talking about reconfiguring his life after leaving his band.

I asked about his music, Strange Kids, which he’s released two singles under, and more importantly if he was releasing more music, “ I’d like to, it’s more of a hobby right now.” Genre wise, Strange Kids and Motionless in White are very different. Josh said, “ It’s all based on my emotions, what I’m feeling at the time.”
In NEPA, Josh is somewhat of a hometown hero. I asked him if support from local fans had ever changed after coming home. “ I think there’s more support now. The store and Motionless have the same vibe. It goes hand in hand.” His employees at the store said his fair share of fans still come in, excited to meet him. Fans and locals alike still love the shop, enjoying how different it is among the repetitiveness the Valley seems to see often.

Owning a store like this comes from a love for weird things. “ I always enjoyed them (oddities). The stuff comes from all over. A lot of vintage taxidermy” He said when I asked how he finds his unique items, “ It’s definitely a process.”

In a town full of pizza shops, I wondered how a shop selling human bones and spell books does so well, “ I wanted to do something different here,” Josh said when I asked what inspired him, “ Everyone told me I was going to fail.”

Balz said that the shop does very well, being able to sell such unique, incredible items and still stay afloat, where in a huge city it would be difficult. Having the backing he did, it’s no surprise the shop is well loved and received. While wrapping things up, I asked him how it feels to know his music and his parlor help so many people. Being weird isn’t always easy, and he’s always made people like him feel a little less like outsiders. I asked if he ever wanted to have that effect on people. “ Always. I’ve always been a very supportive person. I love helping other people.”

Josh has always encouraged people to be themselves, and be interested in unique things. He’s very proud of who he is, and everything he’s built. “ I hope people come in, to see the shop and try the cafe.”

The Strange and Unusual Oddities Parlor sits at 467 Wyoming Avenue in Kingston, Pennsylvania. Now boasting a Harry Potter themed cafe called Steamy Hallows, serving cookies, Butter Brew coffee and hot chocolate covered in glitter, The Strange and Unusual is a little gem in a town that people seem to forget. Give the shop a visit, buy a skull or two with your coffee, and never be afraid to be a little weird.

Interview courtesy of Emily Sulkowski  | SHOP NOW :  The Strange and Unusual

Follow Josh Balz here

 

 

Beartooth, Of Mice & Men, Hands Like Houses, and Dead American | The Disease Tour 2019

Dead American

Hands Like Houses

 

Of Mice & Man

 

Beartooth

5/9/19 | Lancaster PA

Photos courtesy of Emily Sulkowski

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Ice Nine Kills, New Years Day, and From Ashes to New | Episode III Tour 2019

From Ashes to New

New Years Day

Ice Nine Kills

Photos courtesy of Emily Sulkowski

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Knocked Loose w/ The Acacia Strain, Harms Way, Sanction, and Higher Power | Spring North American Tour |Photos + Review | 4/12/19 | Lancaster, PA

In Old Ham County, Kentucky, something truly special was born. With a genre full of bands, what sets Knocked Loose apart? Their shows. Tonight I finally experienced what all the fuss was about.

Higher Power, Sanction and Harms Way kicked the night off with a punch, giving us a little taste of what was to come. All 3 bands were heavy and gave the crowd that energy we needed. Despite not being known by everyone, those 3 openers left the building, but didn’t leave everyone’s mind. The Acacia Strain was the evenings heaviest treat. The crowd seemed to transform into a pit of chaos. Crowdsurfers, stage divers, and moshers, the Massachusetts band brought the temperature in the room up about 15 degrees. 

The main act we all waited for. Knocked Loose came out swinging, quite literally. Before the first note was played, the crowd was moving. Frontman Bryan Garris encouraged the crowd to keep moving, to take the mic, and have a good time. Playing older tracks like The Gospel and All My Friends, their new single Mistakes Like Fractures, and most of their most recent album Laugh Tracks, the 5-piece was a security guards worst nightmare. Crowdsurfers didn’t stop coming. The pit never closed. Garris knew the mic was ours, not his.

This tour was extraordinary. It’s hard to have bands continue to compliment each other’s energy and vibe. This spring tour was nearly perfect in every way, from the set lists to the stage presence, this is not the last we’ll be hearing from any of the 5 bands that played. 

Higher Power

Sanction

Harms Way

The Acacia Strain

Knocked Loose

 

Knocked Loose | The Acacia Strain | Harms Way | Sanction | Higher Power

Photos and review courtesy of Emily Sulkowski

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In Our Wake Tour | 2018

 Photos by Emily Sulkowski, @emilyisalright on twitter.

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