A brief history of Kirkwood Ballers Club

It’s About Time’s Nathan Emerson performing at Eyedrum. Photo by Chad Radford

What might the last few decades of Atlanta’s underground music scene look like if beer sales weren’t a factor in determining who gets booked to play a show? If the cover charge at the door was simply a donation of whatever you wanted to give? And, most importantly, performers showed up specifically to play something new that they’ve been kicking around, all for an audience that’s hungry for adventurous music — the wilder and the more challenging the better?

The Kirkwood Ballers Club experimental open mic night at Eyedrum Art & Music Gallery every third Thursday each month opens a window into just such an intrepid world of creative music.

Tight Bros. Network promoter Randy Castello christened the Kirkwood Ballers Club at Lenny’s Bar on Memorial Drive (now the site of the live-work-play condo building dubbed The Leonard) in March of 2004. But the idea was initially hatched in the late ‘90s, while hosting late-night parties in the basement at KBC co-founder Unisa Asokan’s house on Martha Ave. in Kirkwood.

“We had a sign in the door that said “Kirkwood Ballers,” Castello says. “Playing music was always the center of attention and the reason for getting together there.”

Castello even recalls one late-night gathering during Kirkwood Ballers Club’s early years in which composer and indie rock/avant-garde luminary David Grubbs (Squirrel Bait, Bastro, and Gastr del Sol) came back to stay at their house after performing at Eyedrum with cellist Nikos Veliotis earlier that evening.

“It was late at night, he was on the road, and we started playing right beneath his room, it had to be so loud,” Castello says. “It got to a point where he came downstairs — he was so cool about it — and said, ‘guys, can we just keep it down.’”

From the beginning, Kirkwood Ballers Club’s mission has always been to, “provide an open forum for experimental musicians and performance artists who’ve found it difficult to get shows elsewhere around town,” Castello says. “I also wanted to create an idea incubator that would allow others to perform and experiment with each other musically, and to create and nurture new creative ensembles.”

In its various incarnations, Kirkwood Ballers Club has created an environment where generations of avant-garde musical energy and talent has flourished throughout periods of existence and inactivity.

During its early years at Lenny’s, a parade of local punk, hip-hop, jazz, and indie rock musicians would sign up to perform including everyone from garage punks and avant-garde musicians Cole Alexander of the Black Lips and Bradford Cox of Deerhunter to Grammy-winning saxophone player Kebbi Williams of Tedeschi Trucks Band. All utilized the format to create music in-the-moment that expanded upon their typical repertoires.

Kebbi Williams. Photo courtesy KBC

“The Kirkwood Ballers Club was always a place of pure freedom,” says Kebbi Williams, who often showed up with large ensembles of musicians who lit up the room with an explosive freeform skroking jazz set.

Years later, Williams facilitates a similarly-minded Sunday evening jazz jam at Gallery 992 in West End, building upon the energy he tapped into while performing during KBC nights.

“I learned from Kirkwood Ballers Club at Lenny’s and from the scene at Eyedrum how to be free,” Williams goes on to say. “I saw some of the most original and provocative things at the Kirkwood Ballers Club, and it totally affected my life as an artist.”

Kirkwood Ballers Club has also drawn the attention of nationally touring acts who happened to be in town for the night. King Khan’s first Atlanta show was a KBC night.

“I remember introducing myself to Arish [King Khan] and he sprayed me in the face with Silly String,” Castello says. “It caught me off guard, and I didn’t know what to say, but it turned out to be a great night!”

Over the years, KBC changed locations, setting up at other now defunct venues along the way, including 11:11 Teahouse, The Highland Ballroom, and The Big House. It even settled in for a late-night incarnation at The Star Bar in Little Five Points for a stint.

Oftentimes other promoters including Matt McCalvin, Waylon Pouncy, and Matt Greenia stepped in to keep it going.

Brad Hoss of Hoss Records and Ryan Rasheed of LebLaze and Prefuse 73 launched a New York version of KBC at Brooklyn venue Zebulon Concert Cafe in 2011.In Atlanta, mashup artist Greg Gillis, aka Girl Talk, songwriter Jana Hunter, and even John Dwyer of psych-punk outfit Osees have also made KBC appearances.

Kirkwood Ballers Club host Sun Christopher. Photo by Chad Radford

In 2021, the rebirth of Eyedrum Art & Music Gallery at its current location brought with it a wholly new iteration of the Kirkwood Ballers Club. Sun Christopher hosts the monthly event as Castello settles into his evolving role as Eyedrum’s Facility Manager.

In the modern era, KBC’s spirit has been embraced by a wholly new generation of musicians, signing up for a 15-minute time slot, all under the evening’s long standing tagline: “Bring an instrument, record, beat, turntable, laptop, prepared piece, song, film score, voice, bag of blood, agenda, youth rebellion …”

Ipek Brooks at Kirkwood Ballers Club. Photo by Chad Radford

Castello adds that, in the past, he never used the term “open mic” in relation to KBC. “I was worried that it would bring out a lot of singer-songwriters playing cover songs, which has happened from time to time.”

In Eyedrum’s new home at 515 Ralph David Abernathy Blvd., a wholly new set of faces has picked up the mantle, ranging from artists reading poetry, gorgeous minimalist piano compositions, blazing industrial beats, and free-form art-rock ensembles have filled out the roster.

Of the more recent staples of KBC’s monthly rounds Mikey and Hoff of the band Upchuck perform regularly with various new outfits. Another next generation fixture is noise artist Nathan Emerson, who performs sometimes solo, sometimes with an ensemble, under the name It’s About time.

It’s About Time’s sets have taken shape as screaming, squelching displays of noise, clanging metal percussion, and feedback, punctuated by blasts of fireworks, and Emerson writhing on the floor in a half-naked state. It’s a blend of real-time catharsis cut from abstract emotions — all set to the tune of old school industrial clatter and confrontation. It is the bleeding edge of the creative spirit that KBC has always nurtured, with precisely the type of DIY pyrotechnics that wouldn’t fly in most small club settings.

“When I first pulled up to Kirkwood Ballers Club I didn’t really know how my act would come across,” Emerson says. “I actually kinda intended to rile people up and maybe stir up the audience a little bit. Which of course did happen, but I think most folks kinda dug what I was doing. It’s so surprising to have a space where someone like myself can perform an explosive act, flogging myself and screaming bloody murder, and not even receive the slightest of heckles. There is simply not a more open and accepting space in Atlanta, in my opinion,” he adds. “Literally all sorts of people can perform whatever their hearts desire there. I’m eternally grateful to have gotten my career started there and continue to perform there whenever I can.”

For Castello, it’s this engagement with the community, and the love of music that keeps Kirkwood Ballers Club coming back.

“Getting something started, getting people to come and maybe they’ll want to start a band or a new project, or just to play music,” Castello says. “That’s what we do here, and that’s what we do it for.”

This article originally appeared in the May issue of Record Plug Magazine.

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Taylor / Burland, Pas Musique, .document, and Meaning of Everything play Eyedrum on Sunday, May 8

PAS MUSIQUE: Robert Pepper

Brooklyn-based electronic and experimental artist Robert Pepper of Pas Musique returns this Sunday, May 8, for a set of drones, beats, and ambient majesty at Eyedrum. Since 1995, Pepper has led Pas Musique through various incarnations, all the while collaborating with the likes of Rapoon, Z’ev, Faust, Jim Tuite, and more. For this show, Pepper is performing a solo set.


TAYLOR / BURLAND: Scott Burland (left) and Ryan Taylor.

This show also marks the debut performance of the Taylor / Burland guitar duo, featuring ambient-drone artist, noise music fixture, and producer Ryan Taylor, whose credits include working with Rat Mass, Blackfox, AkuYou, Sensitive Chaos, and Eldorado Omega. Scott Burland is the former theremin half of Duet For Theremin and Lap Steel. Together, they’ll explore the spacious, subtle ambiance of resonating steel strings.


.document features Elliott Brabant of Michael Cera Palin. Meaning of Everything is the guitar-based project of Mykel Alder June (formerly of Mice in Cars).


Sunday, May 8. Eyedrum. $10. 7:30 p.m. (doors).

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R.I.P. Tom Smith, Jon Kincaid, and Robert Cheatham

REST IN PEACE: Tom Smith (on the far left, with Frank “Rat Bastard” Falestra). Photo by Chad Radford. Jon Kincaid (center) photo courtesy Amy Potter. Robert Cheatham (right) photo by Tara-Lynne Pixley.

There’s an old African proverb that says: “When a person dies, a library burns to the ground.”

Point being, when someone dies a lifetime of knowledge, experience, and context is lost forever, and the world is left a poorer place in their absence.

In January, Atlanta music quietly suffered through three profound deaths: First, news spread that Jon Kincaid, longtime 91.1 FM / WREK DJ and host of Sunday nights’ “Personality Crisis” radio show had died on January 4. He was 57 years old.

A week later, On Jan. 11, word spread across social media that former Eyedrum Art & Music Gallery Executive Director and avant-garde music and art scenes fixture Robert Cheatham had died at the age of 73.

Another week later, post-punk journeyman and noise music provocateur Tom Smith died as well. He was 66 years old. All three men represented somewhat different but primary eras and enclaves of Atlanta music. And while it may not be immediately obvious, each of their respective influences played an indelible role in shaping the city’s musical identity.

For more than 30 years, Kincaid hosted “Personality Crisis,” giving a platform to countless fledgling alternative rock, post-punk, underground, and Southern rock luminaries. In the early days of their careers, Atlanta-based acts the Indigo Girls, Drivin’ N Cryin’, and countless others benefitted from his steadfast dedication to music, and his encyclopedic knowledge.

Check out the backside of Mission of Burma’s 1988 LP Forget, and you’ll see bass player Roger Miller sporting a WREK T-shirt. It’s a good bet that Jon had a hand in Roger owning that shirt.

Jon explored every type of music known to humankind through his work as a WREK music director, and by creating his own experimental music under the name Sequence 3.

Cheatham led Eyedrum through its defining eras; he was Executive Director when the venerable arts institution was awarded a $30,000 grant from the Warhol Foundation in 2006. Cheatham also hosted Eyedrum’s long-running open improv nights, which became an institution for outsider and experimental arts. His band Tinnitus was well known for cranking out squelching, heavily-amplified noise and feedback created with the expressed intention of driving everyone out of the room.

His Brahvar Large Ensemble would often corral as many musicians together as possible — once even crowding more than 20 performers onto the tiny stage in the basement of Eyedrum’s original Trinity Ave. location for a massive improv blowout. Connections were made, new ensembles were formed, and wholly new configurations of musicians perpetuated the community. Cheatham’s brilliance lied in his merger of skronking, careening free jazz, and untethered exploration of sound as art without restraint.

Tom Smith reveled in a more confrontational aesthetic. With his groups To Live and Shave in LA, Peach of Immortality, and Boat Of, he placed elements of noise, the avant-garde, and sleazy rock ‘n’ roll on a level playing field. He wove them together seamlessly, while hopping around the globe — from Atlanta to Washington D.C. and finally Hanover, Germany. Along the way, he amassed collaborations with everyone from Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth, Andrew WK, Harry Pussy, Bill Orcutt, and more.

Kincaid, Cheatham, and Smith were all driven to create by exploring, not just rest on the past. Their sense of creativity, their dynamism, and their willingness to open up to the new — and the old — left a lasting mark on the city. Atlanta was made richer by their presence and their contributions, and the world suffers a tremendous loss with each of their passing.

On Fri., Feb. 18 (3-9 p.m.) and Sat., Feb. 19 (1-9 p.m.) Gallery 378 (378 Clifton Rd. in Candler Park) will host a two-day celebration of Jon Kincaid’s life and history at WREK. Video installations featuring broadcasts from “Personality Crisis” and more from the WREK archives will be playing throughout the gallery. On Saturday night, several acts including the Nightporters, the Chant, Kevn Kinney and friends, Current Rage, Will Rogers, and more will take turns playing songs on the stage downstairs.

Read more in the February issue of Record Plug Magazine.

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Upchuck plays a 7-inch release show at Eyedrum Sat., Nov. 6

Upchuck. Photo by Marlon Garcia

Upchuck celebrates the arrival of the group’s debut 7-inch (Famous Class Records) with an outdoor show at Eyedrum Art & Music Gallery on Saturday, November 6.

Its About Time also performs.

An extremely limited quantity of Upchuck’s “In Your Mind” b/w “Upchuck” blood-spattered 7-inches will be for sale on the merch table—first come first served.

Doors open open at 7:30 p.m. Music starts at 8:30 p.m. $15-$20. Get tickets here.

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Z’ev: A legacy steeped in the harmonics of time, space, and titanium

Z’ev performing at Eyedrum Art & Music Gallery, May 16, 2007. Photo by Chad Radford


Stark black-and-white photographs of a man with intense focus, hammering at plastic containers, metallic tubes, and hunks of repurposed weapons of war. His head and face clean-shaven, and a cigarette dangling from his lower lip as he kneels—muscles locked—pounding metal rods and mallets on mangled bits of titanium and steel. This vision of percussionist and sound artist Z’ev (born Stefan Joel Weisser) was broadcast from the Bay Area to middle America and beyond in the pages of the Industrial Culture Handbook, published by punk and underground culture journal RE/Search in 1983.

RE/Search placed Z’ev alongside industrial music’s early pioneers Throbbing Gristle, NON, Cabaret Voltaire, and more. But as each of these other acts explored the dark aspects of society in the wake of the industrial revolution with subversive cunning, Z’ev communed with the mystical elements of the natural world. The sounds he created tuned into the deeper resonances of a planet hurtling through space, spinning in alignment with the unseen contours of the universe.

Industrial Culture Handbook

Association with industrial music was never disconcerting for him. “It was just a bunch of people coming from an art background, moving into a proto-punk kind of thing,” Z’ev explained over the phone during an interview in 2007. “My relationship with industrial music had to do with the instruments I was using. They were products of high technological industrialization.”

Z’ev utilized the scraps of industry to draw out both the gargantuan and the meditative qualities of metal, space, and time. He fully embraced the artistic notions of turning swords into plowshares, but most importantly, his performances and compositions honed  the power of pure harmonics.

Be it with his earlier “wild style” live performances imbued with an intense physical show of force, or his more aurally-focused compositions that found balance in primitive rhythms and improvisation, Z’ev’s output had more in common with the tonal exploration of composers of massive minimalism such as Tony Conrad and Lustmord, or the techniques of Pauline Oliveros’ Deep Listening Band, rather than the dirge of groups like Einstürzende Neubauten or Test Dept., who utilize similar instrumentation. “I was never interested in people coming to see a violent thing happen, because it wasn’t violent; it was a powerful thing,” he explained. 

Recalling reviews of early performances: One bay area journalist wrote that “he manipulates large, metal objects with the look of a concert pianist.” But in New York, a writer called him “a man who personifies violence in sound and vision,” and later asked “why does this remind me of a guy being jerked around by two vicious Doberman Pinschers?”

The latter review didn’t set well. “He’s probably someone who cowers during a thunderstorm,” Z’ev offered with an understated laugh. “Some people revel in a thunderstorm and others get scared. It’s an elemental thing and people’s relationship to them determines if it’s something scary or something to embrace.”

“Salts Of Heavy Metals”

Early Z’ev recordings such as 1981’s Salts Of Heavy Metals (Infidelity Records) and 1982’s Elemental Music (Subterranean Records) summoned the hypnotic qualities of reverberating metal by guiding the clang and bang of his performance to harness the ghostly acoustic feedback swelling between each mallet strike—the rhythmic aural phenomena created by his homemade instruments interacting with the room itself.

Z’ev spent a lifetime studying music, the nature of sound, and spirituality from around the world, including Kabbalah and esoteric systems, and wrote a book titled Rhythmajik: Practical Uses of Number, Rhythm, and Sound. He also worked with the Fluxus Group, and was active in the Downtown Manhattan music scene of the ‘80s and ‘90s, as well as the West Coast’s avant-garde arts and music community, extending from his time attending the California Institute of the Arts.

“Elemental Music”

In 1980, he shared the stage with British goth-punks Bauhaus on their first headlining tour of the U.K. “We always used to hand pick our special guests and would look for unusual, stimulating, and challenging artists,” Bauhaus’ bass player and vocalist David J offered in an email. “We saw a film of Z’ev doing a performance where he was ‘playing the building,’ and also using his collection of plastic containers to great rhythmic effect. At the time, we were getting more rhythmic as a band so it was very complimentary to have him opening for us. I believe that he is something of a shaman.”

Over the years, Z’ev also collaborated with various composers, including live electronic music innovator Carl Stone, multi-instrumentalist Elliott Sharp, guitarist Glenn Branca, pianist Charlemagne Palestine, noise artist Merzbow, Genesis P. Orridge of Psychic T.V., Stephen O’Malley of Sunn O))), percussionist Jon Mueller, and dozens more.

“HYDratioN”

Like many, Mueller discovered Z’ev after reading about him in RE/Search’s Industrial Culture Handbook. “When I read his article in ’87 or ’88, I remember it striking me as someone really living a different kind of life, and as a drummer, it was inspiring—mostly in that his ideas went far beyond drumming.”

A few years later, Mueller booked Z’ev to play a show in Milwaukee, where the two met. Later, Mueller released the Osso Exótico + Z’EV CD via the Crouton label.

“Years later, I shared another bill with him in Milwaukee, as part of the Milwaukee Noise Fest,” Mueller says. “That was a great night. We had dinner and really got to talk instead of just exchanging emails—his were typically brief. His set with the synthetic drum triggers manipulating the Jimi Hendrix video was a new direction for him, and I admired his dedication to finding ways to create.”

Mueller goes on to say: “My perception after meeting him didn’t change much, except realizing the possibilities that exist. Being young reading about someone, especially someone like Z’ev, you never assume that one day you’d meet them, let alone work with them.”

In 2009, Important Records released HYDratioN, a collaboration in which Mueller mailed Z’ev a collection of tracks—drums vibrated with gong and synth recordings, and other small percussion. According to the LPs sleeve, Z’ev “recreated” the source material to an extreme degree. How it was executed, though, remains a mystery. “It’s somewhat unclear what all happened on his end,’” Mueller says. “To me, it sounded different than what I sent him, but he said he ‘basically just mixed it.’”

A now scarce retrospective double CD released in 1991, titled 1968-1990: One Foot In The Grave (Touch), drew renewed interest in Z’ev. Dozens more releases followed, including a 2006 CD for Atlanta’s Blossoming Noise label, titled Symphony #2 – Elementalities.

“Symphony #2 – Elementalities”

But even in the digital era, many of his recordings remain frustratingly difficult to track down. As a result, more people have heard of Z’ev than have experienced his performances.

For his 2007 tour—his first proper trek playing shows across the United States—Z’ev’s inventory of instruments included steel sheets and boxes, titanium tubes, a gong made from a patio table bass, and a section from the tank of an 18-wheeler. Each is played with various mallets and maracas that have been altered with ball bearings.

His favorite metal is Titanium, which he discovered at a Bowing scrap yard in Seattle circa 1982 where he acquired surplus materials salvaged from the cooling system of missile silos from Triton submarines. “When the rocket shoots out of the sub you have to cool the interior of the silo or it would melt the submarine,” he adds with childlike enthusiasm. “Titanium can become white hot and maintain structural integrity. The more heat and pressure that’s used to create a metal, creates energy potential. When you hit titanium it amplifies the sonic energy it puts out.”

That sonic energy still rings out with unmatched power.

Z’ev was born on February 8, 1951. He passed away on December 16, 2017. He sustained injuries including a punctured lung and five broken ribs, after surviving a train derailment in Kansas. He was 66 years old.

These photos were taken when Z’ev performed at Eyedrum Arts & Music Gallery on May 16, 2007. Mr. Natural, Black Meat, and Sikhara also performed. All photos by Chad Radford.

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Founding Stories: Oral histories of grassroots Atlanta October 17-18

Join Art Papers virtually for Founding Stories: Oral Histories of Grassroots Atlanta, a decade-by-decade series of talks exploring the founding stories of a selection of Atlanta’s DIY and artist-run spaces.

Founders of some of Atlanta’s most beloved and remembered spaces will speak about how these organizations came into existence. Answering questions such as: What were the conditions that led to the founding of the space/project/organization? What was happening in Atlanta at that time? What goals did you set out to accomplish, and did you feel those goals were met? What can the current field of artist-run initiatives learn from this history?

Each talk will be moderated by a member of the community who experienced the initiative’s activities first-hand, and in several cases, who operated/participated in similar concurrent projects.

Saturday & Sunday, October 17-18, 2020. All panels hosted via Zoom. Free but registration required for each session. All registration links can be found at www.artpapers.org/events/founding-stories/

Saturday October 17
Panel 1: 2010s Moderated by Brandon Sheats, feat. panelists from The LOW Museum of Contemporary Culture, Deer Bear Wolf, The Bakery Atlanta, and TILA Studios. 11-12:30 p.m.
Panel 2: 2000s Moderated by Felicia Feaster, feat. panelists from ArtSpot, Beep Beep Gallery, Shed Space, Apache Café, and Saltworks. 1-2:30 p.m.
— Panel 3: 1990s Moderated by Chad Radford, feat. panelists from Eyedrum, 800 East, Young Blood Gallery 3-4:30 p.m.

Sunday, October 18
Panel 4: 1980s Moderated by Lisa Tuttle, feat. panelists from The Mattress Factory Group, Blue Rat, Arts Exchange, Little Beirut Art Space, and Café Bizzoso. 1-2:30 p.m.
Panel 5: 1970s Moderated by Dr. Candy Tate feat. panelists from Nexus, Neighborhood Arts Center. 3-4:30 p.m.

Eyedrum returns!

Eyedrum Art & Music Gallery has announced a new location opening in early 2021 at 515 Ralph David Abernathy Blvd., in a historic industrial corridor near the West End, Pittsburgh, Mechanicsville, and Adair Park.

In a press release issued September 29, Eyedrum states that this new location will feature a “flexible 3,000 square-foot interior including a small dedicated gallery, an outdoor stage, and a courtyard for programming.”

The press release also states that Eyedrum will carry on with its legacy as “a home to underserved, emerging artists, musicians, filmmakers, and writers. In times of uncertainty, members of the community need arts spaces now more than ever.”

In June of 2018, Eyedrum, along with fellow DIY arts and music space Mammal were forced to close after a nearby fire on Broad Street SW left one man dead. Soon after, both business were forced to leave their Downtown locations permanently.

Two years later, Eyedrum’s announcement comes as a beacon of hope for an underserved community of artists and musicians. In a 2011 CL cover story that I co-authored with Wyatt Williams, title Eyedrum: An Oral History, we described that scene as “those willing to embrace music and arts that are as contemptuous as they were conscientious. Indie rock acts as varied as Oneida, Don Caballero, and the Black Heart Procession to Simeon Coxe of the Silver Apples to DJ Cut Chemist all performed there amid exhibitions with titles such as The Penis Show, Switch, and Liquid Smoke.”

With the recent closure of the Bakery in Oakland City, Atlanta needs a venue that this community can call home, now more than ever.

515 Ralph David Abernathy Blvd.

Eyedrum’s new home sits adjacent to Parts Authority, an automobile parts and supplies facility.

Deisha Oliver, a member of Eyedrum’s board of directors, says the gallery and performance venue is renting “a 3,000 square foot portion of 515. The building owner has been so kind as to do the needed build out of our portion of that space.”

To keep Eyedrum’s endeavors moving forward, an effort to raise funds is underway, with plans to facilitate virtual programming, and to support the staff and curatorial budget for the next five years. A new website is planned for launch soon, which will offer membership options.

In the meantime, click here to donate to Eyedrum.

More information will be available here as soon as it becomes available.

Read more about the history of Eyedrum.

Eyedrum: An Oral History by Chad Radford and Wyatt Williams 
Eyedrum Turns 20 by Chad Radford and Doug DeLoach
Breathing new life into South Downtown: Can Atlanta’s arts communities survive and thrive in an area primed for drastic change? by Sean Keenan
Can Downtown’s art scene survive developers? “We’re faced with a challenge posed by a city developing too quickly” by Sean Keenan
Downtown DIY heads out: Mammal Gallery and Eyedrum face the end of an era by Chad Radford and Sean Keenan