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A photo essay / by Ahmad Zaghal

My name is Ahmad and I am a blind concert photographer. Some of you reading this probably also read the interview Katie Alice Greer did with me a couple issues ago about shows, records, and my general experiences in the DC-area DIY community.

I have been taking pictures with my phone at shows and posting them on my Instagram page since last summer. When I take a picture, I try to use sound to determine the direction in which I'm supposed to be shooting. I also try to get an idea for how high the stage is (if there is one) prior to the beginning of the show. This lets me know how high or low to aim my phone. Most of my enjoyment of doing it comes from the feedback I get after posting. I'm always curious to find out how a picture turned out in both conventional and non-conventional senses (many people have told me that they prefer the blurrier shots).

The idea to start an Instagram account was a little joke between a few friends and I for a while after this Ian MacKaye interview aired on the radio in DC, where MacKaye expressed dismay at the fact that so many people like taking camera phone pictures at shows. I eventually was convinced that A) results might be pretty funny and B) it would make for a good social experiment. How much interest would the public have in such an idea? Hence my posting them in the public forum that is Instagram. Would the Instagram page remain a small joke between a few friends, or would people I'd never met get wind of it and become interested enough to follow and comment on it?

Surprisingly, the answers were "much more than I expected" and "yes" to both questions respectively. My pictures have supposedly improved markedly since I began. Have a look and judge for yourselves! Here are pictures I took this week, between 2/26 and 3/5/2014. As long as people seem interested, I'll continue to take pictures. I've also done a bit with video and plan to do more.

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Quilt at NPR

Wednesday, February 26: Quilt at NPR

Quilt: Quilt had no DC dates listed on their current tour, but fortunately I was able to catch this intimate gig seeing at NPR's Tiny Desk. They played a short yet beautiful set (all Tiny Desk sets are three or four songs in length) that will eventually be uploaded to NPR's Youtube music channel which can be found here.

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Two Inch Astronaut at Stem Graphics

Friday, February 28: Roomrunner, Multicult, One Watt Sun, Two Inch Astronaut at Stem Graphics

Two Inch Astronaut: One of the many Exploding in Sound Bands that uses that Polvo guitar sound I can't get enough of. They're local to the DC area so I've had the pleasure of catching them a few times and they get better each time.

One Watt Sun at Stem Graphics

One Watt Sun: This show took place at a warehouse north of Baltimore; I think this band were local to that area because they seemed to have a pretty big group of people there specifically to see them. They were new to me and also very enjoyable. Especially their slower instrumental pieces.

Multicult at Stem Graphics

Multicult: Also new to me. Slightly more melodic take on noise-rock. Vocals were pretty inaudible from where I was but other than that, a solid set.

Roomrunner at Stem Graphics

Roomrunner: Always great. The pic was taken from further back than the others because a couple bros decided to ruin the set for everyone around them by dancing violently in a 20-foot radius. One guy got fed up with one of them and a small fight broke out causing the band to stop for a bit. Bros always seem to ruin a good time wherever they go.

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Holly Herndon at 930 Club

Saturday, March 1: St. Vincent and Holly Herndon at 930 Club

Holly Herndon: Movement is a mind-blowing album. I'd wanted to catch Holly Herndon since I first heard it. It took over a year but was worth the wait. She does more on her own with only a laptop and some pedals than most full bands. Most of the capacity crowd was mesmerized as bits of processed vocals bounced around the room to an almost constant 4/4 beat. I didn't recognize any of the tracks she played; the set sounded like much of it could have been improvised.

St Vincent at 930 Club

St. Vincent: It's been almost five years since I last saw St. Vincent; she was still on tour supporting Actor and was opening for Andrew Bird. While that show was pretty good, this one was a completely different beast. Annie Clark seemed infinitely more confident and comfortable, interacting much more with the audience and effortlessly commanding the attention of everyone in the room.

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Harness Flux at Black Cat

Tuesday, March 4: Public Service Broadcasting and Harness Flux at the Black Cat

Harness Flux: Harness Flux is the solo project of DC area native John Masters. It is in equal parts influenced by 90's indie-rock and twentieth century minimalist classical composition. He has a few tracks up on his Bandcamp:

Public Service Broadcasting at Black Cat

Public Service Broadcasting: Public Service Broadcasting are a London-based duo that takes audio from old British propaganda movies and re-contextualizes it for a music setting. Most of these clips sound as though they are from the WWII era. In a live setting, the films themselves are shown behind the band as they play. They reminded me of The Books and Boards of Canada but the music here is more rocking than that of either of those other bands.

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Wednesday, March 5: Ex Hex, Teen, Foul Swoops at Black Cat

Foul Swoops: I'm not sure if Foul Swoops play outside the DC area much but they've definitely become a favorite of most regular DC area concertgoers. Well worth checking out if you get the chance. The most immediate comparison I can think of would be to The Clean and quite a few other NZ bands. I also hear a little Times New Viking, Wire and Psychedelic Horseshit in there.

Teen at Black Cat

Teen: Teen were sort of the odd band out on this bill sonically but their slower, RNB-leaning pop jams served as a nice comedown after the more raucous Foul Swoops set.

Ex Hex at Black Cat

Ex Hex: Go see Ex Hex! Their short, yet blistering set couldn't have been more perfectly executed and this is just the beginning of their tour! They only have a couple tracks out but all the songs they play live are so good, they stick with you once you've seen them. My only other time catching them was at the DC Shredfest last fall and many songs they played then were instantly recognizable at this show. They are playing the massive corporate clusterfuck known as SXSW next week but if you're not into seeing shows put on by Starbucks/McDonald's/Walmart/Sodastream/Scion/Urban Outfitters/Budweiser in the shadow of a giant Doritos machine (nothing against you if you are) (I realize most of the above companies are not putting on SXSW shows), they have a host of other shows coming up in the US over the next month.

Follow Ahmad's concert photography via Instagram.

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