Marijuana Deathsquads raid the West Coast

Ryan Olson, P.O.S., Har Mar wrap up their residency

It's 1 a.m. at a little house in the Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles, and if you're expecting a party, don't—it's a work night. The kitchen island has been converted into a recording studio with a laptop, a microphone, some notebooks, a bottle of bourbon, and a seemingly endless supply of medicinal marijuana. As a beat hums out of the laptop speakers, Marijuana Deathsquads' Ryan Olson is intensely focused on tweaking sounds while Mike Mictlan of the Doomtree crew and Sean "Har Mar Superstar" Tillmann trade off experimenting with vocal lines and hastily jotting down notes. There's a feverish bubble around the proceedings; as Freddy Votel dozes under a pile of blankets on the couch and Ben Ivascu grabs a beer from the refrigerator, the trio pause for a quick hello and then get right back to work.

Wandering a few doors down the street, Ivascu and Skoal Kodiak's Markus Lunkenheimer and Brady Lenzen catch last call at Satellite (formerly Spaceland), a modest looking little venue that serves as a hub for L.A.'s indie scene. The bartender waits about three minutes before informing everyone that drinks need to be finished. Out front, the marquee declares: "FRIDAY: HAR MAR SUPERSTAR AND MARIJUANA DEATHSQUADS." There's not enough room to include P.O.S., Mictlan, and Skoal Kodiak, who are also on the next night's bill, but the shots have been fired, and the message is loud and clear.

Los Angeles: Consider this a Minnesota invasion.

A mere fraction of the ever-expanding, revolving cast of Marijuana Deathsquads
Brian Garrity
A mere fraction of the ever-expanding, revolving cast of Marijuana Deathsquads
Har Mar Superstar, a.k.a. Sean Tillmann, taking it to the next level at the 7th St. Entry last weekend
Erik Hess
Har Mar Superstar, a.k.a. Sean Tillmann, taking it to the next level at the 7th St. Entry last weekend

For the entire month of February, Marijuana Deathsquads—Olson, Stef "P.O.S." Alexander, Isaac Gale, Ivascu, and Votel—left the harsh winter of Minnesota to hole up in Los Angeles for a weekly residency, joining forces with Har Mar Superstar at Satellite. Every Friday, the 300-person venue became a packed house of L.A. hipsters overwhelmed by the melding of tight grooves and sheer noisy unpredictability, each week growing and roping in new converts.

"We don't really see who's there until we're done, but when we're finished, it's been pretty packed, and they've been sweaty," Alexander says on the day of the third show. "It's new people every week...tighter than ever, and really easy to just fucking go for it."

Not bad for a bunch of guys who still don't have a full-length record out—although that's about to change.

It's been an explosive rise for a group that started as a way to avoid getting bored when their hardcore band Building Better Bombs was on hiatus. Over the past year, while P.O.S. played multiple festivals and the Olson-masterminded Gayngs exploded locally and nationally, Marijuana Deathsquads' party squad morphed from hardcore-inspired noise into a Picked to Click act who brought together an eclectic rotating cast of local musicians and out-of-town guests, creating ear-bending improv/dance grooves that defied listener expectations and spit in the face of easy categorization. Drummers Ivascu and Votel, who can claim membership in over 10 local bands between the two of them, form the organic rhythmic core; Gale, Alexander, and Olson act as the main noisemakers, sample-tweakers, and vocalists; and from there, you never know who's going to show up.

As the buzz grew, so did the crowds, and after MDS's first gig with a guarantee, they were looking for a way to use the money to their advantage. Enter Har Mar Superstar, visiting Minneapolis from his adopted Los Angeles. "Once I got the Gayngs record and saw them live at First Avenue, it was all over," says Tillmann. "I was hooked, part of the crew, and down for whatever." This led to three L.A. shows in the fall, with Tillmann collaborating. "I think people were ready for some meandering noise bullshit when they saw us set up, but the sets turned out to be super melodic dance parties where people were screaming for encores," he says. "It was infectious. Everyone wanted to know more about MDS and guest in the band."

"Sean suggested we come back out and do this," says Ryan. "He set up the Har Mar Superstar residency and asked us to come out. I still can't believe we pulled that off; we had no idea how we were going to get there, where to stay, who could go. It was all so up in the air as we left town, and things just came together. I'm really proud of everyone to have just trusted that we should do this and sacrificed everything that they did to make this happen. Amazing things went down because of this, and now we have so much more to look forward to."

So, at the beginning of February, MDS made their way to L.A. and, upon arrival, lucked into a living situation right down the street from Satellite. "I was out here staying with friends," says Alexander. "Dudes showed up in a van, and it was a mad scramble to find a place for everyone to live. It was like, 'We gotta find a house?'"

"I was like, 'Sorry guys, I can't have five dudes on my floor, I gotta live,'" Tillman adds.

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