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PORTLAND — Grime Studios is the kind of place that stokes the imagination.
At first sight, the single-level, concrete warehouse on the banks of the Fore River looks abandoned. Pushing on its creaky metal door reveals a dimly lit hallway, its walls covered in dark, imaginative murals, underground concert fliers, and occasional graffiti.
There’s also a cacophony of sound.
Grime Studios is a rehearsal facility for more than 25 rock, punk and heavy metal bands, or about 100 musicians, who rent the building’s 15 rooms, pack them full of drums and Marshall stacks, and crank it up 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
According to owner Justin Curtsinger, Grime is the only around-the-clock facility of its kind north of Boston, and its presence is vital to Portland’s arts and music community.
Without help from the community, however, Grime’s time may be running out.
Grime is on Thompson’s Point, the prized waterfront property that is undergoing a multimillion-dollar transformation. In the coming years, the land will be home to an outdoor concert facility, a sports arena and a circus college, and the warehouse will eventually be razed. Earlier this year, another, smaller rehearsal space on Thompson’s Point was demolished, displacing four bands.
Although the fate of the building is certain, Curtsinger hopes Grime will live on elsewhere.
Last month, the dreadlocked, 33-year-old Cumberland resident signed a letter of intent to lease space at 299 Presumpscot St., a warehouse in Portland’s North Deering neighborhood. The new, larger building has enough space to build twice as many rehearsal rooms and art studios as Grime’s present location.
The arrangement is for 10 years with two, five-year renewal options. But to seal the deal, Curtsinger must raise $70,000 to fund build-out of the studios and infrastructure, a project estimated to cost a total of $100,000.
Curtsinger and a hired consultant are exploring several avenues for the funds, including private donors, investors, and loans from non-traditional lenders. One such loan would add $35,000, Curtsinger said. Another $12,000 has been raised through private contributions.
Curtsinger has also set up an Indiegogo page for an initial phase of crowd-funding. As of Tuesday morning, the effort had raised nearly $2,000 of its $10,000 Phase 1 goal, which ends Oct. 15. If it is successful, another larger goal will be set early next month.
Grime Studios earned its evocative name.
The facility opened in 1995 as Prime Artist Rehearsal Studios, but eventually fell into disrepair. Curtsinger took over the building in October 2012 after raising more than $12,000 to pay off debts accrued by prior management.
Shortly afterward, he changed the name to Grime Studios to befit its ragged look.
Grime’s appearance is beside the point, however, according to Zak Taillon, guitarist and keyboardist for Superorder, an instrumental progressive-metal trio that shares a monthly rental space with another prog-metal band, Capture the Sun.
Even though Grime probably embodies parents’ worst nightmares for their kids, it is a sanctuary for expression, the 25-year-old Maine College of Art graduate said.
“It’s the gnarliest, rawest place, but it has nothing to do with what it looks like,” Taillon said. “It’s a place for everyone to get away from everything and be with like-minded people. When I’m in that room, I can completely forget that I have a job, that I’m paying rent, that I have student loans.
“That allows me, as an artist, to get outside, to feel protected, and be true to myself.”
Last month, Superorder played a benefit show for Grime at Geno’s Rock Club with Portland metal bands Sylvia, Dour and Capture the Sun. The effort raised $570.
Justin Hadley, who plays drums for both Superorder and Capture the Sun, said Grime is particularly important for percussionists. Whereas guitars are easily transported and can be practiced unplugged, drum kits are labor-intensive, take up space and are inherently loud. That’s a problem in Portland, where apartments are often small and neighbors are nearby.
As such, Hadley often practices independently at Grime, sometimes as much as three or four hours per day.
“Nobody’s ever going to tell me to leave or be quiet,” he said. “I never have to worry about it.”
Hadley graduated from the University of Maine at Orono last year and then moved to Portland. The attraction was Portland’s wide array of music venues.
“There’s not a lot going on up there,” Hadley said of Orono. “There’s not enough room for growth. There’s not enough mental stimulation. There’s not a lot of venues. A lot of bands practice, but not many play (shows).”
If Grime folds, however, there could be plenty of venues in Portland with no bands to fill them, he said.
“A lot of bands would struggle. A lot of bands would stop making music. A lot of the art would be gone. Grime is important for Portland,” he said.
Casey McCurry, who leads the eight-piece ’80s-influenced rock band Sunset Hearts, knows firsthand the value of rehearsal space in Portland, and what it means when it’s gone.
Early this year, Paw Palace – another rehearsal and recording space on Thompson’s Point – was bulldozed, displacing four bands and the thriving scene that surrounded it.
For the next six months, Sunset Hearts searched unsuccessfully for a new location, but eventually settled on space in South Portland near Interstate 295.
“(It is) vastly more expensive than the last space and can only fit Sunset Hearts plus one other small band,” McCurry said.
The other bands found a practice location, but it is shared with many other bands and subject to rigid scheduling, which is less than ideal for a somewhat mercurial art form.
“It’s impossible to say ‘I will be inspired on Tuesdays from 9 to 11,'” McCurry deadpanned.
A loss of 15 more practice spaces would have dire consequences for the music scene in Portland, he added.
“If Grime doesn’t make their goal, Portland is screwed and Biddeford becomes the new art locus of Maine, I think,” he said.
In the meantime, Grime Studios has been granted a month-to-month extension at Thompson’s Point while plans for the development are finalized.
Curtsinger said developer Chris Thompson has been “very helpful and encouraging” throughout the process.
Superorder, an instrumental progressive-metal band from Portland, performs at Grime Studios last month. The rehearsal space for more than 25 bands will soon be razed to make way for a multimillion-dollar development on Thompson’s Point. From left are bassist Kyle Scofield, drummer Justin Hadley and guitarist/keyboardist Zak Taillon.
Justin Curtsinger at Grime Studios in Portland. Curtsinger, the owner/operator of the rehearsal space, has launched a fundraising campaign to move the operation from Thompson’s Point to Presumpscot Street.
Rock band Mome rehearses last month at Grime Studios in Portland.