Growing up in Woodbridge, Virginia, Che Figueroa skated with friends who introduced him to bands including Black Flag, T.S.O.L. and the Sex Pistols. He also lived near a Vans shoe store, where employees would give away free compilation CDs featuring groups such as H2O and Sick Of It All.
In 2001, Figueroa went to see Madball at the former Nation nightclub in Southeast Washington, D.C. Something about the music, he said, spoke to his 16-year-old self.
“It was just complete chaos,” Figueroa said. “And I was just hooked.”
Three years later, Figueroa started Flatspot Records — named after the flat spot that can develop on the wheels of a skateboard — which has put out releases from well-known bands including Trapped Under Ice, Kill Your Idols and Angel Du$t, as well as emerging artists such as End It, Scowl and Zulu. He moved to Baltimore in 2010 and now co-owns the label with Ricky Singh.
Flatspot Records is set on Friday to release “The Extermination Vol. 4,” an 11-track compilation. That’s in addition to presenting Disturbin’ The Peace festival on Saturday at Baltimore Soundstage, which sold out the day tickets went on sale.
The Baltimore Banner recently spoke with Figueroa, 37, about the state of hardcore in Baltimore, the origin of the Disturbin’ The Peace festival and the decision to release a compilation in 2023. The following has been edited for length and clarity:
The Banner: Can you tell me a little bit about Flatspot Records? Why did you decide to start your own record label, and how has it evolved since 2004?
Che Figueroa: Initially, I just wanted to be involved, you know what I mean? Ways to get involved would’ve been like making a band, doing a zine, booking shows. And with me, it just so happens that when it came to being involved, I just began doing the label. And I began doing the label because in the ’90s and 2000s, D.C. had an iconic label called Malfunction. They put out a lot of amazing, amazing bands. And the guy who owned Malfunction, he lived in D.C. So I would go to all the D.C. shows, and he’d always have his table set up.
I would talk to this guy about Malfunction. You know, “How do you put a 7-inch [record] out? What does it take to have a label?” Just by talking to him, I got enough confidence to just do it myself.
What’s happening right now in Baltimore that’s producing punk and hardcore bands that are getting attention on a national stage?
We had a band called Gut Instinct that came out in the late ’80s. That was like the initial band that kind of set the foundation. And then you have Next Step Up, which came out in like ’91, ’92, which kind of built on top of what Gut Instinct began. And then you have a band called Stout that came out in the mid-’90s that had its own distinct sound. And then you had TUI [Trapped Under Ice] that came out in the 2000s, and they had a distinct sound. And if you ask TUI, they’ll say that Next Step Up is an influence.
So it’s like each band that’s come out since the ’80s always kind of manages to have its own sound and its own vibe. And it’s cool because then the next band that comes out can kind of take elements of that as an influence and then kind of just mold what they have and make it into something new.
And also, this is a tough city, you know? So I feel like most of the guys in the bands — it could be Justice [Tripp] who sings in TUI, it could be Akil [Godsey], who sings in End It — they’ve both lived in the city, as kids and as adults. So it’s like they have that edge to them. And I think that edge comes off with them on stage and the things they talk about in the songs.
What about artists on Flatspot Records? Is there any thing or any particular sound that you think ties them together?
We kind of make it a point to not put out bands that sound the same.
If you notice, with the past maybe five things we’ve put out, nobody sounds the same. We don’t want to do the same thing and just kind of OD on the same type of sound, because it’s kind of like people know what to expect.
So I think sound-wise, we like to keep it eclectic.
I know the exact number is in dispute, but either way, thousands of songs are uploaded every day to streaming platforms such as Spotify. How do you sort through all the music that’s out there today, and at what point do you know you want to sign a band?
Usually, when we find bands, it’s not going to be on Spotify. It won’t be on Apple Music. Usually, when we find a band, it’s a combination of a few things.
The people in the band, we like them to be involved in the community of this music.
A second thing is, do they in any kind of way push the sound? Because like I said, if it’s the same thing, most likely we won’t put it out. It doesn’t have to be some unique type of new style musically, but just something that gives it a unique touch.
Also, if the band’s not active, then we possibly might not put them out. Because we like to have active bands that have the passion to push the music that they put out.
I would say those would be the main keys.
And usually we find out about them by just people we know saying, “Hey, check this band out.” And I’m not sitting on a Spotify playlist playing all the songs.
How did the idea for Disturbin’ the Peace festival come together?
You have a lot of festivals in the United States. But I just felt that they hadn’t been putting enough Flatspot bands on the festivals.
It’s kind of why I began the label. A buddy of mine had a band so I put them out instead of waiting for them to have somebody else put them out. So instead of waiting until a festival would put all the bands we put out on the fest, I’ll just make my own festival and put on all my bands.
What do you see as the future? And is this going to be an annual event or expanding to multiple stages like Maryland Deathfest?
I definitely see it being like Deathfest. I want to expand it to two days and have small shows kind of in between the two big days.
I want to make it an event. I want to make it so that some kid in London looks at it, and he’s like, “I’m buying a plane ticket, and I’m flying out, and I got to be in Baltimore this weekend.”
Flatspot Records is set to release “The Extermination Vol. 4.” Why put out a compilation in this day and age? What was the inspiration?
I’ve been into compilations since I was a kid. You know, when I was like 16, I bought this one compilation called, “The Way It Is.” It was like Youth of Today, Side By Side and a lot of those bands in NYC back in the ’80s.
I like compilations because it’s like you buy a compilation because of one band, and then you find out about 10 bands because of that, you know?
And “The Way It Is” isn’t the only iconic comp. You have multiple, just amazing comps that came out in the ’80s, ’90s and 2000s. And I just wanted to keep that aesthetic going.
It’s kind of like a snapshot of what was going on at that time.