Philadelphia’s Made in America Festival and Wolfgang Gartner are indirectly responsible for Baltimore’s house music scene gaining traction with the younger generation.

Despite Charm City being the home of Baltimore club music, a genre that was influenced by U.K. breakbeat and house music, two local 25-year-old DJs didn’t see it as a hopping place for people in their age range to enjoy the popular house music culture.

Their solution? Create a scene of their own.

Matt Warner and Francisco Vidales partnered to form Offstage Sessions, a recurring concert series, for people like them — clamoring for new artists to put on electronic dance music shows in Baltimore.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

“We had to always go to D.C. or Philly or New York just to watch our favorite artists play. Or, even if it was just a night out, we always had to go to the same bars and listen to the same music and that got pretty boring,” Warner said.

Warner, also known as Syre, and Vidales, whose stage name is Iisco, fell in love with the genre after experiencing the music live. Warner grew up in Cockeysville and was taken by a friend to producer Wolfgang Gartner’s show at Loyola University Maryland in 2012 when he was in eighth grade. “That following Monday at school, I told him, ‘Dude, that music was awesome,’” he said.

From then on, Warner would learn to mix and produce music. After graduating from the University of Maryland College Park in 2021, he started playing at local bars throughout Baltimore, most notably in the Federal Hill area. That’s where he met his eventual business partner, Vidales.

Vidales, originally from Aguascalientes, Mexico, moved to Pasadena, Maryland, with his family when he was 12. He became infatuated with house music when he attended the Made in America festival in 2016. While waiting to see Travis Scott, his favorite artist at the time, Vidales witnessed Martin Garrix control a crowd in a “mesmerizing” performance. “The crowd, the energy, the production — all of that was completely different from anything that I’ve seen,” he said.

Vidales decided to go all in with DJing afterward. All he needed were YouTube tutorials, the COVID-19 pandemic to keep him stuck in his basement and a DJ board that his parents bought him for Christmas.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

The duo threw the first edition of their show on Aug. 5, 2023. They didn’t anticipate many people would come, but they quickly saw that wouldn’t be the case; around 75 people attended.

Matt Warner and Francisco Vidales play to a crowd. (Felicia Budny)

The audience continued to grow with each installment. The third edition of Offstage Sessions, which took place Sept. 30 at Federal Hill pizza bar Locals Only, caught the eye of Eric Birnberg, who does marketing for Under Armour. Though he originally attended to support his friend and another performing DJ, Agustina Azul, Birnberg was fascinated with the show as a whole.

“The place was fully packed at 7 p.m. on a Saturday. You know that’s kind of a gray area because all of the day drinkers have gone home and the people who come out at night aren’t out yet so doing that was impressive,” Birnberg said.

He reached out to the duo with ideas and strategies to help their brand evolve and was eventually brought on to be head of marketing. Since then, Offstage Sessions has thrown two more shows and released merchandise.

In less than a year since its inception, Offstage Sessions has booked several headlining touring acts such as Gudfella, who performed at their fifth event, which around 250 people attended. Their sixth show, happening Friday, will feature Caleb Dent and Dre Mendez.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

The group isn’t slowing down. They have announced several upcoming shows, including one in March featuring headlining act Azzecca, and another in Washington, D.C., this month. The show in D.C. is their first step toward regional expansion, but Vidales and Warner reiterated that their priority is shedding light on house music in Baltimore.

“We’ve had all of these goals outlined for a year, and just to see the things coming to fruition within a time way shorter than that is awesome,” Warner said. “It’s the best feeling possible.”

Taji Burris has covered the Baltimore music scene since 2015 for outlets such as The Working Title and The 4th Quarter, and now at the Baltimore Banner. 

More From The Banner