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KC Marie Serves as Local Link Between DIY Music and Punk Art

From designing show posters to cultivating communities

a photo of KC Marie playing guitar in one of her bands, Raatma at The Milestone
KC Marie plays guitar in one of her bands (Photo by Nicolás Delgadillo)

Cut-and-paste, psychedelia, pop art pastiche. The rock ‘n’ roll show poster is a curious category of cultural artifact, dispatched from a thousand different scenes and subcultures of the underground. 

The artists who create them are the propagandists-in-chief for the movements represented by the bands, the fans, the hairstyles and clothes. Before anyone ever hears a new band play a note, they’ll see the posters stapled to telephone poles, slathered with wheatpaste and slicked onto construction barriers, or simply stacked by the register at a record store. 

The images make a promise; they are aspirational, telling viewers what to expect, what the group and their acolytes are gathering to conjure together. It’s up to you whether you want to buy the ticket and take the ride. 

Bands may ultimately rise to fame and glory, or the local equivalent, but the artists who set the scene are often anonymous. For the most part, these artists are also musicians, or at least dedicated superfans; they are deeply embedded in a scene where music influences visual art, which influences fashion, which influences music, which … on and on and on ad infinitum. 

Sound, images, fashion, etc. … these all form the language with which subculture talks about itself to itself. The secret codes can be guessed at by those on the outside but only truly understood by the initiated. 

In recent years, the visual artist and musician KC Marie has worked her way into the local punk rock scene and is emerging as an important creator and transmitter of those subcultural codes. 

Taking time off

Born and raised in Huntersville, a middle daughter born to local theatre royalty (her mother, father, and older sister are all in the theatre scene, it’s sort of the family business) she was always an artist, performing and creating props and scenery from an early age. 

However, it wasn’t until Marie was introduced to ceramics by an art teacher at Hopewell High School that art felt like something personal, something entirely her own. Remembering that experience she says, “Here was something that I wanted to make, not for a show, not for somebody else — mine.” 

After high school, things threatened to stall out for the budding artist. “I assumed I’d go to school for theatre, my older sister went for theatre, that was the track I was on, but I didn’t love theatre that much. It was a fun thing to do, but the competition of it all, the cattiness of everything, I was not that kind of person. And I didn’t know if professionally I wanted to be in that world, that stress and anxiety all the time.” 

So Marie took a year off after high school. With the self-deprecation that I will become well acquainted with during our conversation, she admits that a lot of that time she wasn’t doing much of anything. But any artist knows that what often seems like inaction is actually marination, and the “not much” that she was doing would set the scene for her next act in a major way. 

a portrait of KC Marie in front of her mural at Bart's Mart
KC Marie in front of her recently finished Bart’s Mart mural. (Photo by Dustie Bayer)

Marie’s friends were all in bands, so she spent a lot of time seeing local shows. She remembers fondly an all-ages venue on the border of Huntersville and Cornelius called The Bonus Room. 

“It was an old movie theater, so that was kind of neat,” she says. “That was literally what we’d do every weekend, like, ‘This is where we go hang out and watch my friends play kind of bad metal music.”

Marie’s desire to be a part of the music scene led her to making show art and designing merch for bands. 

“It was all kind of by accident. I wanted something to do. I wasn’t in a band, so I made art for bands. I feel like I accidentally made a job for myself.” 

Having spent the early part of her graphic design career making mostly just the images that her clients called for, Marie explains that it’s really only been since the COVID-19 pandemic that she has felt herself coming into her own style as a visual artist. 

This visual style, like much of her creative output, is about defying expectations and insisting that there is beauty to be found off the beaten track in the nooks and crannies. There is a neat mesh in her artistic output of fine-line work and attention to anatomical detail with offbeat and unexpected subject matter drawn from the natural world. 

Marie calls it “scrungly”, a neologism that uncannily captures the feeling of coziness and creepiness that her visions of rats, lobsters and slugs evoke. It is that tension, that frisson, that makes Marie’s vision so compelling. 

When we talk, Marie rejects my attempts to play amateur psychiatrist and frame her odd-man-out aesthetic as emerging from the discomfort of being a middle child. She does, however, recognize that she has struggled to find her own place, and that this struggle has influenced her work. 

This becomes a running theme during our conversation. Marie has worked hard to stake her claim as someone who has a right to be in male-dominated spaces. While it is certainly not the whole story, I sense that frustration with a certain boy’s club attitude has motivated her creative life. 

a portrait of KC Marie playing guitar and singing in one of her bands Raatma
KC Marie performs with Callie Grace (left) in Raatma. (Photo by Dan Russell-Pinson)

Her initial forays into creating poster art weren’t because she didn’t want to be performing. She remembers her male friends back in the day casually (and cluelessly) saying, “No bitches in the band, bro.” She laughs telling the story, but you can see that moving past these experiences has been a thing.

Playing in the DIY Scene

Marie plays actively in bands now; she’s done so for years. She played bass in the now defunct indie rock band Yes Chef! and currently plays guitar in punk-rock outfit Raatma. 

Raatma plays minimalist stompers in the classic punk formula of loud, fast and furious. Their EP Slugs Don’t Cry is raw and righteous and remarkably tight for a band that, according to Marie, is built mostly out of the punk ethos of enthusiastic amateurism. 

In fact, you get the sense that Marie is underselling herself. I won’t print the awful things she said about her guitar playing because they’re just false. What stands out most on the record though is the riot grrrl flavor that sweats out of the songs. Marie jokes that she and Callie Grace (Raatma’s singer, who shares principle songwriting duties with Marie) call the band’s real genre “feminine rage.” 

Grace confirms this, adding, “KC supported me in learning to scream … Through Raatma the both of us are at times reclaiming some of our negative experiences within the music scene, making a space for ourselves through an expression of longstanding, often internalized rage. I wouldn’t be able to do it with the confidence I have without her and the rest of the gang.”

Bart’s Mart, the beer store/music venue in the Eastway Crossing shopping center, has become an artistic home of sorts for Marie. She has worked there as a bouncer, and designed and executed the art on the front window and a truly rad mural behind the bar, composed of collaged wood panels with painted depictions of a scrungly rat and a borderline demonic goat.  

a photo of KC Marie sitting down in a local music venue while working on her mural
KC Marie painting her mural at Bart’s Mart. (Photo by Dustie Bayer)

Most of what Marie says to me about her ambitions aren’t really about her so much as about the community she has found for herself. She talks about her friends and how the art she makes is directly connected to those relationships. Grace is clearly one of those important relationships that is both a friendship and a creative partnership. 

“KC has worked so hard to make her space in the community, and the way she opens it up to invite and encourage so many other people to make art and join those spaces as well is so admirable,” Grace says. “And if you keep an eye out, you’ll see some sick slugs everywhere you go.” 

This is true, to be sure. The picnic table at Bart’s Mart where I interviewed Marie is covered in her slug drawings. It’s a whole thing. Our conversation is peppered with references to gardening and dirt and how time spent with animals and plants offers both peace and inspiration. She is a proud rat mom with four rat friends living with her currently (Myrtle, Meredith, Egg and Trash). She also has two dearly departed rat friends tattooed on her chest, Eric and Tiny, her “Heart Rats”. 

Looking to the future, Marie says she has no intentions of leaving Charlotte. 

“This is where I belong,” she says, dreaming about what a future here might look like. The world of tattooing has its appeal, as it is a trade where alternative visual artists can have some control over their working lives while making a solid living. 

KC Marie designed our latest cover with a self-portrait illustration.

And yet this is another place where the specter of macho bullshit raises its ugly head, as Marie repeats what has become a mantra of sorts while discussing the balancing act she performs trying to merely exist in male-dominated spaces like the punk scene of tattoo culture. 

“Can I exist in this space without you being weird!? Without you being a creep!?” She yells it with appropriate theatricality and with the edge of a laugh but there is a tension there. This really isn’t a joke. 

And the challenge with tattooing is that you can’t really fake it ’til you make it. It’s much more difficult to develop the skills and contacts you need without a proper mentor. How does one find mentorship in environments that range from hermetically sealed to downright dangerous?

a portrait of KC Marie playing guitar in one of her bands Raatma
KC Marie performs with Raatma. (Photo by Dan Russell-Pinson)

There is something worth thinking about here, something about culture and how it perpetuates itself. Culture is what we do every day, where we do it and who we do it with. It’s how we respond to the world around us. 

When Marie talks about her band there is a strong impression that, for her, music is primarily a medium for community. It’s what she does with her friends. When she talks about performing it’s about performing with her friends and for her friends. 

For all the frustration she has experienced she raves about the post-COVID punk scene in Charlotte, calling it “the most diverse, helpful, community-aware group of people I’ve ever met.”  

Typical of the idealistic and radically egalitarian ethos of punk rock, Marie gets something similar from being in the audience as she does being onstage. The community piece is where the hook is for her. 

“You know when you’re at a show and you’re screaming along? It’s the same release as performing … We’re all having this collective experience. That’s beautiful!”

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