On a recent Saturday night my girlfriend and I pulled up outside of a nondescript house-turned-dance club in Milwaukee’s Walker’s Point neighborhood. A steady beat could be heard coming from Studio 200. Once inside I was transported to a smoky club in Prague where I first “got” techno music.
When I lived in Europe in the late 2000s this style of dance music dominated the radio waves and nightclubs. Those sweaty, liberating nights altered my perspective on what a dance club could be. They were a far cry from the hyper-sexualized, overpriced atmosphere of American nightclubs.
The event we walked into at Studio 200 was called “Can’t Get No Sleep,” co-produced by the Milwaukee-based collective/web label Close Up of the Serene, which includes Max Holiday, Liquid City Motors (Will Mitchell) and MS 115 (Bobby Garvey). It was their first time organizing a night at Studio 200 and the turnout was relatively low. Still, there was an enthusiastic core of people on the dance floor and PJ Moody was projecting cool visuals.
As Close Up approaches its one-year anniversary as a label and producer of club nights, I spoke with the trio, who are in their mid 20s, about their backstories, their approach to dance music, their forebearers in the underground, and building their movement “from the outside in.”
“CLUB KIDS WITH GUITARS”
Max Holiday grew up in Albuquerque, NM, for the first 12 years of his life. An aspiring ballet dancer, Holiday hung up his slippers after moving to Appleton. His parents instilled in the young Holiday an intense love of music, which he turned to after dance. As a child Holiday was involved in punk and metal bands, which eventually led him to electronic music. He cites Prodigy and the Chemical Brothers as early influences.
Though Bobby Garvey is also from Appleton, he didn’t meet Holiday until the two were living in Milwaukee. Garvey was first introduced to electronic dance music by his R.A. at UW-Lacrosse, a Milwaukee-native who was friends with the DJs behind Sticky Records. Unlike Holiday and Mitchell, Garvey does not come from a musical background and began DJing in 2014.
During Halloween 2012 Holiday and Garvey stumbled upon a dance night at Quarters Rock N Roll Palace. It was the closest thing to a club experience either of them had been to.
“When we came home we looked at each other and said, ‘Gotta throw a party at Quarters someday.’ For the past four years or so that’s been the goal. Because with dance music what you do is start a night that is your vision,” says Holiday.
Earlier that summer Holiday went back to Appleton and recorded a fuzzy pop EP under the moniker Young Holidays. It quickly gained traction and Holiday put a band together. After a year he became bored with the project and abandoned it. For two years Holiday exclusively DJ’d. It’s important to note that by DJ we’re referring to “an autonomous selector with an artistic agenda, not a jukebox.”
Holiday returned to live music in 2015 and is now the frontman for Athletic Supply, which also includes Mitchell, Garvey, Margaret Wilson and Mark Stewart (GGOOLLDD, Pharo).
“Athletic Supply exists sort of as our foot in the general Milwaukee music scene. It’s cool because we can play shows with our friends in town, but it’s frustrating because we get lumped in with the garage rock, lo-fi pop stuff, and that’s not really what we’re trying to do,” says Holiday.
FROM HIP-HOP BEATS TO SOLDERING AND SYNTHS
Will Charles Mitchell grew up “in the sticks” outside of Stevens Point. He attended college in Los Angeles and often went to Low End Theory, a recurring hip-hop night. Mitchell started making hip-hop beats and became known as Riley Lake. During this time Rory Ferreira (Milo) came across Mitchell’s music online and reached out to him. The two put out a project together (Things That Happen at Day) and went on tour.
“I specifically remember in Boone, NC, we got some sounds on his 404 and hooked it up to his computer and I was like, ‘Okay, this is how I would go about producing a beat.’ I took a lot away from working with Rory. And I was very fortunate for meeting him because I don’t think I would’ve ended up in Milwaukee otherwise,” says Mitchell.
Mitchell met Holiday and Garvey shortly after moving to Milwaukee in the summer of 2014. He acquired a studio space in the Shampoo Horn building, which is located in a secluded industrial area adjacent to the Kinnickinnic River. This is where I met them for our interview.
The small studio is full of Mitchell’s various synthesizers, keyboards, and speakers. Some of the modulated synthesizers are borrowed from Jason Nanna, one of the people who built out the 6th floor and turned Mitchell onto soldering. In addition to Mitchell’s various endeavours, Close Up uses the studio for mixing and mastering.
BUILDING “FROM THE OUTSIDE IN”
“I use the term ‘underground’ a lot and what it really means is a catch all for doing something that you’re not concerned with whether it will be popular or not,” says Holiday. “You’re doing it as part of a lineage of people doing weird shit that may not have been listened to at the time they were doing it.”
For the Close Up boys a major part of that lineage is the “Madchester” scene in the U.K. circa 1988 to 1992. Another formative wave of electronic music was the more recent “post-dubstep spiral” of 2010-2011, sometimes referred to as “FWD” because of its connection to a club night called FWD at Plastic People in London.
A number of local DJs and club nights have also influenced Close Up, including the Chalice in the Palace Soundsystem crew, DJ Avets, Marcus Doucette, Richard Galling, and their “godfather” Asher Gray. During the Hotel Foster’s heyday Gray ran a club night called Le Freak, which Holiday and Garvey attended religiously.
Precognition, their monthly DJ night at Quarters, is the signature Close Up event; the party they always wanted to throw.
“Precognition is where the dimension and depth really exists. Where it becomes something with a singular quality that only happens in one place with one group of people,” says Mitchell.
As a label they have put out digital releases from Athletic Supply, Liquid City Motors, Mercury Drums (Holiday’s club music alias), and Pharo. They have also played on Radar Radio out of London, a breeding ground for modern experimental electronic music.
With the Internet’s “ability to consolidate a disparate geographical niche into a close community,” Close Up has already established an audience outside of Wisconsin. Where most bands build from the inside out, Close Up is doing something of the opposite.
“I think it’s important to have one foot firmly planted in what’s literally geographically happening around us. Then with the other see how far we can reach,” says Mitchell.
Close Up of the Serene is constantly seeking out new music, drawing elements from other genres back into their underground sound. They hope to make connections with the punk, queer, hip-hop, drum and bass, and experimental noise communities. As they build upon their small yet passionate local fan base, Close Up club nights will continue to be a safe space to enjoy forward-thinking electronic dance music.
The next Precognition is September 29, with the one-year anniversary on November 19.
Athletic Supply play September 8, at High Dive in Milwaukee with Iron Pizza, Apollo Vermouth, and Proud Parents (Madison).
Liquid City Motors plays October 7, at Colectivo Backroom with Siren, NO/NO, and Gosh Pith (Detroit).
Below is my full interview with Close Up of the Serene, conducted in Will’s studio on August 28, 2016.
In November of last year I put out my first Athletic Supply single and my Mercury Drums EP, which is what I make club music as. The idea had been brewing for a couple of months to put out everything we were doing all together. And we’ve wanted to do a club night forever and so everything kind of came to be at the right time.
We were all doing different projects and we needed an umbrella. It’s always been something I’ve been interested in doing, curate a label. Starting a label in 2016 is as easy as creating a Bandcamp account and cataloging things, but you definitely take it quite a bit more seriously than that. That’s how it started in November of last year.
That was the first Precognition at Quarters. It feels very strange. It definitely feels like it was yesterday.
I moved here in the summer of 2014 and right away met Max. Shortly after that I met Bobby and I think from the first night we all hung out together we started talking about doing a club night. Because that was immediately a mutual interest that all of us had and we had a vision for something that didn’t necessarily exist.
There was a lot of talking about it and talking about it and talking about it for ages, and then Precognition November of last year. That’s when we finally up and did that. I think the whole label as we want people to see it and be able to take it in is with both recorded material and stuff happening on the ground, you know actual nights.
It’s important that both of those started at the same time, so this is the one year of not just Close Up of the Serene as a web label, but also Close Up of the Serene as something that puts together parties and events and nights.
Every night we’ve done, and we have to have done about 40-50 shows over the year, has been under Close Up of the Serene. Whereas everything before that, and we were doing tons and tons of shows before that, there was nothing to branch it all together. It feels good to have a year solid of a cohesive sort of movement.
Even though it’s just now been a year Max and I have been friends for 6 or 7 years. We’ve been talking about music and doing this sort of thing. But it takes time to go back and figure out for yourselves what you’re trying to do? Thinking about what is this rooted in? What are we really trying to say with this? What are we trying to do with this?
It simply takes time with both the music we choose to play and our goals with the label in general. Building that base structure takes time. So despite it being a year, it’s been in the works for quite a while. It’s really exciting to finally have these ideas and have a place to put them.
Me and Bobby went to a night at Quarters probably right around Halloween 2012, when we were really starting to go crazy with the dance music and electronic music and everything. I’ll never know exactly who was DJing but it was probably Joey Peterson. We had never been to Quarters before and there was a line out the door. It was completely packed, playing super cool, more underground type music so loud. No one turns the volume up louder than Quarters. Nothing is as abrasively loud as Quarters can be.
We spend about an hour before every set making sure the system is tuned up so we can be as loud as possible without setting the speakers on fire.
It was just crazy. You go out when you’re 21 and it’s like bar, bar, bar, whatever. But that was pretty close to a club experience. Really early on when we were going out. When we came home we looked at each other and said, ‘Gotta throw a party at Quarters someday.’ For the past four years or so that’s been the goal. Because with dance music what you do is start a night that is your vision.
We’ve always known that’s what it was going to be. And we always knew it was going to be at Quarters. It took not a week longer than it should have. Not a day longer than it should have. Precognition just felt like perfect timing.
WiG (To Will)
Where did you move here from?
I grew up outside of Stevens Point, in the sticks actually. I went to college in Southern California. That’s where I had been directly previous to this, but I’m certainly not a Los Angeleno by any stretch of the imagination.
Let’s go back a little bit, tell me about how you got into DJing and playing music.
I approached dance music by way of hip hop first. That is what my focus was when I first sat down to make beats. It was definitely all that I was familiar with. I won’t pretend that I’ve been listening to dance music religiously since I was an early teenager or whatever. I came across dance music relativity late in life. Kind of the same sort of way that I think really caught the two of you…
I think an entire generation of people our age got caught up in 2010-2011 post-dubstep, future based English type stuff. When it was all bubbling it just sounded like the absolutely craziest thing and if you caught it…
[In a Facebook message after our interview I asked Max for examples of that era. He wrote, “Labels like Hessle Audio, Night Slugs, Hyperdub, and Hemlock. Artists like Joy Orbison, Pearson Sound, Kode9, Bok Bok, and Peverelist. Safe to say this one changed our life: Objekt – Cactus.”]
Absolutely. I think there was a whole era, people specifically of our generation who are now in their early twenties, that became acquainted with these sounds. They were so fresh and so different. For me it’s just been kind of slowly finding that, when I sit down to make something with a beat I’ve been naturally gravitating to the tempos of the stuff that we play.
Stylistically I’ve become more and more focused on specifically making dance stuff. I’m finding DJing to be an increasingly satisfying means of performing. I both DJ and do a live electronic set where I’m actually making stuff on stage. The DJ sets have been as much, if not more satisfying.
I think no matter how long you’re into dance music you’ll continue to find stuff that’s fresh and kind of amazes you. Either digging back or looking more at the constant deluge of stuff that’s being made nowadays.
To answer your question, I started making more experimental hip-hop beats and it was natural to segway into the stuff that was really catching my attention, which was the dance stuff.
I know Rory Ferreira had mentioned you as a sort of mentor, showing him some stuff. Were you guys friends in LA?
We met according to a particularly Internet-age specific thing. He just came across my music. We had never met in real life when we did Things That Happen at Day, the record together. Then we went on tour together and I specifically remember in Boone, North Carolina, we got some sounds on his 404 and hooked it up to his computer and I was like, ‘Okay, this is how I would go about producing a beat.’
Now he’s got the whole Scallops Hotel thing and the last tape is a testament to how developed of a musician he is. But yeah, I’m pretty proud to say I’m one of the first people that kind of showed Rory how to put a beat together.
That was a really fruitful artistic relationship that was kind of my main focus for a couple of years when I was a bit younger. Then I found dance music as just a really compelling outlet to do stuff from the ground up. I definitely took a lot away from working with Rory.
He was much earlier than I was focused on an artistic concept. He had the vision to make something that was longer form and I was fortunate enough to be dub-tailed into that. It was definitely a period of growth. And I was very fortunate to meet him because I don’t think I would have ended up in Milwaukee otherwise. I knew people who were working here like Wes Tank because I met Rory. I actually met Jason Nanna, who I’m kind of borrowing most of his things to make music with – (points to all the machines and synthesizers behind him) – I met him through Rory.
But yeah, that’s an interesting key to this whole thing. That was almost by happenstance I met him, like he just saw my shit on the Internet. That’s a super important part of the narrative for me.
You said Jason…
Jason Nanna is one of the people who built out this 6th floor. Him and Heather and this one dude Nick. Jason has been basically building and doing cool shit with electronic audio and visuals for a decade. He’s been like a super mentor for me when it comes to my other current focus, which is the more techy sort of workbench stuff, the soldering and what not.
That for me just sort of plays into electronic music and dance music because there’s a huge history of people being gear fanatics and studio weirdos and experimenting with stuff. Doing stuff with synthesizers and electronic instruments that maybe weren’t meant for music. Some of the kind of early groundbreaking dance stuff just came from people with gear doing shit with it in new ways.
Pawn shops. There was gear that no one else wanted. So many of the drum machines were flops on the market and people got rid of them at pawn shops. And people bought them and just did it, it was like punk rock.
Jason really facilitates my instinct to grab whatever makes sounds and then try to make stuff with it. He has been working so consistently for so long that the stuff in here that I use, like this whole rack of stuff behind me, this is shit that he built from components in the past and then moved on from.
But he’s not capitalist minded, he’s not flipping all this stuff that he’s made on eBay. He’s much more just like, “Yeah, do something with it.” I’m pretty fortunate to have fallen into the niche here in this studio space, because I’ve had the studio since I moved here. For Close Up related stuff we use this as a space for mixing and some mastering work.
How would you describe some of that stuff?
This is just like a big synthesizer turned outwards basically. Where you can connect the different modules together however you want, instead of having something like this – (points to a traditional synthesizer keyboard) – where all of the controls are in the front and all the connections are made inside the machine. It’s got a particular architecture to it. This is stuff that I get kind of carried away with.
Honestly, on my last record, easily the most productive instrument in the whole thing was the Korg Triton I got from my neighbor Kenny Spears secondhand. I was walking to my house and he was like, “Do you want to buy a keyboard?” I thought, “What kind of crap keyboard is it?” And it turns out it’s this iconic workstation that…
One of the most coveted.
… is responsible for most of the synths and instruments that the Neptunes used. And U.K. grime music was basically made on one of those. So I don’t discriminate when it comes to synthesizers, I like them in all different forms and sizes.
What about you Bobby?
I went to UW-Lacrosse for two years…
Did you grow up in that part of the state?
No I’m from Appleton. Actually, me and Max are both from Appleton. My R.A. at UW-Lacrosse put me on to this kind of music. He’s from Milwaukee and he was good friends with the dudes behind the Sticky Records movement back in the day. But there was like three or four of them that were really pushing electronic music, specifically dance music. At that time it was very wobbly stuff, kind of the EDM stuff. When you’re starting out that’s really cool. I had never heard that kind of stuff. We had a block party and it turned me on to the whole sound of it. Then when I moved here and got to know Max a little bit more it went from there.
You take pieces from every genre that you hear. When we went to that Halloween party at Quarters I’ll never forget how the bass sounded, how the sub sounded on “6 Foot 7 Foot” by Lil Wayne. It changed how I think about things. As we continued to progress we got into Dubstep Allstars and it slowly shifted to the U.K. sound. That’s where our tastes led us. There were a few Dubstep Allstars tracks that were so wavy and pummeling, that again, your mindset shifts.
I think part of the reason that it’s continued to evolve is that the three of us are good at being open and considering new ideas. We’re not always listening to dance music. There’s things in any genre of music that you can tie back, stuff that can push dance music forward.
As far as Close Up goes, that’s one of the proudest things for me. The continued push for newness and the continued push to try to tie things from outside back into dance music.
I kind of had a very straightforward introduction into it. I think everyone sort of starts somewhere and then slowly evolves. I started DJing in 2014, so it’s been two years now. It was just my outlet to get into it. I wanted to be a part of it. I wanted to have something to contribute.
I went to school for film but I wasn’t necessarily interested in doing visuals or jumping onto music videos. I wanted to be a part of the music. The music is what interested me more. So that was my in. I bought a controller and taught myself how to. I don’t do any producing at this point and I’m okay with that. I have some production software that I have been tinkering around with. If I do get the bug to produce I think it’ll be cool because I will have evolved my tastes enough to know exactly what I want to make. It gives me a baseline structure with Close Up in general. We needed that baseline structure in order to have something to say.
I think it’s important to note that Max and I, as he will probably talk about this, come from pretty extensive musical backgrounds, whereas Bobby never played an instrument before you started DJing, right? (Bobby nods his head.) And so whereas both Max and I were producers first, studio work first, DJing second, Bobby DJ’d first. That lens adds an extra kind of focus to what you do as a DJ that I’ve always admired.
Did you play an instrument growing up Max?
I started playing drums when I was like five. My parents bought me my kindergarten teacher’s son’s drum set. It was like a 14-piece metal drum set. My grandpa was a piano player, so quickly after that I started playing piano.
Were you in bands in high school?
In middle school. My friend and I in 7th grade. I got into punk rock really, really, really early. I lived in Albuquerque, New Mexico for the first 12 years of my life. There’s no professional sports team there and there’s no sports mentality. Art is really big there and at the time new metal and sort of those weirder strains of metal and heavy metal were huge for kids in Albuquerque. I don’t know if you know that type of music, but it just makes you crazy. I was huge into that. I was always into music. My parents instilled a crazy, crazy love of music in me. Neither of them played an instrument, but both of them were crazy into music. Especially now that I see how most parents are.
Your mom is on the pulse of music. She posts some cool music on Facebook.
Seriously, my mom and dad listen to cool music and forever told me I could be whatever I wanted to be. They’re really, really supportive. So I was playing drums and piano and I did pretty well with those. I did dance for like ten years too. I wanted to be a dancer and then slowly the music kind of took over and then when we moved to Appleton. We couldn’t find a good professional ballet studio that had any boys. There were no boys in the classes. You can’t be the only boy in a ballet class because then you’ll learn like a girl.
So I stopped doing dance and I started taking music more seriously. I was crazy into punk, street punk. We had a band called The Trollz with a “z” and we recorded in our bass player’s basement. His dad was like a Christian musician and we recorded this very political, very angry punk music in his basement. We played a battle of the bands and got absolutely last place with the worst notes on it. (Will pumps his fist.)
But I’ve never been good at playing in a band. I don’t know how to jam with people. I’m an only child and so music to me is always a solo thing. It’s always been a very solitary thing. That’s what I would do with my time growing up. I would just go in my room and listen to music. From metal I then got into industrial. More electronic forms of metal, and then like big beat, like Prodigy and Chemical Brothers. I was really into that in like 5th and 6th grade.
In high school I was in a death metal band, I sang for them at like one show. I was trying different things. I was really into punk and hardcore for a long time, but that all kind of phases out hopefully at a younger age. Then I started playing guitar and bass through middle school. By the time I moved here in 2010 I had an 8-track Tascam recorder that I was trying to play everything on and I was writing stuff that was sort of alternative pop. I was listening to everything.
The summer of 2012 I went home to Appleton for a couple months and recorded an EP, playing everything myself. I called it Young Holidays. I came back and uploaded that to Bandcamp. Two days later Matt Wild wrote about it in what was the AV Club at the time. That puts you on at a certain level. We played at WMSE a month later. I put a band together of all my friends, some of them play in Athletic Supply like Maggie who plays keyboards. She played keyboards in Young Holidays.
We played together and did some cool stuff. Our last show together was at the after party at the Milwaukee Film Festival in 2013 at the Hotel Foster. I just got kind of tired of it. I get really bored with stuff really fast. A year later I was like, “I hate these songs.” So we stopped doing that and I started DJing.
The first DJ night I played was at Mad Planet with the dudes from Canopies. TJ’s idea was for it to be a synth pop night. We played our stuff and no one came and it was fine.
When I moved here in 2010 I remember that I wanted to call our house “Grime House” because I was so obsessed with grime. But like we said, it takes time to come into that stuff.
We had to really filter ideas out.
Then I started DJing really heavy and didn’t do any live shows. Around that time I stumbled into Le Freak when it was at Hotel Foster, Asher’s night with Michael Britton for a while, and that totally changed my life. That was like the closest thing to a proper club experience here at the time. Asher totally caught on and kind of took me under his wing. He started putting me on all their nights.
Asher is the godfather.
Yeah. Asher is totally our forefather in all of this kind of stuff. So we started going to Le Freak every single month religiously, like planning our month around it.
We didn’t miss it for probably a year.
I didn’t miss a single Le Freak from the very first one I went to until the very last one. That was a huge formative thing. Hearing music on a sound system every month. Hearing Asher not ever once clang a mix. I have not ever once heard him mess up the mix.
Infuriatingly technically good DJ.
Not once. So they started booking me for all their nights and I played the Video Villains nights and at the Miramar. From there I DJ’d super extensively for like two years straight. Then Bobby started DJing. The more you DJ the more you get a feel for what you want to be playing and what your tastes are. I think it’s one of the best things you can do as a musician, DJ.
In March of last year I put out the “California Future” single as Bleach Athletixx, so that was the first real music I had put out since the Young Holidays thing two years before. DJing all the time super extensively in between, which was the best thing I could have done to then re-approach music from that standpoint.
You’ve brought up the post-dubstep U.K. movement of the early 2010s. I’m curious about another era you mentioned Max on social media, the Manchester scene from 1988 to 1992.
That’s a huge template for how I see everything we’re doing. I’m a genre and subgenre freak. On allmusic.com they have hundreds of subgenres and they have a whole expansive thing. I used to go on there and that’s what I would do at night. I was into like Stone Roses and slowly over the years you’re doing stuff and you’re doing stuff and then something clicks and you realize this has been done before.
Nothing is exactly the newest thing in the world. Like the Factory Records and Happy Mondays especially. These were like club people playing dance music and acid house. Everybody was like taking ecstasy and going to the clubs, but britpop was still a thing. They were just club kids with guitars. So that’s a huge template for how I see close up and especially Athletic Supply.
We get lumped in with the garage rock, lo-fi pop stuff, but I really don’t listen to that stuff. I used to in high school. But it’s frustrating because for Athletic Supply there’s nowhere to go other than the garage rock scene, and that’s not really what we’re trying to do.
We’re club kids with guitars.
To me it’s like our version of Happy Mondays and Stone Roses, with Factory Records and the Hacienda Club. That was super influential reading about that. The music is incredible. It really clicks in a certain sort of way in my brain and makes a ton of sense. I feel a sense of comfort when I find a link of something that has been done before. I think we’re continuing a lineage of something.
I’m super into the culture of everything. I was a rivethead in like 6th grade. I was a goth kid. I’ve always been drawn to subculture underground stuff. Things can feel new, like the stuff we’re doing, but everything is rooted in a long history of people doing weird shit that may not have been listened to when they were doing it.
We try to avoid worrying about buzz or hype, 88Nine airplay or whatever. We do our shows, we do our thing every single month. I don’t think we over promote it. We’re not yelling at people to come to our shows. Just quietly going about our business and trying to do the best thing that we can do. Quietly trying to explore our own interests and trying to push things forward in a way that hopefully stands out from everything. But yeah, I love the “Madchester” movement.
What you just brought up speaks the idea of building the audience. What you’re doing is progressive and doesn’t necessarily fit into what’s popular in Milwaukee at the moment. So how do you find that audience in Milwaukee? Or is that even important to you?
Athletic Supply exists sort of as our foot in the general Milwaukee music scene. We can do shows at Public House. We can play with different friends in town. But other than that I would say the three of us feel very disconnected from most things happening in Milwaukee. It becomes less about building hype. Our press releases have become shorter and shorter for every record. I don’t have the energy at this point to bill our stuff. I feel very comfortable with where we sit right now in terms of the Milwaukee music scene.
I’ve always seen what we do and what I do as a template of “the band’s band,” or “the DJ’s DJ,” or “the musician’s label.” That has always been more appealing to me. I don’t care what someone walking down the street thinks about music. I don’t know what they listen to or where they’re coming from. But in terms of respect from our peers and people who are doing things that I respect. People like Asher, like Joey Peterson, he has been incredibly supportive.
A lot of people have been really supportive and that’s what really matters to us. To have people who, I hate to say it, but who “get” it, and respect it. That’s really what we’re concerned about and that’s what we’re concerned about building. We’re mainly concerned about building cool products; high quality music and art.
If people listen to it, that’s great. If people come out to the night, that’s awesome. If there is a dance floor at Precognition, that’s fine. If there’s not, if those two kids that you saw sitting on the stage with their heads down, if it’s just them, that’s fine too. They come out to every single show that we do. Their names are Kendall and Liam. They run their own record label called Big Croc Records. It’s super experimental stuff. One release is Kendall’s insanely experimental rock record and another one is Liam’s acid techno thing.
They completely understand this whole world. I think that’s really what it’s about for us. Continuing to push boundaries. Do things that other people aren’t doing that feel natural for us. Nothing that we do is overly planned out and trying to be subversive. This is what we do. This is what we’ve been doing. And this is what we will continue to do. There’s just no thought of hype or buzz or exposure or publicity.
And with the Bandcamp label you’re able to reach people all over the world.
A big thing we talk about now with people like Asher who are very familiar with doing things that people in their city aren’t listening to, is that you’re building from the outside in. Most bands build from the inside out. They start in a basement, they get shows, they rally their friends, they build in the city and then they want to build outwards and tour.
We played on Radar Radio in London, which is a breeding ground for modern experimental electronic music. It’s what we listen to…
It’s one of three big stations.
We’ve done that already, yet there was only a dozen people at Precognition last night. There’s a huge disconnect with people around the world who are into dance music relating to what we’re doing and appreciating what we’re doing, and the people in Milwaukee and it kind of falling on deaf ears, which is not good or bad. I’m not trying to say anything about the people in Milwaukee or what they listen to, it’s just what it is.
There’s almost a calming realization that this it is, all the music that we love, all the music that affects us so deeply, is not made in a studio for everybody. We make music for weirdo people. Even if it’s for no one, we’re making it to make it. I think we take comfort and pride in being a part of something and continuing to do something that is underground.
I use that term a lot and all it really means is a catch-all for doing something that you’re not concerned with whether it will be popular or not. You’re doing it as part of a lineage of people doing things that are out there.
A couple things to add to the last two points. We’re fortunate enough to have a couple people like Kendall and Liam and our friend Jed who are mad supportive and literally give us their time. Who come out to the night and stay from start to finish. I am happy to play to three people if I know that they’re with me.
There are people who come out and support our shit and I don’t care how many people that is right now. These are people that I respect and I’m happy to try to slowly build off that little kernel. And the other thing is that with the Internet, it has the distinct power to consolidate what is a disparate geographical niche into a close community. We also have that working in our favor. That’s another way of putting what Max was talking about with playing on Radar Radio, which is something that creates a community out of a geographically disparate group of people.
It’s kind of like a two-faceted thing, doing the releases and doing stuff and being able to present it as a web label. Like you said, we can blast it out all over the world. That’s one plane that we’re able to work on.
Then like I said, building off the kernel of people who have come out and showed interest and provided that communal energy for the dance floor. And those moments when Precognition has been actually going the fuck off. Playing stuff and literally hearing it and pushing it in and hearing it on the sound system, watching people react to that. People have given us. It’s building off of that, which allows us to not make any compromises.
And Peter opening up his venue to us and not sweating us for a quota of people coming through the door. He’s not telling us that we should tailor it more to what people expect or want. He’s fucking down and he lets us do what we want to do.
That’s who we relate to, people like Peter. Essentially Quarters is a DIY space with a bar. Peter has never once told us what to do. He’s been a supporter of stuff that I’ve been doing for a while. He understands. He gets it. Don’t get me wrong, we absolutely have a really great, thriving, passionate little scene around us of people who are extremely supportive of what we’re doing. Without them what we are doing would feel a lot different.
Like our homie Julio came out last night at just the right time.
I definitely don’t think we’re falling on deaf ears. You’re here doing this interview. It’s just an interesting disconnect to build from the outside in. And what Will was talking about being on the Internet and everything. Even though we’re on the Internet in various forms, for me it’s always been super important to be on a street level doing physical things.
I’ve never seen the appeal of doing things strictly for the Internet. I’m not saying I want to put out vinyl necessarily, but it’s extremely important to me that some people here in the city are feeling what we’re doing. Essentially precognition is our label showcase every month. We play mostly things that are not on our label, but it is the sound and ideology of what we’re doing with the label in a physical form.
And it informs the music that we release as well. It means that we’re not just making Internet age stuff rooted in and specifically for the Internet. The tunes that I made, those all got tested out on dance floors here well in advance of the actual release and that informed the way I eventually made them sound. I think that’s very important too and definitely something that we’re striving for.
It’s very easy for people who are heavily involved in Internet music communities to be like, “The local scene is dead. Local stuff doesn’t matter anymore. The only stuff that matters happens on the Internet, yada yada yada.” That line of thinking. That is taking something new and running too far with it. I think it’s important to have one foot firmly planted in what’s literally geographically happening around us. Then with the other see how far we can reach. How far out can our feelers get?
Going back to turnout at Precognition and looking back on the lineage of the music especially in the U.K.. DMZ, which was like a huge night for dubstep…
The Digital Mystikz dudes ran that.
…and then FWD, a night that happened at Plastic People in London, you never hear them talk about who was there in terms of the turnout. All you hear about is the music and how it changed so many people. The people that were there are now people that are worldwide names.
I have seen people who are struggling with the right name for the whole post-dubstep spiral thing calling it FWD, “F-W-D,” named after one particular club night.
Look at any U.K. artist that has ever done a Red Bull Music Academy interview. They were at FWD at some point or DMZ, and not once will you hear them talk about how there weren’t that many people or it was super packed. They’re talking about the sound, because nothing else sounded as fresh as that.
Playing to DJ’s, playing to producers, playing two musicians, playing to people who are there to hear the music. It’s less about the dance party. Club nights go back farther than just dance music.
Speakeasies and shit.
And punk and everything. There’s always formative nights. For the people that are there it changes the way they think about music. Those people go home and it changes what they’re going to do. Precognition wasn’t started to change Milwaukee. It wasn’t started to change people’s mind and stuff. But that is sort of where we’re coming from in terms of how we don’t think about turnout, we don’t charge a cover, we don’t make any money on it.
We throw a party that we would be excited to walk into. That Halloween night was such a formative experience and we didn’t know what to expect that night.
We see a gap with the sound in terms of what people are doing in Milwaukee, and that’s what we do.
And you’re planting those seeds. The people who come and are into it could be the future…
Kendall and Liam! They come to every single Precognition, every single Athletic Supply show.
You’re talking about some of the biggest supporters of Milwaukee music.
I saw Kendall at Cactus Club and he tells me he goes to 4-5 shows a week. It’s just what he does. That is so rare and you can just tell when the only thing they like, the only thing they care about, the only thing that keeps them up, is music. When you see Kendall and Liam sitting on the stage with their heads down it’s real and you can feel it. They’re not taking pictures of themselves. They’re not not Snapchatting or on Instagram. I don’t even know if they have Instagram. And Kendall will come to shit alone.
That’s something that I always talk about. You have to go to things alone. Don’t wait for your friends. Go to something alone. Go to something you don’t know. See a flyer on the street and go to it. I walked into Chalice in the Palace a few years ago, the reggae dudes from Riverwest, Selector Max and Marcus Doucette and Steven Watkins. I randomly walked into their night alone and it completely changed my life.
I’ve always been a huge Jamaican music fan but I have never ever heard people so intensely just shutting it down like they do. Now I’m a religious supporter of their night. They have a night at Thurman’s on the East Side, which is a tiny little jam band bar with Grateful Dead stuff all over the walls. You could not pay me to walk into there if it wasn’t for Chalice in the Palace. I hate jam bands more than anything. It’s the first Friday of every month and they play strictly vinyl, the most hardcore Jamaican music, dub and everything like that. It’s this little hidden gem of a night. They’re not promoting it, it’s just like if you know then you know.
Talk to select Selector Max and talk to Steven Watkins about DJing and music and what it means to them to get a sense of the spirit that we’re talking about.
Richard Galling. There are people in town who have been doing this shit forever. When there is an older generation of people who are used to doing things, when they see what we’re doing and they nod their head it’s very reaffirming. It’s cool to be a part of that.
This is a totally interesting different lineage of stuff, but I for a while was regularly going to Low End Theory in Los Angeles, which is kind of like in a parallel universe the nexus of the Los Angeles beat scene. And absolutely the sound of that would change every week based on what the residents were playing. That’s a big enough thing, that’s a big enough community with enough people coming to it that you could hear that then influencing the sound of people that I know where producers who were at those nights because I saw them there. You could actually see and hear this progression happening at the ground level.
This was like when people started picking up on the Lex Luger south side style Southern trap beats and making them with weird electronic sounds. And that was just starting to become a thing and they were breaking the experimental trap sound there. I saw it happening.
It was this idea of people coming out to a party that happened every week. They would make friends from that party. That is one example of many. It’s just one that I had first-hand experience with. Almost any dance scene is based around a seminal night. It serves a very important purpose that I think is very specific to DJ music that is made by producers. Before the Internet it’s where people got their ideas from. Record stores and clubs.
We were talking about how Factory Records opened up Hacienda in Manchester. That’s where all the bands and the DJs were. It’s the idea of a “scene,” as disgusting as that word can be. It’s very real and it’s very tangible. CBGB’s, Max’s Kansas City in New York. This is where people would meet and where people would hear new music from DJs who don’t take requests and are pushing things forward.
That’s where we’re coming from. We wouldn’t have the same outlook if it wouldn’t be for Chalice in the Palace, Le Freak, DJ Avets. Another big night that we attend pretty often is Sound Travels on Sunday nights at The Nomad with Marcus Doucette. It’s so exciting to go there and not know what you’re going to here. Music from all over the world. If you get somebody in particular like DJ Avets he’s playing stuff that we have never heard, but he’s been about that life for so long. He knows these things.
And Marcus too. Get him off the radio and on the decks at Nomad and he takes it out of control. He listens to everything. It’s his job, that’s all he does. And if it wasn’t his job, he’s the type of dude you can tell all he wants to do all day is listen to music and find new music. It’s a mentality.
You can read these articles now like on BuzzFeed and whatever about how millennials don’t listen to new music; all millennials want to do is listen to the music they grew up with in high school. I see that and I see people like that, they just want to listen to the same old music, and it just baffles me, because we have a driving, insane thirst for new music and new things. And old music that is new to us and that sounds like it is 20 years ahead of its time. That’s that timeless quality of dance music that was being made in the ‘80s and ‘90s that still sounds fresh.
We are squeamish about playing tracks that we’ve played before at our night. Because we’re like, “This is starting to feel a little stale.” When it’s probably the first time that whoever we were going to play it for is going to hear it. But it’s just like, “I don’t want to do that. I want to do something new.”
There is an unfathomable body of work out there for us to pick and choose from. What we’re doing is far from unprecedented. But there’s room for people, whoever you are, to be forward thinking and find new stuff.
New and forward-thinking and unprecedented are three very different things that aren’t mutually exclusive. We’re working within a storied lineage, that’s a big point that we’re trying to get across. And within that inherently there’s room to be doing your own thing.
Going to your night last night brought me back to when I was living in Scotland and traveled around Europe. What you guys are doing now and what other DJs in town are doing is building this strong foundation where eventually there could be an audience for this kind of dance music like I experienced overseas.
Since Le Freak ended Asher has a new night called Rhythm Axis that he does at High Dive and a couple different places with Danny George, and Saul and Jack Carpenter and Sam. There were also guys that you might have seen at studio 200 who had their own night called Bremenhain at Bremen Cafe, before the capacity issues they had there, but now it’s back up and running again.
It’s really important for those three nights to be happening every month to put each other in context. Precognition, Rhythm Axis, and Bremenhain make so much sense alone, but the three of them running sometimes in the same weekend, sometimes a weekend apart, I feel like makes more sense and puts it all into the context of a like-minded scene. To me, yeah absolutely the numbers could be better, but it just takes time.
There’s something like Synth Fest that happened a couple weekends ago. Our really good friend Erik who is down the hall, him and Ken Sabbar is another person who’s just as dedicated and into it as you could possibly be, also an incredible musician, them and Jim Schoenecker who is super involved and pushing sort of more the modular stuff and weird more experimental stuff, they did this big sprawling weekend festival and it went out. It went off. People were there, people were into it.
We’re trying to get this idea in people’s heads that there’s not that many degrees of separation between what we’re doing and stuff like that. There are people in town who want to listen to cool stuff, but there’s a stigma to what a DJ is.
I think there’s a disconnect in what people think the role of a DJ should be. Between like an autonomous selector who has an artistic agenda and who gets to have an artistic agenda, verses a Pandora station and the jukebox mentality. We’re not jukeboxes. You’re not going to get your tune if you put a quarter in us.
I’m trying to say something. I don’t think that you can just snap your fingers and everyone understands what we’re doing and we’ll all be speaking the same language. That’s why the repetition and the regular stuff is important. And being active in trying to give people opportunities to make sense of what we’re doing. Patience and knowing that that’s not something that’s going to happen immediately are two important things.
In terms of Precognition and Close Up in General, I want to see the experimental people relate to it and connect with it. I want to see punks, you know I cannot even believe how sort of stagnant the mindset can be in the punk scene. I want to see the queer community relate to it. The hip-hop community, people into drum and bass. To me it’s very much like a middle ground for a lot of things like that. But yeah, there’s a disconnect between what people think a DJ night will be.
And people might think the environment is something else. Like if you’re a girl, you don’t have to put on a skimpy cocktail dress to come to our night. There is no fucking bottle service at Quarters. We specifically don’t want this to be a hetero-sexualized space. I think that there are large factions of what flies as “dance music,” especially in the U.S., but all over the world too, that are really tied into the grossness we have in our society. Like sex sells. There are detestable factions of dance music, that’s for sure.
We have nothing to do with Oak. Nothing to do with SITE 1A. Nothing to do with the Miramar. That’s a huge point I try to make too and I’m not afraid to say it. What we do is something inherently from the ground up different then all that kind of EDM stuff that is coming from a mentality and a culture that I don’t have any tie to.
And it was stolen too. It’s coming from a stolen place.
That was the biggest difference I noticed when I first went to a club in London. It wasn’t like a fashion show, it wasn’t a meat market. It was just people dancing and having a good time.
It’s an escape. It’s always been a place for people to go and feel safe being themselves. And you really want to push that because that’s the root of it.
Just do your thing, do your own thing. There’s no rules.
Precognition is where the dimension really exists. That’s where I really think the depth of the whole thing exists. Where it becomes something with a singular quality about it that only happens in one place with one group of people.
As summer winds down Wisconsin music fans soak in the last sun-drenched and moonlit hours of outdoor music. The threat of rain held at for the inaugural Milwaukee Fringe Festival, where Tigernite and Milo turned in powerful headlining sets. The Underwear Bike Ride in Milwaukee’s Riverwest neighborhood threw another epic after party. Hear Here Presents, an independent video performance series, moved into a new studio space. Christopher Porterfield (Field Report) tells me about Argopelter, his improvisational rock trio. Plus, a new video from Milwaukee rapper AR Wesley featuring Von Alexander, and WiG recommended events.
HEAR HERE PRESENTS MOVES INTO NEW SPACE
Back when I was a college radio DJ and video student in Minneapolis I occasionally helped shoot the “Live on Radio K” in-studio performances. These are intimate recordings with up-and-coming bands, similar to the “Live on KEXP” series. While both 91.7 WMSE and 88Nine Radio Milwaukee host in-studio sessions with local and national bands, these performances are not video recorded for the public.
Hear Here Presents, an independent series produced by local comedian and music lover Ryan Holman, is filling that void in Milwaukee. The series is inspired by Audiotree Live, NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts, La Blogothèque, Live & Breathing, and Live on KEXP. In their first year Hear Here Presents has captured over 20 performances with local and national bands including Soul Low, Foreign Goods, and BUHU. This summer they moved from a loft on South Second Street across from Purple Door Ice Cream to the Lincoln Warehouse on South First Street.
Hear Here’s new home is shared with eleven other tenants, one of them being Milwaukee band The Cavewives. Their audio engineers use it to record music, while Holman’s girlfriend Jenny Vanderheiden uses it as a studio for her painting, making it a multi-purpose space.
I visited Hear Here’s studio on a recent Sunday for a shoot with local dream pop darlings GGOOLLDD. A crowd of about forty people were mingling and snacking. The space is filled with vintage furniture, band tour posters, plants and framed landscape paintings behind the performance area. Vanderheiden has added bright, colorful rivers to the paintings.
Hear Hear Presents uses high-end equipment to record both audio and video. It is currently a self-funded and volunteer-run endeavor, but Holman’s goal is to eventually be in partnership with a larger media outlet that can provide funding and distribution, though he’d like to maintain a curatorial role.
I spoke with Holman before the GGOOLLDD shoot.
RH: The new space is more professional, it feels more sharp. The last place was great but the building was kind of falling apart. This feels more like an actual recording studio than a loft. It’s a little bit bigger than the last space and the layout is different. The audience had to be off to the side in the last space, whereas now they can kind of wrap around.
GGOOLLDD began their performance with a stripped down version of “Younger Days.” Keyboardist and guitarist Thomas Gilbert played an acoustic guitar. After a change over the band returned fully electric, and Holman’s team fired up a smoke machine. He announced it was the first time they’ve used one, which elicited cheers from the crowd. The band then played “City Lights,” followed by their signature single “Gold.” After the cameras stopped rolling they played a few more songs for fun.
Because of their move Hear Here’s backlog has grown. It will take a few months before the GGOOLLDD video is out. In the meantime click here to check out their video library and music recommendations.
ARGOPELTER AT BOONE & CROCKETT
Field Report is one of the most successful Wisconsin bands of the last decade. The folk rock outfit has garnered praise from Rolling Stone and Billboard magazines. In celebration of their sophomore release, Marigolden, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett proclaimed October 22, 2014, to be “Field Report Day.”
As part of Arte Para Todos 2016, a festival that raises awareness and resources for struggling arts and music programs in Milwaukee Public Schools, I brought Field Report frontman Christopher Porterfield and bassist Barry Paul Clark to Escuela Vieau School.
Porterfield regaled the Vieau middle schoolers with road stories and told them how a failed commercial jingle turned into one of his biggest singles. For the actual festival Porterfield performed a daytime solo set at Lux Bar and Lounge, a small black owned establishment that doesn’t typically host singer-songwriters.
No stranger to non-traditional venues and arrangements, Porterfield and Clark, along with prolific jazz drummer Devin Drobka, began playing improvisational rock sets at a small bar in the Bay View neighborhood under the moniker Argopelter. The sets take place once or twice a month on Mondays at Boone & Crockett. The trio first met playing at the “Alverno Presents: Unlooped vs. Marvin Gaye” concert.
On a recent Monday I went to see Argopelter. Porterfield told me that he’s happy with the progress of the new Field Report album and that it’s being recorded locally at Wire & Vice with engineer Daniel Holter. Porterfield actually had to leave the previous Argopelter performance early because his wife went into labor with their first child.
Argopelter tunes feel like extended, epic introductions to a Field Report song. Towards the end of the second set Porterfield heavily employed pedal effects to the point where one song sounded like the soundtrack to a superhero movie trailer. Their last song brought to mind Led Zeppelin’s “When the Levee Breaks,” with Porterfield throwing in some faint vocals at the end. Overall, Argopelter is heavier and headier than what Field Report fans might be used to.
I emailed Porterfield and asked him what he likes about Argopelter.
CP: Argopelter really stretches me out. Most of what I do in other groups is composed and considered beforehand. Argopelter forces me to listen and trust. I love playing with Barry and Devin, and I’ve grown to trust myself as a player more from playing with and trusting them.
What we do is improvised, but it’s very different from jamming. It’s more meditative. It’s more moment-sensitive. It reacts and supports, and only injects point of view when one of us has something to say. We’re ok with a piece stalling out. There’s a lot of trust between us, the wonderful people at Boone & Crocket, and the audience we’ve developed. We’d all love to transcend, but we all know you can’t get there every time.
Some of the audience we’ve carved out is from the jazz community, and sometimes we invite someone to sit in on our second set. That’s always interesting. The three of us have become pretty sensitive to one another, and are hyper-aware of different energy. Sometimes it’s an exciting fit, and we all hear each other and blast off in new directions. Other times the vibe isn’t right. But every exploration yields some moment of discovery.
The next Argopelter performance at Boone & Crockett will be Monday September 12.
UNDERWEAR BIKE RIDE AFTER PARTY
Milwaukee’s Riverwest neighborhood has a number of uncanny traditions. A few of those include bike riding. The annual “Riverwest 24” attracts riders from all over the city to compete in a 24-hour bike relay and communal hang. A smaller, but no less enthusiastic crowd gathers once a month in the summer for the Underwear Bike Ride (UBR). This celebration of positive body image, originally founded by Steve Roche in 2011, has grown organically over the years and regularly turns out over a hundred riders, especially when the weather cooperates.
The Underwear Bike Ride is followed by an after party concert. There have been some wild after parties, including Foreign Goods debut last summer at Bremen Cafe. Lorde Fredd33 opened the show, which took place shortly after the racially-charged South Carolina shooting. Fredd33 walked out in a ripped Confederate Flag tank top, which was eventually thrown into the crowd and lit on fire. (And then safely stomped out by Roche.) This June the Nashville-based, perpetually touring, immersive DIY dance party Terror Pigeon headlined the UBR after party at Company Brewing.
Last week Gloss Records label heads Harrison Colby and Joey Peterson got to play together at the UBR after party at Mad Planet. Their respective bands, NO/NO and Platinum Boys, opened for Baltimore’s Ed Schrader’s Music Beat. The show was originally scheduled for Quarters Rock ‘N Roll Palace, but Roche reached out to Peterson about making it the official UBR after party and moving it to the larger Mad Planet.
I wasn’t able to make it to the Underwear Bike Ride, so last Friday I went to High Dive to talk to Peterson about the show. When I arrived bartender Connor LaMue told me Peterson had just taken off for an early show at Bremen Cafe. Before leaving I chatted with LaMue, a member of the band Bad Wig, and he told me about a new noise band he’s in with Colby from NO/NO and two other people. They haven’t played out yet but they have three songs, they’re called Sex Scenes, and LaMue feels good about it. He was just getting over his hangover from the after party at Mad Planet and managed to take a tequila shot with me before I left to talk to Peterson.
JP: I was extremely pleased with the participation of the riders. It was cool to expose them to Ed Schrader’s Music Beat. There was probably 200 more people. It was a nice mix of people who were going to the show and the underwear riders. The riders bought merch and were into the bands. They had all that adrenaline after going on a cruise like that, plus they’re in their undies. That’s like taking care of three steps of the party. Ideally that’s where it gets by three in the morning, but if you’re starting that way at 9:30 p.m. you’re in good shape.
Peterson, better known as Joey Turbo, is also the singer/leader of trash dance pop outfit Rio Turbo, who will be playing the Mondo Lucha! “When Worlds Collide” event at Turner Hall Ballroom on September 9. Mondo Lucha! is an annual wrestling event inspired by the “Lucha Libre” form of professional Mexican wrestling. The event was founded by Andy Gorzalski in 2008. This year’s Mondo Lucha! will also feature burlesque dancers and a performance by Rio Turbo.
JP: I’m fucking stoked. That’s what kicked off the whole Rio Turbo thing. Not to play a wrestling event, but that idea of obsessing over professional wrestling as a child.
WiG: So you’re hitting a Rio Turbo benchmark?
JP: Yeah. I’d say all that’s left is a bowling alley and a strip club.
The final Underwear Bike Ride of 2016 will be on September 16, with an after party featuring Juiceboxxx (MKE/NYC) and Show Me The Body (NYC).
Mondo Lucha! “When Worlds Collide” is September 9, at Turner Hall Ballroom.
MILWAUKEE FRINGE FEST MUSIC HEADLINERS
In addition to producing Hear Here Presents, Ryan Holman helped out with the inaugural Milwaukee Fringe Festival’s outdoor music stage. Early morning showers on Saturday August 27, were concerning, but the rain cleared up and stayed away for the entirety of the Fringe Fest’s outdoor music series.
Held at the Pere Marquette Park gazebo, the lineup included Milwaukee stalwarts Platinum Boys, ZED KENZO, Mark Waldoch, Abby Jeanne (Rebel Love), Piles, Ruth B8r Ginsburg, Ugly Brothers, and Light Music. It also featured out-of-towners Oh My Love (Madison), Seasaw (Madison), plus lesser known Milwaukee acts like LUXI, Zhivago, and Lady Cannon.
I visited the park, where the Wednesday night summer music series River Rhythms usually takes place, to catch the each headliner: Tigernite on Saturday and Milo on Sunday.
Tigernite is one of those bands that you couldn’t not hear about if you’ve been paying attention to Milwaukee music these last couple of years. They were the feature band at the 2015 Milwaukee Film Fest opening night party. This year they played just about every street festival and were one of the standout acts at Arte Para Todos. Fringe Fest would be my first time seeing a full set from the energetic glam rock band.
The most prominent aspect of Tigernite’s music is lead singer Molly Roberts voice. Love it or hate it, Roberts voice is a little Pat Benatar, a little Lita Ford, turned up a few notches. Their music sounds like something from the late ‘90s/early 2000s alternative rock scene. Guitarist Maxwell Emmet has long flowing rock star hair, and he plays the part well. At one point he hopped off-stage and ran through the crowd. Roberts one-upped him and poured a jar of glitter on her head, which stuck to some of the paint she smeared on her face and arms beforehand. She was a spark throughout the set, bouncing up and down, whipping her bi-colored (one half white, one half black) hair around, and even donned shiny black wings at one point. Between the band’s showmanship and Roberts powerful pipes, Tigernite delivered a hard-hitting, entertaining performance.
There has been much talk of the bubbling Milwaukee hip-hop scene in the last few years. In my first feature for WiG I wrote about the best rap albums (so far) of 2016. When it comes to artistry, Milo is on a level all to himself. This surely has something to do with the formative year he spent in Los Angeles with the Hellfyre Club collective. Not to mention, Milo has logged more tour miles than any other rapper in Wisconsin under 30. His stage presence has elevated considerably since I first saw him at Arte Para Todos 2015.
When I arrived at 8:55 p.m. on Sunday August 28, Milo’s signature sparse production could be heard echoing through the park. I worried that he had started early and I missed most of his set. But he was merely sound checking. Turns out, a Milo sound check is better than most rappers singles. Once he felt good about the levels he invited the modest crowd to come closer to the stage.
“It takes a lot of precious energy to rap in the park. It’s been a minute since a brother rapped in the park,” Milo told the crowd.
Throughout his set Milo repeated the refrain, “Thanks for coming to my job,” and “Glad you could make it to my place of work.” His white painter outfit emphasized this “blue collar rap” theme. Whereas some rappers see their music as a hobby, a get-rich-quick scheme, a way to get laid, etc., for Milo rap is simply his profession. When you see him live you can tell he puts in the hours, carefully crafting his art.
When I spoke with Milo earlier this year he told me he had been thinking about how to add theatrical elements to his live performance. At his Fringe Fest set there weren’t overt “bits,” but his movements were far more expressive. His interaction and appreciation for the audience was incredibly genuine. Where most musicians connect with the audience during eruptions of noise, Milo and his audience commune in those quiet moments between songs.
Early in his set Milo showed love to the festival and the audience for embracing the fringe spirit, of which is music squarely fits into. With that spirit in mind, he debuted a new song that he created the day before. Later in the set he brought intense ferocity to an unreleased BLM-themed song with lyrics about how “David Clarke hates himself” that was so powerful it gave me goosebumps. Considering the intimacy of the park setting and the free admission, it was a very special evening. Milo’s next performance will be this Friday at the sprawling, expensive, weekend-long Hopscotch Music Festival in Raleigh, North Carolina.
WiG RECOMMENDED EVENTS
SEPT 8: Athletic Supply with Iron Pizza, Apollo Vermouth, and Proud Parents (Madison) at High Dive in Milwaukee. For more on Athletic Supply see my upcoming feature on Close Up of the Serene in this issue of WiG.
SEPT 10: The Movement V2: I Am Milwaukee – This unique, family-friendly, outdoor/indoor event will take place at the Beerline Trail in Milwaukee from 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. From their Facebook event: “Using a series of compilation albums and events, “The Movement” demonstrates the power of musical talent at work in our city. Volume 2 highlights a pool of extremely talented Milwaukee producers. The release event brings together a diverse selection of our skilled hip hop, house and techno producers/djs, pushing against genre division, segregation, and building community.” For more information click here.
SEPT 10: 91.7 WMSE Backyard BBQ – In its 7th year, but first under the Humboldt Park Bandshell, Milwaukee’s favorite college radio station throws their free end of summer barbeque bash. Featuring performances by national acts Balkun Brothers, Sonny Knight and The Lakers, plus local bands Trapper Schoepp, Midwest Death Rattle and Doghouse Flowers.
SEPT 17: Rock the Green – After taking three years off, Southeastern Wisconsin’s premier sustainability-themed music festival is back. This year it will be held at the Reed Street Yards along the Menomonee River in Milwaukee. The mainstage lineup features international indie heavyweights Lord Huron, Best Coast, Robert DeLong, The Heavy, and Thao and the Get Down Stay Down. Local favorites New Age Narcissism, NO/NO, Eagle Trace, Foreign Goods, Evan Christian, and Great Lake Drifters will be play a pedal-powered side stage. Each ticket comes with a reusable water bottle. For more information and tickets click here.
SEPT 17: Rusty Pelicans album release – Of my picks for the six best Wisconsin hip-hop albums (so far) of 2016 only one was forthcoming, Apartment 7 by the Rusty Pelicans. With two decades in the game, the Pelicans reunited their original lineup and brought in some of the best local talent to assist them on the new album, a return to form for Milwaukee’s longest-running hip-hop group. Sharing the bill at Company Brewing will be Mammyth, AR Wesley, Bo & Airo, and DJ MadHatter.
SEPT 17: Foreign Goods EP release – Gloss Records celebrates their first live recording cassette/digital release at Mad Planet in Milwaukee. Taken from their headlining set at Summer Soulstice in June, this live recording captures the dynamic performance of jazz/soul/funk/hip-hop supergroup Foreign Goods. Sharing the bill will be Lorde Fredd33.
SEPT 17: Jazz at the Jazz Gallery – Between 1978 and 1984 the Jazz Gallery on Center Street in Milwaukee was one of the premier jazz clubs in the country. Owner Chuck LaPaglia brought in the likes of Chet Baker, Art Blakey, Dizzy Gillespie, Stan Getz, Sonny Stitt, and Wynton Marsalis. Today the Jazz Gallery Center of the Arts hosts a variety of events, but are keeping their jazz legacy alive. Next Saturday features the Ryan Measel Quartet at 5 p.m., followed by the Billy Johnson Trio at 7 p.m., which features Milwaukee jazz legends Manty Ellis and Victor Campbell.
NEW AR WESLEY VIDEO
Directed by Rob Randolph and Raphael Roby, one of the best tracks off AR Wesley’s 2015 EP Time is Millmatic, “Here iGO ft. Von Alexander,” gets the slick visual treatment. The track is produced by Mike Regal, who appears in the video alongside another Milwaukee heavyweight, Reggie Bonds, and probably a few more rappers.
A cruel stroke of irony hit the second night of the Strange Fruit music festival in Milwaukee, which was created “to explore the thoughts and emotions of local musicians, regarding the current climate of racial relations both in Milwaukee and the country as a whole.”
That day Syville K. Smith was gunned down by a police officer in the Sherman Park neighborhood. Hours later frustrated residents lit portions of their neighborhood ablaze, thrusting Milwaukee into the international spotlight.
A renewed sense of determination ran through the final night of Strange Fruit, while Milwaukee musicians across genres responded to the civil unrest.
The next weekend a beloved East Side venue closed its doors and a Riverwest band hung up their instruments. On the plus side, a new band debuted at Cactus Club’s 20th Anniversary, Lorde Fredd33 and Q the Sun dropped a new track, and the Ruby Yacht camp blessed us with a new video. Also, I had an okay time at a “Quiet Clubbing” event.
Klassik in NYC and Strange Fruit
Local hip-hop heavyweight Klassik has evolved over the course of his career. In the beginning he was a promising producer. The single “Boogie” cemented his status as a hitmaker, garnering him a 2012 Radio Milwaukee Award for Artist of the Year and 2013 WAMI for Hip-Hop Artist of the Year. Over the last few years he has emerged as both a powerful solo performer and a strong collaborator (Foreign Goods, Group of the Altos). Klassik’s music has moved into more experimental territory, adding modulation to his voice and using various effects.
On Friday August 12, Klassik played his first show in New York City. It was in support of Minus Pedro’s EP release, a group fronted by Milwaukee-native Bassey Etim. I spoke with Kellen “Klassik” Abston about his experience in NYC and playing the Strange Fruit festival later that weekend amid the unrest that exploded in the Sherman Park neighborhood.
K: The energy was crazy in New York. It was nice to have some Milwaukee homies there, people who had either just recently moved or had been there for a while. It’s cool to have that kind of support system already in place and that spilled over into the rest of the crowd. Everyone was hyper engaged, I wowed some of the right people and made some good connections. So I feel really good about it.
WiG: Did being in NYC amp you up in any way?
K: Oh yeah. The pace of the city is just so vibrant. Everybody is on a mission. Everybody’s doing something. There are millions and millions and millions of people there and they’re all super focused and determined. There’s something going on always. So it’s hard not to be inspired and motivated by that.
WiG: You and I had a similar experience in terms of being out of town when the news broke of the unrest in Sherman Park. I was up at Eaux Claires. What was it like when you started getting word on Saturday night?
K: It was an immediate sadness and a feeling of disconnect. I don’t know why, but the feeling of not being in Milwaukee, it was almost like I got homesick. Which is ironic because it was something terrible that made me want to be home. But I just wanted to be home.
I found out after watching Shakespeare in the Park. This star-studded classic play, sitting in 95 degree heat in Central Park. Then I get out and I’m on the train watching these things unfold back home on my phone.
There was a sense of urgency coupled with the motivation that I already had from being in the city. That could have been a total buzz kill, but no, I’m going to go back and play Strange Fruit. We didn’t know at that point for sure if I was going to be back in time to play with Foreign Goods, but then more than ever I was determined to be at that show on Sunday night at Cactus.
WiG: What was the vibe at Strange Fruit?
K: Everybody just really came with their A-game. The performances were top-notch. I gotta give it up to Chauntee and Jay as far as putting that together. It was such an amazing event. And to see David Ravel there and him being the curator that he is and hearing him say, “Wow, this went really well. It could have went a number of ways. I didn’t know what to expect.” But he was floored. Milo killed it. He headlined that (Sunday) night and had a phenomenal set. You could tell that everybody was there for the betterment of this community in whatever small or large way that they could.
WiG: Would you say there was a prevailing sadness or more of a resurgence of spirit?
K: Definitely the latter. It was just a new resolve, more impassioned. It’s not just our talent and our creative outlet. It goes back to that initial conversation we had at Sista Strings’ house after the shooting in St. Paul. Everybody knows their responsibility and everybody is holding each other accountable and we’re holding ourselves accountable. Everybody was determined not to let their platform go to waste.
Granted, this isn’t the end-all-be-all by any means. But as far as actually taking a step and organizing and coming together and utilizing our talents and putting them toward something that might uplift people and bring people together, that happened. Even in the midst of what was going on in the city. So it was just crazy timing that we had this festival amid the madness that ensued.
WiG: How did the Foreign Goods set go?
K: Excellent. I had a little extra spirit in me.
Foreign Goods (featuring Abby Jeanne) play the Milwaukee Fringe Festival Gazebo Stage this Saturday at 8 p.m. at Pere Marquette Park.
Devil Met Contention and the “Fire”
The first time I saw Devil Met Contention was at an art gallery opening at Hot Pop in Milwaukee’s Third Ward. They are an unmistakeable band to see live, as they perform in matching suits straight from the set of Mad Men.
“I think it helps everyone in the group feel like it’s showtime. I like the idea of showmanship and doing it for the audience,” frontman Ehson Rad said during the band’s “414 Live” performance at the 88Nine Radio Milwaukee studios.
Devil Met Contention released their first full-length in June, Fuel the Lights, a wonderful 9-track record that delves deep into the dust-laden realm of alt-country, fusing elements of folk and blues.
The band’s name comes from a three-word summary of the book Paradise Lost. Their penchant for literature comes across in the lyrics on the new record, which have an emphasis on storytelling.
The material on Fuel the Lights is darker than previous releases, including a song about the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri following the murder of a young black man at the hands of the police in the summer of 2014.
Tragically, at this point Devil Met Contention could record multiple albums worth of songs about slain black Americans. But when civil discontent over another police shooting exploded in their hometown they were compelled to revisit this subject matter.
The day after the Sherman Park turmoil they recorded a song called “Fire,” what they describe as “a reflection on the American struggle for peace and equality in Milwaukee, WI.”
Devil Met Contention will hit the road for their first tour starting August 24 at the Elbow Room in Chicago.
Reggie Bonds, Queen Tut respond to Sherman Park unrest
As Wisconsin hip-hop fans patiently wait for the release of Reggie Bond’s debut album From the Norf$ide w/ Love, the ferocious emcee has dropped a few singles and a new video. Recently, Bonds recorded the track “#PrayForMilwaukee” following the unrest in Sherman Park. The song features the voice of an affected youth at the beginning and end of the song, while in between Bonds paints a grim but honest picture of the inner-city.
Recent WiG feature artist Queen Tut recorded her own meditation on the turmoil in Milwaukee and across the nation, entitled “To: Black Man From: Moon.” Listen to the song here.
MAM After Dark’s Quiet Clubbing 2.0
Quiet clubbing (or “silent disco”) is an idea I’ve been intrigued by for some time, but haven’t had the opportunity to experience until last Friday at the Milwaukee Art Museum’s “MAM After Dark” series. It involves wearing wireless headphones that have dance music piped into them. This way, if someone were to stumble upon the scene they would see a bunch of people dancing in silence.
When I went to Montreal’s Osheaga Arts and Music Festival in 2014 there was a quiet clubbing tent, but by the time I went inside they had ditched the headphones. At the Eaux Claires festival in The Banks tent we were given headphones, but you could still hear the music without them.
MAM After Dark Quiet Clubbing 2.0 was a sold-out affair and we had to wait in line for about 15 minutes before receiving our headphones. There were two DJs spinning in the dance area, Bizzon and WhyB. We had the option to toggle between them, which had the effect of a DJ battle.
Bizzon is the co-host of 91.7 WMSE’s long-running Tuesday night hip-hop show “Those Hip-Hop Guys.” He stayed in his lane for the most part, playing old and new hip-hop tracks. WhyB was all over the board, relying on Top 40 songs and tapping into my generation’s nostalgia for pop hits of the early 2000s like Chumbawamba “Tubthumping.”
My girlfriend wasn’t a fan of the two DJ quiet clubbing format, or the headphones in general. She considered it to be isolating rather than unifying. I would have to agree. I’m not sure if I would attend another quiet clubbing event, but it was interesting to be sure. We actually had more fun going outside on the patio where 88Nine Radio Milwaukee’s Marcus Doucette was spinning ‘80s hits and world music.
Lex Allen and the closing of Hotel Foster
Back in late May it was announced that Yield Bar on Milwaukee’s East Side would abruptly close. The owner cited a rise in rent and rumors started circulating that he was looking to move into the Hotel Foster’s space nearby, which was still open for business at the time. Hotel Foster denied the claims, but trouble seemed afoot, as their business had slowed down over the past six months or so, while rent seems to be rising on the East Side.
On August 10, the Hotel Foster announced that it would be closing and Saturday August 13 would be their last day. However, owner Doug Williams reopened last on Thursday for a previously scheduled event, Lex Allen’s “The Beaut Ball: Prom Edition.” The event featured performances from Chakara Blu, Sista Strings, and Allen’s New Age Narcissism collective. Attendees were encouraged to wear prom attire. I spotted an assortment of gorgeous dresses and at least one tuxedo t-shirt.
With the closing of Yield Bar and the Hotel Foster the East Side has lost two of its most vital live music venues. In its five year run, the Hotel Foster, lovingly referred to as “HoFo,” played an important role in Milwaukee’s musical renaissance.
The music series during the 2014 Milwaukee Film Festival at HoFo featured a stellar array of the city’s best acts. Personally, HoFo holds a special place in my heart, as my girlfriend and I had our first conversation there after meeting on the red carpet walking out of the 2014 MKE Film Festival opening night party.
HoFo occasionally booked touring bands like Macaulay Culkin’s pizza-themed Velvet Underground cover band (“Pizza Underground”) and Milwaukee-native turned cult rapper Juiceboxxx. It was also one of the venues that New Age Narcissism regularly played during their rise to prominence.
“Hotel Foster was one of the first venues I played that I felt was a good fit for me as an artist,” says Allen. “It has a persona and an intimate vibe. It is always fun and a little classy. Plus it is four blocks from my house.”
“But this is not the first or last event of its kind. Tonight was about people being themselves and shedding whatever script was put on them when they were born. Most of the artists tonight were from the LGBT community and I always want to put an emphasize on that in Milwaukee. There’s so much positivity going on in our city, despite what’s been in the news lately.”
Caley Conway and the Lucy Cukes release/farewell show
Another bittersweet event took place last Saturday night at Company Brewing as Caley Conway and the Lucy Cukes played an album release/farewell show. It’s a shame the breakup comes on the heels of their best work yet, a heartfelt, funny, touching 10-track bluegrass/folk record called Silk for Life.
We arrived at Company just in time to catch the beginning of Conway’s set. Despite an overly chatty crowd and some sound troubles, Conway and the band delivered a wonderful performance. Conway was actually one of the first people I met in the Milwaukee music scene, when I bought soup from her at the Milwaukee Public Market back in early 2014. She has one of the most heavenly voices in town and though she may be done with the Lucy Cukes, I’m sure we’ll hear more from Conway in the future.
New band debuts at Cactus Club’s 20th Anniversary
Amid the news of a beloved venue closing and a band breaking up, last Saturday night also saw the debut of a new group, Bad Grades, at Cactus Club’s 20th Anniversary party. Bad Grades is a side project led by Shane Hochstetler (Howl Street Recordings, Call Me Lightning) and Nathan Lilley (Call Me Lightning), which also includes Mike Gamm (Population Control), Nick Elert (Northless), and Chris Ortiz (Speed Freaks, Volcanos).
The band is rooted in hard punk, with elements of metal mixed in. The crowd anxiously anticipated their set and it didn’t take long for a mosh pit to form, albeit a three-person mosh. A perfectly good beer was sprayed on people nearby as the trio whipped around the room.
Though they weren’t throwing their bodies around, the rest of the crowd responded enthusiastically to Bad Grades. There was little evidence that it was the band’s first show. Given the success of this inaugural outing I suspect they’ll be booked on more upcoming shows, but so far their next gig will be the Rushmor Records Stage at Bay View Bash on September 17.
New track from Lorde Fredd33 + Q the Sun
Milwaukee’s Lorde Fredd33 and Q the Sun of the New Age Narcissism collective are responsible for my top Wisconsin album of the year, Dead Man’s View. Four months after releasing their debut full-length, the rapper/producer duo is back to bless us with a new track, “Danica Patrick.” In the opening of the song Fredd33 mocks the sing-song rapping dominating the airwaves and SoundCloud pages of today before launching into a banger, which they describe as “An Ode to strong women who do what they want. An ode to the guys that support it.”
Listen to the song here.
New video from Scallops Hotel
Speaking of top records, Rory Ferreira found himself on many national year-end best of 2015 lists for his stellar effort so the flies don’t come. That record was released under the Milo moniker, but he also put out the excellent Scallops Hotel record Plain Speaking earlier in 2015.
The Milwaukee-based rapsmith, beat maker, and Ruby Yacht label head has kept himself busy in 2016; touring the continent, supporting LA rapper and Hellfyre Club affiliate Busdriver in Europe, getting married, headlining the aforementioned Strange Fruit festival, supporting Soul Low at their record release show, and putting out last month’s too much of life is mood.
This non-traditional Scallops Hotel project was meant to be a cassette only release. It plays digitally as one 41-minute track of beautiful beats, samples, voice clips, modulated Henry Dumas poetry, and a healthy sprinkling of rap. Last week Ruby Yacht released a video from the project, which features Ferreira, his wife, and RY artists S.al and Randal Bravery.
Milo headlines the Milwaukee Fringe Festival Gazebo Stage this Sunday at 9 p.m. at Pere Marquette Park.