DEAD HORSES ON THE ROAD
At the end of September the Oshkosh-born/Milwaukee-based acoustic folk band Dead Horses released their new album Cartoon Moon. The beautiful and thoughtful 10-track project was recorded at Cartoon Moon Studios in Nashville with former Wilco and Uncle Tupelo drummer Ken Coomer. Last month they hit the road on a 10-state, 14-date tour in support of Mandolin Orange. I spoke with lead singer Sarah Vos during the band’s day off in Charleston, South Carolina.
We are going to go to the beach and see the ocean today. I haven’t seen the Atlantic for quite some time so I’m pretty excited.
How has the road been?
It’s awesome because we’re playing all these new cities and they’re pretty nice rooms, and really, really receptive crowds. So it’s been a blast.
How was it returning to Nashville where the new album was recorded?
There was a cool coming around with that it being almost exactly a year later. It was really fun. Our producer Ken Coomer came out to the show with his wife and his son and we got to hang out with him backstage. It felt very special. I’m a big fan of Nashville. It’s going to be a main stop for us for touring in the future. We’ve started to make friends down there.
It was a good show?
It was a great show, one of our best in Nashville. We’ve done the Americana Music Festival in Nashville, so that was pretty cool. We got to play at The Station Inn, which is kind of a historic bluegrass venue. To do that as part of the festival was really neat. You have all these dreams and goals, as soon as you reach one goal you kind of got your eye on the next one and you never quite make it to the horizon. But I always try to remind the guys in the band that we should be celebrating because we are very blessed.
I read that Cartoon Moon is the record that you really want people to hear. What sets it apart and what makes it so special for you?
I think it’s a patient record. It shows how we have matured through the years. I feel that it’s crafted a lot more, it’s more deliberate than other things we’ve done. That’s something that I want to continue to do as we keep making records. Because you know in the industry they talk about how bands don’t make as much money from records anymore.
But when I look at the way music has affected me and the reasons that I even wanted to be a musician, it was growing up and listening to records. To this day I’m always searching for new things to listen to and I love that. Recording it was one of the most fun things I’ve ever done. I love having this very focused project that was collaboration between the members of the band and the producer and the sound engineer.
Have you been writing new songs while you’ve been on tour or performing any new material?
Usually when I write it’s pretty private, at least when I start the songs. But at the Nashville show I was very inspired by all the things that we’ve seen touring and the people we’ve met. Traveling right now across the country during such a crazy time in politics and things that are happening in the country, I’ve been telling the audiences at every show that I think regardless of where you stand, a lot of people feel pretty disheartened by the state of things. But we’ve been meeting such compassionate and wonderful people everywhere. So I’ve been trying to remind people at all the shows that it’s going to be ok. Don’t lose hope because things are going to work out.
But yeah, I always write a lot, I journal a lot, and a lot of times I just write down little snippets of things. Or even just word combinations that strike my fancy. As far as actual songs I’m not sure exactly how the new record that we’re beginning to dream up is going to go, but I just feel very confident that everything that we need is already there. I can’t wait to make another one.
Click here to listen to Dead Horses on WUWM.
B-FREE’S NEW ALBUM & POWERFUL PERFORMANCES
In the fall of 2004 I saw Jill Scott in concert at the Chicago Theatre. That performance remains the most emotionally resonant live music experience of my life. The songstress regaled us with poignant stories in between beautiful songs performed with a full band and mini orchestra. My friend and I were brought to tears and compelled to call our loved ones immediately after the show.
Listening to the latest record by Milwaukee R&B singer B~Free (Britney Farr-Freeman) reminds me of that autumn night in Chicago. Ode 2 A Luv Affair is B-Free’s second studio album. It takes listeners on a journey through the trials and tribulations of love. The recording process was challenging for a couple of reasons. Freeman, who also works as an educator, contracted a throat illness from one of her students that required surgery.
“It was difficult for me to allow myself to be as comfortable in that space as I once was. There were a lot of moments of rawness and vulnerability that I wasn’t quite ready to deal with. For example, when I was recording ‘The Vow’ I was pretty much crying the whole time,” Freeman tells me.
I first saw B~Free at Linneman’s Riverwest Inn last year when she shared a bill with Klassik, who was being backed by Foreign Goods. Freeman is now a member of Foreign Goods, which she credits with allowing her to be more comfortable collaborating and playing in front of larger audiences. Last week she was joined by her bandmates at Turner Hall to see Esperanza Spalding, an experience as affecting for her as the Jill Scott concert was for me in 2004.
“It was absolutely phenomenal,” says Freeman. “I was so inspired and moved emotionally and musically. It made me sincerely question my own existence. It was so deep without even trying to be. She conveys such a strong message about finding your own path and putting everything that you’ve been taught or forced to believe to the wayside. That’s always something that I’ve been aiming towards in my own life and artistry. I want to be able to wield that same power with whatever I put out into the world.”
The response to Ode 2 A Luv Affair has been positive, albeit a few detailed critiques on the album’s iTunes page. She is in the early stages of developing her next record, but before that she will go into the studio with Foreign Goods to record their first album this winter.
“It’s our goal to have it be a project that highlights everyone’s talents. There will definitely be some rap on there, some jazz, some harmonies, vocals, R&B, just a mixture of everything that we do. So we’re excited and we’re gearing up for the process,” says Freeman.
Tonight you can see B~Free with Foreign Goods for free at Club Garibaldi for a live broadcast of 91.7 WMSE’s Local/Live. Erin Wolf and Cal Roach will talk to B~Free and take audience questions in between a live performance. Doors open at 5:30 p.m. and the segment runs from 6 to 7 p.m. If you can’t make the show you can tune in at 91.7FM or go online wmse.org.
THE JAZZ ESTATE REOPENS BETTER THAN EVER
Unbeknownst to many Wisconsin music fans, Milwaukee has a storied jazz history. The scene has gone through its ups and downs and is currently experiencing a resurgence. One of those reasons was the temporary closing of the Jazz Estate.
The historic East Side haunt became the focal point of the Milwaukee jazz scene in the 2000s. When it closed its doors last year a few venues began hosting live jazz. After much anticipation and a few delays, the Estate officially reopens tonight.
In November 2015 the Jazz Estate was sold to John Dye, owner and operator of Bryant’s Cocktail Lounge since 2008. I spoke with Dye at his acclaimed South Side lounge while they were hosting a Jazz Estate cocktail preview.
“It’s always been one of the places in Milwaukee that I’ve been interested in, but they approached me,” says Dye of his new business venture.
“We’re going to do some really nice versions of classic cocktails from the ‘70s and ‘80s, ones that nobody really touches. They’re good drinks, but they’re just a little uninspired,” says Dye. You might say he’s done the same thing with the Estate.
Opened in 1977, the building fell into disrepair over the years. The Estate’s reopening was originally slated for July, but more renovations were required than anticipated. Given his dedication to preserving history, Dye took his time to do it right. Last week I attended the club’s soft opening and I’m happy to report he’s done just that.
As soon as I walked into the Estate there was a “new club smell.” It’s as if Dye’s team polished every inch of the club and then added a few of their own flourishes, like the tin ceiling in the front room and the house drum kit. The vintage looking lights and register give the bar a Bryant’s vibe. The seating and sightlines in the back area are improved as well. And the acoustics are excellent.
The Jazz Estate will feature live music on Thursdays and Saturdays from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m., with cover ranging from $5 to $12 in the first month. There is no cover for the grand opening Thursday night. DJs and pre-recorded old school soul and jazz will play the other nights at the Estate, which is better than ever.Click here for more information and to view their calendar.
SOUL LOW COVERS FEMMES, NEW RIO TURBO & UPCOMING DANCE PARTY
In my second feature for WiG I wrote about the young Milwaukee pop rockers of Soul Low. The success of their debut record (Uneasy) and acclaim for their latest effort (Nosebleeds) has put them in an exclusive category of Wisconsin music, alongside only a few other bands. One of those is The Violent Femmes. With lead singer Jake Balistreri’s quivering falsetto so similar to the Femme’s Gordon Gano, it was just a matter of time before the Soul Low boys paid homage to their Milwaukee music ancestors by covering “Blister in the Sun,” the Femmes’ biggest hit. I had heard the song was in Soul Low’s repertoire, but hadn’t experienced it live until last Friday night at Cactus Club. It was Night One of Gloss Records’ Halloween Spooktacular. Soul Low — half of whom were dressed as Power Rangers — closed their set with the rollicking, fine-tuned cover.
Performing right before Soul Low at Cactus Club was Rio Turbo, Milwaukee’s premier trash pop dance party. Joey Turbo — dressed in neon orange hunter regalia — and his Turbette dancers debuted three new songs to kick off their set. “No He Can’t” is an instant hit, with a driving beat that my feet couldn’t deny. “Ballad” is a trippy, airy track that made me think of The Flaming Lips, with Turbo sounding a bit like Wayne Coyne. Rio Turbo also debuted their sick new neon sign, which sat on the table in front of DJ SPACE BAR, the latest edition to the Turbo lineup.
Also on Friday I announced the Beyonce + Jay Z vs. Rihanna + Drake dance party at Company Brewing on Saturday, November 26. I’m producing this event with my girlfriend and visual artist Kristina Rolander, which Rio Turbo will be making a special appearance at. The event also includes an all-star lineup of DJs (Bizzon, Annalog, Optimist, Turtle Sooup), host Lex Allen, cocktail specials and an original photo backdrop by Kristina. Click here for more information and to RSVP.
NEW MUSIC FROM WEBSTERX, BO TRIPLEX & HIS BEAUTIFUL BAND, AUTOMATIC
Experimental hip-hop artist WebsterX has released his first song of the year, “Blue Streak.” Since putting out his debut project Desperate Youth in 2013, the most high profile member of the New Age Narcissism collective released some major “loosies” (singles not attached to a larger project) with 2014’s “doomsday (feat. siren),” 2015’s “Lately” and “Kinfolk (feat. Allan Kingdom).” Not to mention, last fall’s excellent 3-track, Radiohead-inspired collaboration with Q the Sun entitled KidX.
Thankfully for fans, the Four Giants produced “Blue Streak” does not continue the “loosie” trend. It is the first single from what will be WebsterX’s debut studio album. Upon the song’s release WebsterX also announced that he agreed to a distribution deal with Chicago-based label Closed Sessions. The outfit was responsible for helping the early career development of Chicago rappers like Vic Mensa and Chance the Rapper. WebsterX will maintain 100% ownership of his masters and will benefit from the label’s influence and reach. Click here to listen to “Blue Streak.”
Milwaukee bassist, New Age Narcissism member and music scene all-star Bo Triplex released a new single as part of the Nightmare on Center Street II playlist. “Hold Me Down” is from Bo Triplex and His Beautiful Band’s forthcoming EP deux, which has an early February release date. Bo says of the track, “‘Hold Me Down’ is a clash of worlds. Bo has been captured by those he came to defeat and though they taunt him so he refuses to give up. For he knows y’all are holding him down. Special thanks to Beathouse Music Inc. and Yessica Jimenez for the art.” Click here to listen to “Hold Me Down.”
“For the 3rd single from their upcoming full length, Marathon (11.11.16), smooth hip-hop group AUTOMatic brings the classic early 90’s R&B vibes with their certified slow jam, “You Don’t Love Me.” Emcee APRIME explores what it’s like to be caught in the trap of a love/hate relationship – something all of us have been in at least once in our life. Producer Trellmatic’s production is top notch and he adds updated drums to the retro groove. This one is for everybody that grew up with the Quiet Storm radio show playing in the background, late at night.” Click here to listen to “You Don’t Love Me.”
NEW VIDEOS FROM ISHDARR, HOT COFFIN, THE RECORD COMPANY, NO NO YEAH OKAY
Last WiG issue’s featured artist IshDARR released the first video (“Locals” directed by Damien Blue) from his latest project Broken Hearts & Bankrolls, which has received over 4 million streams in its first 3 weeks. Metal band Hot Coffin spent a late night making a freaky video in The Oriental Theatre for their song “Whistle, Hawk & Spit,” which was directed and edited by Jed Schlegelmilch. Burlington-native Chris Vos’ wildly successful LA-based blues rock band The Record Company released a lighthearted, hula hoop-centric video for their hit “Rita Mae Young.” Also, local chill wave rockers No No Yeah Okay put out an eerie Ryan Bilinski directed video for “Great Scott” from their debut EP Dual.
MILWAUKEE FILM FEST GUIDE
Returning for its 8th installment, the Milwaukee Film Festival is simply one of Wisconsin’s finest cultural institutions. This year 282 films will be screened between September 22 and October 6, plus a number of panels, speakers, guest appearances, post-film conversations, education screenings, and happy hours. In the spirit of this column I’ve compiled a guide for the best of the festival’s music-related films.
I must admit that my adoration for the Film Fest is colored by the fact that I met my girlfriend on the red carpet walking out of the Opening Night party two years ago. As such, the Opening Night party is a can’t miss event. This year Milwaukee’s premier music collective—New Age Narcissism (NAN)—will perform at the party on September 22 in the Kenilworth Building.
The next night—September 23—you can catch three videos from NAN members at the Milwaukee Music Video Show (9:45 p.m., Oriental). There will be 16 entries in total, from the likes of Canopies, Busdriver, Group of the Altos, WC Tank, Devil Met Contention, Fox Face, Rio Turbo, and more, plus a video premier from Maritime.
The centerpiece of the fest’s music movies is the much beloved Sound Vision program, which features eight films his year. They include subjects such as the blues (I Am The Blues), a legendary writer and producer (Bang! The Bert Berns Story), a soul singer’s triumph over cancer (Miss Sharon Jones!), a viral sensation (Presenting Princess Shaw), PBS’ long-running concert program (A Song For You: The Austin City Limits Story), an Afghan girl rapper (Sonita), a notorious Madison alternative recording house (The Smart Studios Story), plus the dance party tradition that is Jonathan Demme’s seminal Talking Heads concert film Stop Making Sense.
Speaking of film fest traditions, the Alloy Orchestra will accompany the classic 1927 sci-fi silent film Metropolis. Alloy Orchestra’s performance will be inspired by the Milwaukee Art Museum’s upcoming “Haunted Screens” exhibit.
Two Trains Runnin’ is not the first documentary about the summer of 1964 to play at the Film Fest. Rather than focus on the Freedom Riders who bused into the segregated south to register voters, Two Trains Runnin’ tells the story of a group of young blues fans who also head into unfriendly territory in search of mysterious blues musicians, with hopes of bringing their music out of obscurity.
An aspiring classical musician blows his audition for the Sao Paulo Orchestra and finds his calling teaching the youth of Brazil’s largest favela in The Violin Teacher. This film is part of one of the fest’s newest programs, Cine Sin Fronteras, which showcases the rich and vibrant Latinx diaspora.
Christopher Darling is a Milwaukee-made dark comedy tracking the escapades of a self-destructive leader of a modestly popular rock band. Local actor John Glowacki takes on one of his most interesting roles in Scott Cary and Martin Kaszubowski’s feature debut.
Afghanistan’s first rock band are scheduled to play with Metallica on a San Francisco-based Iranian radio station in Radio Dreams. Things don’t go as planned in this droll comedy as the staff waits for a jam session that may never happen.
Carmin Tropical is an edge-of-your-seat murder mystery noir centering on a Mexican transgender nightclub singer investigating her best friend’s death.
Closing Night film, Morris from America, centers on an American boy living with his dad in Germany who relies on his love of hip-hop to cope with his outsider status.
Apart from the music-minded films, there are many excellent features and shorts to see. For theater locations and showtimes pick up a Film Fest program or visit their website. The box office is now open and located inside the Oriental Theatre.
Think of the MKE Film Fest as the first part of a double feature, considering the (31st) Milwaukee LGBT Film Fest follows right after from October 12 to the 23. In the next issue of WiG I’ll have a guide for its music-related films and events.
And though it’s not officially part of the Film Fest, members of the Ruby Yacht label will be performing in the Moon Room at nearby Landmark Lanes on September 22.
SUPPER CLUB JAZZ AT COMPANY BREWING
During my first visit to our nation’s capital my friend took me to the Bohemian Caverns, a renowned jazz club. We arrived in time for the late set by a trio from Paris. The plates had long been cleared, but the (now-closed) Bohemian Caverns featured dinner as part of their entertainment experience.
Company Brewing in Milwaukee has brought this time-honored tradition to the Riverwest neighborhood. Their Supper Club Jazz series features a free performance and an exclusive menu on Wednesday nights. They also have special editions of Supper Club Jazz every so often on the weekend.
While jazz has been relegated to background music in hotel lobbies and restaurants around the country, Company’s series is reminiscent of jazz’s heyday. The performance is the main attraction, along with an artful meal prepared by head Chef Rosy Rodriguez.
“We wanted to have live jazz be a part of what we do at Company Brewing, but we wanted to do it the right way,” owner George Bregar tells me.
“We reached out to Jamie Breiwick to pick his brain. He was very helpful in that he knows the jazz scene really well and knows what it needs. Then we brought in Jay Anderson for some extra positive energy. Personally, I like it so much that we schedule our brew nights around it,” adds Bregar.
The first Supper Club Jazz special edition took place in April. It was a tribute to Miles Davis featuring the illustrious Russ Johnson on trumpet, easily one of my favorite concerts of the year.
“The Miles Davis show was the archetype of what the series can be,” says Bregar. “We had a full dining room of people eating, but there was also this jazz show happening that definitely delivered.”
The second special edition performance took place on September 10. It was a tribute to saxophonist Ornette Coleman, an innovator of the free jazz movement of the 1960s. Lenard Simpson played saxophone along with Jamie Breiwick on trumpet, Tim Ibsen on bass, and Devin Drobka on drums.
For the Ornette Coleman show my girlfriend and I made dinner reservations. The entree for the Supper Club menu was lake trout. Since we had gone to Seven Seas on Nagawicka Lake for fish fry the night before, we ordered off Company’s standard dinner menu. The roasted pork shoulder with Puerto Rican rice and plantains was incredible.
Our delicious meal was matched with a fantastic live performance. As the band took the stage host Jay Anderson brought a painting of Coleman and hung it onstage. The painting was done by an Iowa artist named Wayne Deutsch and brought by Kevin Lynch, former jazz writer for the Journal Sentinel. The band, dubbed The Century Quartet, performed Coleman tunes including “Dee Dee,” “The Blessing,” “Broadway Blues,” and an original arrangement by Breiwick dedicated to trumpeter Don Cherry.
This Friday—September 23—will be the third Supper Club Jazz special edition. Though it is being presented on the day of John Coltrane’s birth, rather than pay tribute to the jazz icon, 88Nine’s Tarik Moody (producer of the Unlooped series) presents “Jazzmatazz 414 – Hip Hop to Bebop,” a tribute to hip-hop classics performed by Milwaukee jazz musicians.
Other upcoming Supper Club Jazz performances at Company Brewing will feature MRS. FUN, Rick Aaron, Caroline Davis (NYC), Eric Jacobson, Neil Davis, Stomata, and Mitch Shiner. Special editions will be led by Cecilio Negron Jr., Reel Feels (NYC), and Andrew Neesly. Plus, Jamie Breiwick’s Lesser Lakes Trio will do two live recordings, the first of which is tonight—September 21.
AM/FM POP-UP NIGHT AT FORMER HOTEL FOSTER SPACE
Two issues back I wrote about the closing of the Hotel Foster (or “HoFo” as it is lovingly referred to). For five years HoFo was one of the best bars and occasional music venues on Milwaukee’s East Side. It hosted many unforgettable performances, especially during the 2014 Milwaukee Film Festival.
John Revord, owner of Boone & Crockett and one of the original owners of HoFo, will reopen 2o28 East North Avenue for one night on September 24. It turns out HoFo’s liquor license doesn’t expire until the end of the month. Revord reached out to his old business partner Doug Williams and they came to an agreement that will bring one night of live music, specialty cocktails, tap beers, DJs, and projected art to the space.
The night is being called “AM/FM.” When I first saw the event I was suspicious about its resemblance to the online magazine “amfm” produced by Milwaukee-native Ciera McKissick, to which I have contributed. I wondered if it might be one of McKissick’s events. When McKissick stumbled upon a Milwaukee Record article about the event she actually thought they were writing about her project.
Initially McKissick was perturbed and started a Facebook conversation about it on a friend’s wall. As the feed grew Revord became aware of it and reached out to McKissick. Revord says he felt bad and was unaware of McKissick’s project, which has been based in Chicago for about two years. They talked and decided to work together.
“The event aligns with the things I do, so it was no question to collaborate,” McKissick wrote me in an email. “It actually turned into a dope opportunity. And I have been saying for quite some time that I wanted to do an event back home since it had been so long. I think this was the universe’s way of making that a reality.”
The bar is currently empty, stripped of the decor that defined the Hotel Foster. McKissick will be curating a pop-up art gallery in the downstairs space, with a live painting element on large canvas upstairs. She has reached out to some of her former Milwaukee artist friends including Mikal Floyd-Pruitt, CK Ledesma, and the From Here to Her collective.
The music lineup for the event includes DJs Asher Gray, Why-B, and Slim Brit, with performances by Whips, Rusty Pelicans, and a secret band. Video Villains will project visuals. Revord and Chef Mitch Ciohon’s Gypsy Taco truck will become Weezy Burger for the night and will be parked out front. All told, it will be another eclectic and electric night at 2028 East North Avenue.
FREESPACE RETURNS FOR A SECOND YEAR
All-ages venues are a key component to a healthy music scene. While Milwaukee’s music scene is the most vibrant it has been in decades, a dearth of all-ages venues limits its potential. Much of this is due to our antiquated, restrictive liquor laws, which could be changed. (Wink, wink. Nudge, nudge.)
Last year saw the demise of three important all-ages DIY spaces: the Cocoon Room, Lucky Cat and Borg Ward. However, 2015 also saw the rise of FREESPACE, a monthly (mostly) hip-hop showcase and interview series featuring up-and-coming youth musicians and established artists. It was recently featured on FOX6 and WUWM’s Lake Effect.
FREESPACE is the brainchild of high school English teacher Vincent Gaa and hip-hop artist WebsterX (Sam Ahmed). It provides an opportunity for youth to learn from and interact with professional musicians, as well as their peers. In its first year FREESPACE brought in renowned artists like IshDARR, Wave Chappelle, and Lili K., plus youth artists like Vital E$$ence, Riqo, and LeanBeatz.
The FREESPACE team also includes KaneTheRapper (Darius Briggs) and artist Janice Vogt. I emailed Vogt about what stood out for her from the first year of FREESPACE and what she is looking forward to in year two.
“What amazes me the most about FREESPACE is the community. We’re all a huge team – Kane has referred to it as family, which I like – and we support each other, appreciate each other and hold one another accountable. I never thought FREESPACE would become so tight knit. It’s a blessing!”
“We are looking forward to pushing more limits and breaking more barriers! There is so much to tackle. At the same time, we’ve been taking opportunities and learning lessons as they come, so while we have visions for the coming months, I think we will leave more than enough room for surprises,” wrote Vogt.
FREESPACE returns tonight—September 21—with Von Alexander, Ar Wesley, and Wayward. The event begins at 5:30 p.m. inside the Jazz Gallery Center for the Arts in Milwaukee’s Riverwest neighborhood.
VINCENT VANGREAT APPEARS AT GOLDA MEIR SCHOOL AND ERIC ANDRE LIVE!
Back in April the second annual Arte Para Todos festival took over four Milwaukee neighborhoods over a four-day weekend, bringing almost 100 music acts and artists to 24 venues. The festival began in 2015 as a way to raise awareness and resources for struggling art and music programs in Milwaukee schools.
As one of the organizers of Arte Para Todos 2016 my primary responsibility was coordinating our in-school performance series—six concerts and Q&As with local musicians just for students. We originally had an in-school lined up at Golda Meir but it fell through. Administration asked if we could reschedule for the beginning of this school year. Assistant Principal Deb Causey even put in an artist request—her former 6th grade math student Vincent Wallace-Haygood, better known as hip-hop producer/rapper Vincent VanGREAT.
In my first feature for WiG I wrote about Queen Tut and six of the best Wisconsin hip-hop releases of 2016 so far. VanGREAT’s long-awaited album UnGREATful sits squarely among the six. The SAFS Crew member’s joyful spirit and hunger for success can be heard throughout the 15-track project, which includes well-crafted live instrumentation. For his performance at Golda Meir on September 16 VanGREAT brought his drummer and keyboard player.
Before he addressed the middle and high school students VanGREAT was greeted by his former teacher backstage. It was beautiful to see a teacher embrace her former student and hear VanGREAT share his journey with the students at Golda. They responded with tons of enthusiasm. One aspiring rapper was even invited onstage to freestyle.
“That was awesome. The kids had a lot of energy. Honestly, we never had musicians come to our school and perform for us. I’m very grateful that they had me here and this auditorium is beautiful,” said VanGREAT after the performance.
A few days before the Golda Meir in-school performance VanGREAT was invited to appear on Eric Andre Live! Originally tapped to be a guest on the Milwaukee stop of Adult Swim’s wildly subversive and hilarious anti-talk show The Eric Andre Show, VanGREAT had a scheduling conflict and was instead added to their show in Pontiac, Michigan.
“I had a ten minute segment up there with him. He was asking all types of crazy ass questions and doing a bunch of crazy stuff. Then he started crowd surfing and I just used that time to steal the show and get the crowd turned up. It was an epic experience,” said VanGREAT.
VanGREAT will perform at Cactus Club on September 29 as part of their hip-hop showcase series “MKE Live,” and again at Cactus Club on November 11 in support of AUTOMatic’s album release show.
NEW MUSIC FROM LEX ALLEN, AUTOMATIC, AND SYLVAN ESSO
WiG favorite Lex Allen released a new song entitled “Keep It Movin” last week. The track is produced by Q the Sun and engineered by Daniel Holter from Wire & Vice. It has more of a deep, dance club feel than previous soul-pop offerings from Allen. The song was written as Allen was coming out of the depression he fell into following his mother’s passing. Allen says about the song, “The message is to tell people to push through any situation and see the brighter things to come, while shaking their ass happily.” Listen to it here.
Milwaukee hip-hop duo AUTOMatic recently announced they will be putting out their first full-length album in four years. Marathon will be out November 11, with a release show at Cactus Club featuring Vincent VanGREAT, El Shareef, and DJ Optimist. The first single, “Talkin Bout Love,” is out now. The track “identifies the need for more love in this world and takes time to express love for people of all walks of life.” Listen to it here.
Okay, electro-pop luminaries Sylvan Esso are not technically a Wisconsin band. The duo is based in North Carolina. However, producer Nick Sanborn is a Middleton-native who cut his teeth in beloved Milwaukee band Decibully. Not to mention, Sanborn first met singer Amelia Meath when they were sharing a bill at Cactus Club. For those reasons we will continue to hold Sylvan Esso as one of our own. Their incredible debut album remains one of the best records of the last decade. During their live performances last summer they introduced a badass new song entitled “Radio.” A year later a recorded version is out and it is fan-fucking-tastic. Listen below.
NEW VIDEOS FROM RUSTY PELICANS, DAD, AND LORN
September 15 saw the release of two Milwaukee hip-hop music videos. One is for the song “We Like” from local hip-hop legends the Rusty Pelicans, off their recently released album Apartment 7, which is another one of the six best Wisconsin hip-hop projects of the year so far. The video is directed by Kelly Anderson.
The other hip-hop video released on September 15 is the first visual offering from one of Milwaukee’s most intriguing new characters, Dad. The lovable father figure crashes a Civil War reenacted for his Mammyth produced track “17th Century.” The video is directed by Dad and edited by Cellar Dweller.
Underground electronic mastermind Lorn—who relocated from Milwaukee to the woods somewhere outside Eau Claire a few years ago—released a new video for his song “Anvil,” off his 2015 album Vessel. The animated video is set in the year 2100 and fuses Japanese and Belgian comic influences, providing haunting visuals for Lorn’s visceral sound.
The video is directed by Hélène Jeudy and Antoine Caëcke (aka Geriko), with design and animation by Antoine Caëcke and Hélène Jeudy, plus character animation by Anthony Lejeune and Manddy Wyckens.
BON IVER PERFORMS ON THE TONIGHT SHOW
The pride of Eau Claire, Bon Iver, appeared on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon on September 14 to perform the song “8 (Circle).” Watch the performance here. The song is off Bon Iver’s forthcoming third album 22, A Million, which was debuted in its entirety last month at the Eaux Claires Music and Arts Festival.
WiG RECOMMENDED EVENTS — [click hyperlinks for more info]
SEPT 21: Freespace (all ages) with Von Alexander, Ar Wesley, and Wayward at Jazz Gallery Center of the Arts.
SEPT 21: Supper Club Jazz at Company Brewing with Lesser Lakes Trio (live recording).
SEPT 21: NO/NO + Fire Retarded + The Rashida Joneses at Bremen Cafe.
SEPT 22: Milwaukee Film Festival Opening Night party featuring New Age Narcissism and Rio Turbo at the Kenilworth Building.
SEPT 22: Ruby Yacht label night featuring Scallops Hotel, Antilia Raid and s.al in the Moon Room at Landmark Lanes.
SEPT 23: Jazzmatazz 414 – Hip Hop to Bebop featuring Klassik, Mike Regal, Ar Wesley, Olen Franklin, Afton Johnson, Quinten Farr, B-Free, and Jay Anderson at Company Brewing.
SEPT 24: AM/FM pop-up night at former Hotel Foster site with amfm Magazine, Video Villains, Whips, Rusty Pelicans, a secret band, plus DJs Asher Gray, Why-B, Slim Brit.
SEPT 24: WebsterX’s Golden Gala birthday bash at secret all-ages location.
SEPT 24: Tacocat w/ Dude York + The Pukes at Cactus Club.
SEPT 25: CHVRCHES at The Riverside Theater.
SEPT 25: Count Bass D // Q the Sun // Jay Anderson at Bremen Cafe.
SEPT 29: MKE Live ft. Mike Regal, Vincent VanGREAT, 3rd Dimension, Camb Music, Cleo Fox II, Sam Rothstein, DJ Markus X.
SEPT 30: Sat. Nite Duets record release at Villa Terrace with Negative/Positive.
SEPT 30: New Boyz Club EP release at Company Brewing with Hello Death, Fox Face, and Sista Strings. (More on New Boyz Club in my upcoming feature in this issue of WiG.)
SEPT 30: Bremenhain: DEEP DARK DANCE at Bremen Cafe.
OCT 1: B-Free album release at Company Brewing with Abby Jeanne, D’Amato, Kyndal J., Klassik, and DJ Moses.
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.
Wisconsin music makers have been busy these last few weeks. Appleton’s Mile of Music pulled off their fourth festival. One of the most anticipated Wisconsin albums of the year—Nosebleeds by Soul Low—was released on August 5. For more on Soul Low see my upcoming feature in WiG.
The attention of the international media will be on Eau Claire this weekend, as Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) and friends host the second Eaux Claires Music & Arts Festival. I will bring you my report in the next issue of WiG. Now I offer my rundown of Mile of Music, the Milwaukee Public Library’s inaugural “Library Loud Days,” a couple Company Brewing shows, and the latest addition to Milwaukee’s impressive roster of festivals.
Synth Fest MKE
A new Milwaukee festival debuted last month in the Bay View neighborhood. Produced by the people at Acme Records—a music store on S. Kinnickinnic Ave—the inaugural Synth Fest MKE put the spotlight on electronic music. Barry Paul Clark, bassist in several Wisconsin bands including Field Report and the mind behind adoptahighway, told me that what made the festival unique is it provided an outlet to artists who don’t often perform live.
“The experimental, electronic music scene in Milwaukee can be very introverted. It is usually one person spending a lot of time working with different recording technologies and machines in isolation. The festival was really special because it showed us that we’re all kind of speaking the same language and living in the same universe, so there can be a community around it.”
One of those people who rarely plays out is John Goezler, who performed as BTS.WRKNG on the second night of the festival. Clark was happy to see Goezler, as he was one of the first people Clark met in the electronic scene after moving back to Milwaukee from New York City. Synth Fest MKE comprised two nights of music at Cactus Club and two days at Acme Records on July 23 and July 24.
I caught Clark as adoptahighway on the first night and he delivered a powerfully haunting set. On my way out of Cactus Club I ran into a guy who looked like but was not Nick Schubert of GGOOLLDD, which made me sad he wasn’t playing the festival as his Holy Visions side project. Maybe next year.
“Library Loud Days” inaugural event
In an attempt to redefine Milwaukee’s concept of their library, the Central Branch became a lively, interactive destination on July 28. Out front on Wisconsin Avenue there was a block party with V100 DJs, food and beer vendors. Inside there was an instrument station, a music video display, free popcorn, a photo booth, spoken word, and a headlining performance from New Age Narcissism (NAN), Milwaukee’s premier hip-hop collective. The stage was set up inside the Schoenleber Reading Room. The packed audience, from toddlers to senior citizens, gave NAN a warm reception, feeding off their infectious energy. It was a beautiful night of music in a place where I never thought I’d get the chance to chant, dance, sing and stomp.
The Lion’s Ball and Strange Fruit
Company Brewing in Milwaukee is usually closed on Monday, but when Milwaukee saxophonist Jay Anderson requested that his birthday party fall on his actual birthday—Monday July 25—owner George Bregar gladly complied. After all, Anderson helps book Company’s Wednesday night jazz supper club series. “The Lion’s Ball” also honored Tarik Moody of 88Nine Radio Milwaukee. It was quite the social affair, with some good music thrown in.
D’Amato turned in an inspired set with a smaller backing band than usual and dedicated a cover of Amy Winehouse’s “I Heard Love Is Blind” to Anderson, who is a huge fan of Winehouse. The headlining band featured Fred Boswell Jr., arguably the best drummer in town, and Angie Swan, an accomplished guitarist from Milwaukee who is spending some time back home before another high profile gig elsewhere. They jammed along with Quentin Farr, Alan Harris, Terry Harris, and B-Free.
This weekend (August 12 – 14) Anderson has co-curated the Strange Fruit music festival, which seeks 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.” It was inspired by a community dinner that included Anderson, Chauntee Ross (SistaStrings) and others. It is co-produced by Tarik Moody and David Ravel (former director of Alverno Presents), will be held at the Hotel Foster, Company Brewing, and Cactus Club, and features a very strong lineup of hip-hop, jazz, folk, rock and poetry performances.
Siamese and the new Nightgown lineup
Company Brewing hosted another special event on Tuesday August 2, as Dallas, TX glam rock band Siamese visited Milwaukee. This weeknight show also saw the debut of Nightgown’s new lineup, Milwaukee singer Gina Barrington’s latest project. She was joined by Amelinda Burich, Thomas Gilbert (GGOOLLDD) and Erin Wolf (Hello Death, WMSE). Local artist Kristina Rolander created her fourth custom, hand painted backdrop for the Company stage. (Full disclosure, Rolander is my girlfriend.)
The glittery, neon, geological rock inspired backdrop flowed seamlessly with Siamese’s outfits and face paint, elevating the young band’s gorgeous, groovy sound. Milwaukee’s Marielle Allschwang, who made one of the best Wisconsin records of 2015—Dead Not Done—finished the night with a spirited set. At one point she improvised a song with fellow Hello Death member Nathaniel Heuer in which she sang, “I want to be the dirt.” The sentiment seemed morbid until she followed it up with, “I want to help it grow.” It was a magical midsummer evening with an excellently curated lineup.
Cory Chisel and Mile Of Music 4
Appleton-native Cory Chisel has carved himself a nice place in the music industry, splitting time between his hometown and Nashville, TN. On July 29, his “World Tour of Wisconsin” stopped at the newly-opened MobCraft Brewery in Milwaukee. The sound wasn’t great as it reverberated between the brewing tanks, but Chisel and his band had an enthusiastic crowd. The vocal talents of J-Council were a highlight of the performance, part of a nine-city tour sponsored by USA Today that takes Chisel and his band to non-traditional venues representing what they love most about our state: breweries, barns, bookstores, supper clubs and riverboats.
Four years ago Chisel founded Mile of Music, an Americana/roots festival that has attracted thousands of visitors to downtown Appleton. The 2016 installment featured over 800 performances by more than 200 acts at 70 venues over four days on one mile. I visited “Mile 4” on Saturday August 6, staying at the Radisson Paper Valley Hotel right in the heart of the action on College Avenue.
The festival can be overwhelming, with so many performances in bars, storefronts, alleys and outdoor stages. During my time I discovered the sweet, nervy indie-folk rock of Idle Empress (Eau Claire), the saintly-voiced Paul Otteson (Madison), and the derivative electro-hop of Oh My Love (Madison). It was no magic trick when Milwaukee favorites GGOOLLDD got Houdini Plaza dancing and debuted an uncharacteristically dark new song (working title “Undercovers.”)
The highlight of “Mile 4” for me was the festival’s first hip-hop showcase, curated by Milwaukee’s Lex Allen of New Age Narcissism. His collective headlined the five-hour block, which also included Milwaukeeans Fivy, Queen Tut, Mic Kellogg, AUTOmatic, Chakara Blu, Zed Kenzo, Rahn Harper, Cree Myles, Bo and Airo, and Chicago’s Ric Wilson.
The showcase was held at Lawrence University’s Stansbury Theatre, which was somewhat hard to find on the east end of the mile and had no beverage service. Even so, it was a success in that it exposed interested festival-goers to an underrepresented and often misunderstood genre of music, and some of its most talented local creators. After his show at MobCraft Brewery I spoke with Chisel about the hip-hop showcase.
“I’ve loved Lex for about two years. We played Summerfest and he was on the stage across from me. When I saw him I was like, “Who the hell is that?” So I tracked him down and we’ve become really good friends. He comes up to Appleton and visits. When I had the opportunity to expand the mind of our town with some new programming I immediately thought of Lex. The singer-songwriters are great but I think the festival needs what he brings.”
New videos by NO/NO, The Fatty Acids, and Airo Kwil
The last couple of weeks saw the debut of videos from one of the best Wisconsin albums of the year (NO/NO’s “Television” off Sound and Light), one of the best Wisconsin albums of the last 20 years (The Fatty Acids’ “Little Brother Syndrome” off Boléro), and the first single, “Run Away Now,” from Airo Kwil‘s upcoming album Best Served Cold.
Salutations, WiG readers, and welcome to Wisconsin Sound, a new column that will explore the state’s thriving music scene. My name is Joey Grihalva, and I’ll serve as your intrepid guide, focusing on recent and upcoming events and releases from local musicians.
It’s been my pleasure to cover local music for various media outlets over the past few years, and I’m honored to continue my journey at Wisconsin Gazette.
Milwaukee raised me. After high school, I traveled for most of my 20s before returning home in late 2013. I came back to discover a more vibrant city than ever and a local music scene that’s driving a cultural renaissance.
We live in a world where 1,500 streams are equivalent to an album sale on the Billboard charts, and music videos can be seen by millions without ever being broadcast on TV. The internet has allowed musicians to reach an international audience without living in a major market or depending on a corporate network.
Touring is now the primary source of revenue for most musicians, elevating the importance of great live performances. Wisconsin has begun to carve out a place within this ever-evolving, globalized music industry.
This debut column will recap some of the major moments in Milwaukee music that I’ve experienced since returning home:
• The first time I heard “Gold” by GGOOLLDD on the radio.
I immediately Shazamed this dreamy, infectious single, but didn’t learn the group was from Milwaukee until months later. GGOOLLDD’s synth-pop sound and stylish, theatrical look is more than ready for late night TV. The sold-out audience who attended its January performance at Turner Hall Ballroom would agree. The group is one of just two local bands to headline and sell out Turner since 2000. (The other being Kings Go Forth.)
• Klassik releases “YRP” at Fire on Water on Dec. 13, 2013. Klassik was the golden child of Milwaukee hip-hop at the time, hot off the success of his funky single “Boogie.” He went on to redefine himself as both a powerful soloist and a member of two of the city’s finest supergroups — Group of the Altos and Foreign Goods.
But the primary significance of Dec. 13, 2013 was the birth of New Age Narcissism. That night, WebsterX met Q the Sun and together, along with Lex Allen, Lorde Fredd33, Siren, Christopher Gilbert, and a gang of affiliates, they ultimately created NAN — the vanguard of Milwaukee music. The collective’s intimate, all-ages debut on Jan. 30, 2015, at the Jazz Gallery Center for the Arts is a recent highlight of Wisconsin music history.
• Arte Para Todos 2015 and 2016. This benefit festival, founded by The Fatty Acids frontman Josh Evert and Made in Milwaukee’s Chuck Watson, took the city by surprise in the winter of 2015. The weekend long event, spread out over three neighborhoods, showcased a uniquely collaborative spirit throughout the local music scene. It also raised awareness and resources for struggling arts and music programs in Milwaukee schools.
APT 2015 was also my introduction to critically acclaimed rapper Milo (aka Scallops Hotel). It was his first show since relocating to Milwaukee from Los Angeles. APT 2016 expanded into an additional neighborhood and brought more musicians into schools for private, interactive performances just for students.
• Rio Turbo’s self-titled release show at Linneman’s Riverwest Inn on March 27, 2015. Linneman’s was definitely at capacity that night. The delirious, throbbing crowd was led by Joey Peterson (aka Joey Turbo). The beloved singer, bassist, label owner, bartender and party boy is a staple of the Milwaukee scene. Gloss Records, his label with Harrison Colby, is a leader in defining and supporting Milwaukee’s emerging sound, including NO/NO’s fantastic new record “Sound and Light.”
Jan. 22, 2015, was for me another significant night at Linneman’s — my introduction to Gloss artist Soul Low and Whips, two of the best rock bands in town. It also happened to be the day WebsterX’s game-changing video for “doomsday (feat. siren)” debuted.
• Jam sessions at Jay Anderson’s house. Saxophonist Jay Anderson was on his way to a rehearsal for Alverno Presents: Jones Uncovered when we first met. That production brought together multiple generations of Milwaukee musicians and since then Anderson has hosted informal jams at his Riverwest home on Humboldt Boulevard.
The warm, plant-lined space, packed with friends and musicians, brings to mind the St. Albans house jams that spawned the era of the Soulquarians (J Dilla, D’Angelo, Erykah Badu, Common, Mos Def, and others) in late 1990s/early 2000s Philadelphia, as described by Questlove (of The Roots) in his memoir Mo’ Meta Blues.
• Inaugural Eaux Claires Festival, July 17–18, 2015. Grammy-winning indie rock outfit Bon Iver, fronted by Eau Claire native Justin Vernon, is internationally adored and the most recent group to put Wisconsin on the music map. Vernon’s inaugural hometown festival, co-curated with The National’s Aaron Dessner, attracted fans from all over the world.
The lineup relied heavily on Vernon’s circle, which is more Minnesota-heavy than Wisconsin, given Eau Claire is closer to the Twin Cities than our state’s urban areas. Milwaukee’s Field Report and Jon Mueller took part in EC 2015 and Appleton’s Tenement will play EC 2016. Like Arte Para Todos, a collaborative spirit characterized this Chippewa River-adjacent camping festival. In two weeks I will “Return to the River” and bring you a festival recap.
• Group of the Altos on a boat, Sept. 16, 2015. At one point GOTA had as many as 16 members. Even with their recent restructuring, they remain the most interesting band in Milwaukee. GOTA creates beautifully epic indie rock that builds and explodes. What better way to hear GOTA than on Lake Michigan and the Milwaukee River?
The combination of our scenic waterways and music scene makes for magical evenings aboard the Vista King and Voyageur. It is one of the things that make Milwaukee a special place. With concert cruises, cheap rent, local labels, a pair of supportive non-commercial radio stations, and an abundance of festivals, the Milwaukee music scene is ripe. This column will keep you connected to music and bands from all over Wisconsin.
Lex Allen says the positive vibes in his music are sincere. He’s had personal struggles, and his work in overcoming them accounts for his need to empower his audience, as well as himself, he says.
We talked about how he got to this point, the meaning of his career and his desire to be a focal point of the Milwaukee LGBT community.
How did your music career begin and how has your sound evolved over the years? I started as a kid in church. My cousin was in a quartet in church and seeing him and all the greats on stage made me want to do that. …I picked up a lot from other artists, writing techniques, etc. I rap a verse in a new project I have coming out. Being around (local creative group) New Age Narcissism has opened up a lot to me and taught me to be diverse. I do more wordplay now and write with more of a hip-hop feel. It gives you room to joke around and be more playful.
For readers who don’t know much about your musical style and personal brand, would you describe it? My brand is all about empowering the powerless. I had to stay in a homeless shelter growing up and it was a trying time. It was sh*tty and sad, but now it’s made me very free. I don’t worry about things when I don’t need to, and I’ve realized I’m in charge and in control of my life.
“Soul pop fusion” is how I would describe my style, with a new-age kick. My family is from the South, so I love country. You’ll hear that soulful sound if you listen to the song “Mirror Mirror.” I have no limits to what I’m trying to create, but you have to be current in what you offer, and offer something to get people through their day.
Party songs are party songs, but there’s no purpose to them except maybe to have a good time. There needs to be a message of growth and worth to make timeless music. Empowerment is relevant year to year, you need to move people with your words rather than just add to the wishy-washy fads of the time. I have a new song called “#TagsForLikes” about when I lost my phone for two weeks and realized that I hadn’t been present in the moment. I’m not anti-technology, but I’m all about being present in your life and not disrespecting the connectivity you could have with everyone.
This will be your second performance at PrideFest, right? This is. …I just was persistent and constantly motivated, connecting with people and getting more involved with the community. I just started talking to people and not being scared, not giving up. Just getting people to take notice, posting my songs online all the time. I can’t wait to see how I grow in the LGBT community.
Do you have past experiences going to PrideFest — good memories or appreciation of the event as a whole that you’d like to speak about? Yeah, I just love to see people that come in from up north who don’t expect to be able to be themselves. I was in Door County and it was such a surprise to see a lack of LGBT representation. It really opened my eyes to how people can’t express themselves every day. (PrideFest) gives them a chance to do that. Not that we don’t have our struggle in the city but it’s easier for us because we have more places to go out. Some people in isolated communities don’t have as many options.
You recently came out with a collaborative video called “This is Our Year.” Of course the meaning could simply be that you’re going to make a lot of music and perform more this year, but is there something else about this time for you as an artist that you’re speaking to in the song? One, our city is booming with music. When I was growing up, I lived in a poverty-stricken area and having access to do things outside of where we were wasn’t as easy. So that’s just a song for my family, which includes everyone I know. It’s an embodiment of community, basically the embodiment of self.
The opening lyrics are, “I’m a mess at times/I don’t do everything right.” It’s about people putting limitations on themselves just because they’re not perfect and sometimes when they realize it, it’s too late. …That’s where we all are; there’s no time like the present. Everybody has a purpose and maybe you just need to hear something, a poem or a song, outside of yourself to realize how great and capable you are.
After PrideFest, where else can we see you perform? I’ve got a fun summer lineup. I’m opening for the group Peppers on the Briggs and Stratton stage at Summerfest. We’re going all out, it’s gonna be an amazing show. July 3 I’ll be at Summerfest again with my brother WebsterX opening for Lupe Fiasco. I’ll be singing with Kiings on the Fourth of July at Summerfest, and I’ll be doing the Lunar Koss series on top of the MAC building downtown again on July 17. And I’m headlining Brady Street Fest.
Any long-term plans for your music career that you’d like to share with us? I’m planning on releasing a new EP Social Me Duh between June 7 and June 17. I’m really excited to give people new music to listen to while I work on a new conceptual album. This (album) is just a fun release of things that are on my mind with nice beats. My producers Q the Sun and Jason Kartz just get my sound.
We’re here, Wisconsin is no longer a fly-by state, and I’m so happy to be part of what is now a budding artistic community.
Lex Allen will perform at 8:30 p.m. on June 6 at the Loft Lounge. Visit
pridefest.org for details.