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No Telling, Cadaver Conspiracy, The Documents to Prove It

The album cover says it all. A dreadful collage speckled with images of Bukowski, Castro, Rasputin (or some other ghastly East European literary intellect), plastered atop visages of the Crypt Keeper, wolf-man, They Live! human impostors, random Charles Bronson-esque explosions, Freddy Kruger with no hat, super official authorities in post-Industrial era hazmat suits, the Gilman and lord knows what other obscure pop and historical references. Are these ‘The Documents to Prove It?

S-arm

If The Documents to Prove It’s cover art rose out of a cut-up indie cult nightmare, Cadaver Conspiracy’s audio content never woke from a fish, raw salad, and rap zine mash-up dream; a reality hard to touch but worth seeking.

Cadaver Conspiracy keeps a pulse on the cold vein of post-golden era hip-hop in this post-everything music era. Cadaver Conspiracy roots its tracks in sparsely layered kit drum loops densely covered by ellusive samples, maintaining a crate-carrying ethos while expanding to live vocals and instrumentation.

The Art of Snippet

What Cadaver Conspiracy really expands on is the legacy left by Prince Paul and Dan the Automator, the modern founders audio mashups. Who can forget that duo snidely ripping Chris Elliot’s voice proclaiming “I’m going to be a male model.” Handsome Boy Modeling School peppered their projects with various misplaced audio snippets to give their music production an amusing and semi-coherent story line.

 

Cadaver Conspiracy takes this technique in their own direction, piecing together broadcast media out-takes and interviews, to deliver a scalding and dim commentary on the absurdity filling certain corners of social life and political discussion in America set to original beats. Strangely prophetic, Cadaver Conspiracy nails the Pokemon Go craze, wacko religious right, and Harry Potter backlash. A nice dose of random verbal nonsense gets mixed in to ease the tension.

Cadaver Conspiracy’s The Documents to Prove it is available as a pay-what-you can download on Bandcamp.

Wild Styllions, West Allis, Wall Art Mural

With 1,500 square feet of commissioned public art, West Allis’s City government shamelessly gave Milwaukee’s stodgy and rear retentive lineage of public officials a zinger. This working-class armpit to a first-class City mustered the political will (with Mayor Dan Devine out-front, gasp!) to support local fine art professionals by actually paying artists to complete a piece of legitimate visual art for public consumption: a MURAL. Ohhh. A scarily damn-near graffiti mural.

1 stallis mural

We got plenty of these, 84 St and W. National

Artist Lindsay Marx teamed up with long-time collaborator Mark David Gray and Fred Kaems to weave imaginative symbolism and Stallion heritage into a stylish and inspiring master-level work. Marx decribes this piece as having “…a nostalgia for homemade pies on window sills, children reading and references honey bees, who are major pollinators for the crops we see at our tables. These ideas, tied together with bold colors and unique shapes, enliven this segment of National Ave.”

Local Trolley exchanged a few extra words with Marx on her instant classic artwork.

Local Trolley: How did the design come together?

Lindsay Marx: I started an evolution around a few themes and then tabled it with the city to see if they were drawn towards any certain design.  After more evolution on an agreed upon direction, we came to an agreement on the proposed final design.

LT: Spoken like a true artist.What kind of media was used?

LM: We used spray paint and exterior latex paint.

LT: What do you make of some people/public officials’ opposition to viewing murals as fine art? Murals are like fancy paint jobs for buildings. Not to get caught up on the term ‘fine art’, let’s say what do you make of the opposition to the view that generally murals aren’t suitable for public view especially in Milwaukee. In Milwaukee it’s basically like we tolerate the ones that have been around since our parents were teenagers, but the public officials in this town aren’t dying to commission murals.

LM: It’s art.  I wonder if they would consider it applied art?  I don’t think we should feel the need to define murals as fine art but they certainly can be.  Murals can be both aesthetically pleasing and intellectually stimulating.

LT: As an artist how do you reconcile the poser or cross over factor of a studio artist making a foray into a medium that has most of its contemporary roots in guerrilla and anti-establishment art movements….?

LM: We’re professional artists and you have to respect that everyone is coming from a different story and do things for different reasons. No doubt, I’m a yearling when it comes to public art applications and that’s why I surrounded myself with a team I can learn from and what better way to learn than through mentors and experience?  Together we cranked out a mural I think we’re all proud of.

In terms of this being a city sanctioned project, I think it’s imperative that we find ways to team up when we can.  The roots of street art do not define where it can go. I think it’s better to build bridges which will ideally create more opportunities and, in turn, will beg for higher caliber work.

LT: How underrated is aerosol?

LM: Depends on who you ask…I’d say it’s one of, if not the go-to media for creating murals and graffiti; it’s even coverage of most any texture, crisp, clean lines, and quick application.  On the other hand, coming from an art school background I would say it’s an overlooked and underrated media.  I knew so little about it’s magical powers prior to the mural and now it’s my new favorite medium for big projects.

LT: What you and your collaborators have done is extraordinarily imaginative and colorful. Your artistic vision and aesthetic translates quite well from canvas to mural. This piece has a chance to be iconic.

3 stallis mural

Murals have such a major role in the civic space in other countries in every corner of the globe it’s disappointing that mural art is not more accepted in Milwaukee. Place accept murals in some cases even when they are controversial. The documentary Art of Conflict demonstrated this pretty well. The doc looks at the muralists in Northern Ireland during the height of IRA conflict in the 1980’s.

4 stallis mural

Even though the murals during that time depicted intimidating and violent images, when things deescalated the locals thought enough of the artists, and the art form, to just revise them with toned down images. Maybe someday we will get to the point of recognizing public art in a more widespread way, whatever the pretense or lack of pretense may be.

5 stallis mural

Later this summer in September, Black Cat Alley festival comes to Milwaukee, a superb opportunity to show how important incorporating visual art in the civic space is to a city’s vibrancy. Props to Alderman Nik Kovak for being a part of an innocuous push to take art to the streets.

Lindsay Marx‘s mural is on S. 83rd and W. National Street in West Allis.

The Flag of Anything, The Disclaimer, Milwaukee Flag Debacle

And then there was the “People’s Flag of Milwaukee” aka “The Flag of Anything”. Glad I’m not the only one incensed by this non-sense. The kind fellows of The Disclaimer, a talk radio spot on all Milwaukee scene related things, gave the campaign to change the flag a thorough treatment… for the past year.

Who anointed hosts Ryan Schleicher, Matt Wild, and Evan Rytlewski to offer commentary on such important issues? Their names should look familiar. They stint at Milwaukee’s most stalwart and relevant local media outlets WMSE, A.V. Club Milwaukee (R.I.P, which gave rise to Milwaukee Record) and The Shepherd Express. 


A Trivial and Timely Controversy

The Milwaukee Flag debacle couldn’t have come at a better time. The ultimate symbol of geopolitical autonomy and identity under scrutiny at the same time as the City itself faces its post-youth lost ‘look in the mirror’ years. Milwaukee has always been the country’s underdog, its cultural conscious; its hardworking, hard living, slightly dysfunctional, majorly quirky, OCD little cousin.

Every major city’s rabidly obscure little cousin, Kentucky Fried Movie was born here. We’ve never given too much care for textbook learning or lavish opulence that now seeps its way into the water supply, a water supply that there was never even a question on whether we’d sell.

Milwaukee natives are so stubborn. We have 5 types of sunscreen in the house and don’t bother to put on one of them before going to get the 12 noon can-good hand-stamp at Summerfest. We cut the legs off bluejeans before we’d buy shorts; smoke cigarettes at all hours of the day and drink warm can-beer right with it, at whatever time that may be.

We risk life and limb just to make our shoe laces match the stitching in our jeans; and we would rather be late than have a wrinkle on our t-shirt. Our cars don’t need power steering, license plates or a muffler as long as it has 22 inch rims and heat.

We spend hours getting all gussied up to go out on the weekend, to look worse than we did before getting gussied up. Some of us have given up all together and wear sweatshorts with buttoned-down oxford shirts in public, as an outfit.

We happily work for the man and talk shit about him all-day long. We so cheap, we are cool with paying taxes just to have the peace of mind that things like street markings painted, public deep-well pools in the Parks, weekly recycling pick-up and the Domes are there even if we don’t use them as much as we’d like too.

We don’t take ourselves seriously, we been wearing ugly glasses on purpose since the 90’s. Most of all we know the difference between crap and quality.  On top of all that, we are principled as all get out, which is the main reason the original Milwaukee flag suits Milwaukee best.

A Vexing Context

The baffling thing about the criticism of the Milwaukee Flag is that it doesn’t matter that the flag doesn’t fit some arbitrary flag design criteria that wasn’t even invented when the Milwaukee Flag was designed. It doesn’t matter that some people might think the flag is ugly, or doesn’t follow some new academic body of knowledge. A City’s or Country’s flag is one of those rare things that should not change.

Now, is it novel to discuss a new flag? Yes. Is it a interesting design project topic? Yes. Is it okay to do a civic pride campaign centered on flag design that you will commercialize and sell all kind of chotchkies based on? Yes. Should I have to accept this Colonial nonsense as my official flag? No.

A geopolitical flag is not merely a formulaic design, its the primary institution that visually represents a geopolitical area. The appearance of a flag is merely an artifact of the history of the area it represents, not a matter of aesthetic principles. Should a kid be able to draw the flag from memory? Not necessarily. A kid should be somewhere figuring out how many different ways they can use a graham cracker other than for food.

Vexillology, while an intriguing field of study, is not the Law of Abraham. Vexillology actually makes a lot of sense for nautical flags or racing flags. By function these types of flags have to convey a specific meaning or action; the observation of which I suspect Vexillology’s founder drew most of his design principles.

New Colonials, Milonials

When a foreign legion of individuals want to disregard the local population and its history, take its natural resources (in this case our Milwaukee-ness) and make money off of it, they make a couple local friends, show up with a flag and stick it in the ground yell “waag waag wahhh wagg wah wagwa wagck!” We can’t undo the past but we can stop using these archaic means of power and control. This New Milonial mentality is the only thing that could benefit from a redesign.

I’ve heard talk of what young twenty-somethings, and old twenty-somethings (people in their early 30’s), can’t find in Milwaukee, like “venture capital” (some to give them money for their haphazardly planned ideas), and I heard of this “Creative” or “Maker” class that is shaping things here (both appropriated concepts).

When I hear “Creative class” I hear “possible college graduate that is pretty good at using Technology and bullshitting their way into more responsibility than they can handle”. Designing psd files at 500 pixels per inch doesn’t automatically mean you’re creative. Constructing a robot does not mean you’re “Maker” (although it would mean you are a Programmer, Fabricator or Inventor, and all very cool things to be).

This flag redesign piece is really an extension of these archetype misnomers. This new flag, soul-less history-less as it will be, will be damn good flag, but not the City’s flag. Take nothing away from the designers in the flag competition or their ideas, as they just responded to the opportunity and the guidelines. The campaign itself however is horse biscuits.

The people behind this campaign couldn’t really care less about the design of the flag, they just want to say “yeah I got the flag of Milwaukee changed” and get notoriety for a successful media campaign. The flag design is so secondary to the organizers of this whole thing it’s shameful.

Since, Milwaukeeans and their leaders are so good spirited and frankly naive in a lot of ways, there is a good chance these flag campaign organizers will get what they want. The people of Milwaukee will get no benefit and we will be left with a meaningless flag (although one lucky Milwaukee resident will get to be the flag’s designer. “I designed the Milwaukee flag…” good for a job maybe, or maybe a ‘yeah right’.)

The only way to change the flag of Milwaukee legitimately requires a civic process. It’s that serious. Have a flag referendum on the next General election ballot. If the majority of City of Milwaukee residents say change the flag, then go ahead change the flag. As it stands now, all the People’s Flag competition designs , while well done, could be any City’s flag. Likewise, most flags using Whitey Smith’s vexillology guidelines could be the flag of anything.

Peak Milwaukee

The New Milonials have actually helped us realize peak-everything Milwaukee. I mean you got New Milonials Columbusing Columbused ideas left and right. When you start hearing about microbreweries popping up out of nowhere on the Eastside riding multi-million dollar start-up investment, you know people are missing the point. After seeing  a piece on 8 new breweries opening this year, I’ll just use the microbrewery as the best example of peak Milwaukee.

The difference between a microbrewery and business venture that makes and sells beer at quantity statutorily considered “micro” in production scale, is that a true microbrewery begins with a person that has a passion for drinking beer of different varieties and who then learns about the process of brewing beer from bound books found in moldy corners of bookstores, or from another more experienced brewer.

This person then rigs up homemade equipment to make obscure beer recipes and gives beer away to his or her friend until they stop spitting it out. They join a beer brewer’s group, and maybe enter a couple of home brew competitions. After that, the person finds a sub-standard and affordable place to brew increasingly larger quantities of personalized beer batches until finally enough friends, family and strangers start asking you for beer. It’s the difference between 3Sheeps and Lakefront Brewery, or that damn Badger/Brewer/Packer logo abomination and Wiskullsin.

And the connection to the flag? Well Milwaukee pride is like microbrewing beer, its not about the beer or brewery tours its about the desire to learn about something and experience it deeply. I’m all for  commercial endeavors, but commodifying civic pride is about the biggest poser thing you can do. Instead, “capturing” civic pride and informing it with genuine and immersed experiences should be the goal.

Just like any pop culture moment, the minute someone showed up with some safety pinned patches and spiked hair and said “I’m Punk” it was over; Just like it was over when somebody showed up with a flannel and pre-ripped jeans from Boston Store, or a throw-back jersey and grillz from a suburban mall, or a damn beanie sliding off the back of their head they got as a Christmas gift from Old Navy.

In with the Original

Now back to the Milwaukee Flag. Let’s give credit where credit due, Fred Steffan indeed delivered something special. After spending some time analyzing the flag, notice it embraces the tradition of photo collage and has a layout that is absolutely incredible for the year it was authored.

From a technical standpoint, the Milwaukee flag deserves praise. Anyone who has ever dabbled in graphic design can appreciate the extreme difficulty and care Steffan used to draft this flag without digital assistance. It has remarkable symmetry, the 4 quadrants are generalized by the “Gear” symbol that anchors the design. The vertically aligned barley stalk and year of incorporation counterbalance and confine the circular focal point of the gear. Since the flag is designed in 4-D, the barley stalk actually represents a keep out fence to discourage people from Waukesha from waltzing over here. The gear in an inadvertent streak of brilliance, may even  create a double entedre referencing the Sun over Lake Michigan shining from the West.

milwaukeeflag

The Milwaukee Flag, Fred Steffan (1954)

 

The font is serviceable. What makes it classic though, are the all caps and double outline effects. Steffan breaking this style out in 1954 is quite visionary, and most likely unintended genius. The historical elements on this flag are its real strength however and present a counter paradigm for flag design. Should a flag be replicable or should it be a historical document? In my opinion it should be a historical document, and in Milwaukee’s case it not only represents heritage but, in a lot of ways, what we still are.

Out of Obscurity

This obscure blog titled Borchert Field pointed out (among other fascinating historical tidbits) that although the current flag might be busy and there have been various attempts to unseat it, the flag holds an immense number of symbolic and historical gems. The representations contained by the flag bizarrely mix highly stylized illustrations and literal cut and paste: County Stadium, The Mecca, The Basilica, The Civil War standard, and even a damn Milwaukee spaceman (and we have many) levitating in his bubble ship because he was reading a book by oil light in the Central Library. Of course the cargo freighter, and of course as seen in the original flag, Seagulls. There is no telling what other esoteric wisdom Steffan buried in our Flag.

The Disclaimer pointed out that the Milwaukee flag contains a well-intended visage of a Native American, the flags primary weakness. With some input from affected cultures, the flag can easily be updated to acknowledge Native American heritage essential to Milwaukee’s existence.

I was going to rip on some of the proposed flag designs, especially the one that looks like a straight rip-off of the Minolta logo, but alas I’ll just leave it at what Eye Dart said in reference to the Milwaukee flag, “with every rule, there’s the exception, that pivotal moment when a rule established early on is broken in a dramatic way — when the forbidden technique must be used. That moment when you “cross the streams,” destroying the big bad villain, and inevitably triumph.” Rock on Alderman Steffan, Rock on.

P.S. If by some misguided misfortune Milwaukee loses its flag on flag day 2016, I’m flying this one from here out.

150px-Flag_of_Earth.svg

 

 

 

 

 

Classic Departure, Company Brewing, Sista Strings

In the depths of Milwaukee’s DIY music scene, a renaissance germinates. Classically trained brass and string musicians, pleasantly cross-pollinating rock genres of all types, continue their bloom. These virtuoso rosin their bows and swap out their reeds to spite traditional concert halls. They have carved places and musical structures of their own to express visions of musical aesthetic and composition yet conceived by the casual listener. Most of all, they create a marvelous experiences.

Company Brewing buttoned-up their image compared to the old Stone Fly, no worries though. On this night, like most others, the quality of the show stayed the same. New Boyz’ mystic river of loping, soul gripping stanzas had my live music jones covered, pleasantly. To get downstream though, I slipped into rushing rapids.

Holton Renaissance

Fervently, Sista Strings sent classical phrasing swiftly rolling along the banks of conventional string family expectations. Their set carried gormandizers against their will to a troublesome place they subconsciously want to reach anyway; somewhere between technicality and uninhibited.

 

Gracious performers, they grated their attendants with an edge of focused rage, occasionally releasing us from their grasp gently, as they surprised each other with subtle wrinkles in their sections, setting coy smiles on each others faces.

They should be featured as soon and often as possible.

They Say Us, Public House, New Boyz Club

 
Over a year ago now, Public House lovingly thought to do a Valentine’s Day show. The scraggly line-up put Mississippi Sawyer, an old time roots and Americana jazz band that earns most of their keep busking Milwaukee street corners, in the opening spot followed by whimsical rock enthusiasts Holy Sheboygan. The bill wrapped with these two spin-off projects from a couple known and respected bass musicians on the indie scene, Bo Triplex and New Boyz Club; my first experience with either.

The most auspiciously concocted day of the year dedicated to fond emotions came through for once. This show would add further spark to Milwaukee’s growing love affair with bass-lead oufits and deep genre fusion backed by classically trained string and brass musicians. 

Bo Triplex in its own regard, single handedly made R&B Soul, (like 70’s style with back up singers and everything) fun and musical again. New Boyz Club since then has gone intergalactic. 

They matured quickly like a wild baby zebra, developing the markings of a seasoned adult, confident, aware and at ease. Their February show at the Public House this shows what familiarity and chemistry can do for musicians in a short amount of time.

Light Cannot Escape

An invocation from Johanna Rose calls their performances into being, 

Glory, Glory…

Hallelujah…

It in ends in a cacophony of voices, chords and scales escorting everyones attention to the immediacy of life and the battle of wills contain with in it, to live, to control,

Yeah-ee-Yeah

Gracious in all ways, New Boyz Club occasionally shares this moment with guest performances from friends, frolickers and family, sometimes all at once.

Good Times for Good Land

Speaking of cameos, good timer D’Amato serves a bit of soul succotash to compliment New Boyz’ song menu on occasion too. 

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Together they tap that thick layered orchestrated BT Express-era soundscape that needs more play these days. D’Amato a solid solo artist in his own right as a guest chef make it that much more f*cking delicous.

In other pieces, New Boyz wisk in melodic variations on classical salsa, allowing room for improvised dashes of crushed pepper, bring their performances to a slow simmer.

In the their grandest moments, New Boyz disappear into one another. We All Go to Heavan on a Sinking Ship will always be their gypsy ballad, a beautiful lament that captures the unsettled and unjulating pace of uncharmed and cynically yourning lifeforces.

A few rising and notable local musicians, saxaphonist Jay Anderson, violinist Ernie Brusubardis, Katie Lyne, Will Rose, Palmer Shah and Josh Backes complete the New Boyz Club formula, a mixture epitomizing why we recognize Milwaukee Day.