An e-zine for happenings of local culture in Milwaukee and elsewhere

Archive for December, 2015

Shuriken, Doom and Bang, Shinobi Ninja

You always see obscure band stickers plastered in bathroom stalls at the bar, on the fridges, or both; On empty shells of payphones, bus shelters and all kinds of other non-objectionable places, tattoos of the modern urban landscape. Then that one always jumps into your vision, hard to unsee, especially when the colorway gleams hot pink. S-H-I-N-0-B-I in geometric block letters, circles, squares and triangles the dominant motifs… NINJA. You know what genre it doesn’t come from, but from where does it? Blau!

Rounding that corner to full on band maturity, Shinobi Ninja rose out of Brooklyn’s primordial soup in 2008, dropped their debut in 2011 (the title track of it Rock Hood swiftly picked and featured on the video game NBA 2K12) and dabbled in storytelling with their 2014 release Escape from NY.

They’ve found their way back into their true niche of Afropunk with their most recent release Artistic Visions, which to the uninitiated equals rock x rap x fitting genre (y). They leaked an exclusive from titled Bang Bang, a self-aware, clinical and polished cut from an outfit that cared enough to make a extra stop in MKE long enough to inspire a few game revelers to slap a stickers up, the mark of a good memory.

Bang Bang via Shinobi Ninja on YouTube


Coal Mine Canary, Damir Balo

Promenading up the Vliet Street Artwalk this past April, I ducked in few low-key favorites like James Steeno Gallery, Four Corners Fair Trade, newer urban kitchy facades like ReStore; a couple that might not have made it through the summer like Milwaukee Apothecary and Bare Knuckle Barbery; found a few new spots like Milkweed Designs. The sneaker freak in me will probably never grow-up, so of course I had to stop at Roots.

The standard gear was there, Mishka, kidrobot and other obscure urban accessories and Tees; Jumpmans, Dunks, SB Dunks, Flights and Addidas. Of course the real reason I’m there is stickers. I’m an sticker addict. Plain, lame or cool, no matter, I’m grabbing.

I checked out the promos EPs on the way out too. I grabbed couple including a One Self hookup featuring him with a dunce cap on the cover (it didn’t play either which could’ve been my fault) and another that’s a multi colored sleeve, huge primary color blotches with some hashed lines throughout. No name.

One of the first track fades in a pitched down segment of the old Soul II Soul cut Back to Life, infamous as the title track to the underground hip-hop version of Scarface the movie. Then then a real simple melody drops, over it “I need you now, Cause you always been down… I’m so fo’real right now,” Damir Balo pleads in an even toned yet emotionally charged vocal.  These are the call letters of the Golden Boy EP, and introduction to Balo.

Not since Kid Cutti have I been struck by an emcee that can strike that balance between honest vulnerability and absurd dead serious life situations of life in the City, yet Balo drops it with consistent credibility through out the tone and content of his music. 

Art of Seduction, Damir Balo
via SoundCloud

A Milwaukee native, Balo has channeled a rare ability to be real and process his experiences into what listens as an audio journal of microdrama and coded paradigms, audio pulp. 

Golden Boy comes just to the edge of crossover appeal and wtf, leaving frenetic and tap heavy rap beats aside for more contemporary music sentiments felt in toned down and sample heavy dubstep and trap. In one stroke of genious, Balo bridges into manic synth art pop, throwing in a genious play off of Lykke Lei’s Tonite.

Balo comes off as a kind of JD Sallinger type persona, reclusive and provacative, his lyrics  call to a certain experience that a small section of heads probably feels speaks directly to them, personally. His mix of street, practical sense and rap scenester references probably shoots well over plenty of consciouses, and probably sounds pitiful and bragdociously deluded at places to other people to whom these doors aren’t familiar.

Underneath it, Balo’s sound is well rooted in the struggle of young urban kids trying to make it, by making magic, or mischief. The project is over a year and a half old and still being processed by the scene, it’s that elevated. At minimum, it’s a different listen than most in the genre.

Fukwitme, Damir Balo
via SoundCloud

Recently dropping his follow-up Chasing Forever 5, Balo keeps his string taught, finding his way forward by evolving his past. He’s also rumored to be dropping in on a set of collabs with Dana Coppafeel, Rap Lords, which really couldn’t even try to be wack if it happens. 

New Wave, Damir Balo
via YouTube

Holding down a corner of the unseen hip-hop unestablishment, Balo has chord running between previous eras of the genre and now, a fine silk thread few can traverse with originality. Damir Balo has a well earned spot on my list of best artists of 2015, and with dues already paid, he needs some play.

Chasing Fovever 5, Damir Balo
via SoundCloud

Present Shock, Quasimondo, Children of Pac-man

In an absurdly crude frog jumpsuit Ben Ludwig lays on a table. Pulled through a large television screen prop by a Quasite actor hooded in a Space Invader alien mask, they finally got him. Another Space Invader joins. Under eerie soft white backlight, they inspect the limbs of the most illusive character on the video game family tree, ancient cartoon hero Frogger. What do they want with him? We’ll never know.

Qusimondo Physical Theatre’s troop have fast become recognized as part of the vangaurd of Milwaukee’s theater scene, if nothing else fearless and bizarre, Children of Pac-man embodies plenty of those reasons. Quasimondo are masters of surreal and metaphorical story telling. What better subject matter to apply their vision. 

Digital Divide

We all know that incursions of digital content in work and social life have permenantly transformed modern life. Video games provided computers an easy in to American homes. Brian Rott and Jessi Miller take us through a retrospective of digital eras narrated by poetic monologues of budding perfomance artist Kavon Jones.

A series of short scenes make-up the play, all centered on various video game characters and their interactions with humans, and each other, in common and social setting. The Pac-man family and the ghosts feature prominently, along with Dig-dug (Kath Vanderberg), the Mario Princess (Rebecca Goetz), Metroid (Sarah Seefeldtand Carmen San Diego (Jenny Reinke).

Live Action TV

Music, video and sound effect montages (and sometimes combinations there of) interrupt the scenes playfully exploiting various iconic sounds during different eras. Carmen San Diego does a ditty to a Smooth Criminal 8-bit mash-up and a glammed-out Jessi Miller leads several routines, including a memorably kitzchy ode to Lady Gaga Mtv award-performances to a remix of Kanye’s Power and King Crimson

Children of Pac-man is chalked with hilarious props, old video game props like the Advantage and Nintendo light-pistol appear as mythically valued artifacts, although absolete and worthless. Found footage of video games’ past including, that awsome 3-D line drawn tank game, Defender, Punch Out, Battletoads, Duck Hunt and of course Pong work into the production. In some spots video footage wouldn’t do, so live-action recreations of Pac-man, Centipede, Donkey Kong and Asteriods, bringing these games into the material would with LED lights and fluorescent paint. 

In the end you realize Quasimondo has challenged you to think about how technology has influenced our dating, dinning, family, and educational social customs and our views on stange places and far away lands, Adult Swim style.

Last chance to see this show Sunday December 6 at 2:00p, Studio G at the Shops of Grand Avenue (across from Tj Maxx).

A lot of technical work went into this show credits go to Erin Eggers (lighting design), Therese Goode (sound design), Michael Petit (puppetry and stage design), Seraphina Vandentoorn and David George (technical direction), Julia Teeguarden (scenic painter), Kyra Renee, Jessi Miller, Jenni Reinke, Brian Rott (choreography), Bridget Cookson and Phoenix Brown (production and design assistants) and Andy Von Walsheim and Michael Weiss (media).

Back to the Grill, Mad Planet, Rusty Pelicans’ 20 year

Yeezy put it out there, and some knew it all along. Forever young. Snap-backs, fades, ripped jeans, tennies, crew neck sweatshirts… all too raw to wait 30 years before coming back in season. Slim jeans? Been the greatest cross-cultural exchange of all-time. Taking the old – the 20 year old – with the new: Rusty Pelicans.

Then it was Globe, the spot. Super local, the place to go after getting faded for the young and suspicious. The Rave was the big time though. All the unsung hip-hop fore runners of the 90’s played there; Pharcyde, Digable Planets, and Hieroglyphics. When Rusty P’s made it to that stage, it didn’t matter who headlined, the consummate under-card always had the word of mouth buzz.

If you barely remembered a spit lyric, what did you hear? Rhymes delivered always on time, banging beats almost to distortion through that notoriously over matched sound system. What did you see? Heads trying to one-up each other with the freshest gear or most obscure tees; young ladies trying to look fly, roguish or manic; Understated but energetic stage antics from live-action teenage nothings Rusty P’s, finally on the big stage. Count Classic’s “Lynch Mob” tee stealing the show.

Present Sense

In the now, Mad Planet, plenty dark and stormy, a scaled down and truly intimate atmosphere for Rusty P’s victory lap. With a couple of cameos, of most notable rap phenom Klassic and collabo effort Sounds of Time (Kid Millions and Sage Schwarm), Rusty P’s 20 year party was much like them days past but a little more laid back, dope lyrics, dope beats, and little extra inner-squad banter.

Rusty P’s ended up producing a few of Milwaukee’s local hip-hop elder statesmen: Dana Coppafeel, One Self, Phantom Channel, and DJ Madhatter; most notably DJ Madhatter well-tenured at 88Nine, and faithful host of the Miltown Beatdown, and Dana representing Uni-Fi Records, busting out a couple low frequency national projects and regular self-published artistic efforts with counterpart Speakeasy. That’s pedigree, representing a time when Riverwest was real grimy and some of Milwaukee’s best indie music.