A Madison music wishlist for 2018

More experimentation, more inclusion, a posse track, and other things we’d like to see in local music over the coming year.

More experimentation, more inclusion, a posse track, and other things we’d like to see in local music over the coming year. | By Emili Earhart, Scott Gordon, and Henry Solo


Illustration by Rachal Duggan.

Illustration by Rachal Duggan.

Madison’s musical landscape does not cooperate with predictions or expectations or tidy categories. Hell, most of the time local music doesn’t even cooperate with itself. It’s a fractured hodgepodge of misfits and isolated mini-scenes, and in a strange way that’s kind of how we like it. Over the coming year, things will develop according to the inclinations of dozens of creative folks behaving as they please, and probably according to no particular logic at all. However, there are a few things that could happen in 2018 that just might help to bring the best out of all this lovable chaos. In that spirit, a few of our writers share their wishes for Madison music in 2018.

We also asked readers this week about their wishes. Their answers, delivered via social media, include: “More all-ages shows, more artist of color, women, queer, more early shows”; “Designated loading zones at venues for musicians to use. The beer trucks get them why can’t we?”; “More DIY spaces and spots for small and emerging touring acts to play!”; “More double-time drums”; “More promoters, not fewer”; “More Latin music/dancing and less ‘noise complaints’ by racists would be a great start”; “More festival slots for bands that don’t play zydeco or white blues”; “Basement shows with higher ceilings”; “Sound in the Majestic that doesn’t sound like it’s from the bottom of Lake Monona.”

Keep pushing for inclusion

The problem of diversity in Madison’s music scenes seems to be at the fore of many musicians’, promoters’, organizers’ minds, or at least mouths. But the generalized goal of embracing “more diversity” often gets lost in the list of New Year’s resolutions. This is especially true for those of us who do not experience the exclusivity and marginalization to nearly the same extent as others. While we definitely don’t have all the concrete answers here as to how to make local music more inclusive, my wish for 2018 and the years behind and ahead of us is this: As folks create their own signal-boosting platforms, the rest of us will listen, providing any given influence one might have, and direct that towards the efforts of said folks as they organize. I am sure I am preaching to the choir here, and I know this single paragraph does the opposite of un-generalizing the issue at hand.  But on that note, I look forward to seeing what things groups like Queer Pressure and Half-Stack Sessions have in store for the new year, and I hope to see some amplified push for all forms of inclusivity. —Emili Earhart

A proper “posse track” from some of Madison hip-hop’s best

The posse track is one of hip-hop’s rarest gems, appearing only when stars align and when they are needed most. It’s such a simple concept—get a bunch of emcees linked through factors like region or friendship and have them spit verses over the same beat—yet it tends to be vibrant and powerful when it does appear. Whether a deadly tiger like Wu-Tang’s “Triumph” or a bombastic peacock like A Tribe Called Quest’s “Scenario,” posse tracks are always elusive beasts and forces of nature unto themselves. This is why I would like nothing more than for a smattering of Madison hip hop artists—and Madison-connected artists under a generously defined umbrella—to trade bars over a beat with plenty of room for lyrical maneuvering. I imagine it like this: producers with unwieldy names like Knowsthetime and Taxpurposes produce an instrumental that merge their disparate styles, a snare-heavy beat with a guitar strum and synth chord glissando that slither around one another. Ra’shaun leads with a quick hook. Then Broadway Muse, though a Chicagoan again, spits a fiery, verbose 16 to kick things off, followed by toned-down, melodic Trapo. Things alternate accordingly, lyrical to melodic and back again, with artists like Basi, Kenny Hoopla, King Retro, Son!, and so on. Then, to conclude, a reflective, fleeting outro from CRASHprez. Ugh, it would be so dope.  —Henry Solo

A rich crop of heavy and/or weird rock things

One thing I already know about Madison music in 2018 is that a few releases are coming from the more eccentric and abrasive corners of rock. The endearingly odd post-punk band His & Her Vanities, who reunited in 2016, have a new album in the can. There are also new recordings in various stages of completion from bands including noisy punk trio Solid Freex, goth-rock outfit Vanishing Kids, and bizarro metal duo The Central, to name a few more. Instrumental rock band Drug Spider and epic metallers Corridoré both impressed me with demo-ish recordings in 2017, House Of Lud hasn’t put out a recording since it branched out from a solo project to a powerful live trio, so it’d be exciting to get anything new from them this coming year. (But as long as they keep playing shows I’ll be happy.) 2017 also brought several great live performances from the off-kilter rock duo Glassmen, and I hope they can make a recording soon that captures their eerie melodies and complex rhythms. —Scott Gordon

Intentional space

Branching off the notion of diversity in a different sense—musical genres, sub-scenes, university vs. community projects—is the need for more varied lineups and spaces shared between different people involved in the arts. An intentional space for interdisciplinary projects within the arts in Madison could significantly bolster the creative output in all circles of the Madison arts community. This is not to say that Madison is completely lacking a range of good performance spaces—and there was progress made in 2017. But having a space that is specifically directed at the arts from the bottom up could absolutely attract the best of any local music community and get more people from different genres and artistic backgrounds under the same roof. In another sense, students who graduate from arts programs at UW-Madison could have a space in town to continue to share their work in intentional performance settings. That’s not to mention all the non-UW-affiliated artists and musicians who perform their work in spaces on any side of the furbished-spectrum without a gripe. (For real though, gripe more—your gripes are needed.) —Emili Earhart

More people experimenting with DJing, electronic music, and novel instrumentation

Anyone who books experimental music or live-PA electronic shows in Madison can attest that we need more musicians to start contributing locally in these fields. We do have some very good experimental and/or electronic musicians in town, but we’re a long way from critical mass. Madison’s DJ scene, on the other hand, is much more fertile right now, but could only benefit from a greater variety of participants. I’m not suggesting every rock or folk musician in town launch a techno side project, but it would be great to see more people stretching out of their comfort zones, dabbling in instrumental or production approaches they don’t usually employ, and playing out more with any left-field projects they may be harboring in secret. Perhaps it’s not for everybody, but I suspect Madison’s musicians have more to offer on this front than we’re actually hearing. As for people who are already doing it—particularly DJs and hip-hop producers—I’d like to see more audience members in town appreciating their artistry, and more opportunities for these artists to enjoy the musical spotlight. —Scott Gordon

Breaking campus barriers

In September, the Mead Witter School of Music launched a new studio space within the Humanities Building directed at electronic and electro-acoustic experimentation and learning. The Electro-Acoustic Research Space (EARS), offers UW-Madison students recording and amplified performing equipment, synthesizers and pedals, access to software like Pro Tools and Ableton, and more. I am curious to see how music students dipping their toes in electronics at UW will utilize the space and equipment and incorporate their adventuring and research into their performances. Hopefully—as Madison has a healthy dose of electronic experimentation going on in itself—these students will find that there are opportunities to learn from and collaborate with people outside the school of music, bridging the gap closer between the University and the community, and perhaps expanding the Wisconsin Idea to creative endeavors. Of course, if we’re talking about wishes for the new year, I will also keep my ears open for ways that the space and gear can directly benefit Madison musicians unaffiliated with the University (insured gear rentals, perhaps?). EARS, along with the construction of the University’s Hamel Music Center—a new performance space scheduled for completion in 2019—are significant strides for the Mead Witter School of Music and UW at large. My hope is that such progress will not only galvanize students to perform more and find more value in the equipment and spaces provided, but will excite Madison musicians to attend more UW-hosted performances and again, bridge the gap between some of Madison’s music communities. —Emili Earhart

The return of Seasaw

In 2016, singsong duo Seasaw released Too Much Of A Good Thing, an album that embraces styles that fall under the folk/Americana spectrum. The gentle fiddlings on “Folklore” sequence into the muscular guitar strums of “Absent Wolves” into the folktronic synths of “Ex-Girlfriend.” These songs are quick experiments that skim over pools of genre, before quickly moving to the next. At times, you want Meg Golz and Eve Wilczewski to delve deeper or expand their vision, but those moments are overwritten by the highs produced when a musical element unexpectedly arrives, such as the organ on “Gone Fishin’.” The pair’s vocals, alternating at times and harmonized at others, form a through-line for the record and favor concise lyrics. Golz and Wilczewski showing rather than tell about subjects like the role of doubt in relationships, with lines like: “Sometimes I freak out. Sometimes I see the light / Going going gone. Going into the night.” In all Too Much Of A Good Thing was a solid record, and should provide an important foundation for Seasaw’s in-the-works new album. —Henry Solo

Proud Parents album #2

Watching Madison power-pop outfit Proud Parents open up for Deerhoof in June of 2017, I realized they’d developed into one of the best rock bands in town. They’ve been fun to watch since their first shows in 2014, thanks in part to the genuine friendship and chemistry between guitarists/vocalists Tyler Fassnacht and Claire Nelson-Lifson, and the driving rhythm section of drummer Heather Sawyer (who also contributes vocals and songwriting) and bassist Alex Seraphin. And their 2016 debut album, Sharon Is Karen, made our local best-of list in 2016. Still, everything about this band just clicked for me at that show in June; maybe it was just me and maybe the band has developed some new confidence and heft to go with its dependable charm. In any case, I’m really looking forward to hearing what’s next. —Scott Gordon

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