A DJ set from techno artist Antenes, a mayoral forum on the arts, and more events of note in Madison this week. (Photo by Erez Avissar.)
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SATURDAY JANUARY 12
New York City-based techno artist Lori Napoleon builds her own modular synthesizers, often using components of old phones and switchboards and other cast-off circuitry. And the music she makes under the name Antenes has the focus and fine-grained texture of an artist getting her hands dirty up to the elbows in the raw stuff of electronic sound. “Fire Rises,” from Antenes’ 2015 EP The Track Of A Storm (released on the always intriguing L.I.E.S. label), is almost unnervingly austere, weaving eerie atmosphere around percussion patterns that stutter and fold in on themselves. Even with all the possibilities that come from creating one’s own gear, Napoleon excels at paring it down to a few very specific, intricately sculpted elements and giving them plenty of room to shine. She visits here for a DJ set.
Two artists based in Madison also help make this a pretty compelling electronic show. Madison native David Last has spent a few decades working as a broad-eared DJ and producer in New York, Colorado, and the Bay Area, and has been back in town for the past year or so. Last’s 2018 release, Constructions Vol. 1, pulls together a wide range of collaborators—including Robyn Hitchcock, who contributes a wonderfully surreal spoken-word piece—into immaculately crafted, contemplative pieces. Last created the release as a tribute to his partner Cherushii, who died in the horrific Ghost Ship fire in Oakland in 2016. He hasn’t performed much since moving back to Madison, but has been working on new original music, some of which he’ll weave into a DJ set here. DJ Speedsick, meanwhile, is a refreshing outlier in Madison’s music community, slamming together elements of driving techno and blistering avant-garde noise. —Scott Gordon
Trapo, Bird’s Eye, Lucien Parker, CRASHprez, Sincere Life, Chris Jewson, Broadway Muse, DJ Pain 1, Rob Dz. Majestic, 8 p.m.
Ever since Madison native Trapo began attracting the world’s attention in 2015 with his debut release, The Black Beverly Hills EP, the MC/singer/producer has quietly bucked against expectations, slyly defying us to sum up his work in a neat and tidy fashion. He’s not necessarily married to the overt conceptual ambition of Black Beverly Hills (released when he was 17) and his sprawling debut album, 2016’s Shade Trees—the 2016 EP She and last year’s Oil Change EP show that he can also delve into more straightforward, personal lyrical territory. Even when it comes to success and attention, he sounds wary, as he lays out on the Shade Trees track “Stop Me”: “I’ve been for the peace in the streets, boy I’m Gandhi/ It take more than a blog to define me / A couple A&Rs tried to sign me / I make them fly me out, me and moms and the homies.” Sure, he’s reveling in it there, but his rugged voice lends it all an air of sly ambivalence. The overarching message from Trapo always seems to be: Back up and give me the space to define this. Which is a perfectly reasonable attitude for a gifted artist just entering his early 20s, and only makes him more alluring as he teases a forthcoming album called Ford 4 Door. Trapo also recently performed in-studio at Wisconsin Public Television, focusing mostly on songs from Oil Change and Shade Trees.
He headlines here as part of the Majestic’s annual Wisconsin Fest series, a string of locally focused shows that try to make the best of early January’s slowdown in touring acts. Also performing at this installment are several noteworthy hip-hop artists who are either based in Wisconsin or have spent time here, with highlights including Chicago native and UW-Madison alum Broadway Muse, Twin Cities native and sometimes-Madisonian Lucien Parker, and Madison-based rapper Sincere Life, who’s been spending more time on comedy than rapping lately but makes a welcome return here. With beloved Madison MC/spoken-word artist hosting, it should make for a sonically and thematically varied evening. —Scott Gordon
It’s tough to imagine a more natural pairing in Madison music than Gentle Brontosaurus and The German Art Students. While the two bands hardly sound the same, both have a way of investing plenty of lyrical eccentricity into their music without ever losing sight of giddy hooks and charming vocal melodies. The punchier of the two bands, GAS has been going since 1997, and somewhere along the way dropped the playful affectation of pretending they might be actual german art students. These days they’re comfortable, as they should be, as just four folks making new wave-tinged power-pop that riffs on highly specific topics, as captured on tracks like “Civil War Reenactor” and “Bjorn Borg.” And you don’t have to be in on any particular joke to enjoy the slap-happy catchiness of a song like “Pompeii,” from the band’s 2008 EP, 79 A.D.
Gentle Brontosaurus, meanwhile, deploys a softer touch on songs that delve into life’s thorny questions, like “Tell me, is there more to life than leisure,” as vocalist/keyboard player Huan-Hua Chye sings on “The Hedonist,” or the identity of a mystery song, on “track1.mp3.” Both of those are from the band’s sophomore album, Bees Of The Invisible, which landed on Tone Madison‘s top 20 Madison records of 2018 list. Howler, the latest project from longtime Madison musician/filmmaker Wendy Schneider, anchors this bill in something more hard-bitten and earthy. —Scott Gordon
WEDNESDAY JANUARY 16
Madison voters will winnow down the field of people running for mayor in a February 19 primary election and choose a new mayor (or re-elect incumbent Paul Soglin) on April 2. Whoever wins will have plenty of opportunities to shape the future of arts and culture in Madison on a variety of fronts, from funding for grants programs to working on the myriad social and economic disparities that create obstacles for creative people in our city. Arts + Literature Laboratory and Tone Madison have invited all of the candidates to participate in this forum, at which the discussion will focus exclusively on arts and culture issues. (An earlier mayoral debate, on January 9 at the Barrymore, will cover a broader range of policy matters.) Moderators Katie Hutchinson and Brian Standing will ask all the candidates to share their thoughts on these issues. The forum will include questions from members of the public; to have your question considered, please submit it through this Google Form. —Scott Gordon