Boy Harsher at Crucible, “Through The Olive Trees,” “Punk The Capital: Building A Sound Movement,” and more events of note in Madison this week.
Sponsor message: The weekly Tone Madison calendar is made possible with support from Union Cab of Madison, a worker-owned cooperative providing safe and professional taxi services.
THURSDAY, OCTOBER 10
Northampton, Massachusetts duo Boy Harsher doesn’t always put the abrasion up front, and instead finds more subtle ways to rattle. Since 2013, vocalist Jae Matthews and producer Augustus Muller have fused their talents to make synthpop records that groove and chill in equal measure. The fact that they were originally named Teen Dreamz feels instructive—especially on their newest record, this year’s Careful, the band’s music seems to be born out of a curdling of something originally more nostalgic.
The band is keenly aware of the fine balance that darkwave requires, bookending the dancier core of Careful with two more mood-focused tracks. “Keep Driving” opens the album with sickly detuned drones straight out of a horror film, while “Careful” closes the record with a clever subversion of the voicemails-as-album-tracks trope that features a voicemail you’d be more likely to submit as part of a police report. Between these creepy pieces are plenty of the gloriously danceable retro synths and drum machines one expects, with the vocals still doing plenty of emotional heavy lifting. Matthews’ sensuous performance guides the record through complex emotional spaces both wounded and commanding, intimate and hostile. It’s the type of performance that elevates a club (or bar) to more of a theater, to thrilling effect. Boy Harsher’s tour with Spellling (the moniker of Oakland producer/vocalist Tia Cabral, and yes the extra L is supposed to be there) gets a special addition here with an opening set from Madison duo Klack, a collaboration between Caustic’s Matt Fanale and Null Device’s Eric Oehler. The two talked with us recently about why their playfully retro EBM is catching on. —Maxwell Courtright
FRIDAY, OCTOBER 11
Director Abbas Kiarostami continued to explore the intersection of cinema and reality in his playfully deconstructive 1994 masterpiece Through The Olive Trees. An audacious, intricately layered, and awe-inspiringly beautiful film about the making of his previous feature, And Life Goes On, the final installment of The Koker Trilogy (which has screened in its entirety at UW Cinematheque this fall) crystallizes the stylistic and thematic preoccupations that would come to define the inimitable Iranian auteur’s sensibility. As Kiarostami takes us behind the scenes to depict the filmmaking process itself, he contemplates not only the complex relationship between art and life, but also issues of authenticity, class conflict, and gender politics in rural Iranian society.
Through The Olive Trees opens with a shot of a prominent, stately actor, Mohamad Ali Keshavarz, who announces directly to the camera that he “plays the director” in this film. He then proceeds to audition a large group of schoolgirls clad in black chadors and selects the third young actress he meets, a woman named Tahereh Ladanian (Tahereh Ladanian). She has been cast for the role of a new bride in a brief scene from the previous film in the Koker Trilogy, 1992’s And Life Goes On. Complications immediately arise when the young man playing her husband cannot deliver his lines because the presence of a woman makes him stammer. The director at once replaces him with an unemployed, illiterate mason named Hossein (Hossein Rezai, who was a tea boy on the set of And Life Goes On and acted in the film after an actor bungled his lines). However, Tahereh obstinately refuses to acknowledge Hossein either on- or off-camera. Hossein later reveals to the director that he has repeatedly proposed to Tahereh, but her grandmother strongly disapproves of the match.
Kiarostami’s enigmatic film-within-a-film invites comparisons to puzzle-box movies like David Lynch’s Mulholland Dr. (2001), in that it challenges us to perpetually discover the truth of what we are seeing and demands active participation in the construction of its meaning. At the same time, Kiarostami’s humanistic outlook and artfully simple, expressive visual style imbue Through The Olive Trees with an ineffable purity and emotional resonance. The film’s power, indeed its beauty, derives from its essential ambiguity. In the end, Kiarostami leaves viewers with far more questions than answers, but the cumulative experience of The Koker Trilogy suggests a deeper, mystical truth, while transcending the boundaries that separate illusion from reality. —Jason Fuhrman
Over the past 12 years, Milwaukee band Northless has made an enduring contribution to heavy music, exploring all sorts of variety under its leaden doom-metal shroud. Songs like “Godsend” (from Northless’ latest album, 2017’s Last Bastion Of Cowardice and “Sundowner” (from 2011’s Clandestine Abuse) irradiate the listener with the bleakest areas of the human experience, dredging up so many rich shades of misery and violence that the music ends up evoking profound empathy rather than exaggerated despair. Guitarist Erik Stenglein’s vocal style is a burly bellow and a curdling shriek all at once, and at its best—for instance, Last Bastion standout track “Never Turn Your Back On The Dead”—comes off as the cry of someone who’s very much alive and feeling it all, whether they like it or not.
Northless expresses all that pain and pessimism with restless creativity, and it’s never as simple as just another good sludge band. “Tears From Crime,” from a 2012 split with Light Bearer, captures the band’s ability to draw on the scuzzy wriggle of noise-rock and the epic sweep of Neurosis all at once. The four-piece also knows how to slow down and let things breathe, starting Last Bastion‘s title track off with two minutes of restrained, ringing guitars and building rather gracefully into the song’s stormy core. Here’s hoping they continue to surprise us while battering us into submission. They’ll also fit nicely here alongside Madison band Corridoré, who released a self-titled debut album of expansive black-metal-meets-post-rock pieces earlier this summer. —Scott Gordon
SATURDAY, OCTOBER 12
The new documentary Punk The Capital: Building A Sound Movement offers a deep-digging perspective on Washington, DC’s punk scene, emphasizing the early formative period between 1976 and 1983. Filmmakers Paul Bishow, Sam Lavine, and James June Schneider all have deep ties to DC and its rich but often misunderstood music communities, and they’re currently touring around to screen the film and discuss it in person with audiences. They’re also bringing along Jeff Nelson, drummer for Minor Threat and co-founder of Dischord Records, so the Q&A element of this event is just as enticing as the documentary itself.
Punk The Capital is hardly the only documentary to touch upon the incredibly varied and influential explosion of punk in 1980s DC—to name just one, Scott Crawford’s excellent Salad Days: A Decade of Punk in Washington, DC (1980-90) screened at the High Noon Saloon in 2015. The films were actually in the works around the same time, though Salad Days came out first, and the Washington Post reported in 2014 that the two filmmaking teams actually met and discussed their work and came at it with different approaches to begin with. And besides, it’s worth having multiple documentaries on a scene that has been so often mythologized and oversimplified, and that produced such a wealth of still-influential music and activism, and on top of that existed alongside other DC musical subcultures like go-go. Punk The Capital draws on dozens of interviews, including but far beyond figures including Ian MacKaye and Bad Brains’ HR, and the filmmakers use rarely seen archival material, including Super 8 footage from the late ’70s. They also created a flipbook of HR doing a backflip at a show in 1980, pointing to a resourceful, mixed-media approach that complements the film’s historical depth. —Scott Gordon
10/10: Played Out. Central Library, 6:30 p.m. (free) (Learn more about this film in our April 2019 interview with “Played Out” director James Runde.)
10/16: Canteen Cuisine Book Release Party. Social Justice Center, 5 p.m. (free) (Read more about this in our interview with Wisconsin Books To Prisoners’ Camy Matthay.)