A reading from Oliver Baez Bendorf, heavy adventures with Scaphe, and more events of note in Madison this week. (Photo by Faylita Hicks.)
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, SEPTEMBER 19
Minneapolis band Scaphe takes a wonderfully unhinged approach to heavy music, wielding two basses and an unmistakable sense of mischief. (The name could refer to a kind of sundial or an extremely gruesome method of execution.) Scaphe’s 2018 album Factory Gleam also captures the range and sheer sonic freedom of this band, swerving from the grisly lurch of noise-rock on tracks like “People Like Me (Need To Be Stopped)” to moments of tenderness and restraint, like the hazily tuneful “Looks Better Without You” and the field-recording soundscape of “Are You Having Fun?” Even in Scaphe’s most dense and sludgy moments, bassists Nate Johnson (who sometimes also plays guitar) and Sam Cramer tease a lot of textural variety and nimble melody from their instruments, and Bryce Beverlin II’s drumming is brutal and resourceful all at once. It’s a good fit for the point-blank environs of Mickey’s.
Scaphe is well matched here with Iowa’s Closet Witch and Madison bands Czarbles and The Central. Closet Witch’s self-titled 2018 album is a spasm of grindcore-fueled violence that often expands into more complex territory, creating a sickly but satisfying tension on tracks like “Rule By Bacon” and “Personal Machu Picchu.” The Central recently released its fifth full-length album, Van Dyke Browne’s Crystal, on which the duo continues to explore a variety of sonic interests, from punishing math-rock to free jazz and intricate polyrhythms. Not unlike Scaphe, it manages to come off as playful and difficult at the same time. It’s hard to think of a more perfect addition to this bill than long-running Madison trio Czarbles, whose instrumentals are both brain-teasingly complex and devilishly catchy. —Scott Gordon
FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 20
Poet Oliver Baez Bendorf’s new book, Advantages Of Being Evergreen, often places the reader in lush corners of the natural world, using their fertility, beauty, and even their menace to talk about the transformation of the human body and the perils of navigating the world as a queer person. This set of compact but structurally complex poems consistently evokes the feeling of a journey—through wild landscapes, to places of refuge, through evolving understandings of the self, and, in a few interludes titled “Breath I,” through alphabetically sequenced barrages of words, disorienting but dense with interplay.
Many of the poems in Advantages refer to a river, which might have a few different meanings but always creates powerful imagery: “What I want from the river is what I always want: / to be held by a stronger thing that, in the end, chooses mercy,” Bendorf writes at the show-stopping conclusion of the poem “Who Spit Into The Pumpkin, Who They Waiting For.” Bendorf often overtly references his own experiences as a transgender man, weaving together actual physical change with explorations of shifting identities and a gathering sense of resolve. “Because we’ve known / ourselves as throwaways/ already, we do not dispose,” he writes in “After A While, We Stop Asking.” Bendorf, currently a professor at Kalamazoo College in Michigan, finished the book while studying at UW-Madison’s Institute for Creative Writing and working at Everyday Gay Holiday, a short-lived but vital studio space on Atwood Avenue. He visits here to share poems from Advantages. UW-Madison art history professor Jennifer Nelson will also be reading at this event, from a new poetry collection titled Civilization Makes Me Lonely. —Scott Gordon
The inaugural Infamous Local Fest, a joint effort between Half-Stack Sessions and us here at Tone Madison, showcases a variety of music from the Madison area and features a series of workshops aimed at giving musicians some practical help for building stronger communities. The hope is that people will come away from it with things they can use, from bystander-intervention skills to some actual merch for their bands. It starts out on Friday night at The Winnebago with a varied music showcase. Queer-punk duo Gender Confetti will be headlining that event in the wake of their recent debut album, We’re Gay. Mineral Point’s own Leslie Damaso will be opening the show up with her interpretations of the genre of Filipino art songs known as Kundiman, and the innovative Madison band Mr. Chair will be performing with her. In between, one of Madison’s most accomplished DJs, Quinley, will be spinning an expertly curated mix of techno and house, and Madison band LINE will perform a set of its catchy but contemplative songs.
Infamous Local then moves over to Communication for the rest of the weekend. Saturday morning and afternoon bring a series of hands-on workshops. Musicians can collaborate with local artists to make buttons—as in, actually creating some on the spot, and then leaving with some fresh merch—as well as learn DJ and PA skills, and learn more about guitar and amp maintenance from Ellie Erickson and Kori Kent. Journalist and activist Jes Skolnik will be coming up from Chicago to give a workshop on bystander intervention, an important skill for those working to create safer spaces for music and combat harassment.
Saturday night brings more live music at Communication, from Brandon Beebe, The Lonesome Cobras, and Sage. On Sunday, things kick off early with a record sale, and then five artists will play sets that will be recorded live—again, giving folks something they can take away and put to use as they continue their creative pursuits and try to strengthen their music scenes. Those artists are Juli Johnston, Roscoe And The Talent, Flying Fuzz, Ghostar, and Bewitchin’ Pool. There is still a no-fee ticket presale, both for all-weekend passes and for tickets to individual shows and sessions. There is a discount available for Tone Madison Sustainers. —Scott Gordon
Just like schoolchildren, many parents over the decades have asked themselves: “What is homework for?” The late Abbas Kiarostami, an amiable pillar of Iranian cinema as well as a father, set out to explore this question in his 1989 documentary Homework. The setup is simple enough: Kiarostami wants to understand why his children won’t do their homework, so he sets out to interview the children of a local school about what issues they have with completing their assigned work. Over the course of his interviews with the children (and a couple of parents), he outlines the myriad personal and social forces at work in 1980s Iran that contributed to the children’s fraught relationship with schoolwork.
As with many Kiarostami films, the confounding nature of what exactly Homework is is part of its appeal. His penchant for blurring the fact/fiction boundary emerges in the sometimes stitched-together nature of his interviews, as well as the confusing number of shots he includes of his camera operator adjusting his camera. Discounting these distractions, the bulk of the footage makes up the kind of research project that many exasperated and desperate parents might want to take on, with the key difference being that this parent is a master filmmaker. Kiarostami lends a sort of journalistic rigor and seriousness to his interrogations of children, a commitment that yields unexpectedly dramatic dividends as the film turns into a missive on the then-contemporary state of Iran’s education system, and more broadly on the oppressive social and familial factors that hinder child development. The path from a humble thesis question to an urgent social document may seem complicated. Like many of the best documentarians, Kiarostami makes this route deceptively simple by asking the right questions and letting the camera roll. —Maxwell Courtright
SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 21
In a sea of true-crime podcasts, Radiotopia’s Criminal has consistently stood out for its determination to dig into the messy humanity and societal factors tangled up in what we think of as crime. On any given episode, host Phoebe Judge and co-creator Lauren Spohrer are less concerned with unpacking the grisly details of individual crimes and investigations, and more concerned with giving us an intimate view of the people wrapped up in it all. It’s also, refreshingly, not a show where each episode is pinned to a particular case or transgression. Since 2014, Judge’s gentle yet commandingly erudite voice has drawn us into deeper stories that offer myriad ways of looking at crime and its impact on society. One of my favorite episodes delved into the 80-year run of a St. Louis newspaper called The Evening Whirl, which is both a crime story and a compelling part of the story of the black press in America. A more recent episode, “The Tunnel,” unpacked the horrific drowning of a group of convict laborers in North Carolina in 1882.
Judge and crew are currently taking Criminal on an extended tour, on which the show promises fresh stories and some surprise guests. Judge’s patient, empathetic touch as an interviewer should translate well to the stage, and apparently the show’s producers do some live mixing and manipulation at these events. Criminal also takes more care than most podcasts with its visuals, using original illustrations to round out the show’s contemplative atmosphere, so it’ll be interesting to see how that factors into this live event as well. —Scott Gordon