IndieMKE2 attempts to gather together a city's growing music scene
Local music mainstay John Sieger has a theory about the city of Milwaukee.
"I always felt we suffered maybe from a little bit of an inferiority complex or something," Sieger theorized. "Madison had Garbage, and Minneapolis is just far enough away from Chicago. Milwaukee is kind of like to Chicago what New Jersey is like to New York. We're just in a funny place, but I don't think it's stopping anybody anymore. There's a really good feeling around Milwaukee now."
A part of that really good feeling is a burgeoning music scene that's thriving in Milwaukee and waiting to explode out of the Third Coast. The fuse has already been partially lit by the MilwaukeeHome stage team, who are in the midst of bringing some of the city's music down to South By Southwest down in Austin, Texas (and hopefully the rest of the country from there).
Another fuse, however, is being lit in town by IndieMKE2, a compilation album featuring 20 songs from 20 local bands, featuring tunes from Trapper Schoepp & The Shades, Phox, Panalure, Kane Place Record Club and more – including two previously unreleased tracks from I'm Not A Pilot and Grace Weber.
A CD release concert takes place Wednesday night at Turner Hall Ballroom, with Panalure, Crooked Keys, John Sieger and Greg Koch and Semi-Twang – also featuring Sieger – all set to perform. The cost is $10, which includes a copy of IndieMKE2 (the album will also be available online Wednesday and hopefully in a few local stores).
Also set to take the Turner Hall stage is Annie B & The Complication, whose front woman Annette Bzdawka dreamed up the original IndieMKE project a few years ago.
"It started out when I was promoting a festival called Artbeat In The Heat," Bzdawka said. "I wanted to do a compilation disc to promote that festival and have a way to generate interest at a different level. It was really more for the fun of it because I always wanted to do a compilation disc of artists from Milwaukee. So I had a call to artists online and reached out to some bands that I knew, and I was able to get a 20-track disc for that purpose back in 2012."
For Bzdawka, the goal was not only to create connections and a community of artists, but also to show off and shine a spotlight on Milwaukee's music to those who may not have known about it, or may not think it compares to other major music markets.
"I've lived in Los Angeles, Austin, Reno, and Seattle, and I've lived in my car for a year, driving around the country looking for gigs and couches, experiencing great music scenes," Bzdawka said. "So (the compilation) was a celebration of our music scene. A lot of artists that I talk to that have never lived anywhere else will say, 'Oh, our music scene sucks,' and blah blah blah. How would you know? You can't compare it to anything. You can't say if it sucks or if it's great. So that's sort of my crusade, I guess."
It was an experiment for Bzdawka, one that ended up being successful. Reaction to the first IndieMKE album in 2012 was "very positive" and supportive, opening the door for a sequel. And like most sequels, this one went bigger, featuring bigger names and a completely Milwaukee-only roster of songs (the inaugural edition featured three songs from artists outside of the city).
The 20 musicians and groups donated their own choices to IndieMKE2, whether they were previously recorded songs or previously unreleased tracks. Bzdawka then took the songs and, in her favorite part of the process, organized them into a solid, coherent track list.
"I spent so much time sequencing these tracks, it's ridiculous," Bzdawka said. "I spent hours and hours and hours, and I thought I was done and then I listened to it again, and I was like, 'There's something I don't like about this section of the CD; I have to move these tracks around a little bit or put another track in there from a different part.' I have maybe, like, 15 different go's at it. Finally, you get to a point where it's like, 'This is good just the way it is.'"
It was a decent amount of work and collaboration, all with the goal of spreading the word about some of Milwaukee's finest musicians in the city they call home. A city whose musical profile is only getting bigger and better.
"I was in Manhattan for a number of years, and actually, the live music scene here has a lot more going on as far as local people playing," said Michael DeBoer of Panalure, which contributed "I'll Remember" to the compilation. "Milwaukee actually has a specific sound, which is starting to happen. It's somewhat gritty, but it's also – I wouldn't say it's industrial – a little bit more Americana."
"I think Milwaukee's probably in the best shape it's been maybe ever in terms of musical talent," said Sieger, who appears twice on the album with "Love Interest" by Semi-Twang and "I Wish It Was September" alongside Greg Koch. "I don't know what it is, maybe somebody put something in the water or something in the last five or 10 years, but it's pretty exciting. There's a long list of really good groups coming out of Milwaukee right now."
It's such a long list that Bzdawka already has plans for an IndieMKE3 in the works for 2015.
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