FALL 2017 JAPANESE BREAKFAST
FALL 2017 /1
Build a record collection your friends will fight over when you die. vinylmeplease.com
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RAP & FEMINISM
RAP DJ HISTORY
FROM THE OUTSIDE
HIP-HOP IN MADISON
DYING IN OBSCURITY
CONCERT PHOTO GALLERY
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LETTER FROM THE EDITOR I have a confession to make: When I first joined EMMIE three years ago, I never thought I’d be editor-in-chief today. It’s not that I didn’t want it, because I did, but more that I didn’t believe myself capable of getting here. Despite my lack of confidence, I worked for it anyway.
In the early stages of this issue’s production, I reflected a lot on the qualities it takes to meet your goals: passion, hard work, perseverance — grit. Not unwavering confidence, but the resolve to push past your doubts. And continuing to set the bar higher. At EMMIE we know a little something about lofty goals; this issue is a big deal for us. We landed our dream cover star, Michelle Zauner of Japanese Breakfast, and, for the first time ever, filled our publication with entirely original photography and graphics. I’m incredibly proud of this staff for the labor they put into these beautiful pages. In a song from her most recent album, Zauner sings about dreaming big (“Jimmy Fallon Big!”) and then actually taking the steps to get there. “We aren’t bound by law/ We aren’t bound by anything at all,” she contends. “Just you/ If you decide to show...if you decide to show up on time.” That’s the crux of what it takes to meet your goals, I think. Simply deciding to show up. Life is messy, making setbacks inevitable and tenacity necessary. There’s no secret to success. Instead, there are many paths leading to where you want to go. In this issue, we offer a look at the twists and turns. We celebrate how grit — not luck or talent — makes all the difference.
— shaye graves
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EMMIE STAFF FALL 2017 EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
brighton lindberg logan rude daniel winogradoff
deeba abrishamchi zach adams staci conocchioli nnenna ene ian fox shaye graves collin kirk savannah mchugh bailey owens mitchell rose logan rude nimish sarin amileah sutliff daniel winogradoff mercy xiong christian zimonick
deeba abrishamchi nnenna ene ella guo mitchell rose cameron smith amileah sutliff matt weinberger morgan winston cloe see
SPECIAL THANKS TO
jim rogers malik anderson iffat bhuiyan
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RAP & FEMINISM
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January 16, 2009. My brother and I were anxiously waiting for Lil Wayne to come on stage at the Nassau Coliseum in New York City. I’d been listening to strictly Weezy for the past few months, getting hyped up for my very first rap concert. Finally, the lights went down and the crowd roared. I was filled to the brim with excitement to recite all the words of my favorite songs like “6 Foot 7 Foot” and “She Will” in unison along with 17,000 other fans and with Lil Wayne himself. “What the fuck is up, New York!” Lil Wayne exclaimed after finishing his opening song. “Where all my bitches at?” he yelled as the ladies in the crowd began to scream and cheer. “If your pussy stink, be quiet.” The laughter erupting in the room was quickly drowned out by my own discomfort. How was everyone passively laughing at a statement that diminished women to mere sexual objects? The resulting pit in my chest would become a familiar feeling through the years as I continued listening to rap music. I still find myself struggling to try to justify why I am okay with liking rap music when its messages are often openly and unapologetically misogynistic. Whether it’s blasting in a basement party or playing in the background of a coffee shop, hip-hop music has become more widespread in today’s society and its eminence is burgeoning quickly throughout modern pop culture. From the days of old-school rappers such as Tupac Shakur and The Notorious B.I.G. to modern-day rappers such as Kanye West and Travis Scott, hip-hop has always been an important means of expressing a rapper’s ideas and beliefs to the public. But what happens when those ideas are harmful to others? When I asked UW-Madison student and fellow rap/hip-hop fan Natalie Camacho how she justifies listening to and enjoying music that often projects sexist sentiments, she answered that misogynistic tendencies can be found in all genres. “Other genres will be more subtle about it, but rap has always been very uncut and raw,” she said. “You don’t have to agree with all of the messages to enjoy the music.”
Unfortunately, hip-hop’s reputation has become one that lionizes the objectification of women. Many reporters and journalists have come to the forefront to interrogate rappers about their use of derogatory terms such as “bitch” and “hoe.” When faced with this question, rappers such as 50 Cent and T.I. have suggested that sexism is an immaterial problem compared to issues like war, hunger and poverty. So if that’s the case, why spend time and money producing songs about immaterial things such as “bitches” and “hoes,” instead of issues like global warming and poverty? Ranking issues by importance is problematic because it declares that respecting women is less deserving of attention than other issues in the world, when in reality we are capable of fighting more than one “war” at a time. The hip-hop industry perpetuates the notion that rappers must portray male dominance to prosper. Even if these rappers don’t personally regard women as inferior, they have capitalized on the idea that misogyny sells and therefore feel forced to conform to hip-hop’s standards to obtain success. Rappers that don’t live up to this standard are criticized for being “too soft.” Consider Drake at the beginning of his career. Perhaps this pressure to conform is what led him to release If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, an album which contains antagonizing lyrics towards women, but also gained him a
by deeba abrishamchi photo: cameron smith, model: tehan ketema FALL 2017 /7
ton of street cred. Drake is one of my favorite artists, but it wouldnâ€™t be fair to say his lyrics never graze the line of derogation, causing me and other female-identifying fans to be faced with the internal conflict of enjoying the music but not always agreeing with its undertones. I would never condone misogynistic lyrics, nor would I suggest that we simply turn a blind eye. However, I think boycotting rap and hip-hop music altogether would be doing just that, by putting all blame on one single genre and ignoring the fact that sexism is a real problem that persists in most forms of mainstream entertainment, be it television shows, movies or music of all genres. So do we just let it go and move on? Absolutely not. Call out and discourage misogyny through social activism to bring us closer to a place of gender equality. Entertainment does not equal agreement. You are not necessarily complicit in a message a song sends just because you are listening to it. Art is supposed to challenge you, make you think and provoke you. In this case, that art is just underlaid by an undeniable head-bopping beat and it is our job to wholeheartedly support the art that uplifts women rather than disparages them.
â€œ I still find myself struggling to try to justify why I am okay with liking rap music when its messages are often openly & unapologetically misogynistic.â€?
Stop in and enjoy a great cup of coffee in a relaxing, unique atmosphere!
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our effortless madison favorites
by amileah sutliff photos: morgan winston
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One half of Slow Pulp slept through their alarms the morning the photos accompanying this story were taken. After guitarist Henry Stoehr and drummer Teddy Matthews snoozed through a few calls from the lead singer, Emily Massey, she went over to their house and woke them up. “They were like, ‘We have to shower,’ and I was like, ‘No we’re supposed to be there five minutes ago!... I was so mad. It was also really funny,” Massey laughed.
the forefront of their pop-y, psychedelic garage-rock songs songs. With the addition of Massey, they released EP 2 in March this year, and received a surprising amount of attention. “A friend of a friend” passed it along to someone at Stereogum, who decided to premiere their single “Die Alone.” With absolutely no contact or effort on the band’s end, some YouTube blogs picked the EP up.
You’d never really know from looking at the photos. The four of them look relaxed, goofy, upbeat, effortless but — as if by happy accident — fairly put-together. Those descriptors also easily apply to the band’s sound, but they extend beyond that. It’s just the band’s MO.
“Someone just listened to it, liked it, put it on the Internet, had a lot of followers and it just was luck. I don’t know how to do things on the Internet. I don’t think any of us do. Most of don’t even have Facebook. It was kind of a lucky little thing.” she said. “We’ve been getting Facebook messages from people in Mexico and Chile who are like ‘We love your music!’ It’s so crazy.”
Matthews, Stoeher, and bassist Alex Leeds — who now Slow Pulps remotely from Minneapolis — recorded the band’s first EP, EP 1, before the addition of Massey. She originally joined because the band needed another rhythm guitar, which is hard to imagine when you hear her dreamy, coasting voice at
Reflecting on gaining attention in a smaller scene, Massey said, in general, there’s a certain amount of traction in smaller-yet-vibrant scenes. Places like Madison may not have been historically massive hubs for music, but that doesn’t make them bad places to be a musician.
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“The Midwest is definitely starting to kind of be an underdog. People are kind of realizing that there’s more bands that are not in New York or in LA. The Internet helps with that a ton. You can be anywhere and making things and putting things out. People can listen to them from anywhere,” she said. She also noted that less bands in the area rids the scene of competition, because no one has the same sound. “A lot of bands are so different from each other, or filling a niche that the other one isn’t attempting to do.”
While much about Slow Pulp is fun, pop-y and allaround effortless, Massey said more difficult emotion often arises as a natural part of the songwriting process. While she connects to songs with positive emotion, and doesn’t think hardship is always necessary to make great art, there’s something to be said about turning to art as a vessel to work through your shit. Grit and ease might seem inherently at odds, but, when you’re making art, there’s something effortless about grit itself.
“Some of the most authentic and best art comes out of struggle and comes out of heartache and comes out of confusion.”
After their successful release, they noticed the attention, and put the EP on Spotify. “Preoccupied” garnered an impressive amount of streams — over 33 thousand — which is funny, Massey noted, because they weren’t going to put it on the EP in the first place.
“Preoccupied” is the only song Massey wrote on EP 2. It’s an excruciatingly relatable song about sitting on the sidelines of your own romantic desires. “I just want to be in love, but I don’t want to try/ I’m preoccupied with you,” she sighs over breezy guitar, plodding drums, and an apathetic bassline.
“I think that some of the most authentic and best art comes out of struggle and comes out of heartache and comes out of confusion. That becomes the most honest...whether that’s dealing with other people or dealing with discoveries that you’re making within yourself,” she said. “Sometimes you force yourself to make something, and to find meaning in something, but when you’re being really emotional, it kind of just flows out of you without you having to think about it, becoming it’s own separate entity almost.”
“That’s a song that I guess comes out of the confusion factor of relationships, and wanting to be with someone or wanting someone but not being confident enough or want to try hard enough to do that... Two years ago I wrote it, and it’s still true two years later,” she laughed. Like Slow Pulp as a group, the tracks on EP 2 are refreshingly void of self-seriousness, but they also aren’t void of the insight into the more difficult aspects of self and relationships that listeners can connect to. Massey said, although she didn’t write the other songs, performing them live has allowed her to connect to them, and eventually put her own twist on them. “One of the lines [on Houseboat] is “I said a lie,” and I think it might be like protecting yourself from further heartbreak or putting yourself in the position to make yourself vulnerable, but you lie in order to save yourself or save the other person.”
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BRAVING THE CROWD photos by amileah sutliff 12 / EMMIE
OUR STAFF GIVES YOU THE RUNDOWN ON THE BEST SUMMER MUSIC FESTS Nothing says “grit” quite like the way fans subject themselves to music festivals. Think about it: We scour the internet months ahead of time for lineup rumors, then spend obscene amounts of money on tickets and travel costs to eventually show up at some remote location (i.e. an abandoned field or the backwoods of a ho-dunk town) where — rain or shine, and with little-to-no cell service — we get to see our favorite bands play live. There’s a sort of break-neck beauty in the lengths we go through to collectively organize in the name of music. This summer, we sent EMMIE staff to brave five different music festivals across the country and document these highs and lows.
PITCHFORK Each year, Pitchfork Music Festival outdoes itself. To top last year’s headliners consisting of Sufjan Stevens, Beach House and FKA Twigs, Pitchfork enlisted electronic-rock band LCD Soundsystem, legendary rap group A Tribe Called Quest and contemporary R&B singer Solange. From up-and-coming rocker Jeff Rosenstock to synthwave band S U R V I V E to Midwest emo band American Football, Pitchfork’s extensive lineup had a little something to cater to everyone’s taste. — mercy xiong GOVERNORS BALL Located in the heart of New York City, the 2017 Governors Ball Music Festival was filled to the brim with top-notch talent, buzz-worthy up-and-comers and a vibe like none other. The eclectic lineup covered every genre from folk to grime. Highlights included Lorde singing from an elevated glass box and Childish Gambino blowing it out of the park with his first (and only) performance of 2017. Though the crowd was rowdy and the location was sub-prime (an island only accessible by shuttle-bus or ferry), the weekend was a testament to the East Coast’s ability to put on a hell of a show. — zach adams ELECTRIC FOREST Walking into Electric Forest for the first time was surreal. Located in the woods of Western Michigan, the pounding bass and spectacular lights created an unreplicatable energy. While it was billed as an EDM festival with top-name acts like ODESZA, Big Gigantic and Dillon Francis, it featured a wide breadth of artists ranging from Long Beach rapper Vince Staples to jazz icon Kamasi Washington. It felt more like a holiday celebration than an EDM festival; attendees floated from stage to stage saying
“happy Forest” to one another as they passed. The combination of the phenomenal lineup, beautiful setting and overjoyed fans made for an unforgettable weekend. — mitchell rose EAUX CLAIRES This two-day event drew music-lovers by the thousands to the small city of Eau Claire, Wisconsin, where an enchanted world of nature, friends and soul-affirming art took over the backwoods of town. Co-hosts Justin Vernon (of Bon Iver) and Aaron Dessner (of The National) curated a strong, diverse lineup, from the legendary Paul Simon to rapper Danny Brown, with many surprise performances and collaborations that kept attendees on their toes. Freezing rain, poor cell reception and dirty porta potties included, Eaux Claires proved itself to be a singular and magical festival experience. — shaye graves LOLLAPALOOZA Chicago’s whirlwind four-day festival returned to Grant Park this summer, hosting acts across genres and of varying popularity. The spread-out grounds discouraged many festival-goers as many of the mainstream acts were split among two stages a mile apart. The first night was spoiled by a large rainstorm, forcing Muse and Lorde to cancel their sets midway through. On a more positive note (assuming one managed to avoid the obnoxious crowds of EDM-crazed teens), the festival itself gave access to smaller up-and-coming indie artists many wouldn’t have the chance to see anywhere else. Highlights included rising UK stars Blaenavon and Blossoms, as well as homegrown talents Ron Gallo, White Reaper and Cage the Elephant. — morgan winston
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GROOVES: the rise of turntablism
DJ Kool Herc is recognized as the founder of hiphop and modern DJing. In the summer of 1973 he threw a party for his sister in the Bronx where he famously played only “the breaks” instead of entire songs. The goal was to have guests dancing to the groovy parts of disco, funk and Latin records as opposed to listening to the verses. Soon, other pioneers like Afrika Bambaataa and Grandmaster Flash started doing the same thing, playing any party in New York they could with crates full of vinyl records. By the early ‘80s, hip-hop was global. In 1979 “Rapper’s Delight” brought the art form into the public eye. The idea behind the music was simple: make great beats and have fun. Afrika Bambaataa embraced this idea perhaps more than anyone by creating the Zulu Nation, an international hip-hop awareness group founded on peace and music. As the genre grew, the popularity of MCs rose, but DJs never stopped pioneering. One of their most notable developments was the creation of the scratch. Grandmaster Flash is credited as being one of the earliest DJs to put his hands on vinyl. Herbie Hancock then used the sound in his song “Rockit.” With technique came more organized competition,
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as DMC hosted its first World Championships in 1985. Famous DJs like Mix Master Mike, DJ Qbert, DJ Cash Money and DJ Craze have all competed in these competitions. By 1990 music equipment producers took noteby finally creating mixers, turntables and slip mats specifically for DJs. Scratch techniques like the crab and transformer as well as body tricks helped DJs challenge each other and innovate. This continued through the ‘90s, with a notable event being DMC allowing DJ teams to compete. The year 1996 saw two of the best DJ teams ever compete against each other as the Invisibl Skratch Piklz took on the X-Men. Like many industries, DJing was influenced by technology at the turn of the century. As mp3s and CDJs became popular, crates of vinyl were replaced with lightweight equipment. The future is bright as companies have begun to offer affordable options for hobbyists. Most recently, streaming services have changed the game and allowed DJs to have songs instantly. The revolution and ideas of DJing and hip-hop are still strong today, and the future should hold more innovation, creativity and entertainment.
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DMC allows online submissions into their competition
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POINT Are Hardship and Struggle Needed to Create Great Music? collin kirk: Many people turn to music for release – an escape from reality and a trip to somewhere more glorious and uplifting than their own lives. However, the magic of humankind’s art, and thereby music, is the ability to encapsulate the unwavering issues people face as to connect to others in an artistic manner. A tumultuous relationship, crushing depression or tales of oppression: All of these and more have led to some of the biggest moments in the music’s history. Entering a new age, hardship and struggle expression through music has been a prominent fixture of many popular and acclaimed artists. Beyoncé’s Lemonade recounts the battleground of her relationship traumas with Jay-Z, and Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly examines his inner battles. Both of these albums also explore racial tensions in America. Adele’s record-shattering timepiece album 21 is famously known to be written about a horrific breakup. Kesha’s 2017 LP, Rainbow, is largely a celebration of seeing the light at the end of the tunnel following a decade-long bout of abuse from her producer, Dr. Luke, which resulted in rehabilitation
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for a life-threatening eating disorder. Mount Eerie’s A Crow Looked At Me and Sufjan Stevens’ Carrie & Lowell, written about the impact of the death of a loved one, have both been hailed as discography stand-outs for the artists as well as among the best LPs of the decade. These releases are all contemporary examples of how music as a statement of hardship is the most powerful format. Artists that have died young have often been hailed as legends. Many people will tell you their death is the sole reason for this – but the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Amy Winehouse and Bob Marley, all who died under shocking and tragic circumstances, moved on to become some of the most cemented and respected music icons in history. They established styles of their own and told stories that resonated with others, fueled by their struggles and unforgiving circumstances. Music is an effective way for established artists to speak on issues in their personal lives, and also an introspective outlet for artists to delve into themselves to create something bigger than themselves. Through this, artists that have been through the most extremes have often come out on the other end creating monumental works of art that have started revolutions and even kick-started new genres. Joy Division, Xiu Xiu and even the likes of Johnny Cash have showcased their own darkness in ways that have continued on to have an undying impact in music. It’s easier to find examples of musical innovation than in artists that have had a rougher walk of life.
logan rude: While many great works have come from an artist’s struggles, most have come from a desire to simply tell compelling stories. Great music is music that lets listeners step away from their issues. It lets listeners release built up stress after an especially long week by giving them an irresistible beat to dance to, or distracts them from the daunting chores of everyday life. Consider when MF DOOM and Madlib came together in 2004 as Madvillain to create one of the best hip-hop albums of the millennium. The dastardly duo took on personas unassociated with their personal lives, which led to complex stories filled with astonishing wordplay. Then there’s Demon Days, the second album by fictional band Gorillaz, which went platinum six times in the UK and twice in the US. Dedication to a virtual band rather than real people kept the subject matter focused on less serious subject matters. J Dilla’s Donuts, regarded as one of the greatest beat-tapes in existence, consists almost entirely of samples; the music is absent of any mention of struggle. These artists, and many more like them, have gone on to receive some of the highest praise from critics and fans alike. Greatness is oftentimes associated with strife, but feel-good songs are what become cultural icons. They have an uncanny ability to make everyone in the room stop what they’re doing and start yelling out the lyrics. Shakira’s “Hips Don’t Lie,” Rihanna’s “Pon De Replay,” The Beatles’ “Twist and Shout,” House of Pain’s “Jump Around” and a countless list of other songs unite people regardless of the setting they’re played. Music is uniquely human. We as a species are able to combine sounds so they add up to something greater than the sum of its parts. Music that comes from hardship undoubtedly has the power to cause massive emotional reactions
based on the listener’s life experiences. But so does music that comes from happiness. For every low, there’s a high. Struggle is not the only universal trait in humanity. For every song based in hardship that speaks to a larger problem, we crave a cathartic release from the struggles they speak on. Those cathartic releases are what make us feel better at the end of the day. The list of recent feelgood songs is almost endless: “Cha Cha” by DRAM, “Slide” by Calvin Harris and Foster the People’s “Doing It for the Money” to name a few mainstream examples. Defining great music by the presence of struggle as motivation is limiting; it eliminates huge catalogues that are just as valid as the rest. There’s a time and a place for every type of music. If we were limited to tracks based on struggle and strife, we’d never get the experimental, story-driven, feel-good hits that we all love and adore.
COUNTERPOINT FALL 2017 /17
Genre Busting: society mis-credits music’s true founders by daniel winogradoff Music is subjective. Its artistic nature allows for discussion, controversy and classification. The obvious way to classify music is by genre, a construct of communication with socially agreed-upon dictums. Over time, dating back to the days when Plato was teaching in Europe, genres have been used to define and sort different modes of music and organized sounds. Today there are a number of commonly recognized genres such as hip-hop, pop and rock. The creation and reformation of these groups date back to different times, specifically sprinkled throughout the 20th and 21st centuries. What’s unclear about these classifications of sounds is who actually penned their names. Elvis Presley is regarded as the “King of Rock ‘n’ Roll” by many people. His undeniable stamp on
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music certainly helped put rock onto the universal scene. However, there is much contention on whether or not he was the genre’s true creator. Many people consider Robert Johnson and Chuck Berry as the first two to pioneer the sound. Johnson, a blues musician in the ‘30s, displayed a landmark combination of singing, songwriting and guitar talent which influenced many musicians in later generations. Twenty years later, Berry stepped into the scene in the ‘50s with hits like “Roll Over Beethoven,” “Rock and Roll Music” and “Johnny B. Goode.” His electrifying St. Louis swagger enraptured crowds across the country. Presley, who wasn’t born until Berry was 10 years old, benefited from a racial America that favored the progression of white culture. Unfortunately, this was a factor in the discrediting of Berry and Johnson’s influence on rock’s come-up. Then there’s hip-hop, which began in the South Bronx around the late ‘70s. Afrika Bambaataa was regarded by some as the father of the main elements of hip-hop culture, coining terms like “rapping” — which derived from the quick, rhythmic narrative of jazz known as “scat singing” — “DJing/ turntablism” and “breakdancing.” However, DJ Kool Herc used to mix samples of existing jazz and R&B records with his own Jamaican-style spoken word chant called “toasting,” a bombastic pep talk spat through a microphone. Some consider Herc the creator of the genre because of this. But according to historical records, it was neither of those two men who penned the term “hip-hop.” Rather, it was Keith “Cowboy” Wiggins of Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. Music will never cease to exist or change. All genres of music today are slowly turning different angles as artists develop fresh sounds. The inevitability of progression makes music one of the most alluring forms of creativity. However, music is an outlet where the ends justify the means; as long as it’s good, it doesn’t necessarily matter how it was produced. While the history of how certain parts of music are created continues to be debated, or flat-out ignored, it is nevertheless important to look forward to correct accreditation. By truthfully highlighting how music was created — specifically by whom — contextuality will provide future artists with groundwork to successfully advance music as a whole.Without the historical aspects, music would cease to exist. Without contextuality, music would be cold and unoriginal. The necessity of recognition reaches beyond simply acknowledging each discredited artist — it’s instrumental in preserving the legacy of all musicians and genres in the years to come.
Artistic Ambience: when well-known artists re-brand by nnenna ene Becoming an artist means creating a brand. Most record labels sign on artists who have a unique characteristic. This could be their sound, appearance, personality or maybe even the way they walk and talk. Record labels are looking for any and everything that could appeal and attract individuals to their music. Because the music industry is very competitive and filled with many talents doing the same thing — with only a few getting significant recognition — the motto is if you find a brand that works, stick with it. This slogan is great for labels and maybe even for fans. But for some artists this can be suffocating. An artist’s primary goal should be to freely express themselves through their music, whether this be happiness through pop music or sadness through soul music. The artist’s life should be a collage of experiences. Think of it like college, where students are free to follow their interests without declaring a major — or in this case, a genre. But changing sounds as an artist is risky. Even if the artist likes their new sound, their fans could hate it. It’s called the music “business” for a reason; they have to be strategic and consider their market. Taylor Swift should be given a trophy for successfully changing sounds — multiple times. The sweet Nashville-country-singer turned pop-queen turned emo-goddess has done it all. In this way, Swift always keeps her fans guessing. Where I have to give props to Swift is in her strategic digression of sound. She knew her audience consisted majorly of young girls who could relate to her. Therefore, she chose gradual growth over drastic change. This tactic allowed her fan base to grow with her as well as make her even more relatable. Through all of Swift’s many experiments with her sound, she has continued to show us that it wasn’t her originally declared genre as a country singer that was her brand — it was her
dedication to songwriting. No matter how ridiculous or dark they get, you can always count on the lyrics to be nothing but Swift’s emotions. But what happens when an artist isn’t so strategic about their re-branding? They not only have to deal with the disappointment and shock from their regular fan base, but also with challenges such as breaking the barrier into a new genre, attempting to attract attention from a new audience and struggling to show their authenticity. The former LA rapper Snoop Dogg, Snoop Doggy Dogg, Snoop D-O Double G’s transition to Snoop Lion the reggae artist is a perfect example of sound change across very different styles of music. Although it’s evident that he hasn’t sold nearly as well as a reggae singer, he proved his authenticity to reggae listeners with his first reggae song, “La La La.” Produced by Diplo, whose knowledge and love for reggae and dancehall showed through his beat, Snoop Lion delivered the song with non-tacky and legitimate Caribbean vibes. Despite the fact that he proved his legitimacy to Reggae fans, Snoop Lion can’t escape the fact that he is still a cub in the Reggae world and probably won’t be on the mind of die-hard reggae fans when there are artists such as The Congos or Katchafire already out there. Artists cannot and should not be defined by their sound or constricted to a genre. Yes, an artist will always have roots in their genre of origin, but this cannot prevent them from branching out. An artist’s sound is the result of their emotions and experiences at particular moments in their lives. Every artist begins writing music about their inner thoughts, how they feel, their perspective on life or all of the above. But in the end it’s about their unique ambience, a personal quality that transcends whatever genre they choose to explore.
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life on 20 / EMMIE
MARS. michelle zauner on soft sounds from another planet
by shaye graves & amileah sutliff
photos: morgan winston
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The way Michelle Zauner fills sizeable venues with her screams, you’d never guess she’s so tiny. Tucked into a conference-room-turned-green-room two hours before her set at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, she barely filled an office chair. Her dark hair was thrown into a bun at the nape of her neck, framing her bare face. She wore a black t-shirt with tattoos peaking out from under the sleeves, ranging from an elaborate half-sleeve to a floating cartoon baby on her forearm. Madison was the 22nd stop on her first headlining tour under the name Japanese Breakfast, promoting her July sophomore release, Soft Sounds From Another Planet. Life on the road didn’t bother 28-year-old Zauner. After playing in a punky Philadelphia four-piece band, Little Big League, she returned home to small-town Oregon in late 2014 when her mom was diagnosed with terminal cancer. After her mom died, she remained in Oregon with her father, and spent that period writing and revamping old demos. The tracks eventually became Japanese Breakfast’s debut album, Psychopomp — lo-fi, intimate bedroom-studio recordings released in 2016. Zauner’s voice — which can span the grungy bellows of Kathleen Hanna to the celestial pangs of Bjork — belts out, “The dog’s confused/ She just paces around all day/ She’s sniffing at your empty room” on the opening track, “In Heaven.” “You just become so aware that there’s so much pain around you. And how do you make this really sad thing not change you into an evil person, really?” she asked, fiddling with the straw of her Coke. “One concern that I really had after my mom passed away was that I was gonna take this thing that felt very unfair to me and become a person who was very angry at the world and very resentful towards other people’s happiness.” After Psychopomp received general and critical acclaim, Zauner found herself having to publicly address her grief as a necessary part of her career, answering difficult personal questions about her mom’s death over and over. So when a blog commissioned her to write two songs in late 2016, instead of leaning into her grief, she leaned away. For distance, she turned to sci-fi. She wrote “Machinist,” a song about a woman falling in love with a robot and enlisting in the Mars One project. The blog rejected the track, but left Zauner wanting to make a sci-fi concept album. She soon found that scope limiting, especially as the changes in her life
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since Psychopomp weighed on her. She pivoted to writing a composite of autobiographical material and fictional narrative, with sci-fi as a lens to process her feelings and re-navigating her relationship to humanity. Exploring new emotional terrain in her own life, she became fascinated by the hypothetical changes human nature would face on another planet. “I think that if you were to live on Mars, you would come up with all of these words, of course to describe the difference in the landscape, but also all of these psychological effects of living among only 20 people, or not being able to breathe air naturally. And what does that emotion feel like?,” Zauner explained. “A lot of the songs are about imagining a world that’s greater than yours or reflecting on how other people have these shared issues, and that your small, personal pain is like a soft sound, from another planet, that no one else thinks about except for you.” Harkening back to her studies of short fiction in college, she took a literary approach to her writing process for Soft Sounds. She fixated on micro-moments that reveal greater meaning. She cited “Road Head” as an example. On first listen, the song’s about oral sex in a car, but Zauner used the sexual scenario as a vehicle to explore power dynamics, jealousy and stifled ambition. Some songs on Soft Sounds, though, are neither literary nor sci-fi, but more literal. Two weeks before her mom’s death, Zauner got married. She wrote “Till Death” to narrate, in detail, the love that came out of her darkest period. Peter Bradley, her source of emotional support throughout her pain, inspired much of the album and joined her on stage for this tour playing guitar for Japanese Breakfast. “When I was younger when I was sick, my mom would say things like ‘real love is when you wish so badly you could take someone’s physical pain; if I could I would just take it from you, and I would endure it for you,’” Zauner said. “There’s not really anything you can do for that person, but just kind of wait and hope they’ll come out on the other side and be enjoyable to be around again.” Mere presence through another’s pain, she found, is “real love” too. Zauner did eventually come out on the other side of grief, albeit a different person. She’s quieter now, for one thing. “I think things seem like less of a big deal. Things that would bother me that were small emotional issues are much softer and easier now,” she said.
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Over the past few years, Zauner’s undergone the kind of changes that most people experience across the span of an entire lifetime — from marrying her soulmate to burying her mother to achieving the career in music she used to dream of; she’s grown exponentially as both a person and an artist. Soft Sounds is a physical testament to that growth. Whereas Psychopomp was her knee-jerk, raw response to intense personal tragedy, Soft Sounds helped her take control of the chaos and decide for herself what came next. Soft Sounds is full of intent, each aspect of the songwriting, arrangements and production a deliberate choice. “I felt like [Making Soft Sounds] was the first time I really found my voice,” Zauner said. “And because it was successful, I felt like I could really trust my voice.” Honing in an artistic voice is something many artists don’t do until well into their careers. Soft Sounds is a memoir of emotional process, but also a product of Zauner’s creative grind. Emerging from the depths of
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grief, she’s more driven than ever before. With a pressing possibility of death — the cancer that killed her mom is a genetic disease — she’s now “racing against time” to do everything she wants to do before she no longer can. On her first Japanese Breakfast tour opening for Mitski, she remembers watching her sell out 500 capacity venues and thinking if she could just reach that point, she’d be satisfied. But as her momentum changes, her barometer for success changes with it. “Now, a year-and-a-half later, we’re playing the same exact rooms and selling out a lot of the shows, and the second you do that, you’re immediately looking at what’s the next thing? ...I truly just try and feel the moment, and I just say out loud: ‘Holy Shit. This is amazing.’ I think that ambition just keeps you looking for the next thing.” At this point, grit’s become second nature for Zauner — she got up to get ready. She had a show to headline.
Japanese Breakfast playing The Sett in October, 2017.
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YOUR SMALL PERSONAL PAIN IS LIKE A SOFT SOUND, FROM ANOTHER PLANET, THAT NO ONE ELSE THINKS ABOUT EXCEPT FOR YOU.
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uncertainty ahead as frank productions & majectic merge Madison’s live music landscape is undergoing rapid change. Small venues are being swallowed up by larger entities as the concert industry becomes increasingly competitive, with each venue vying for top-notch talent. As the shockwaves of Live Nation’s 2016 takeover of the Orpheum are still being felt, two of Madison’s largest independent concert promoters — Majestic Live and Frank Productions — are now merging.
shows not just in Madison but around the country. From the Alliant Energy Center to the recently-purchased High Noon Saloon, Frank Productions has solidified its spot at the forefront of Madison’s music community. Now, by the end of the year, the two booking agencies will form a new business entity, merging their companies into one. What does this mean for Madison’s music community? In short, it’s not entirely clear.
Majestic Live is widely known as the overseer of the storied Majestic Theatre, bought by Matt Gerding and Scott Leslie over a decade ago. In addition to putting on shows at the Majestic, the company also books concerts at the Frequency and puts on the widely popular Live on King Street outdoor concert series.
On one hand, the new mega-company will allow for bigger-name acts to come to Madison and greater diversity in bookings across venues. Majestic’s deep industry ties and Frank’s five decades worth of experience will make for a powerhouse for a booking agency. If the concerts at Breese Stevens Field (cobooked by Majestic and Frank) are any indication — Boston, Modest Mouse and Ryan Adams are some of acts that have played this year — the two companies are a force to be reckoned with.
Frank Productions has been a presence in the Midwest for over 50 years, booking big-name
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by zach adams, photo: matt weinberger In addition, the new company will oversee booking at the yet-to-be-completed Sylvee, a new, 2,500-seat music venue on East Washington Avenue. The venue is a much more direct competitor to the 2,300-seat Orpheum, and can bring even more marquee acts to Madison. The addition of the Sylvee in 2018 will bring yet another venue into Madison’s music scene. With dozens of venues ranging from small to massive, Madison’s music scene offers consumers a wide variety of choice when it comes to choosing a concert. But how much choice is there, really? After the merger, there will be only two major concert promoters in Madison. Between the Frank/Majestic company and global concert giant Live Nation, will there be room for smaller, less-established venues and promoters? As Live Nation books the Orpheum, Frank/Majestic will be filling in most of the gaps, booking everywhere from the Alliant Energy Center to the Frequency. It’ll be a battle between two giants, and not much else.
Majestic co-founder Matt Gerding, in an interview with Isthmus, said that the merger “can make the Madison music scene better,” as Frank Productions president Charlie Goldstone claimed that “the way for both of us to improve is to join forces.” That may very well be true — with the new merger will come new venues, bigger artists and more diverse bookings. But with the new company vying against Live Nation for booking control, it’s not clear how much room there’ll be for the “little guys.” Will small venues thrive in this new concert economy? Only time will tell. Students, music-lovers and artists alike will all be somewhat affected by the Frank Productions-Majestic Live merger. This move by the two companies has had a seismic impact on the Madison music community, and will forever change how Madisonites go to concerts.
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UNCOVERING THE UNDERGROUND
by bailey owens, photos: cameron smith If you asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up when I was little, I immediately would have responded with rockstar. Now, almost fifteen years later, I have abandoned my childhood dream and am pursuing other options. But what about the aspiring dreamers continuing on the path to fame and fortune? Well, they have to start somewhere, and thus underground concerts emerged. The problem with underground music is its perceived exclusivity. With limited advertising, it can be hard to figure out when and where concerts are
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taking place. Not to mention, even if you are able to find and get into one of these concerts, the crowd can appear intimidating. Most of the audience will be made up of friends of the band members or just lovers of a specific style of music. Being on the outside can be a deterrent and is what essentially leads music-lovers away from underground concerts. It can be hard to assimilate or vibe with music that isnâ€™t what we typically choose to hear on the radio, but the unfamiliarity and breakthroughs of new styles is what makes underground music all the more fun
and exciting. Learning to listen to new music is like learning a new language. Getting to see someone put all their effort into something they love is amazing. Watching small bands performing in basements and garages, just trying to find a style and a sound others can connect with, is thrilling for all audiences. I recently went to a friend’s house and stumbled upon my first real underground concert. The band didn’t even have a name, they were just four boys with guitars, drums and some old microphones. The crowd wasn’t that big, I mean we were in someone’s unfinished basement. Their songs were all covers by bands I assume they hope to sound like someday. The crowd just kind of did their own thing, but each audience member engaged with the band in their own way. Even if the song wasn’t executed as well as the original, the audience was continuously enthusiastic and supportive of the band’s attempt. I’m glad I had the opportunity to go and just surround myself with music. Not to mention if the band makes it big one day, I will definitely be happy to tell everyone I was an early listener. This leads me to another stereotype about underground, regarding what it means to be a fan. Because I have a strong interest in pop and electric dance music, listening to a more alternative band was a little out of the ordinary. I know there is a common misconception that if you weren’t in love with every sound a band made when first starting up you are a “fake fan,” creating the notion that you aren’t a real supporter. In other words, if you didn’t like the grassroots startup, you shouldn’t listen to the genre at all. This mentality is foolish and you shouldn’t let it prevent you from going out and enjoying new music. Music is for everyone’s enjoyment and when it comes down to it, bands love all the support they can get. Supporting up and coming bands helps diversify everyday music and helps music culture remain well rounded. I urge everyone who reads this to step out of their comfort zone and find the bands that are trying to be heard. Don’t let preconceptions of exclusivity and false definitions of what it means to be a fan hold you back. When it comes down to it, we’re all lovers of music. No matter its style or popularity, we need to be out there supporting the future of music because today’s basement band could be tomorrow’s best seller.
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ALL THAT’S GGOOLLDD DOESN’T GLITTER by logan rude photos: nnenna ene
On the final night of their 18-date tour, Margaret Butler and Nick Ziemann sat in the musty Paradise Lounge enjoying a fried fish sandwich and french fries — a far cry from their tour diet of sunflower seeds and carrots. Nearly everything they own sat either in the basement of The Frequency or in the trailer that they took on tour for the past month with fellow GGOOLLDD bandmates Mark Stewart and Nick Schubert. The rest of their belongings rested in a ten-by-ten storage unit in Appleton, Wisconsin. After quitting their jobs less than a year ago and selling anything that wasn’t essential, the four made a full-time commitment to their band. The name GGOOLLDD comes from Butler’s gold-adorned costume she wore the night of the band’s inaugural performance — a show that occurred only as an excuse to throw a party for herself and all her friends. Despite Butler’s love for sequins and glitter, it’s not all glitz and glamour working as a full-time artist. “She’s just sitting there smelling herself. We don’t know if it’s us or not!” Ziemann exclaimed. “I have no idea if it’s me that smells,” Butler replied. “I can count on one hand the amount of times that I’ve had access to a shower in the past month.” Covering 7,500 miles in the span of three weeks and showering only a handful of times, GGOOLLDD went through grueling physical stress and had their fair share of road trip difficulties. On the back half of their tour, GGOOLLDD successfully made it across the Canadian border on their way to Vancouver for their next show. As they drove down the road, an undercover police officer pulled them over, claiming that it was illegal to have a trailer without a license plate (they later found out from local police and border patrol that it was legal). “The fucking Vancouver police stole our trailer,” Ziemann said with disgust. Before the officer took the trailer, they were able to unload all of their gear for that night’s show. But now, they had nowhere to carry it. Ziemann took the van to the nearest U-Haul while the others guarded their expensive equipment in the middle of a Canadian park for hours. “Luckily they fulfilled their alcohol rider in the show at Vancouver that night,” Ziemann said. “We got sloppy drunk.” “Drunkest show I’ve ever done,” Butler replied.
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“We were so angry … We don’t get angry. I mean we do, at like ‘You got my Taco Bell order wrong,’ maybe shit like that,” Ziemann said. “But we figured it out. It was a tough couple of hours.” Hiccups like these pushed the group to their limits. If not for their adoring fans, they said they would have had been completely exhausted during the tour. Originating in Milwaukee, GGOOLLDD has developed an incredible following throughout the Midwest. Boisterous crowds traveling countless miles surprised the band at shows they had expected to be relatively quiet. Fans came out in droves.
“We started so DIY that now it’s hard for us to give tasks away if we know that we can control it — ones that we know we can handle,” Ziemann said. They design all of their album art. Butler creates ideas for t-shirts and apparel. Ziemann does work on the band’s website design. Only now, they have help from a label that feels more like a new group of friends than a group of people micromanaging them.
“We started so DIY that
now it’s hard for us to give tasks away if we know that we can control it.”
“The amount of excitement is probably why we were able to quit our jobs. We’re just getting started, but the overall excitement once you’ve seen our show seems to retain, if not grow ’til the next time you see people,” Ziemann said. “That part helps us a lot. Fanaticism in anything is affirming if nothing else.”
Now signed to Roll Call Records, GGOOLLDD has a larger team behind them to help with the tricky logistics of being full-time musicians. Regardless, they still choose to take care of most things themselves.
“I’m not gonna fucking work for anybody that makes me feel like I owe them a favor. It’s important that they all feel like friends to us so we know that works,” Butler said.
While they’re signed to a label now, they still have to work. Born on a whim, GGOOLLDD has always been more about a feeling rather than a specific, scientific approach to the music, merch or shows. After quitting their jobs, it didn’t take long to realize that despite being their job, they couldn’t force themselves to write. It wouldn’t feel authentic. A lot has changed since the band’s inception, but one thing remains constant — as long as they can spend time making dinner, drinking and hanging out together, the music will come.
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BREAKING UP with major labels a staff roundtable on the agency of modern independant artists To make it big as a musician, you need a record label — right? Up until recently, the general consensus would have been a definite “yes.” Labels invest significant time and money into helping artists with the large-scale production, promotion and distribution of their music. Unfortunately, for musicians this often means sacrificing some (or a lot) of artistic control, not to mention profits. Now all that is changing: a new wave of independent artists are shaking up the status quo, proving that they can be just as, if not more, successful as their signed counterparts. How this phenomenon will affect the music industry, as well as music fans, remains unclear. Collin Kirk: Hello everyone. Welcome to the round table and thanks for joining. First question: What about independent artists has most impacted you as a music fan? How would your experience differ without them? Shaye Graves: A lot of independent artists release their music for free, which means a lot to me. Like Chance the Rapper with his mixtapes. They also put music out more frequently. CK: It seems fair and inspiring that even those that don’t do it for free, like Chicago rapper Cupcakke, get to bask in their royalties at a higher rate. It comes with sacrificing mainstream success most of the time, but Chance is one exception. Amileah Sutliff: Totally – I also think the growth
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and career model of independent artists has, in turn, shaped how we (especially our generation) define both “mainstream success” and an artist’s path to it. It’s like we have greater trust in independent artists to “make it” in their own way, and in turn artists have more control and don’t feel like they have to go a traditional route. And in addition to more royalties, there’s more creative control and risk-taking. Which obviously makes for better art. Cupcakke’s an awesome example of this; there aren’t many labels who would’ve signed her because of her content alone. Logan Rude: Off of what Amileah said, I think the best part of having independent artists is the ability to have more creative control. Without focusing on sales and marketability, being independent lets groups really push the boundaries of music. Genres
become blurred, new sounds emerge – so on and so forth. Experimentation and artistic integrity really thrive with independent artists. Mercy Xiong: I think with the increase in streaming music, there are more independent artists emerging. Instead of having music forced on us (like they do with big artists on the radio), we tend to discover indie artists organically, which makes us more appreciative for the art and quality behind the music. AS: That’s really interesting, Mercy, because a lot of times streaming is framed as bad for independent artists as a whole but especially with bigger services like Spotify. Do y’all think the benefits of streaming services for indie artists outweigh the detriments?
of artists can pull it off? LR: In terms of major artists moving toward independent music, I think it’s most common or likely to expand with already established artists. Kanye gets brought up a lot, but he’s able to take a more independent route because he and other artists have proved they make incredible music. They’ve got leverage to do what they want, when they want. AS: I also think there’s a general distrust of the industry once you’ve been inside of it so long. If you’re fucked over or feel restricted by your label, it seems natural that you’d start your own label if you have the resources. That’s not really always available to newer artists. I think there’s a lot of artist that would want to have total control but can’t afford or aren’t educated on what it takes to make it besides just making art — PR, touring, management, etc. Take Frank Ocean. It’s safe to say he needed Def Jam to get Channel Orange to the level it reached when he was debuting, but stopped trusting them, felt restricted by them, and had the following and resources to do exactly what he wanted by himself.
“Without focusing on sales and marketability, being independent lets groups really push the boundaries of music.”
SG: Well, for one, streaming helps a lot for artist exposure. People hate on automated music recommendations (like Spotify discovery playlists), but I think that’s how a lot of listeners these days find new music.
CK: I think that streaming is definitely important and outweighs the detriment for indie artists. As much as it might suck to lose those hard sales, it’s just not how music works anymore. Having music available on many formats for exposure (as Shaye said) and making money from touring and merchandising seems to be where it’s at for unsigned artists. LR: I think Shaye’s point about artist exposure is really important to keep in mind. While artists may not be making as much on hard sales, they’re attracting bigger audiences with less work to do so. That means more fans that’ll show up for concerts, more fans that’ll buy merch and more fans that’ll buy copies once they are dedicated enough. I think it’s definitely a different route, but it leads to potential for more fans overall. CK: Once-major-label acts like Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails have begun to move to a much more independent approach to music releases. Trent Reznor of NIN started his own label to do so. Will this be more normal in the future? What does it take for artists to be able to do this? What kind
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FROM THE OUTSIDE: adversity as inspiration by savannah mchugh O’Shea Jackson, Dave Mustaine, Kurt Cobain and Stefani Germanotta — four artists whose music and lyrics made them voices of their generations. Each of them turned the adversity they faced at the beginning of their careers into outcries that shaped the music world in new ways. O’Shea Jackson, known by most as Ice Cube, was one of the founding members of California-born foundational hip-hop group N.W.A. As the lyricist, he brought his struggles with violence and the corrupt police force of the late ‘80s to life. His career with N.W.A. was a short one; he left the group after producer Eazy-E refused to pay him for his contributions. He channelled his frustration into inspiration for his debut album, AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted, one of the most defining albums of the ‘90s. He never allowed backlash to deter him from achieving monumental success in music, or later on in television and movies. Rather, he took his hardship and used it to propel himself into the cultural and commercial spotlight. Dave Mustaine didn’t have an easy introduction to the music industry, either. His band Metallica kicked him out of the group just before they released their first album in 1983. Though this initially sent him into a downward spiral, he eventually rebounded by forming the thrash metal band Megadeth, one of the most successful bands of the ‘80s and ‘90s. Megadeth’s inception was influenced heavily by Mustaine’s childhood spent as a Jehovah’s Witness. He took his anger, ironclad ambition and fundamentally different ideas and poured them into a monumental career. Mustaine’s new and different approach to metal drove fans to embrace Megadeth’s technical sound that brought
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intricate melodies to life with powerful lyrics. On Mustaine’s heels came Kurt Cobain, rock music’s spokesman for alienation, who lived a life much shorter than his legacy. Cobain formed Nirvana in the late ‘80s as a small-time act with big ambition. The insecurities and emotional struggles that drove Cobain away from the public eye were often brought to the forefront of his music through unconventional song arrangements and controversial lyrics. Despite only releasing three studio albums before Cobain’s death in 1994, Nirvana remains one of the most influential bands of all time. Then there’s Stefani Germanotta, better known as Lady Gaga. Her path to fame is one of pop music’s greatest success stories. Germanotta worked her way up in the industry from the streets of New York, performing original songs at open mics when she was just 14. She initially aspired to become an actress, not a singer, but never had any success in auditions. She wrote songs anonymously for nearly ten years before making her official debut, and now she’s a household name. From an unemployed actress to the world’s unofficial Queen of Pop, Lady Gaga’s transformation has been both unpredictable and commendable. Each of these voices took their personal struggles, childhood trauma and rejection from the norms of society and turned these obstacles into success. For generations, outsiders like these four have changed the focus of the music world and brought important social issues to light. As this decade begins its inevitable conclusion, we can’t help but wonder who will be next to leave their lasting impression.
hip-hop artist and uw-madison alum crashprez
CAN MADISON CALL HIP-HOP HOME?
by logan rude, photo: morgan winston Madison, Wisconsin is seen by many as a progressive safe haven — a place for acceptance and equality for all, regardless of background. However, the city has a history of blaming an entire genre of music for the actions of a select few people. For the better part of a decade, Madison’s hip-hop community has been fighting to encourage each other despite obstacles in the way. With the Frequency’s multiple temporary bans against hip-hop as a whole and sporadic fights at venues like High Noon Saloon, business owners have had strong opposition to the genre. Most recently, several campus-area bars (Double U, Chaser’s and Wando’s) received backlash for filtering out hundreds of chart-topping hip-hop songs from their music selection. In a city with some of the most severe racial inequalities in the country, it’s likely there are racial motivations behind many of these past incidents. Regardless, the artists still find ways to support each other and push their art forward. Christian Robinson, who raps under the name Rich Robbins, believes the division between businesses and artists has had a net positive outcome on the hip-hop community as a whole. “When you live in a city where your art form is scapegoated as violent, chaotic and malicious, it’s up to the artists to create a space for themselves that proves those opinions dead wrong,” Robinson said in an instant message. “In a way, not having the city’s help has made the scene very tight-knit.”
There is not a single venue in Madison dedicated solely to hip-hop music. The Frequency has served as a hotspot for many artists in the local scene to put on shows in a slightly larger venue. However, there is still a vacuum when it comes to a dedicated space for Madison veterans and newcomers to rely on for their shows. As a result, many artists trying to get into the scene have to stumble into random shows until they find people fully entrenched in the scene. It has a sense of exclusivity and elusiveness that could be a deterrent for new artists. Michael Penn II, who raps as CRASHprez, said that’s in part because Madison is a transitional space for many artists, especially because of UW-Madison’s presence. “To have something like that to engage with, some sort of community space, would be fucking raw,” Penn said. With a constantly shifting community, Penn says it’s up to the transitional people to work with home-grown favorites like Trapo and Ra’Shaun to cultivate a more constructive environment where possible. There’s a lot of work to be done in Madison. Contrary to larger cities like Milwaukee, Minneapolis or Chicago, Madison can’t rely on a permanent population to foster strong relationships with local venues. In a sense, it comes down to collaboration between artists during their brief time here. In the end, Madison overwhelmingly benefits from a sustainable relationship with its hip-hop community. “There’s a lot of opportunity here,” Penn said.
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Public consciousness is an entity whose intentions are formless; a brain whose neurons are people interwoven among each other, their influence as varied as their opinions. A network of nations and cultures and subcultures who contribute, each in their own part, to a global understanding of what is, and what is not, relevant and meaningful to popular society. Artists dwell within this network of individuals; they may find themselves connected by threads of adoration to huge clusters of fans, pulling them in new directions of cultural understanding or being pulled themselves to conform to some other standard. Threads are cut and reformed, groups merge and break apart to form new subcultures and artists fall in and out of popularity as the great and chaotic processes of this global network, fueled by fans and artists and critics alike, reshape the face of popular culture every day. An unfortunate consequence of these organic processes is that they are often unjust. Great artists, those whose work is both beautiful and innovative, are cursed to dwell in obscurity while other, lesser artists succeed. The most tragic of these are those whose lives end before their well-won fame is born. This article is dedicated to three such musicians in the hope that they might be better remembered. Pink Moonlight:
ARTISTS WHO DIED IN OBSCURITY by christian zimonick
Nick Drake’s growing fame comes 40 years too late. He was destitute and unknown when he committed suicide at age 26, but he left behind a three-album canon: Five Leaves Left, Bryter Layter and his masterpiece, Pink Moon. The internal torture Drake must have been feeling is evident from his first album, which ominously flits between mournful and playful sounds. His second album is a major shift in style. Featuring jazzy instrumentation in the form of keys, percussion and saxophone, it’s considerably less folksy, and gains some verve only at the cost of intimacy. Nevertheless, there’s no shortage of emotion here. On the album’s jazziest composition, “Poor Boy,” Drake laments his own insecurities: Oh poor boy So sorry for himself Oh poor boy So worried for his health While Bryter Layter is beautiful, it’s evident that Nick Drake is best without all the frills, as seen on Pink Moon, his desolate, unaccompanied masterpiece. A mere 28 minutes in length, Pink Moon features Drake, his guitar and, on one track, some dubbed piano notes. There is no crutch against which Drake’s songwriting and musicianship can lean on here; gone is the jazziness of his first two albums. Only his supremely bittersweet lyricism and his unique, sorrowful brand of guitar remain. The beauty of Pink Moon is quite overwhelming. It’s so tight and well composed it’s hard to imagine how it came to be so thoroughly forgotten. Nick Drake died in obscurity to an overdose of antidepressants in 1974. His posthumous fame was built, largely, on a Volkswagen commercial, which featured “Pink Moon” to great effect.
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“Great artists, those whose work is both beautiful & innovative, are cursed to dwell in obscurity while other, lesser artists succeed.” Absence: Some artists are forgotten because of chance or circumstances beyond their control. Others are ignored for another reason: Their work is simply too otherworldly to be accepted by the masses. Among these artists is Luciano Cilio, with his 1977 masterpiece, Dialoghi del Presente. Eventually retitled to Dell’Universo Assente, the “Absent Universe” of Luciano Cilio is simultaneously incredibly bleak and incredibly beautiful. Spooky, Comus-esque choral vocals and a delicately fingerpicked guitar eventually resolve themselves to a solemn and tragic-sounding piano on the first track. The stage is set for the sort of lonesome noises which fill the album. On the second and fourth tracks, bizarre and syncopated rhythms back a variety of high, wavering woodwinds and keys. The interlude at the album’s center is like a lullaby; a quiet and delicate display of tenderness nestled between the desolation of the album’s other tracks. The illusion of tension arises near the very end of the final track as a dramatic woodwind makes itself heard, but fades, eventually, into the absent universe with hardly a whimper. The album did not sell upon its initial release. This is not hard to imagine when one considers just how alien the sounds here presented are. Cilio transports the listener into a world where entropy dominates order. A universe where beauty is spread almost too thin to be noticed, but where present rings out loudly and clearly. The contrasting colors of sadness and joy, and of alienness and occasional childlike familiarity, give the whole album a bizarre and ineffable beauty. When Cilio took his own life, still a young man at the age of 33, it was without the broad recognition he was well owed by the innovativeness and sheer beauty of Dialoghi Del Presente.
Here There is No Law: Jackson Carey Frank’s whole existence was an exhibition of life’s cruelty. A complete list of the unlikely horrors he suffered is almost comic in length; it stretches the imagination to accept that someone could suffer so many injustices at the hand of pure chance. At eleven-years-old, a furnace exploded beneath Jackson’s New York elementary school, killing fifteen of his classmates, including his girlfriend. Jackson himself was badly burned and received skin grafts in treatment. This tragedy was later captured by the singer on the song “Marlene,” named after his dead girlfriend. He sings: The world it explodes, as such a high powered load ...To fly, to fly away, was the lesson And though the fire had burned her life out, it left me little more I am a crippled singer, and it evens up the score Surely, such an event accounts for a life’s-worth in suffering. Not so for Frank. His musical life reached its zenith when he recorded his desolate and perfect self-titled album. Released in 1965, Jackson C. Frank is among the finest works by a singer songwriter. It is simultaneously delicate, assertive, beautiful and profoundly depressing. Soft, bluesy lamentations are built from Frank’s soft guitar picking and soulful voice. His words are undeniable. On the cryptic, terrifying “My Name is Carnival,” he sings: Strings of yellow tears drip from black-wired fears in the meadow And their white halos spin with an anger that is thin and turns to sorrow King of all, hear me call, hear my name: Carnival The album received scant attention, selling little in an England and practically nothing in America. His growing depression, which stemmed from the disaster he experienced as a child, was multiplied by the death of his son, and he was institutionalized. Frank then suffered a misdiagnosis of schizophrenia, homelessness, and, as if he truly were cursed, he was blinded in one eye by a stray bullet. He died in near total obscurity at the age of 56. His attempt at a second album in 1975 never made it to wax, so his only musical legacy is a handful of moving songs, and the story of a life which would make anyone question whatever notion of justice they hold.
FALL 2017 /39
FOR THE RECORD FALL 2017 ALBUM REVIEWS Former Vampire Weekend member Rostam Batmanglij is a first generation Iranian immigrant who openly talks about his sexuality on his latest release, Half Light. If that’s not enough for you to listen, let it be known that he Half Light, Rostam produced “Ivy” for Frank Ocean’s 2016 release Blonde, Solange’s “F.U.B.U.” from her 2016 album, A Seat at the Table, and various songs for pop megastar Charli XCX. It’s safe to say that Rostam — one of the only persons of color to break into the overtly white genre of indie rock — has a lot of experience in producing silky smooth, yet breathtakingly grand tracks. Rostam clearly portrays these influences on his first foray into commercial albums by presenting an indie “sugar” pop album that justifies the producer’s influence on the indie landscape in the last decade. Reminiscent of Rostam’s work with Vampire Weekend, he heavily borrows sounds
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from his native roots. He plays around with Middle Eastern flourishes and weaves them perfectly with washedout guitars and even a complex 12-string acoustic guitar pattern on the song “Wood” that innovatively imitates music from Persian society. Even though the album could belong on the Vampire Weekend discography, sonically speaking, what sets the overall sound apart from past Vampire Weekend’s works is the 808-style, auto-tuned vocals. Rostam presents versatility with washed and mumbled. If one were to decipher what Rostam was saying, one would realize that Rostam abstractly talks about topics ranging from one-sided or lost love (“Bike Dream”) to living in Donald Trump’s America (“When”). Every moment of the album is mesmerizing, from the harpsichord opening on “Sumer,” a ballad about depression, to the beautiful, motivational reprise of “Don’t Let It Get To You.” Rostam never uses concrete expositions, but rather he uses the abstract to let listeners imagine a world where these songs live. Rostam invites listeners into slow-moving and self-critical places where he guides listeners into weaving an imaginative reality.
— nimish sarin
Lil Pump is contagiously atrocious. The Florida rapper submerged onto the pop-trap scene after his SoundCloud received millions of views last year. Being associated with other Florida rappers like Kodak Black and Lil Pump, Lil Pump Xxxtentacion, Pump earned steadfast attention with his brass persona and Go-GURT colored dreads. Eskettit! After receiving equal amounts of positive and negative criticism, Lil Pump finally released his self-titled debut mixtape. The hollow output of the bombastic rapper’s project makes him more of a coked-out fetus and less of a visionary. A Mac-Miller-esque twang accompanied with a simple approach to genre-building is certainly appealing, however Lil Pump is simply terrible. Lil Pump falls perfectly into the “party-trap” category, joining the likes of Travis Scott, Lil Uzi Vert and Rae Sremmurd. What distinguishes Pump from these acts is, juxtapositionally, zero distinguishable content. Travis has a meticulous eye for creamy production. Uzi is hellbent with a patented chaotic nature. Rae Sremmurd has Swae Lee. Lil Pump has peanuts for a brain. Sure, the sonic elements of Lil Pump’s music could be used as an archetype for artists who lure at the sound of aggressive melodies, distorted bass and muffled snares – in fact, several production elements on this mixtape work well with Pump’s demeanor, specifically on “Gucci Gang” and “Boss.” Nevertheless, his bleak commentary about wealth, how he treats women and his drug addictions are disgustedly unsettling – just listen to the Smokepurpp-assisted “Smoke My Dope.” Lil Pump does contain star-studded features, including guest verses from Lil Yachty, Rick Ross, Gucci Mane, Chief Keef and 2 Chainz. Unfortunately, they make Pump’s bars seem like nursery rhymes. His potential as a serious artist skirted once he touched a mic, and yet, Pump will always have his connections to some of the industry’s biggest names, making him eternally (and regrettably) relevant.
— daniel winogradoff
Benjamin Clementine is not a conformist. His eye strays from the orthodox to the surreal and finicky. Clementine embodies Bartleby’s “I’d rather not” mantra to separate his work as some thing that superI Tell a Fly, sedes art. The Benjamin Clementine 28-year-old London visionary believes that humans are “bound to fail” without language. On his second album, I Tell a Fly, language purfles decorated ballads of medieval-inspired rock eloquently. Intertwining spoken word with vocal talent, Clementine creates a profound concept album that is holistically avant-garde and aware. At times, I Tell a Fly can appear sonically-monolithic, as Clementine hammers familiar strings and percussion on this self-produced project. Whether this was intentional or not, it hinders the project’s potential. Nevertheless, the strong writing and lyricism covers most of this small hole. The project starts with “Farewell Sonata,” a hypnotic adventure that stages the theme of alienation. Malfunctioned reverb spreads a thirty second voiceover of the French term “c’est la vie,” which translates to “it is the life.” Soon after, intimate piano progressions paint the song’s canvas before Clementine comes back with the words “Farewell Alien” over electricized harpsichords and cocky drums. Two tracks later on “Better Sorry Than a Safe,” his storytelling is at some of its most refined. “A less safe place is no safe place at all,” he claims. “Behind every lion there lays a lazy dragonfly.” This punctual writing heralds space for cornerstone and pre-released single “Phantom of Aleppoville.” Changes in rhythm encrust the edges of this track, with Clementine ruminating about Syria, bullies and forgiveness. “Ode From Joyce” and “By the Ports of Europe” features a soulful caricature and emphases on drum patterns. On the album’s finale, “Ave Dreamer,” Clementine reiterates the idea of alienation and how perseverance should be the priority of the ostracized.
— daniel winogradoff FALL 2017 /41
Wisdom and pain permeate The OOZ like cigarette smoke in a 1950s jazz club. King Krule’s second album, released after a four-year hiatus, brings the hallmarks from 2013’s 6 Feet Beneath the MoonThe OOZ, King Krule to new levels of intimacy. Tainted by love and loneliness, The OOZ is King Krule at his most vulnerable. He spends the duration of the album outfitted with crashing drum patterns, sporadic keys, lush guitar riffs and saxophone solos. The OOZ portrays a soundscape that is lavish, yet uniquely subdued and raw, like the rainforests of the Pacific Northwest: pure isolation. King Krule explores the ins and outs of relationships. At times, Krule abandons the tracks to let the listener sit and think for themselves, giving his lamentations room to breathe. As expected, The OOZ doesn’t rely on influences from a single genre, nor does it fit a specific categorization. Jazz, hip-hop, alt-rock and all leave their mark on King Krule’s second album. He rapsings on the album opener “Biscuit Town,” croons on “Lonely Blue” and lets the instrumentals speak for him on “Sublunary.” Spectacular storytelling comes through on “Dum Surfer” where Krule tells the story of a night spent at a local pub ultimately resulting in car crashes and the expulsion of that night’s meal. The vocals on “Vidual” bounce up and down like a car with poor suspension on a backcountry road.
Step 1: Find Yumi Zouma’s new album Willowbank. Step 2: Press play. Step 3: Begin uncontrollable foot tapping. Electropop group Yumi Zouma wastes no time on their new album. All the introducWillowbank, tion needs is one Yumi Zouma snare hit before the irresistibly smooth melody of “Depths (Pt. 1)” takes over. In case your ankle wasn’t sore after the workout it got during the opening track, the follow-up tracks “Persephone” and “December” keep the groove going. When Yumi Zouma play their funky bass lines underneath airy synths, you don’t have a choice but to dance. But then Willowbank does the worst possible thing: It slows down. This is not to say that Yumi Zouma can’t make a good slow song, but coming in with an energetic intro, the slow songs sound out of place. “Half Hour” sounds like a song The xx would make if they had a less compelling vocalist, and “Gabriel” is a beautiful song in the wrong place in the album, completely killing off the slim remaining momentum. By the time the end of the album comes around, Willowbank starts to blend into melancholic monotony. The freshness from the beginning is gone and what’s left is a series of tracks that sound like they should make you dance but just don’t. Tracks like “A Memory” seem bouncy and exciting at first, but soon sound like a cover of an old Crystal Castles song that no one asked for.
While each individual track stands out on its own, The OOZ’s strongest attribute is its coherence. Transitions with added vocal effects create seamless ambience that sounds like it came from outside, from somewhere unknown. King Krule’s songs carry incredible emotional weight. Maybe it’s because his songwriting is concise and expressive. Maybe it’s because his deep, brooding voice carries so much power. Either way, his second album is one that should not be ignored.
Willowbank still represents a huge improvement from their debut album Yoncalla. When they stick to what they’re good at, Yumi Zouma can deliver some truly catchy tracks. It will be worth keeping an eye on this band to see if they can create the album that their potential longs for.
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— logan rude
— mitchell rose
Many had high hopes for The Killer’s fifth studio album, the recently released Wonderful Wonderful. Coming off their 2013 compilation release, Direct Hits, the Las Vegas band released a pair of singles in “The Wonderful Wonderful, Man” and “Run for The Killers Cover.” The strong coupling drew much hype around the album, but many were saddened by the drastic difference between the singles and the rest of the album, which proved to be less than stellar. A majority of the songs on Wonderful Wonderful are slow and mundane. If that is the kind of Killer’s music you prefer, then this is the album for you. However, if you fell in love with the band from mega-hits like “Mr. Brightside” and “When You Were Young,” then you will be quite disappointed by this project. The opening title track is one of the album’s few standouts. “Wonderful Wonderful” has a driving bass line that appeals to all of the bass enthusiasts out there. “Tyson vs Douglas” deviates from the slow-tempo songs, as it provides a noticeable change of pace, calling to the breakneck rhythm of the boxing fight. In addition, their golden music seems more soulful, as well as emotional on this release. This project is more of a playlist of tunes to study to than a party-hopper that everyone will be singing to. It’s been 15 years since their debut album, but this is certainly a step towards maintaining their music legacy. While this album appears to not be many listeners’ favorites, we should still recognize the classiness they bring to the table and any hope for any future albums.
— staci conocchioli
It was to the pleasure of thousands of fans when LCD Soundsystem announced their reunion and planned to release a new album after 2010’s This Is Happening. The product of their revival is American Dream, a pristine, troubled grouping of tracks.
American Dream, LCD Soundsystem
Based on the title, it seems obvious what the album would entail, but the concept goes backstage of the sociopolitical turmoil in the United States and segues the internal conflict of a man living inside the twisted reality of our status quo, rarely deviating unsubtly into larger concepts. A glittering, astonishing “oh baby” opens the project. The song is brimmed with a nostalgic, uplifting chord progression. Immediately thereafter, the tone of the album whiplashes into a middling purgatory – an underlying layer of tortured chaos. The emptiness of “change yr mind” details a melancholy letdown of aging and dreams of youth. The centerpiece of the album is the intense, agonizing and, at times, terrifying “how do you sleep?,” a melodramatic recount of a destroyed friendship. The nine-minute track is perhaps the most outspoken, emotional and action-packed song the group has released to date. The album’s second half moves into socio-political critique as one might have expected, with the antsy “tonite” dismembering the pop radio idealism of youth and sex that America superimposes, accompanied by the angst-fueled “call the police.” Simply put, American Dream is an album of many influences and life experiences that could be said to mirror the tumultuous tone of America in 2017. But the album goes deeper than that. It passes a recount of experience and an accompaniment of moments of lyrical genius and respectable influences, into a world of detailed, erratic frustrations and intensely demonstrated emotions. It’s a reflection of a man’s troubled headspace in the troubled headspace that is America.
— collin kirk FALL 2017 /43
Ash, the newest album from artpop duo Ibeyi, offers a variety of sounds. Spartan beats are typical of Ibeyi, which keep time without taking anything away from the vocals of sisters Lisa-Kaindé and Naomi Diaz, Ash, Ibeyi of whom Ibeyi is composed. These beats are certainly present on Ash, but have been slightly fleshed out with more layers and sampled vocals. It’s difficult to label the sound that Ibeyi puts out other than “spartan,” because there is little to grasp. The album’s centerpiece, “Transmission / Michaelion” is its most enjoyable, but also breaks most from the rest of the album. It features nice piano chords and vocal harmonies that give the song bite, but these elements are not present on other songs. The electronic beats sound cheap and unfinished to be rescued by either the stellar singing of the Diaz sisters or the interesting Yoruban and Afro-Cuban elements that dot the songs. That isn’t to say that Ash is a bad album, though. Ash is far from sonic abhorrence. Most songs are poppy and bright. Occasional Afro-Cuban instrumentation appears, as does a variety of languages. As vocalists the Diaz sisters are undeniable, but one must question if the scarcity of instrumental sounds behooves the clarity of their voices, or if the combination feels a little too sanitized. In short order, the most common pairing of very sparse beats plus very clear and isolated vocals gets tired.
What happens when you take an entire musical tradition full of history and little idiosyncrasies and, seeking mass appeal, snip off anything that makes it special? Imagine taking folk, Americana and country ― traWhen Was the Last Time, ditions wrought by Darius Rucker the likes of Woody Guthrie, Earl Scruggs and Willie Nelson ― and stripping away everything unique about them. What are you left with? Darius Rucker. Darius Rucker is far from the worst thing to emerge from modern country music. That honor probably belongs to Florida-Georgia Line or one of the thousand other “bro country” acts. Rucker doesn’t produce “bro country,” but his crime is just as offensive. Rather than pandering directly to the most basic of country music fans, Rucker creates the illusion of the “authentic country man.” His wholesome, original songs must be leagues ahead of most pop-country drivel, right? Wrong. David Allen Coe once laid out all the elements of the “perfect country and western song”; it involves “trains, trucks, and gettin’ drunk.” With that in mind, let’s examine how thoroughly Rucker nails the common clichés. Does he talk about his truck? Yes. In the first 20 words of the album, in fact. What about trains? Not trains, per se, but tracks are mentioned, so we’ll count that too. Gettin’ drunk? Oh yeah, “Count the Beers” covers that one. The cherry on top is Rucker’s inclusion of the more modern (and bizarrely ubiquitous) country obsession with blue jeans.
Ash’s greatest accomplishment is its message on race and gender, and on these, no criticism can be levied. It feels, though, that the album’s good ideas are spread too thin; the delightful acoustic sounds of cajón and batá are lost in a sea of generic electronic drums. Ash is worth listening to, especially if the ideas it presents interest you, but as a sonic entity, it leaves something to be desired.
As far as instrumentation goes, it’s predictably overproduced. The chorus on “Bring it On” sounds like a Christian-rock song. “Count the Beers” starts out with a promising blues-guitar wail but quickly resolves, like the rest of the album, into a cookie cutter country jam. The album does have one positive: Rucker’s voice itself is a pristine baritone. The guy can really sing, so why doesn’t he sing something better than the same regurgitations about trucks and jeans and beers?
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— christian zimonick
— christian zimonick
CONCERT GALLERY SPREAD ONE NOAH KAHAN AMOS LEE OPEN MIKE EAGLE
cloe see cameron smith mitchell rose
SPREAD TWO HALF WAIF DRAM GOLDLINK
amileah sutliff ella guo deeba abrishamchi
SPREAD THREE COIN THE STRUMBELLAS JULIEN BAKER
morgan winston cloe see amileah sutliff
SPREAD FOUR FOSTER THE PEOPLE MT. JOY MODEST MOUSE
morgan winston morgan winston matt weinberger
JOAN HOOPS POST ANIMAL
morgan winston morgan winston morgan winston
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THE GRIT ISSUE. 56 / EMMIE
The Grit Issue