“A Scrupulous Cultural Ignorance” – A Recap of The 2011 PRF BBQ Auktoberfyst

This piece originally appeared in DocAwk’s own blog, Martian Dance Invasion!.

Gothamist: “It just seems from my perspective that there aren’t many bands that are making dark or ugly music anymore.”

Steve Albini: “Well, it sort of depends on the idiom really. There’s a lot of sort of grungy metal and punk stuff where every single band is trying to make aggressive music.”

Gothamist: “Yeah, I guess I’m referring more to the…”

Steve Albini: “Bands that play at the clubs you go to.”

Steve Albini is at his quotable best in this interview over at The Gothamist blog, in which he shares his always smirk-inducing opinions on New York City, the asinine Odd Future dustup (“It was a message board thread about Odd Future and I happened to have an anecdote about them so I share my anecdote and what passes for Journalism these days is repeating things that other people link to you on Twitter so that’s what it boils down to”), and his interactions with mainstream popular music:

I’m an exceptionally lucky man in that I’ve never heard a note of Lady Gaga’s music and you could sit her on my lap and I wouldn’t recognize her. I know that she’s a cultural force at the moment but I’m quite satisfied in having dodged that one. It’s like a truck drove by spraying shit from a nozzle over the entire neighborhood and I happened to be under an awning. You know?

What it boils down to is that I’ve maintained a scrupulous cultural ignorance since about 1985 when I realized that what’s going on out there in the regular world means nothing to me. If it’s not being done by people I can identify with in some way or people that say something that punches through the distance between me and them and makes me pay attention to it. If it’s not that, if I don’t find it rewarding then I’m not going to spend any energy trying to think about it.

I oft times envy Albini’s ability to screen out the portions of the music world he finds undesirable. While i tend to think of myself as at my most entertaining when i’m yelling acerbic nonsense about Stuff That Sucks, there’s definitely a generous slice of myself that gets up in arms about that shit because of some deep unresolved issue with how little validation the stuff i like (and maybe, by extension, my own fragile ego) gets outside of my own keyboard. Obviously Albini hasn’t ever had that issue, or if he has, he’s long come to terms with it (helped, i’m sure, by being successful in a creative field that he loves on his own terms).

Thankfully for dumb, attention-hungry fucks like myself, the PRFBBQ Auktoberfyst served this weekend as a reminder that awesome music doesn’t need to be validated by any kind of mass media approval system to be, well, awesome. For three days, an online community of music enthusiasts convened in the meat world to share their creations with each other, bereft of any but the most dismissive, patronizing press blurbs promoting the gathering. Three days of music produced and consumed by a close-knit group of folks who would be thrilled if you stopped by too, but won’t be losing any sleep because you didn’t.

Ironically, the three-day lineup (beginning last Thursday at Quenchers saloon on Fullerton and Western and continuing on Friday and Saturday at Klas restaurant in Cicero) was full of something for nearly everybody, which is not how those who prefer to dismiss the EA Forum folk prefer to think of a group of “Albini-worshippers.” All aluminum guitars and abrasive, Jesus Lizard and Shellac-ripoff noise rock, right? Well, there was plenty of that, to be sure, but not in the quantities online commenters might expect.

I unfortunately missed Thursday’s show (my bandmates are not as courteously unemployed as i), but Friday’s was positively stacked. PRF favorites Bottomless Pit, the earthy, soulful ensemble featuring ex-Silkworms Andy Cohen and Tim Midgett, debuted six new songs of the same measured, thoughtful, atmospheric rock that still evokes fond memories of Silkworm and drummer Chris Manfrin’s former outfit Seam. Whales followed with a set of dreamy indie pop that calls to mind infectious 90s standouts like Velocity Girl and Versus with a little shoegazer love thrown in the mix.

But Friday’s clear standouts were the phenomenal Lines and Terminals and Maple Stave. L&T should be a well-known name in Milwaukee by now, as they’ve blessed the stages and floors of the Cactus Club, Borg Ward, and Circle A more than regularly. Their experimental, mostly instrumental approach has evolved over the the last year or so, dropping most of the guitars in exchange for more analog synth licks and photo-theremin squeals. The set was full of chewy synthetic bass fuzz, bright organ stabs and escalating, driving riffs that pulsed and built to dramatic, powerful crests. Post-set, one show-goer remarked that Lines and Terminals need to work out a deal to score the next Michael Mann cop drama. Some entertainment lawyer needs to make that happen with a quickness as that idea is genius.

And Maple Stave…ok, here are some aluminum guitar, Touch & Go Records-worshipping noise-rock nerds, but if there’s anyone doing it better right now, please sendspace me their records because i’ll scream to the heavens about their genius. Evan Rowe is one of those drummers (and one of several that played over the weekend) that i, as a fellow percussionist, am borderline intimidated to play in front of. He’s a rare talent, and he anchors a loud, scratchy, heavy-as-shit BEAST of a rock machine. Seeing them play is always a gift.

Saturday’s lineup continued the nonstop amazeballs: The Viper & His Famous Orchestra brought old-timey fun to the proceedings, all dandy appearances and suitcase percussion and trombone-flavored ragtime; St. Louis’ Spelling Bee dazzled with noisy-experimental guitar shredding and drum wizardry; the Sinking Suns rattled the Klas chandeliers with earth-moving pigfuck that would have made fellow Madisonians Killdozer proud; Begin By Gathering Supplies continued their ascent into shoegazey Britpop royalty, with the emphasis on the pop–the addition of the Heavy Bombers’ Brent Mix on baritone sax adding yet another layer to the ever-expanding cloud of sensuality that BBGS envelops you in, as inviting as the sexy new neighbor with the bottle of wine, a joint, and cable TV that just happens to need fixing.

For our part, we tried to make things memorable by setting up our gear so that instead of facing into the room, we faced out the large bay windows behind the stage and into the beer garden (directly following Spelling Bee, we had no choice but to lean on gimmickry). We kicked everyone out of the main room and sent them outside (our soundman, Rich of the venerable Bear Claw, announced that all non-band members had to get the fuck out of the “backstage area” and get in front of the stage), kicking into “Paradise By the Paulding Light” with panes of glass separating us from the crowd, like a rock and roll zoo exhibit. After one song that featured Yale losing his balance and plowing into the guitar amp he was using, the powers that be at Klas demanded we turn back around, as people were keeping the door between beer garden and inside open, blasting the hapless restaurant patrons as a result. Hey, whatever, we at least got video.

But once again, the PRF saved the best for last, as Latest Flame beasts Trophy Wives pummeled the throng with their usual southern-fried combination of stoner-rock sounds and northwestern post-punk riffs. TWives bassist Tony Ash brought along his fellow miscreants in Louisville band Nixon, who dispensed with the “post-” and blasted away on some no-bullshit, blistering punk ‘n’ roll, delivering a Kentucky ass-kicking Quadrajets style with Zeke’s tempos, anchored by the umpteenth brain-busting drummer in attendance. And the PRF finally got their first live taste of Milwaukee’s best rock band, Call Me Lightning, who left everyone agog.

It was evident to anyone who showed up that there was some serious communing going on (held together not only by the music, but by the amazing sausages being grilled in the beer garden, courtesy Mr. Albini), and i cannot overemphasize the importance of what’s happening here. A music scene, a community, built up and self-sustained by like-minded people that create for the sake of creating, and for sharing those creations with their peers. No, it’s not being documented by anyone outside the group, and that could be misconstrued as insularity, but make no mistake–it’s not like anyone from Spelling Bee or Call Me Lightning are even registered on the forum, if you get my drift.

The community, and what that community has accomplished here, is its own reward, and while i would love to see my friends get the recognition they deserve, i’m sure i could benefit from the words of the guy whose studio brought us all together, and embrace the benefits of keeping “scrupulously ignorant” of what the rest of our culture deigns to declare as relevant.

That being said, i’ll still be writing stuff like this and pleading my case, and if just a handful of people outside the circle manage to discover Maple Stave, i will feel like i’ve done my part to contribute.

Postscript: all videos in this post were shot and edited by Caffeinated Recordings, the unofficial documentarians of all things PRF. All videos are from past events, but video from this year’s Auktoberfyst is slowly making its way to their YouTube channel, so keep checking back there for amazing footage of every band i mentioned and more.