The Union Forever | It’s Beeple!


I went back to Madison for the night last Thursday to see a show at my drawing teacher Kendra’s new venue, the Project Lodge. She opened the venue with her boyfriend and fellow Portland, Oregon transplant, Chris. Both people are outstanding, so it’s no surprise that the venue seems to be doing well in its infancy. This particular show was of special interest to me because it was curated by my friend and fellow Madison Pop Fest collaborator, Kyle Pfister. His site, JustSayinIsAll, is a non-traditional music blog that juxtaposes various forms of art to create something completely original. He arranged for local Madison dabbler Icarus Himself to open for Seattle’s Say Hi. Another local favorite of mine, Vid Libert, was on hand to do the sound, while local artist Melanie Kehoss’ work pickled the walls. An overall beautiful night for community-based arts.

I was prepared to hang with some friends and see a great rock show, but there was an element I was not expecting: Beeple. Beeple is Mike Winkelmann, a member of the Milwaukee-based arts collective, donebestdone. He is a visual artist that relies heavily on video, graphics and illustrations to create a mixtape of modern stimuli that took its place in the gallery atmosphere of The Project Lodge.

beeple: IV.6 [YouTube]

Mike spent the entire evening set up on the side of the stage projecting images onto the wall adjacent to the stage. At one point during Icarus Himself’s set, I caught Icarus staring at the wall and the images that Beeple was projecting. I figured because most of the audience was doing the same he felt there was no point fighting it and joined in. To the victor go the spoils, no?

The most intriguing images were those that reminded me of the Velvet Underground’s EPI shows with Warhol or even some recent Sonic Youth shows supporting their Rather Ripped release. Beeple filmed the sound checks and projected these images on the wall while Icarus played, virtually eliminating any facades the singer kept.

I have seen Icarus Himself’s Nick Whetro with his other fascination, National Beekeepers Society, and I can say somewhat certainly that he is usually a very open performer emotionally. With this comes the insecurity that occurs when you put everything you have into a song and then when it’s over you realize that the drunken crowd is just getting drunker and not listening. Not Nick’s fault, just the trappings of being an independent musician, and it certainly is not a semi-tragedy reserved solely for Nick. I saw Andrew Bird at the same café in Madison I’ve seen NBS perform at in which no one paid any attention. The shames of an unacknowledged love, I guess.

So, when he was filmed without his hat, just warming up, it was an interesting composition being played out live. I focused on the unfiltered man without a hat five feet away from the completely put together artist. The differences were slight and only observable from a close reading, but it was that much more layered. There was no visual aspect; it was another layer. Yes, the more layers the more warmth or whatever. It was a bit spontaneous and a bit simple, but it added an unexpected element to the whole mix.

Then, for Say Hi’s set, Beeple filmed the audience during the set-break while everyone chatted and checked out the artwork on the walls. People had a few BYO drinks and smiles were all around. When the lights dimmed and Say Hi came on, the images projected were of the sound check like before, but Beeple also added the images of the crowd. It involved an unassuming peoples in the concert they had paid six dollars to be a part of. I mean, how else do you involve an audience without it being tacky? The singer of an indie rock band would never lower the microphone for a fan to sing a verse or, more accurately, no indie rock audience member would ever consider indulging in the spotlight. That would interfere with their persona.

No can do there, so for Beeple to involve the audience without letting them embarrass themselves was refreshing. Too often visual artists at concerts or live events try to exploit the stereotypes of the particular constituency. No montage is complete without referencing the hippies at Bonnaroo or over-grateful actors at the Oscars, right?

So when you throw expectations out the door and just let the audience be, you get moments like me drunkenly laughing at someone who was projected onto the wall without even knowing it. A missed opportunity to become famous for a brief second because they were too busy concentrating on the art at hand. That was a beautiful moment, indeed.

I guess I chose to address this in the Union Forever because it brings to light the way that film (in this case video) and music have to interact as two complimenting arts. There is no room for the cultural associations made with shows like Gossip Girl and The OC or even with some of the soundtracks discussed earlier. It is too easy for someone to expand their audience by taking two seemingly cool things and pressing them together. All you get is two pressed together things. Leave the f***ing turkey off my BLT!

I know that the Project Lodge will be a safe place for collaboration and the arts in general because Kendra and Chris are good people that know what they are doing. As long as they continue to outsource help to the community and take a deep breath when dealing with the city of Madison, they will be fine. It’s about time that someone made some improvements in the music scene of the city of my memories.

A short narrative from Beeple