Artist Spotlight: Ballstomper, Lifes


A stacked bill occurred at the Riverwest joint Quarters on Sunday night, drawing a solid and enthusiastic crowd. Hardcore punk band Ballstomper, Atlanta black metal band Malevich, Iowa grindcore band Closet Witch, and powerviolence duo LIFES all gave stellar performances.

Ballstomper consists of vocalist Jesse Vile, bassist Cora Bequeaith, and drum machinist Cyborg Mary. Formed this past February and primarily centered in Riverwest, the three-piece has brought an unapologetic, confrontational approach to punk music with an emphasis on queer liberation and anarchism.

“Mary knows a lot about cool technical stuff and I’ve been in a band with a drum machine before, so I was like “fuck yeah let’s do it.” It’s less stuff to carry too,” Vile said.

Vile came up with the band’s name.

“I was thinking something to do with chastity or BDSM-specific phrases, and when I said “Ballstomper” everyone was like “yeahhhh.” We also thought of “Heterophobe” but Ballstomper was too good.”

“Jesse was on this whole cock-and-ball torture kick at the time,” Mary said. “We were throwing names back and forth and it turns out there already is a band called CBT…it’s some porno-grind band from Germany.”

They recorded two songs that are available on Bandcamp, “No Free Love / Clocked.” Vile gives a bit of backstory.

“I wrote the lyrics for “No Free Love” about someone who is extremely predatory to me and tried to use weird hippie bullshit language to justify having sex with a teenager. People in the city are divided about it, but he’s a piece of shit…I did not have sex with this man but he tried. “Clocked” is about when someone can notice you’re trans and act shitty about it.”

“I came up with the idea for “Clocked” when I was drunk at a show at Riverwest Public House,” Bequeaith added. “I had an experience that is unfortunately not that uncommon, but a guy was clearly interested in me and was hitting on me…then he realized I was trans and was super grossed out by it and stayed the fuck away from me for the rest of the night.”

The band is working on their debut project.

“We’re in the first stages of recording a five-song EP,” Bequeaith explained. “We’re doing that all in-house at my home studio. We just got started this week laying down the first of the bass parts, but I’m really excited. We’re definitely taking a little bit more time and care than with the demo, so hopefully it’ll sound a little better.”

“We got our friend from Chicago to do the album art and it’s super sick,” Vile added.

The band speaks on what they hope to see more of in the scene in terms of safety and accountability.

“In punk scenes and radical scenes or any allegedly subversive group of people, I think that we should hold restorative justice and accountability processes so that when people do hurt each other in serious ways, it doesn’t have to be a huge fiasco,” Vile said. “People can heal and grow from it and not continue to do the things they were doing, and I think that there’s always this tension because people say you can’t have accountability if you deny you did it, and that seems to be the case. I have been going to punk shows since I was in high school and I’ve always dealt with bullshit and so have all my friends that aren’t cishet white guys. It should be better for us.”

“I would really just like to see more bands, specifically hardcore punk bands, coming up in Milwaukee who have queer/trans members and are focused on our life perspectives,” Mary said. “We might see that happening…stay tuned.”

“I have been overall pretty impressed,” Bequeaith said. “I’ve lived in a few different places and coming to Milwaukee, what really struck me is that while there is definitely a lot of scene-guy bullshit happening here as there is everywhere, there are a lot of people that care about making sure their friends are safe and that shows are welcoming spaces for all sorts of people. There’s certainly a lot more that can be done to improve, but there’s a lot of folks that take that very seriously and it’s a very heartening thing to see.”

Ballstomper hope to have a benefit show early next year for Chrystul Kizer of Kenosha, who is incarcerated for acting in self-defense at the age of fifteen.

LIFES are a two-piece band consists of vocalist/bassist Dave Rudnik and vocalist/drummer Zach Holochost. They are both dads who believe the world is in trouble, and make music about their anxieties. The band formed in 2013.

“It’s stress relief,” Rudnik said about their project. “We’re really focused on our families and this keeps us connected with something that’s meant a ton to us for our whole lives. We’ve both been playing in bands since we were young and it would be really easy if we weren’t actively playing music to lose touch with what else is going on in the city. This gives us a good excuse to be out every now and then.”

The band released an eighteen-track album “Treading Water” in June, which they recorded with Shane Hochstetler of Howl Street Recordings.

“It took about four years,” Rudnik said. “Both of our wives were pregnant and we had written about half the record – we knew we weren’t gonna be doing anything for awhile. We demoed a bunch of the songs so we wouldn’t forget them.”

“We took a summer off and then eventually got back into it,” Holochost said. “We started playing shows again and then decided we’d set a date to record, and then that pushed us to write more songs where we felt like it was a full-length worth of stuff. We needed to go back and do vocals a couple times and then all the noise and mixing. From when we started the drums and bass tracks it took about a year to get everything mixed and sequenced.”

The boys are going on tour in Germany in less than two weeks.

“This is the first thing I’d consider a tour,” Rudnik said. “We’ve done weekends here and there.”

“We usually pick a city we can get to in a weekend and then we see what’s in between and we book around that,” Holochost explained. “That’s what we’ve been doing for many years just so that we can get home after the weekend to get our kids to school. So my work sometimes makes me go to conferences and about once or twice a year I go somewhere and this year they’re sending me out to Germany. As soon as I told Dave that night he was emailing places setting up shows.”

“A handful of our records have come out on European labels so we had some connections already,” Rudnik added. “I had gone over there about twenty years ago and some of those people are still involved in music.”

The band is currently not working on any new material.

“It took four years to write all these songs so now we wanna play them live,” Holochost said. “In the last couple months, though, we have gotten together to practice occasionally where we have ideas, but then they get lost in time and space. We’re just practicing for these shows.”

Lifes are also opening for Nile and Terrorizer this coming Thursday at Turner Hall.

“It’s crazy we’re playing that too,” Rudnik laughed. “We’ve got enough songs to keep us busy for now.”

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