Artist Spotlight: *1996*, Genau, Kendra Plex
A day-long showcase of indie and experimental music took place at Cactus Club Saturday, bringing out waves of crowds throughout. Put together by Ryan King of CRLSS (who also performed), artists/bands featured included *1996*, Genau, Vanity Plates, Kendra Plex, Beach Burial, Large Print, Snag, Haunter, and Apollo Vermouth. The first five shows took place during the afternoon and the remaining five played at night.
*1996* is the solo dream pop project of Nicky Abel. They do a mix of acoustic and electronic ballads that regularly involved Nicky sitting on the edge of stage or walking out into the crowd. The project is about four years old and has one single, “Bleach,” out on Bandcamp.
“At the core of it, (*1996*) was traditionally a place for me to put songs that didn’t fit in with a band I was in,” Abel said. “I like the way the word and asterisks look on the page. I was actually thinking about that Daniel Johnston album “1990” and I always thought it was an interesting idea. “Bleach” was me kind of having a public breakdown (laughs). Up until that point, all my solo stuff had been acoustic while playing in a basement, or me in loud screaming punk bands also in a basement. “Bleach” was my first concerted effort to show people that I could operate outside of that heart-on-your-sleeve, whiny, over-emotive punk or acoustic music.”
They talk about what they are currently working on.
“I have two other projects that I work on with other people, and then I have this music, which I work on by myself. I have some stuff I’d like to release in the next couple months but I overthink while trying to make it sound really good, so I’ll get hung up on little things that don’t matter. It could come out in a week, or it could come out in a year. I’ve been trying to write more honestly about my actual day-to-day life and trying to look for meaning in mundane situations versus trying to come up with over-indulgent stories. The more hyper-specific you are with yourself, the more people can relate to it. A lot of people do feel those micro-feelings that you think no one else could possibly feel or think.”
*1996* was supposed to play SXSW, which got cancelled due to coronavirus.
Genau is a post-punk/shoegaze duo consisting of vocalist/guitarist Chris Belkofer and bassist Erik Gosnell. They play against tracked drums and bring emotive, gothic textures that hearken back to the late 80’s and early 90’s. They have been playing together since 2013 and their name means “precisely” in German.
“We met off Craigslist,” Belkofer said. “Erik sent me some files and I sent him some back. He liked a lot of the same bands I like and we went from there.”
“I was playing in a different band and we were looking for a singer,” Gosnell explained. “Chris sent an ad out and we originally wanted him to be our singer, so we contacted him and everything went great. Then that band dissolved but Chris and I kept playing together.”
“We were a trio at first with Dan from SleeperSound,” Belkofer added.
Their last EP “Too Much” came out in September 2018. They discuss what they have been working on since.
“I love EPs, but I think next we’re gonna release a full-length,” Gosnell said. “Four to five songs and less than thirty minutes is perfect for me. Chris has the right idea though…at this point it’s probably a good idea to pack more in there.”
“I write a lot about anxiety and dread,” Belkofer said. “It’s not the happiest stuff. I do like happy music with sad lyrics, but we make sad music with sad lyrics (laughs). I think the Midwest is interesting because there’s a certain kind of life here but also a certain bleakness. It’s more about imagery than a story, usually.”
“What Chris does well with the lyrics is how they’ll say something maybe he didn’t intend,” Gosnell added. “They’re very open to interpretation, which I think is ideal. We have so much material…a lot of unrecorded things. We’ve fortunately never had the issue of coming up with new stuff; it’s really about selecting what’s best.”
Kendra Plex (formerly Kendra Amalie) is an experimental electronic artist who works extensively with fantasia-laced improvisation. She moved to Milwaukee five years ago.
“At first when I lived here it was really hard to get a show or gig anywhere for some reason. Around three years ago I was able to break in. I was in Chicago before that for about eight years but I’m from DC originally.”
She dropped her debut album “Intuition” last September.
“I did the recording at home; my partner (Sam Cook), Victoria Robison (my drummer) and I recorded in our large shed. I had these songs written for a long time and I’ve had so many versions of them. When I had the potential offer to release this record I was excited to get the songs in their final incarnation. First we did a rough version of the song altogether, and then we went back and everybody redid their parts, and then we did overdubs. Once everything was recorded, arranged, and mixed, I sent them to my friend Brian in Chicago and he did the final mix. There’s a couple things on there that were improv – one song is called “Improvisation for Mark Hollis” and then the track at the end is a cinematic blob of sound that tells a story based on overdubbing a bunch of sounds in a way, and it became a conceptual composition.”
Plex explains why she chose the word “Intuition” for the record’s title.
“I kind of lean towards meta-physical and New Age beliefs and I’m into far-out philosophies. Those ideas are kind of integrated into music, but I wanted to approach those things in a more simple way. I didn’t want to over-intellectualize the concept, so “Intuition” is the most basic thing we can understand as a meta-physical tool.”
She just completed a southern tour to Texas and back in January.
“It was great; I knew it’d be a lot of long drives but I was excited to take pictures and videos of the desert as reference for my visual art. There were some places I had always wanted to go to like Marfa and we played a lot of cool DIY venues and galleries. There were like six dogs at every show…sometimes more dogs than people. It was a relaxed vibe and was nice to get some sun, and I’m pretty inspired by the surrealist desert landscape. It was nice to stare out the window, play music, and meeting people.”
Kendra Plex has a track called coming out soon on a Milwaukee electronic music compilation. She is also working on her next record, which she says is more rock-oriented.