ARTIST SPOTLIGHTS: Nalani, World in Action, YMN

Cactus Club hosted a benefit on Thursday night for the Palestine Red Crescent Society, an organization currently bringing urgent medical and humanitarian supplies to Gaza. The event was a joint effort between the venue and local group Milwaukee 4 Palestine, raising over $3,000 for the cause. Local acts Nalani, World in Action, Standstill and YMN all performed, packing the club with folks in solidarity.

Nalani is a pop artist who incorporates singer-songwriter and R&B sensibilities, utilizing both guitar and electronic production. They began making music about a year ago, as they explain. “I’ve been singing and playing instruments my whole life and there was a very deep appreciation for music in my house growing up. Once I turned 18 I realized I wanted to write a song and I had a friend who produced and recorded it, but then life kind of just happened after that. I had a huge shift in my life where a lot of things changed all at once, and it came to me that I needed to start making music more seriously.”

Since then, Nalani has attracted a circle of fellow artists who inspire and push them to create, adding, “My best friend Bonnie has been one of my biggest supporters; they produce music for me and a lot of others in the city.”

Some of Nalani’s biggest influences are Beyonce, Ravyn Lenae and KIRBY as well as local artists such as Vae, Kill.Dawn, Khal!l, Tru West and Sunny Lou. Thursday was only their second show; their first was at Black Cat Alley in early October. “It was really amazing,” they reflect on their debut. “I felt so supported and loved and embraced. There were friends there singing along to my songs and that was such a euphoric experience for me to have people know my music. I don’t know if I’ll ever get used to that feeling.”

They began releasing singles over the summer, leading up to debut EP “To Love Is To Grieve” dropped at the end of August. Sharing some background, Nalani says, “I’ve been doing a lot of grief work this past year and that’s what I think prompted me to write this music; I needed to put all my feelings somewhere outside of myself. I didn’t have the title picked out for a while, but I decided on it because I feel it’s been a consistent theme in my life, and my music is a lot about yearning for love but also the fear of receiving it and not knowing how to…and being more comfortable with grief than love. I do all my recording with Sunny Lou; he makes it a really safe space for people to come in and bear their heart.”

Nalani has a new single coming out on Wednesday and then another on Saturday. They are working on a few collaborations plus their second EP is already in the works, so stay tuned!

YMN’s style could best be described as rock-tinged hip hop music. He began making music as a teenager, looking back, “I grew up on lots of rock and heavy metal and punk music – anything where anyone screams – and I thank my brother for that. When I was 14 I started writing songs; prior to that I was really into poetry. When I was 16 or 17 I ended up hearing this rapper doing metal screams, and that started opening up the gates where I was discovering this harder side of rap.”

He cites Juice WLRD, XXXTENTACION, Lil Peep, Ski Mask the Slump God, Killstation and Wifisfuneral as some of his biggest influences. YMN has only performed a few times over the years but is slowly putting himself out there more, sayinng, “I’ve definitely gotten into the marketing and Internet aspect of being an artist, using TikTok and reels and ads, but recently I’ve been leaning into the performing side and building my stage presence. I’m a really nervous guy and I’d probably benefit if somebody slapped me before I got onstage (laughs) but once I’m up there it’s just rep after rep, so I’ve been getting comfortable with having all those eyes on me.”

At the beginning of 2023, YMN dropped a two-piece comprising songs “Staring At The Sun” and “Tell Me When.” Discussing them, he shares, “A lot of my music is based off of loss and sadness. I was going through a rough patch for about six to eight months where I was talking to somebody and I was feeling really empty and dozed off, but I think it’s really important to be in touch with those emotions and use that in your art because people aren’t going to fuck with you unless you have that conviction. “Staring At The Sun” came from that, and “Tell Me When” came from being on more of a Shiloh Dynasty kick where I was backtracking my voice into the beat.”

His most recent single “I Need You” dropped in April. “There’s a little more anger in that one,” YMN contends. “To be honest, it’s the first drill beat I’ve ever done, and it turned out really good.”

That said, YMN has been dipping his toes into different producers and styles while still maintaining his base sound. He’s gearing up to release a new single soon that he describes as a sadder, Joji-type feel.

World in Action consists of vocalist Bonnie Chandek, guitarist Daniel James, bassist Gilly Smash and drummer Kelsey K. Formed early this year, they are a punk rock band inspired by peace, anarchism and channeling their anxieties around our current social and political climate. On how the project formed, K recalls, “Bonnie messaged me on Facebook asking if I wanted to jam, and I was like “I don’t know how to jam but sure, I’d love to play music with you” and then she showed up with these two sweetheart dudes. After one practice, we were officially a band.”

James adds, “I joined when Jesse from the band Splatter Pattern messaged me and said that they heard me and Bonnie were doing a new band, and I was like “I don’t know about this but I’m way down (laughs).” I’ve always respected everyone in this band and I’m stoked to work with everyone.”

Chandek elaborates on the band’s name. “It’s a song by this 80’s anarcho band called The Mad Are Sane, and I personally like the name because of the dichotomy of the world IN action versus world *inaction* – because for as much progress as we have made, there’s been an equal amount of regression. We like to think of ourselves as civilized and modern but for many people globally, these are the same power dynamics and control tactics that elites have been using on common people for centuries. Despite our progress, it is ultimately the elites who benefit from both the action (labor) and inaction (apathy/exhaustion) of the rest of humanity.”

“There’s no shortage of topics for us that are worth highlighting,” K notes. “For us, I think our artistry really does magnify the intersections of punk and activism and social responsibility. That has a lot to do with what informs how and why we show up, and it’s cool because each of us comes at it from a very different social location and perspective. It makes it all a really fun compilation.”

World in Action’s eponymous debut EP was released in May. “We were really fortunate that a friend who books for Subhumans invited us to play on their show here in May, and we really wanted to have recordings up in time for that. Those were the first three songs we wrote, and we recorded it all in an afternoon at a studio in House of RAD.”

“That was the fastest recording process I’ve ever had,” James said. “It all got done in about six hours.”

World in Action have a ton of new material and plan to record a full-length album in the next few months. They play the Milwaukee Record Halftime Show on December 17th.

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