TSM11 is our first issue printed on newsprint and will be distributed all across chi. As such, the issue is centered around media, with writing and art interrogating the propagation, distribution, and circulation of knowledge and art. How we move ideas so that ideas can move us??
Every month, two DJs curate paradise in Pilsen and call it TRQPiTECA. The decor (blowup palm trees, a sequined beach installation, iridescent streamers, and so much glitter), the lineup of performances (cabaret dancers, drag queens, performance artists, dommes), and the video art displayed on TV screens around the sports bar make TRQPiTECA more than a dance party. It is a sensory experience, it is a community gathering, and it is a DIY show. Kekule Benzene spoke with the creators about queer nightlife, house music and culture, and responsible curation. www.trqpiteca.club
Cqqchifruit, a.k.a. Jacquelyn Carmen Guerrero (pronouns = they/them, she/her)
Kekule: I would love to start with the history of TRQPiTECA, who helped create it, what you were drawing from, how long it’s been around. Sort of lay the groundwork for me.
J: It basically came out of a couple of needs and desires. First, to have a tropical night is something we were both interested in, and then also having a queer night in Pilsen–it was something else that had been happening irregularly– in a space that wasn’t, I guess I want to say, the gentrification zone … A space that was run by people who were living in the neighborhood … We went [to Junior’s] asking to do a night previously but it didn’t really work out. And then we came back and sort of found that Junior’s went from being this kind of rock Mexican bar or sports bar to a mini gay bar. So the manager and the staff are also part of that community. When we went, we were really surprised that they were having drag nights. They from the beginning have been very supportive and very open to letting us be really creative and really transformative with the space and they love having us there.
K: Who have been some of your favorite performers?
J: We had one night that was memorable, we had Boychild and Liz Mputu, who’s a very famous online artist. And then we had this other performer Dirty Grits, and they’re travelling around now but they were living in North Carolina for a long time. That night we happened to have three different traveling performers, who, together, I think their performances were about the struggle, our struggle, and moving toward the healing process.
K: Tell me more about the healing you want to perform at TRQPiTECA.
J: Being in the nightlife can be a complicated space, because when people are partying there are so many different things that can happen and that are happening and there’s sometimes a very fine line between having a healing (or self-care) experience … and harm with substances. Sometimes I feel like there’s a death drive that’s inherent in partying and party culture. And that’s why I think having art in the nightlife space has become an important part of what we do, because I think art is inherently a spiritual practice … The need to create art to survive is a real narrative and experience for the people in our community, so I think that having a place to express that and a place to go deeper is critical.
K: How has resistance shaped your art? How do resistance and DJing go together for you?
J: The way that I’ve come about DJing is my love of dancing. I think that’s very common in terms of young—and even as we grow older—queer culture. And in other cultures dancing is a huge part of the social practice. So I think dancing as resistance, I think that’s it … I think my [DJ] style developed from my history, where I’m from, Miami, and not hearing a lot of tropical music out [here in Chicago]. And being in Chicago, it’s critical to have a vocabulary around house music, in my opinion. I think all of those things are connected, so I’ve done a lot of listening to tropical music and tropical house, learning how black and brown and queer people created and shaped those genres, and how they’ve been co-opted by Europeans. I think having an understanding about that and exploring that and trying to do research around that has been a lot of my focus.
K: What methods or techniques are important to you in creating TRQPiTECA? Because it’s an experience, not just going to see a DJ.
J: I think there’s a really strong visual aspect. I was influenced by burlesque, that’s how I got into sequins and glitter being my aesthetic. The installation [art] happened from wanting to transform—because Chicago gets so cold, it can be really hard if you’re from a tropical place—so it was wanting to bring that feeling of warmth, that feeling of the beach, of the sun.
We’ve had more traditional drag and cabaret style, but sometimes we have performance artists who do more experimental stuff and it can really impact the vibe. And sometimes people do things that are more painful expressions. I think there can be room for everything. It’s interesting to see what the effect is. Sometimes people will leave after that, it just changes the space, so it’s definitely a challenge to curate a line-up that is balanced—you know, like the best thing. Our lives are not all razzle-dazzle, but people are going there to have a good time—but it can be cathartic.
K: You mentioned some criticism. What’s the criticism, do you think it’s valid, and if so, how do you change the event to respond to it?
J: I think criticism has been around who comes. And the people who come are different every time. But one time, one person said that there were quote-unquote, “too many white people.” The people that come are very diverse, in my opinion, but it also changes every time depending on who we book. But we also, every time, are featuring black and brown performers who are femmes or queer people … It’s a hard thing to try to process, because it’s not like I don’t want white people to come. That’s not how I feel. In our vision, the way that we describe it is ‘a platform for artists working with queer and tropical aesthetics’—I think it’s pretty broad and leaves a lot of room for interpretation in terms of the music that we play, the guest DJs that we book, and our performers. So, if you’re down for that, I think you would have a good time.
K: So what’s your dream outcome? What do you want, if you could have anything?
J: Oh my god, well, I think I would love to be a touring artist. Ideally what I’d love (and this is not far from happening, because it already kind of has happened) is to have my original music and a whole set and that goes with it, as a performer. But I’m also getting really into research and cultural preservation of my culture as Cuban and Puerto Rican, so I also want to be a cultural historian and really study my roots and carry that with me. I’m a reiki practitioner, and fragility has become a recent—not recent, I think it’s come up out of my art practice—but I also want to find room for that and room for moments of communal feeling. I do want people to come away uplifted or changed, I think that’s the power of art. It comes from the beginning of human expression. I want to live my truth to the fullest and not have any limits on the intention of my work. This is a really hard, difficult moment we live in now, and I think it’s going to get worse before it gets better, so I want people to stick together and feel deified and feel love more than anything, because of all the haters.
La Spacer a.k.a. Natalie Murillo (pronouns=they/them, she/her)
K: Lay the groundwork for me: the history of TRQPiTECA, starting TRQPiTECA, how it came to be.
N: So TRQPiTECA came to be because we had done an event in the North Side at Slippery Slope and we called it Boom Boom Q. The name behind that was this other dance party that happened, maybe ten years ago, called the Boom Boom Room that happened at the Green Dolphin. And I wanted to call it Boom Boom Q in memory of the Boom Boom Room … we just wanted it to be this event with dance music, house music—house and techno, and for queers to feel welcome. And we only did it a few times, because the space we were doing it at, the management was pretty uptight …So we were like, you know, let’s look for a space in Pilsen, because there’s a lot of events and spaces being used in the North Side, and I grew up by Pilsen. And I haven’t seen a lot of queer events as far as house and techno and everything in between in Pilsen.
K: What’s the environment you want to create at TRQPiTECA—politically or aesthetically—what’s the message you want people to come away with when they go?
N: I want people to feel like it’s part of their community. It is a community. It’s a space where you go and hang out with other like-minded creatures, individuals. Also, I love going to a lot of big festivals and events that are planned like they want you to have an experience. I want people to have an experience, not just to come for the booze. I want people to come for different reasons. If you’re really into music, you’re there for the music. If you’re really into art, you’re there for the performance art, or because of the art we create to change the environment—like [at] Junior’s, we change it. I want people to feel like they enter a vortex, or they just travel to another space or dimension. Jackie and I actually take in a bigger system in there, so people can feel the bass and really feel those tracks being playing. If we were just to play using the system Junior’s has, the experience would be so much different, sound-wise … Or there’s just the little details—the pineapple flag that Jacki created, the palm tree flag, the huge backdrop tropical installation that Jackie created, the palm trees. But it’s very DIY. So we’re still growing and we want to make things happen.
K: How has Chicago’s house culture influenced you?
N: I grew up in Chicago so I had my baby experience of listening to house music on the radio … My family—they’re hard core party people and we have a huge family. So pretty much every weekend my family still celebrates someone’s birthday. So there was always someone’s house to go to and we would have dinner, and the after dinner’s over, people were dancing so there were moments where my older cousins would throw on a house mix … And there were a lot of DJ shops too that would sell records. Even at the mall there was a DJ shop. And the DJ shops, what they would sell were mixes. They would sell promo CDs or promo cassettes, and they were different styles. And I still have some of those—I still have some tapes.
Growing up in Chicago and just being into music since I was a kid, it’s definitely been an influence to me, and this is why I do what I’m trying to do. I think the only downside back then (but I don’t think it has to do specifically with music or house music) was the fact that there wasn’t a lot of women representing and being a part of it … That makes me very proud to be doing TRQPiTECA. I feel like Chicago was craving that. I was craving something like that …The audience [is] queer, people of color, and people that are allies. I just want to have a good time, have an experience, be somewhere and not feel judged. Because a lot of events I go to, there wasn’t a lot of queer people in the house and techno scene. The few people that were there, for instance, at Boom Boom Room, were drag queens … As far as parties I went to that were big events like that, it was diverse as far as type of people, the scenes that were there [at Boom Boom Room]. Because at two a.m. all the other clubs close and everyone is going to hit the Boom Boom Room. So it didn’t matter who you are, where you are—nothing. And that’s actually the main preach of house music. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from, house music is supposed to unite you, and the Boom Boom Room did that … So that was awesome and definitely little experiences like that inspired me to do TRQPiTECA because, going back to earlier, everything is on the North Side. Like how many people who go to Queen! [a weekly queer dance night at Smartbar] don’t live there? And who runs that building? Who runs that space? I’m always questioning things like that. Who’s getting paid? Who’s profiting off of this?
K: What lessons from your experiences in house and club culture do you bring to TRQPiTECA?
N: What I like about TRQPiTECA is that people who actually want to be there are there … And it’s still very underground, and I’m all about the underground … but a lot of spaces, a lot of venues that have been established for years out there don’t pay the artists, or don’t pay them as much, or don’t pay the hosts, or pay them in champagne. And I’m not about that because I value myself as an artist and I value other artists for their work, as well. I feel like people need to get paid for what they do. When you’re watching someone perform, they’re giving you an experience and there’s no reason they shouldn’t be paid to be working for that … People need to be more conscious and more brought up to speed with situations. Or they’re so used to the other situation—their friends playing at these venues and clubs that are open until 4 or 5 am and have the money but don’t pay the artists—so they’re like ‘oh, I don’t want to pay. My friends are not the ones being paid, it’s going to be the owners that are getting that money. Why do I have to pay?’ I get that too, but this is not that kind of place. This is DIY. It’s a POC event. So I think some people need to know what’s up.
And as the queer community—there’s been a few articles out there that I’ve read, that queer artists are not in the mainstream, probably for being queer. They’re not being supported by the mainstream, so it’s up to the queer community to support. We are a market!
K: What’s the plan for TRQPiTECA in the future? What goals do you have?
N: We want TRQPiTECA to go on tour, we want to be playing outside of Chicago, which we have a couple times, and we really love it and we want to do more of that, especially on an international level, so that’s definitely goals for the future.
Also, we want to expand TRQPiTECA outside of the club nightlife, maybe creating workshops. There’s a lot of work to do with the community still. I see these … other people that I think are being taken advantage of by some of these bigger venues.
People are like ‘Hey, do you want to DJ this?’ and I’m like ‘What’s up with the sound system?’ [laughs] Because if they don’t have a sound system, I’m not going to do it, because I’m going to sound horrible and people are going to think I’m horrible, and then that’s not good for me as an artist.
Oh my god. I mean, ideally, I would want to own a warehouse, if we’re really going to push the dreams out there. I would want a warehouse with three floors: one for a performance space, on for the studio stuff, and [one for] my penthouse. And then next door, I want my mama to have her restaurant so that when people are hungry, they go eat at my mama’s restaurant. Yeah, that’s like my biggest fantasy right there.
4 Rock Stars You Didn’t Know Were from Another Dimension: NONZOO, an Exclusive Exposé
by Noah Jones
The band Nonzoo has slowly integrated themselves into the Chicago music community since March 2016. They may seem like your classic weirdo charming punks, but when Sick Muse investigatory journalist Noah Jones sat down to talk them, he made a shocking discovery.
The members of Nonzoo are not people—they are zeople. What’s more, they are not from Earth—they are from the planet Nonzoo. In fact, they are not even from this dimension. I know this sounds incredible but it is all true! They are alien beings, zeople from another mirror universe. And really, this does a good bit in explaining the outlandish and totally quadridimensional mind boggling nature of their music, which has been befuddling Chicago listeners for the past half year. What I relate to you below my dear readers was compiled from an interview with Nonzoo’s members, and its veracity has been thoroughly researched and confirmed by our staff here at The Sick Muse.
First off, let’s just lay down the facts about the band:
Twitch: Dr. Earwig H. Airplug (Earth alias: Sam), vocals
Click: Mateo De Soto Pop, Duke of Sandwiches (Earth alias: Matt), drums
Klang: Roland Mosseury (Earth alias: Joe), bass guitar
GENRE: Government-subsidized Interplanetary Shania Twain Christmas Cover Band
HOMETOWN: Nonzooton, D.C. — THE ZEOPLE’S REPUBLIC OF NONZOO
RECORD LABEL: The Zeople’s Republic of Nonzoo’s Major Record Label
AWARDS: The Zeople’s Republic of Nonzoo’s Enriched Uranium Medal of Propaganda Excellence
INTERESTS: Tail-grafting. Macaroni Necklaces.
GENDER: Neutral (It)
So what do we know about this planet Nonzoo where our alien friends hail from? Well Nonzooton is the remote capital of planet Nonzoo and it’s actually directly underneath Washington D.C, growing in the opposite direction from its foundations. It’s kind of a mirror reflection if you will, another dimension fit snugly over our reality, like a flannel. Nonzooton is like a Washington DC hellscape, with monuments, malls, and frozen yogurt shops that correspond exactly to the monuments, malls, and frozen yogurt shops in DC. The monuments are all made of various materials derived from uranium, macaroni, and meatballs, the key elements that make up Nonzoo.
The planet Nonzoo is populated by a lot of non-naturally born mutants. So, not like the naturally born mutants in X-men (and besides, everyone knows there are no real X-men… that was a fictional movie, unlike Nonzoo, which is all too real). The inhabitants of Nonzoo, popularly called zeople, resemble the reptilian creatures of our planet, but notably have many extra appendages that are added on over the course of their life. These appendages range in size, material, and purpose. They are all derivative of creatures crafted by super cool scientists and politicians for reasons not exactly understood by us, but we do know that these lizard creatures are slowly taking over the human Washington DC, one reptilian at a time. Some posit that Donald Trump is a rogue creature from Nonzoo attempting to take over Washington DC and then use it as a base to attack Nonzooton.
Before coming to Chicago, Nonzoo was the official band for the Zeople’s Republic of Nonzoo. They played exclusively Shania Twain covers, and were subsidized by the government for the purpose of building morale for the war effort against the Tralfamadorians. For our uninformed readers, Tralfamidorians are an alien race that hail from the planet Tralfamadore, most popularly known by their description in the novels of Kurt Vonnegut, the most accomplished intergalactic anthropologist of our time. In his seminal work Slaughterhouse Five, Vonnegut describes Tralfamidorians as such:
They were two feet high, and green, and shaped like plumber’s friends. Their suction cups were on the ground, and their shafts, which were extremely flexible, usually pointed to the sky. At the top of each shaft was a little hand with a green eye in its palm. The creatures were friendly, and they could see in four dimensions. They pitied Earthlings for being able to see only three. They had many wonderful things to teach Earthlings about time.
The band’s glory days where in the ’90s when they achieved high commercial success in Nonzooton. In ’96 they won a very prestigious award: The Zeople’s Republic of Nonzoo’s Enriched Uranium Medal of Propaganda Excellence. The medal was awarded for the slimy and sludgy brilliance of their first album and the hard work they put into enforcing the mandatory purchasing of the record, to help fund military campaigns against Tralfamadore. A dictum was issued making it compulsory for all citizens to buy the album. Punishment for failing to purchase the album was the adding of an appendage to your person, which is the punishment of choice for nearly all crimes committed on Nonzoo. The album was a stunning success, hailed by critics as the definitive 5th dimensional translation of Shania Twain’s music. The difficulty involved in translating something as abstract and aesthetic as music from one dimension to the next is a huge mathematical undertaking; it involves a dizzying myriad of double eigentransformations, solving an infinite amount of transcendental partial derivatives, and violating Lorentz invariance. Forget Battles, this is true math rock. These days in Chicago, all of the songs played by Nonzoo are mutated variations of the Shania Twain song “Man I Feel Like A Woman” retranslated back into our dimensions from their original translation from our dimension to the Nonzoo dimension. Complicated stuff…
After the success of the 90s the band took a downward spiral, bogged down in various terrible reality TV shows that the band acted in to make enough money to fuel their addictions to macaroni related drugs. A scandal made national news when it was discovered that the guitarist, Richard, was studying guitar with Tralfamadorian masters and played a mostly Tralfamadorian style. The discovery that the lead guitarist for the official republic band was aesthetically colluding with the enemy led to huge backlash against the band.
Eventually gentrification in Nonzooton pushed them out, so they moved to Chicago to start over. Gentrification in Nonzooton is extremely rampant these days because of inflation and increasing economic disparity. The inflation is a result of the fact that the Republic of Nonzoo is very much in debt to the Tralfamadorians, which is partly why they decided to go to war with them.
While most of the zeople of Nonzoo have turned their backs on the band, they still have one extremely important supporter, Princess Zoznoo, Salamander In Chief and ruler of The Zeople’s Republic of Nonzoo. Princess Zoznoo is a magical Salamander surround in magical vapor and gas, omniscient when it comes to slime, and is physically present at the band’s show in the form of the sweat on the bassist Joe’s brow. A beneficent ruler of all things moist, she currently writes all the music for the band while still having time to look after planet Nonzoo’s affairs of state.
Well that will do for a short synopsis of the band’s history and a cursory description of our neighboring world of Nonzoo. But the reader would probably like to know more about the individual band members and listen to their own words. Below we present their typed responses to our questions, using their Earth names for clarity.
NJ: What musical influences do you bring into Nonzoo?
Matt: 90s rock, Boston underground, world beats, electronic music.
Joe: I was personally raised on [when it comes to music] what could be classified as math-rock and also a lot of really aggressive dissonant hardcore [Deadguy, Kiss It Goodbye, Coalesce]. A lot of my initial tastes were definitely warped and mutated by my exposure to the catalog of labels like Skingraft and ThreeOneG … but the final blow/nail to the coffin of any chance at a non-skewed musical perception came once the works of Captain Beefheart and His magic band started clicking and making sense to me … I feel, like many, that their work unlocked an almost completely dormant portion of my brain and let it not only come out to play but virtually lead me along. Very personally influential stuff to me also: Ornette Coleman on every level, This Heat, John Carpenter soundtracks, Congotronics musical series, DNA, Talking Heads’ Remain In Light record, Dazzling Killmen. These days I listen to a lot of classic Warp records IDM, 90’s hip-hop, also juke/footwork. When it comes to Nonzoo I think the main influences I bring to the table are my equally strong love for afrobeat, no-wave, really aggro dissonant hardcore and the more bombastic epic strains of shoegaze … oh and not ashamed to admit this, Korn! I feel that right amount of extreme sonic juxtaposition can often make for really interesting music. Another belief to file under personal musical “philosophy”, if you will, is that identity ALWAYS trumps craft!
Sam: Thinking back to when I first consciously began seeking out music to my taste… It has always been dark, industrial or otherwise sonically jarring things that appeal to me. I don’t like pretty, palatable things because that’s not real to me. Early on I got into punk by default as an adolescent because it was such an accessible medium for identity building and just being naughty for the sake of naughtiness. But straight up punk often came up short to me in terms of written content and structure. Within punk, Queercore was the sweet spot- my mind was blown when I heard bands like God is My Co-Pilot and Ethyl Meatplow. Locally, the band Coughs really did it for me- it was raw, industrial, driving, excruciating, with these crude often childlike lyrics- everything I wanted to be. I also have a huge soft spot for David Yow of Scratch Acid and the Jesus lizard- especially in his wordier songs like “Postcoital Glow” and “Inflicted by Hounds”… He was really more of an influence in my old band though. Since joining Nonzoo bands like Fat Worm of Error, Normal Love, and Captain Beefheart have become influences as well.
Richard: Most importantly Beefheart, but I’m also really into jazz, no wave, Tropicalia & Zeuhl bands. Top 3 artists of all time would be Beefheart, Django Reinhardt & Eskaton.
NJ: What non-musical influences do you bring into Nonzoo?
Matt: Cartoons, painting, sandwiches.
Joe: I have a background in visual arts and design that somehow worms its way by default into any even remotely creative endeavor I spend time on. I could say the same for the absurdist streak in my sense of humor. I like when things are stretched just enough past the place where they still make general sense and then lapse into delirium “logic”. A less obvious but no less important influence for me is the fact that I was raised on playing sports [soccer and track mainly] before I even got into music on any level, I think the athleticism, physicality and routine expectation to push oneself past comfort limit still informs the way I approach the instrument and its sonics. The discipline involved is also an influence on the overall process. I am no longer the avid book reader I used to be a few years back but I feel that the works of writers belonging to the Oulipo group have left a permanent stamp on how I process, consume, and approach anything that involves creativity. From the Oulipo canon I can’t recommend enough Raymond Queneau’s Exercises In Style, Georges Perec’s Life A User’s Manual and A Void, and Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities and If On a Winter’s Night A Traveler.
Sam: Growing up I was alone a lot and didn’t speak much- reading, writing, and visual art were the surrogate world. My lyrics tend to be more visual or fantasy based as opposed to “I” statements – I love language that works on multiple levels, like a lenticular visual. The writers I have consistently returned to for inspiration recently are Kathy Acker, Henry Miller, J G Ballard, Samuel Beckett… All those perverts.
Physicality and energy are crucial to me. I’m a bike messenger in ‘real life’, the thrill of pushing the body through sensory hyper stimulation, all these split-second reactions, toward its physical limit, carries over from that and into my work as a front person and vocalist. In Nonzoo we’re all very physical on stage – we all naturally share an athletic mentality inherent in the way we play.
Richard: Writing. My formal education is in literature & poetry and my professional pursuits are in writing. I’m into the likes of McCarthy, John Berryman, Borges & of course Vonnegut.
Joe: That varies honestly, although it seems that a good chunk of the time I bring in ideas for a partial structure blueprint, sometimes just individual parts that mutate drastically once everyone else adds in their input. But we have songs that have also begun from stray guitar parts or a bass and drums impromptu “jam”. Parts often are unrecognizable by the time they get edited or shaped into their final form … I also feel that a song is never finished and keeps on changing slightly with each performance as new wrinkles and possible angles are discovered … and that is honestly what keeps it fun for me, the ability to still shape and reshape a sound within certain given bounds, even to the point where the bounds are somewhat circumvented but still respected! A general rule for Nonzoo though is that the guitar and bass tend to operate in different zones as opposed to directly referencing one another and that at times sounds are generated and treated so that it’s hard to tell whether they are coming from the guitar or the bass. Also everything needs to have a strong rhythmic foundation and propulsion even, there’s never too much of that as far as I’m concerned!
Sam: Slowly, meticulously, excruciatingly…
Richard: Our songs always start with an idea from Joe or me that gets run into the ground over & over again until we have something playable between the 3 instruments.
NJ: You all play a lot with the timbre of your respective instruments. What are you favorite sounds that have come out of this experimenting? In the future, are there any new sounds you are looking to incorporate into your music?
Matt: Been pretty happy with some of the robo-afro beats that have come from it – deep drums mixed with angular cymbals in mechanical patterns. Looking forward to more unusual percussive accents.
Joe: The answer to this could be very long quite honestly as a big part of what we work with has to do with less orthodox ways of playing our instruments. I can say that we use harmonics [both fake and natural] quite a bit because of how close they can get our instruments to sound like tuned percussion used in music like gamelan. Overtones to [attempt to] build a wall of sound. Extreme lows to extreme highs within phrases for a jarring, displacing effect. I make frequent use of sliding techniques for chromatic blurring as well as a kind of whipping effect. In general I can say that the ultimate goal is to sort of shape a sonic identity that can feel somewhat like our own and can be readily identified as such. To that end the implementation and accumulation of personal idiosyncrasies as part of our vocabulary is really important as well as a never ending process. We are definitely currently toying with new sounds and new approaches to structuring songs even but I will not go into detail on this … I’d rather it’d be a surprise once the new material is ready to be performed. I think it’ll be interesting at the very least.
Sam: Since I’ve started to see there’s a ton of things that can be done with the voice as a noise instrument as opposed to a language delivery device… With this first round of songs I think I’ve only started to scrape the surface of what else I can do. I’d like to dispense with my constrictive wordiness and become more open and abstract vocally.
Richard: I’m currently trying to diversify my timbres/textures, seeking out new gear and appendages … because there’s so many ‘tricks’ i’ve already exhausted with our first batch of songs. I’m most proud of what I call my ‘mad watch.’ The mad watch isn’t particularly versatile and currently only lends itself to one song, but if I ever see someone else doing it I can say with confidence that I did it first. Without going into too much detail I’d just say that the mad watch is a sort of extended technique I’ve come up with myself that produces an elephant-like sound without the use of any effects.
NJ: So you’ve been working on recording! When and where can we expect to see the recordings when they’re done?
Joe: Recording is completely finished but we’re taking our time with the mixing part of it to do the material sonic justice and I think it’ll be worth the wait. That is the extent of the answer I can give for now.
NJ: When is your next Chicago show?
Joe: Our next show is on November 10th at Good Lil’ Base with the esteemed mutants in Lovely Little Girls, Denton TX’s very slippery Sexual Jeremy and one of my current favorite bands operating at the moment, Hardbody from St Louis.
NJ: Merriam Webster defines zoo as:
1.a: a garden or park where wild animals are kept for exhibition
b: a collection of living animals usually for public display
2. a place, situation, or group marked by crowding, confusion, or unrestrained behavior
So what is a nonzoo?
Sam and Joe: A nonzoo is all the sensations of a zoo chopped and mixed up, but strained and rid of the concept of imprisonment. All creatures in the zoo are let free but in very specific ways. So there is less control and more control at the same time. Less direct control of creatures and things, but more control in the way that creatures are let free, it’s a deceptive freedom…
Rahim Salaam wears many hats. He’s known as Uncle, the Mayor of DIY, the Amateur, Rageing Salaam. He has been making music and doing the DIY thing in Chicago for nearly 20 years, and has hosted a weekly podcast called What About Chicago?! for the past three years. TSM editor Sasha sat down with Rahim in his bedroom cluttered with art at Hostel Earphoria, the hostel/venue that he helps run, to talk about his roots in hip hop, the evolution of DIY in Chicago and the ethics of amateurship.
🎩= this hat symbol represents Rahim’s booming, boisterous laugh. His laugh punctuated important parts of the interview, and without it, the interview wouldn’t be the same. 🎩!
Sasha: So, I know you have some sort of theater background and I’m wondering how that plays into your music and more generally the sort of “persona” that you inhabit in the DIY community. You have all these signatures and names…the hat, “Uncle,” “What About Chicago?!,” etc.
Rahim: I never was really super serious [about theater]. I did a few things in high school and the university…I used to be interested in reading people’s scripts and stuff [but] I never had a lot of time, being a young father. I certainly have stayed involved in the arts, but I never really had time to devote, especially, to something like theater. But I’m still alive, so I loved it. If anyone’s doing theater hit me up 🎩. I try to make my performances theater, but, nah, not really.
All this stuff, Sasha, is just me being me. I’m just having fun. When we say DIY or whatever–that’s sort of a general term–it’s a whole diverse group of people that do a whole lot of different things. Some do know each other, some don’t. Hopefully, I think when we put it under that [DIY] umbrella that means that it’s productive, it’s safe, it’s open, more so than, like, a genre. It’s more like, “Hey, yeah, these people are doing it because they love to do it, and it’s open to you, we want you to come.” It’s peace. Hopefully it’ll be fun. Bring your own bag 🎩.
S: And your own hat.
R: Even the hat stuff. I’ve been wearing hats since I was a little kid. I loved that shit. I always caught hell for it though because it’s, like, not what people do. It’s, like, unusual for some reason. I don’t know why. What I wear is very typical. It’s not very dapper, it’s not expensive, it’s all from the thrift store, it’s all old shit. It’s like, put on a shirt and a tie and a sport coat, and you’re good. And a hat. I just love hats. I don’t like baseball hats, I like these hats.
S: Does it have to do with an attachment to a certain time period?
R: Yeah I guess so. I do admire certain times of dress. I kind of don’t like to say… I mean, I think we’re doing a good job now 🎩 with fashion or whatever. I’ve been really conscious lately about bringing up nostalgia for old times. Because old times fucking sucked. Old times wasn’t shit. The new times is what’s going on. And the future times. A lot of the old was terrible, dude. A lot of mistakes were made. A lot of people were left out…I just saw a concert with this old rapper Rakim. Huge fan, man. Was like, instrumental. His words were on thousands and millions of different rappers’ other songs. Little hooks and samples, you know. Everyone loves Rakim. But, like, really listening to him at this show the other day…it’s still the same music. But it’s a different time. It’s very misogynist. It’s kind of violent. And I was kind of jamming, but…I felt uncomfortable. I didn’t like it. I didn’t like the message. There was a song about money and he had the crowd saying, “Make money money make money…” and I hate money, man. I mean I know it’s necessary, not to get all, like, super about it. Money’s going to be there. We don’t need to be chatting it and getting pumped up about it 🎩. We pumped up enough.
Yeah, the hat’s clearly an older style…My grandfather wore a hat. I was close to him. It’s just something I do. No science really behind it. I just like it.
S: Do you think you have different personas? How would you describe your persona?
R: Let me say this, it’s selfish what I do because it’s what I like. It’s not like I’m doing this as a favor to anybody 🎩. I do this because I really enjoy doing it. As far as a persona, all I can say about that is…I’m a persona of everybody that I’ve met. Knowing you [Sasha] has influenced me a lot, in just the little time I’ve known you. You’ve influenced me–hearing your music, seeing the things you do at WHPK. I’m constantly being influenced, so that changes the persona every day. The persona for us all is just a conglomeration of what people see of you kind of in a packaged way. Or in a short term way. So I guess what I would hope mine to be is an advocate for art of all sorts–a peaceful person who wants to project that onto others. And just a person that also supports accessibility to all sorts of endeavors and materials. And I just want to have fun too 🎩. I want to get drunk, I want to have fun, get high, all that stuff too 🎩. Hopefully everything in moderation.
S: I like that about your music. You straddle in a cool way being serious, having an ethic–you just articulated an ethics–and being goofy, having fun.
R: Yeah, but also it’s my ethics. Everybody’s got different ethics. It’s okay.
S: Have you always been making art? How did you come to these ethics, this art?
R: My dad was a musician. He played, like, alternative industrial music. So that was kind of a gateway to different genres of music. And that’s the thing, though. I always loved all music. Hip hop was around me the most, but, the way that it was done, I always thought when I first heard hip hop that it was everything, it was this great conglomeration of everything. Now it’s been pigeonholed: “This is real hiphop.” To me if you go to the history, it’s everything. The samples that were used, so many costumes, it was very theatrical [for] some people, the pioneers. Some of it was straight up, like, gangster, though: battles, dancing, breakdancing, graffiti, drawing… That’s everything, so I never understand anyone who claims to be hip hop, like dissing another genre or form of music. I think the essence of it, what makes it hip hop is bringing all these different things together and putting it out in some form or fashion.
Especially in Chicago DIY–and just any music sort of–establishment was very segregated, very genre-based, so much more so than now. And it still is, but I think we’re doing a lot better job of breaking that down. When you’re different, it’s hard. It wasn’t as open, and that’s why I like now. Everybody’s being really fun, keeping the door open, keeping the judgements down, letting the people grow.
S: How did you get into the DIY punk scene thing coming out of hip hop?
R: I just take them walks. For real. I take the walks, and I go in and I say “hi” to people. It’s as simple as that… Talk to the people, man. Say “hi”. Hang out. Go places. I guess when I was young, you go to different parts of town, I’d look up stuff… The Reader was a good thing, it’s different now–nah it’s still good. I try to bring some friends, [or] go by myself. I just love this shit so I be going. You meet people, you stumble around places, and there you are. Seeing what the people are doing. If you like art, I’m interested. I want to know what you’re doing. Hi 🎩. What’s the word? That’s the key–there’s no key.
S: How do you spend your days?
R: I’m working, slaving. I’m a slave. That’s why I’m called the amateur. That’s why I love all you devoted artists. I think I am a devoted artist, but I have another job. I work 40 hours a week with two jobs. And the other job I do because I don’t like money 🎩. The other job I do because I need money. Yeah, so I work, I have a day job. And usually right from there, I do something creative one way or another and go to sleep and do it all over again. Whether it’s trying to attend an event, or making some music, planning out some kind of project, visiting some friends, some artists who are just hanging out, maybe collaborating with people. That’s it, man. I like to go, like, people have photoshoots, and I’ll be like, “Can I come, just to chill? Maybe you need a hand carrying something…” And then you start to know how to do stuff and be useful with that stuff too, so that’s always cool. Band practices… I’ll go to your band practice at least once 🎩. Check it out.
S: Are you writing constantly?
R: I always think of stuff. I don’t write a lot on the run. I might write a sentence or something in my phone, and eight out of ten times I’ll look back on this sentences and be like, “What was I trying?” But usually the best way for me to process things is to dedicate at least a little timeframe to sit down, maybe fiddle with the guitar, think about words and music, all at once. Now if I’m with people in a collaboration thing, I think it’s just important to try to throw shit out to people back and forth as much as you can. Silence is cool too, because sometimes I know you have a thought and you need to finish it. 🎩
S: How do you deal with the fame thing? Like, is there a part of you that has desires to be great and famous?
R: I want to live forever. I want to be memorable. Definitely… I want to be memorable for good, like, peace, good things 🎩. I have children, I want them to remember me for the best of things, hopefully. Hopefully I shared stuff and was cool and was a benefit to be around. I think that’s the way that you live forever. Like, clearly we’re not going to physically live forever. I have great memories of people that live forever with me, and I think that’s what inspires me to want to do that. They had a great impact on me. If it wasn’t for that it would have been something else. I’m pleased with what’s going on now. 🎩
Do you think I came to give peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.
And where there’s one
they’re bound to divide it,
Right in two.
Right in two.
This is a vignette about shame and anger, about the disgraced fall of a beloved icon from my childhood. That man is Jackie Chan. And also David Bowie. I’m listening to Tool’s “Right In Two,” for the first time in maybe ten years. I just finished Pitchfork’s review of the new David Bowie album Blackstar, it talks about him dying a little more than I’m comfortable with. I think ‘I hope David’s still alive when we figure out how to stop death. Of course he will be’ but am still a little uneasy because of reality. Tool’s “Right In Two” centers on a very basic metaphor of Biblical angels watching humans fight over things, have communication problems, I let it play over the beginning of Jackie Chan’s Project A.
The first fight in Project A is a bar fight. Jackie Chan, a sailor, repeatedly tries to resist provocations by the rival police force. Again and again, he holds his fellow sailors back. That’s the Jackie I remember, the sweet man who only fights when he absolutely absolutely has to. He knows better, he is on the right side of unity, Tool would say. When the fight starts anyway, Jackie and his main opponent are equals and mirrors. ‘They shouldn’t be fighting,’ I imagine Jackie, the writer and director, psychically saying to us, the viewers. ‘They are the same, with the same goals, only communication separates them.’
As the movie goes on, I understand it less and less, my interest wanes, starts to turn into anger at what I find to be incoherent pacing, unlikeable and one-dimensional characters, and sexism. I pause Project A with a half hour left and send Dylan a screenshot of a pirate character, the main baddie. The pirate has just grabbed a woman he is holding hostage and looked down her blouse and thrown her aside, she looks aghast and sexually aroused. ‘Maybe Jackie is making an complex point about humanity’s conflation of sexuality and violence’ I half-think, knowing it isn’t true.
Then I see the Huffington Post article. “David Bowie Dead At 69” or whatever, and I know it isn’t true, I am horrified, I am clicking scrolling refreshing looking for the signs where it is a joke. And it isn’t a joke. I start posting about him immediately. I start getting Likes, I start reading things, I go on Twitter and start tweeting, start retweeting and getting retweeted, I almost cry for a second, I am getting high off of loving this man, I feel purified by his life, by his legacy, I feel close with all of my late night social networkers. My history, my self, things bigger than me.
When I start the movie again, Jackie is giving a speech about how the pirates must be wiped out. After the movie, I re-read about Jackie’s pro-fascist comments in the media, wonder about his upbringing, feel bad, sad, weird.
Then he also said to the crowds: “When you see a cloud rising in the west, at once you say, ‘A storm is coming,’ and it happens.
Angels on the sideline,
Baffled and confused.
Father blessed them all with reason.
And this is what they choose.
Sasha texts me, “what is the drama about Calvin Johnson in your event lol” and I already know what’s about to happen. I’m scrolling the comments, “creep” … “money” … “asshole” … I’m waiting for it why did she say creep why did she say creep “underaged girls.” Ernest the dog keeps trying to hump my friend, she says “NO MEANS NO,” I don’t laugh or almost laugh this time, I start talking about the work I’m doing with artists and communities. I assume everyone I meet is a perpetrator now, I’ve seen too much. Or just enough, “Someone’s going to say ‘David Bowie cut off my dad’s head,’ or some shit I know it” I say. She doesn’t say anything, downstairs Jerrod is strumming Bowie “NO MEANS NO” we’ve been listening to nothing but Bowie.
When we are leaving Jerrod is still singing “Life on Mars?,” we all hit the high note together, us in a triangle, I half-think “we are his disciples, we are conjuring him, he is alive, we are so alive” it’s not unlike what happens in Bowie’s second to last video, “Blackstar,” a thinly but richly veiled metaphor for his own death and influence as an icon that people worship and convulse to in their little hovels. When we watch “Blackstar” and the skeleton is floating through space, I get the sickest déjà vu. I hope I am the one to pick up David’s crystal skull.
I’m back at home, rushing, eating too fast, listening to David Bowie, my brother is talking to me, I feel abused by him, a lot is happening, too much for me to swallow, I have to get to the sexual violence townhall, and then…
the organizer of the townhall makes a status, listing David Bowie with Bill Cosby and R. Kelly
I’m a blackstar, I’m a blackstar
I scroll, and click, another angry status, “pedophile,” “check your idols,” my brother is talking
I can’t answer why
I am dizzy somewhere a thinkpiece, I have to go
why are you attacking me
something happened on the day he died
somebody else took his place
and bravely cried
I walk into the townhall, I am wearing the glitter tears I have been wearing all day for Bowie’s death. A white man talks a few times, “not trying to be insensitive” starts one phrase
why are you attacking me
I feel the air leave the room when he talks, then he is a victim, then “i’m going to play devil’s advocate”
why are you attacking me
every time he speaks, and someone is politely but obviously reacting with the microphone, we don’t have time for your shit, white man, don’t have the emotional capacity. 8 of 10 women, less than one percent,
I am speaking, about support for survivors and perpetrators, utilizing the community, the perpetrator’s friends and mentors, and transformation, the perpetrators must be cared for it is good but I am hot, and what are they doing maybe I am saying the wrong thing, or it the wrong way, I am attacking everyone I am sure of it, I came here to do the work, and I instead I am a fool, I knew it, I know it, it’s my fault we don’t have time for this.
It’s over, so many friends, warm hearts, good thoughts, exchanging emails, my friend says something about de-friending people who she’s disappointed in for all their David Bowie shit, she is smirking, he is a “pedophile” and a “Nazi sympathizer”
why are you attacking me!
I laugh and make an excuse, my joy is gone but I am still smiling/smirking back. Lazarus has died twice in one day, and I am dying too. The organizer of the townhall says my glitter makes her so happy!
Diamonds in my eyes,
I’m a blackstar, I’m blackstar,
something happened on the day he died
Hypocrites, you know how to examine the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to examine this particular time? Why do you not judge also for yourselves what is righteous?
For example, when you are going with your legal opponent to a ruler, while on the way, get to work to settle the dispute with him so that he may not summon you before the judge, and the judge deliver you to the court officer, and the court officer throw you into prison.
‘There is nothing wrong,’ I say slowly to the floor. ‘I’m in here.’ I’m raised by the crutches of my underarms, shaken toward what he must see as calm by a purple-faced Director: ‘Get a grip, son!’
DeLint at the big man’s arm: ‘Stop it!’
‘I am not what you see and hear.’
Distant sirens. A crude half nelson. Forms at the door. A young Hispanic woman holds her palm against her mouth, looking.