#FromTheVault: TRQPiTECA [TSM06]



December 2016

Interview w/ TRQPiTECA

By Kekule Benzene

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.


Photo by Colectivo Multipolar
TRQPiTECA co-founders/DJs Cqqchifruit (left) and La Spacer. Photo by Colectivo Multipolar

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. 


#FromTheVault: 4 Rock Stars You Didn’t Know Were from Another Dimension: NONZOO, an Exclusive Exposé [TSM05]



October 2016

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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

Plink: Feline Flight Officer Itchy Felicette (Earth alias: Richard), guitar

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


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.

NJ: How is a Nonzoo song birthed?

Matt: Scraping brains, drawing uncontrollable lines, bashing our skulls, gluing the remains together.

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…


#FromTheVault: Kid Made Modern [TSM02]



April 2016

Interview w/ Kid Made Modern

Welcome to Kid Made Modern, welcome to radical reimagination. KMM is an ever-expanding Chicago hip-hop/R&B collective, first formed by Madison Scion [a.k.a. Daniel Kyri], Palma, Danny K, and Dobear in early 2015. Current core members are Mykele Deville, Madison Scion, Trig, Modaff, Palma, Jeff, and Dobear. RIP to members Danny K and Lo, who are not currently working in the collective but will always be KMM.

KMM is the indigenous sound of The Dojo, one of Pilsen’s prolific and always hustling DIY venues, but more importantly a home and haven for collaboration between musicians, artists, and activists building a new movement here in Chicago. In their words:

“The Dojo’s mission is to inspire social change by fostering and cultivating projects that connect the local community with musicians and artists from not only Chicago but all over the world. We seek to provide a safe, friendly, and creative space to engage with the music & arts scene. As a collective group we each value collaboration, self-expression, and communication. Everyone, including our guests, who enters the space has a responsibility to uphold these values.”

The following presents an interview with four members of the KMM family– Madison Scion (a.k.a. DK), Mykele, Palma, and Trig. The content mostly came from an almost 2-hour interview with the Sick Muse editors over Kirkland beers in the dimly lit kitchen of The Dojo. We had to heavily edit it down to fit the zine format, so you will see many “…”; nonetheless we hope to convey the brilliance, intensity, and sincerity that make up the backbone of KMM.

Mykele Deville performs onstage, with a mic in one hand and his other hand raised reverently. Behind him is a blue and purple screen and Emilie Modaff on keys
Mykele Deville performing with Kid Made Modern. Photo by Kalyn Jacobs

TSM: What does it mean to be in a musical ‘collective’ rather than a band? What is it that brings you together – collects you?

Mykele: For us, saying that we are a collective rather than a band lends to availability and collaboration with a ‘no pressure’ kind of air. We love mixing sounds and swirling all of our individual styles together. But we are all creatives to the highest level of the word. Which means we are busy people. So a collective mentality means that you don’t necessarily have to be locked in to a rigid schedule. You come in and add when you can. This leads to many fascinating iterations of our sound and style that continues to grow in interesting directions. Like a very weird plant. There are lots of people who do different things in KMM, from music, to composition, to video, to recording etc. We all get to explore and wear so many hats. And if someone needs to back off for a bit to focus on individual or other art, they can. We continue to move fluidly and accept more people to jam and meld. It’s really enticing as an artist to have project morph as much as KMM.

TSM: How does a Kid Made Modern song begin and develop? What is the process of songwriting?

Mykele: I think it differs depending on who’s leading. It’s a very organic collaboration. Sometimes it starts with the music, or a beat from the musicians which unfolds … The songwriters are all laying around and humming or tinkering with thoughts in their journals and someone speaks up. Maybe a rapper freestyles a bar or two or a singer belts a phrase or a chorus. We find intention instantaneously through something that sticks and everyone starts to deep dive on a presented subject until lyrics flow. The beat swells and we begin to get structure, then order, then we repeat until its fleshed with ideas and concepts we love. The final layer, which is sort of novel, is theatricality. Most of us have acting backgrounds so we are trying to find a way to bring that natural storytelling gene we all have to performance and even embed it into the song structure. We thrive on intersectionality. We try not to shy away from personal topics and intention either … When we do that, the more personal approach to storytelling, we end up creating very thought out cinematic pieces that speak to our individual outlook and we end up aligning the band to support that idea and its powerful. That’s how you get songs like ‘Asphalt’, ‘Hip Blossoms’, and ‘3 AM’. Other songs like ‘’94’, ‘Possibilities’, and ‘Origins’ are more like exercises in flow and collaboration with each other. It’s a cool dichotomy.

TSM: So why Chicago? What does it mean to be doing what you are doing here and now?

Mykele: I’ve been to NY, I’ve been to LA, I’ve been San Diego and all these places, but yeah I fantasize about Chicago. It has the Midwest heartland kinda comradery to it, and that doesn’t just apply to the manners of the midwest it applies to the artistic scene as well. Collaboration comes easy here; I always like to think that because we are called the 2nd city, but art exists in this city as much as it does in NY, we can afford to have this inferiority complex that actually benefits us where we don’t have to be as pretentious as saying we are the capital of art in the world. It’s a very in transition place … That heart that exists in Chicago—like I said I grew up on west side and been here all my life. Most of the time that makes people claustrophobic, it makes them kinda want to leave. But I’m 27 and constantly discovering new parts and things about Chicago still. The people here, the collaboration and connection, so it’s an ever expanding and constant canvas in Chicago… this untapped potential of respect, you can get respect in Chicago, you get respect in the DIY community, you get respect in a somebody’s basement, its goes way over money or stability, its something that can make you legendary in Chicago.

Madison: I see it a lot in art and a lot in the things that influence art. I believe that Chicago is a place of renaissance. I think that there is an artistic renaissance and awakening in the country, where Chicago is the center of it … I just feel like that is what’s happening and the DIY community right now is really strong. Look at what the reader and these papers are doing: these stories on DIY spaces and the DIY community, its because were setting trends, every fucking thing we do is seen and being looked at and people are experiencing it. The Dojo being on the list of the top 10 things to do in Pilsen, that type of shit.

Trig: To piggy back of what you [Madison] said about the fact that people are trying to figure out what’s going on in the DIY community … When people thing about Chicago music they think about the Drill movement and it’s a big movement: they think about Chief Keef, they think about Lil Durk, and Lil Reese and Montana and all these rappers who are making this music that’s basically talking about violence and the shit they went thru on the south side or west side of Chicago. And that’s all people hear about when they listen to Chicago music, but they don’t know about the underground positivity that’s going on, and luckily we do have people like Vic Mensa and Chance the Rapper and Mick Jenkins and people of that nature who are also bringing back a different kinda vibe, a new wave of music. But there’s a lot of low key underground artists who are making big statements … and that’s why I’m happy that we are doing this in Chicago right now, is people are gonna see something different from the drill rap they hear all the fucking time. It’s gonna be a different kinda vibe and it’s gonna be different from what Chance brings.

TSM: Songs like ‘Possibilities’ and ‘Asphalt’ seem to deliver a message. What is unique to your music as a means to spread social / political messages?

Mykele: We believe fully in the responsibility of the artist in society. That being a point to inform, enlighten, and reveal. We live in a pivotal time where history is speaking through the artistic spirit. We have a duty to report and not placate. We don’t believe in hiding from speaking about politics, identity, racial divides, and culture through our lens. The entire point of KMM is to speak up. Talk about depression, anxiety, addiction, fear, current events etc. The fact that our group is so diverse in even just the way we look and how we identify, that places an obligation on us to speak on our perspectives.

I believe it would be downright cowardly not to address what it’s like to be a person of color in a world where there are so many misconceptions about that. Where black and brown bodies are slain in technological and public sight without repercussion … A song like ‘Possibilities’ is a song that shows two black men just having a good day, hanging, appreciating the broad spectrum of being alive and the endless amount of options laid bare to us by being positive: “Bro whatchu wanna do today? You wanna smoke some weed, go down to the park, you wanna chill man, dude you dope, I’m dope, I’m glad we can look up at the sky, sky’s the limit”. That’s radical. We live in a world where that kinda ideology is very radical. Its congratulatory and fun and that’s not an image that’s usually in the competitive beast of hip hop. We wanted to combat that in an active way.

‘Asphalt’ is also confrontational and a piece that is constantly being worked. Its not necessarily a protest song rather than an explanation from the side of the oppressed, what it seems the oppressor thinks, and the fallout of those two elements clashing. We didn’t want to cash in on any direct slogans. We wanted people to feel as exhausted as we are by the end of it so it’s a ballad. The messaging is clear and really direct. It hurts to to get that one out really, but we know its our responsibility, as people of color, as young men and women, as artists … no we don’t gotta bank in on slogans. We don’t gotta say black lives matter all the time, we do sometimes, but what ‘Asphalt’ is to me is a ballad just explaining from 3 different perspectives what it look like, what it is. Because some people don’t even fuckin’ know that this is what I see when I’m watching 20 people that look exactly like me and my little brother is watching with, these people dying and getting choked out on camera and stuff like that. And he asks me “Can this happen to you? You went to college.” And that doesn’t save me from shit, just cuz I can form a sentence that don’t mean anything. I look just like him. That’s your cousin, that’s your brother, that’s your dad; this is the history that I have to teach my little brother and little nephew. Does anyone else in America have to do that cuz I gotta.

Lyrics of “Asphalt” by Kid Made Modern, published April 2016 in TSM02

Madison: I do believe that there are certain responsibilities attached to the artists … and I say that responsibility is important to an artist because responsibility is inherently human; you occupy spaces in which there are other people. Every action that you make, every decision you make has potential to affect other people. So we have a responsibility as artists to talk about that, to talk about the harm, and talk about the good you can accomplish if x, y, z. And for me its crazy because it’s so many layers; I’m black, I’m queer identifying, I’m male bodied, I identify as male, the fragility of masculinity, the brutalization of black and brown bodies … I’m teaching myself how to move in it.

All I’ve been told my entire life as a black person, as a queer identifying individual, is that I’m not right, that I’m not enough, that I have to change, that I have to be this and I have to do that. As an actor I am not viewed as an actor, about 99.9% of the time I’m a black actor right so it means I’m constantly stereotyped. And it has been a detriment to me as a human to the point where I’m apologizing for everything I do, and in order to be a real growing always changing artist you have to learn how to stop fuckin’ saying you’re sorry for existing, how to stop saying that you’re sorry for this thing that you love to do that you’ve been told is unpractical, that you’ve been told makes no sense, that you’ve been told you never gonna get anywhere—these million negative things and having the courage to say fuck that I’m gonna do it anyway is what KMM is about, I’m not a trained singer, I don’t know much about music theory, I mean I’m figuring this shit out…A million people could probably pick apart a performance that I do and say you did that wrong, you did that wrong. I do that enough myself. I don’t give a fuck about what you have to say, because I’m gonna get up and if someone asks me to sing cuz they wanna hear me sing, I’m gonna do it anyway.

Palma: You don’t actually encounter that a lot with KMM, cuz you don’t really have to argue for it. Same with The Dojo in general. Because I’m working putting together this super collaborative event, where if you think about designing or creating something, or like I’m crafting this master piece, the idea isn’t that; its just getting everyone involved, and when you’re all there everyone’s entitled to their own space in contributing, no one’s in charge of a master picture of what it’s supposed to look like!

Mykele: And I think a lot of this rush, and ya’ll see us throwing a lot of events, is only because… look Wally’s world just closed, YC closed, we know how temporary these kind of spaces are. We gotta fight so hard in order to express with each other, in order to come together and create. It’s illegal to do that, so we fight hard here as constantly as we do so the idea itself can permeate outside of The Dojo

Palma: The fact that this could go at any point, so do it all now. PUSH!

Madison: Which is great cuz that’s how life works, realizing that this is not sustainable and our existence is not sustainable

Mykele: Creating safe space, trying to deescalate, trying to make it a venue where the greatest artists play and the best audience comes to support those people, all in the span of weeks, every week 2-3 shows.

TSM: In your interview on Pure Hype you talked about imagining a “more perfect world” both in your music and in your work running The Dojo. What does this world look like?

Madison: I call it ‘radical reimagination’ … I feel the last year especially I went on a very life changing artistic journey, the impetus of which was a lot of the protests and activism work that I was a part of toward the end of 2014 when all this stuff was happening with Mike Brown and you know Freddy Gray later on, and Treyvon Martin a couple years previous. There came a point where I got home from a protest or action or an open forum or something like that and on Facebook there were videos. There was a news report about a 12 year old kid named Tamir Rice, and I told myself I wasn’t going to watch the video, but I ended up watching it, and I ended up crying, just like weeping. I was in my room sobbing to the point where I was almost sick, and I think it was an experience that really broke my spirit…

In one of the open forums that my friend Kia hosted at Jane Addams Hull-House there was a term they used “radical reimagining of the world that we live in” and they had used it in a way that meant like abolishing police departments and the need for policemen. They taught a really rich history about how police were not always an existing law enforcing thing, and since its inception people have been afraid of this rampant militarization that you see going on with most police departments now. So anyway they were like “we want to radically reimagine the way we police ourselves”. There is not a very welcoming energy in the world outside and sometimes it can feel as if the energy which exists in the physical world that we occupy does not mean us well and actually means us harm. That got me thinking about what home is and what home means and how really when you go back home, that feeling of safety, you know what I’m saying? And for most people they kinda attach that emotional response of feeling secure with home. The Dojo is our home which we invite people into; we invite people from the outside world, from that menace, to a place where they can feel safe and feel comfortable. That to me is a reimagining of what home is. And home is supposed to be this private thing but for us we open it up to people to feel that safety and I think that’s an active reimagination of the idea of what home is.

TSM: So radical reimagination for you began as an approach to activism, but eventually it started to move into your music. What parts of the music making process in Chicago worked with your concept of radical reimagination?

Madison: Radical reimagination for me shows up in the music making process in a way where I have the freedom with my lyrics and my specific brand of story telling to take a struggle and/or a concept and turn it into relationships and what I mean by that is that I think If you’re listening to a couple of our songs on the surface level you would often assume that it was about a relationship between 2 people, and in a couple of places you would be right, but the reimagining comes in for me when I am able to take the construct of relationship and I use it to express my own encountering with other things. Like take the song “3am”; that song takes the idea and plays with it on different levels. A part of that song is about my relationship with my spirituality, how the time between 3am and 4am I always find myself doing some deep soul searching bullshit. My sophomore year of college, first semester, a few months after I had broken up with my ex (who “For Joshua” is about) and there were a series of events that had happened…with deaths in my family, racism that I experienced, homophobia that I experienced — things that had just piled up, and I remember I had a handle of Svedka and it was just one of those nights. And before I knew it I was halfway through this handle and there was broken glass, there were cuts all over my body, blood in my bed. A friend found me, it was probably one of the lowest moments of my life, and I was lamenting the love I had had with this person that I sacrificed because I wasn’t ready.

Because of the religion I had grown up with had told me that it wasn’t okay, the communities that I had grown up in on the Southside of Chicago told me that it wasn’t okay. I just wasn’t secure enough in my sexuality and spirituality to recognize that rhetoric as harmful to myself. On a lot of levels our song 3AM is about that point in my life, its about my relationship with my family, my relationship with religion, and the detrimental relationship that I had with alcohol and drugs for most of college experience. It was my relationship with all these toxic things that I had to let go of. And that’s one of the ways that I re-imagine things. We have very real, active relationships with things that are not people, that are not human… they manifest in these objects and they are our demons. That’s what 3am is about.

Mykele: I really love what he [Madison] is saying because I’m sitting here and I’m listening to some of the stuff he’s saying and I never even known some of this stuff and that’s the cool thing about KMM is that we find things that are very germane to each other that can vibe on the same song, but we have two different vantage points. We try to get it so close to each other lyrically and storytelling wise that it seems like the same subject matter, but we are completely different artists. The beautiful things about the band is we don’t all have to be writing about the exact same thing, about this umbrella term. We can find things very akin in our own writing and show human element in that That to me is reimagining the world, but like in the way we find the similarities as a vantage point in, and also the differences too. Wherever you find the differences, like I go up and he goes down you know what I mean?

Madison: Yeah here is inherent dissonance that is in our music

Mykele: Even the time measure changes in 3am from when Madison is singing it and then he changes the whole thing when I have to start rapping because it’s a completely different form.

Madison: And its great because it keeps us on our toes and there is a lot of room for organic discoveries

TSM: Okay so that covers a bit of what works well, but what parts the music making process worked AGAINST your concept of radical reimagination?

Palma: There’s political issues now that there is infrastructure. When you play here in our gallery or our basement it’s whatever, but now there’s pressure to keep doing bigger things. It’s just growin up. The areas in which the radical imagination doesn’t work (it’s a good thing when it doesn’t always work, that just goes to tell you it’s a new idea and that its not always going to work) is where… I’ll put it like this: a lot of what we do depends on our individual and collective instinct when we are writing together and working together the heights that we reach come from a genuine place of always being impressed with each other. And its not competitive; it’s a natural sharpening of our skills and what we bring to the table. This comes out in us until we try to force it

Mykele: Yeah we know it tryin’ to force we can smell it.

Madison: The moment that we stop going by our instinct and try to affect a thing, that’s when the work we do stops working, because then it becomes about making a comment on this thing we do, and I don’t think that’s ever what we want to do. So its getting to that place where instinct operates on a really base level in all humans. We have totally been conditioned by society not to follow those instincts, and I think its ultimately detrimental to our emotional, creative, mental, and spiritual health. I think there’s a fine line where you definitely have to have some restraint operating in the world we live in. but to be detached from your baser instinct, it’s detrimental to the creative process. And then you start overthinking and you start making judgments on your work and that’s where anxiety comes in, that’s where frustration comes in, and its like a vein that closes and everything shuts down. It shutters and it stops. We are still figuring out where those places exist and recognizing it in ourselves and each other, and were getting to a place where we are establishing language and a dialogue where we can say “hey maybe that doesn’t work, lets try it from a different attack”. You can’t be possessive or precious, as a collective over anything that you put out. by the nature of how we make music, I can probably confidently say that we have probably composed written and come up with two and a half albums worth of material and a lot of that has just been like, that doesn’t work that’s gone. And sometimes you get nostalgic about it and you miss the song or that thing, but it doesn’t work and we know it doesn’t work and that’s okay too because our next thing might work better.

Mykele: Like I rap but sometimes I rap very wordy and sometimes that may not be exactly what’s necessary to tell a very delicate love story

Madison: There’s been times where Mykele has been like “Madison, you could sing less right there.” And then I’m like “Mykele, if you just take out the ‘the’ and this ‘and’ and ‘of’ even.”

Mykele: And I can sit there and be hurt about that and be like “But that ‘the’ was very very powerful for me,” but nah, its very important to be that critical

Madison: And you just gotta learn as an artist to unburden yourself. Take the pressure off yourself because everything that we do is about the story and none of it is about you, you know what I’m saying? It’s about the other person, about what you’re telling them and about what they do or how they respond which causes a reaction in you that furthers your story telling…if you’re singing or playing, it’s about the other people. I’ve heard this said about us, I don’t know how true it is but I’m assuming that it is because people who are not us have said it: people feel like they are a part of KMM when we are performing because it feels like a family reunion and that’s because that energy of reacting does not end at the end of the stage. There are songs where I’m just looking at people looking at eyes and seeing the tiny things that people do when they are affected by something that I’ve done or that we’ve done. Recognizing that, acknowledging that, and I just think we just understand that pretty well. It’s inviting people in, it’s like home

Mykele: And at the end of the day that is more appreciated by the audience too I feel because they see we have that energy amongst us, and they get the feeling as well instead of just being at a concert listening to the words. They actually feel something. They feel that they are invited inside our home and listening to these stories that we telling and this sound known as KMM. ‘Possibilities’ is definitely the one that we have been really harking on that idea a lot and nostalgia tones and stuff of the 90s call and response and feel like you’re in it: “We high We fly We lovely” “Now you say it.” We always make a point to be not be afraid to talk to people

Madison: How many of us are bored with going to concert or whatever, and that odd disconnect the performer and audience.

Mykele: The space between the audience and stage, the little gap right there, formalities

Madison: That doesn’t need to exist. There doesn’t need to be a wall there. I think its just such a norm in performances sometimes and the shit is boring. Its like look at me I’m right here. I’m for real I think that shit is boring, its wack, and played out. Its like bring me into the story and you can do that in different ways, I don’t want to go to a thing and see that shit anymore.

TSM: I think that the word “safe” interests me because it’s a trending word used to talk about radical spaces, but often the way people use the phrase “safe space” can be questionable. KMM and The Dojo don’t hit people over the head with these words and the language you use is more about love family home celebration positivity. So, what is a safe space to you and why do you use the language that you use?

Madison: I’m going to say a couple things. Okay so the word home is a concept that I understand as a wide received ideal … working hard getting a home and establishing a family, that’s where happiness is etc. etc.—I’ve never been under that delusion my entire life. I came from an environment where sometimes home is not where I wanted to be. I came from a past where I always had to build my home and erect my own safety…That being said I’m gonna say something maybe people do not agree with. While I understand the impetus behind it, I personally don’t believe in trigger warnings…We don’t hit people over the head with the security or enforcing part of it because we do a lot of the work with the language that we use. I’m a broken record, “Language is important, language is important,” and it’s saying, “Hi, welcome to my home” at the door…that word establishing home totally hits on all those ideas I was talking about before, reminded people constantly that your entering someone’s home, yes it’s a space and a party but you’re still entering someone’s home, and that being the first thing you hear in some ways acts as a deterrent to their behaviors…

It’s very situational based thing, but I don’t really believe that you can have an authentic and true safe space without a few triggers along the way and I say that because without these things you wouldn’t need safe space in the firs place. In order to have a safe space you have to be able to express the full range of your emotions. You guys are using the words positivity, and its true a lot of what we do is packaged in positive way, because there is no reason not to be, its truly about being… We have live literature where people talk about racism or brutalization or gentrification and we’ve had art pieces, visual art, which does that same thing, but because its in a place where these things are allowed to live and breathe in a way that doesn’t attack you, that’s where the real safety is. To be in a place where you can I actually experience those things and have it move you without it hurting you. Because we have to be able to experience those things. It resonates. Its honest.

Mykele: The collective here, we know we probably done been through some horrific shit, but its okay okay to talk about it, its very much like, we’ll talk all fuckin day about the shit that we do, we talk all the time, its all about communication…if we can be that unapologetic with each other, we can be that unapologetic with our space, in the sense that say fuck it 230 people can come here for a punk show and guess what it can be safe, and they can look at me as a black cisgender male at the door saying I live here and I can be like hey whatsup my names Mykele, welcome to my home, you never been here before nah you haven’t, cool man welcome to it…