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Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2012

Dozens of Musicians Get All Messed Up Again

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If you want to get all intellectual about it, you could make a strong case for the importance of chance and randomness in modern art, including John Cage's prepared pianos, the Burroughs/Gysin cut-up technique and Brian Eno's deck of Oblique Strategies cards. But that's only if you care to think too hard about it, since there's also an inherent sense of irreverence and humor involved in deciding things by a roll of the dice, the sheer silliness of unlike things being jumbled together. Embracing both the creative possibilities and the potential for mirth, last year's inaugural All Messed Up event took 36 diverse Milwaukee musicians and left it up to the hand of fate to form them into nine brand-new bands.

This year, the sequel, All Messed Up Again, taking place at Linneman's Riverwest Inn Feb. 11-12, has upped the number of local artists to 64 and the subsequent number of bands to 16, meaning more music and even stranger bedfellows. Organizer Anthony Dean Schwader, best known as the bassist for local hardcore heroes Holy Shit!, was inspired by like-minded events happening elsewhere and saw the opportunity to bring local musicians, many of who may have never considered collaborating, together.

"In Cleveland it's called the Lottery League; I've heard of it being done in Chattanooga and there're a couple of other cities that are doing something similar," Schwader says. "That's where I got the idea, and from that I thought, 'Well, Milwaukee's a great place with a lot of musicians. This could work here.'"

After being arbitrarily thrust together, participating musicians are given two months to find common ground and forge an original sound from their distinct sensibilities. By the end of this gestation period, each group is expected to present approximately 20 minutes of material, with the only requirement being that they perform at least one cover song. "I threw the cover rule in there so it would be easier for the four people to bond," Schwader explains. "When you first meet someone new, or a couple of new people, you're going to automatically talk about what you're into, what bands you're into, ask, 'Where do we all connect?' They may say, 'Well, all of us like the Jesus Lizard, so let's cover one of their songs.'"

Aside from this simple rule, bands are encouraged to embrace the experiment and take their compositions in any direction that feels right. "I set the rules up to give the bands as much freedom as possible," Schwader says. "If they want to cram 20 songs into 20 minutes, I don't care. They could do one 19-minute-long song and a minute-long cover, or whatever they choose. It's really up to them; I try to stay out of it as much as possible."

Though at least one band from last year's event, The Living Blackouts, is still together, most of these collaborations are transient by their very nature, only meant to exist for a certain time. In light of this, Schwader has taken steps to make sure everything is well documented. "Last year, High Frequency Media filmed everything and came up with the All Messed Up movie, which you can check out on Vimeo," Schwader says. "This year, what I'm going to do is run a digital recorder off the soundboard and have one or two out in the hall of Linneman's itself. That way, I'll be able to sync those up in GarageBand or whatever and be able to capture everybody."

Whether this year's bands use the opportunity to hunker down and synthesize something more challenging or simply have fun casually bouncing their wildest ideas off of each other—we're guessing it will be a mix of both, but band names like Lola Lasagne and Larry Byrd Sex would seem to indicate a healthy dose of the latter—with so much talent involved, the results of this creative experiment are almost guaranteed to be interesting. Who knows, maybe one of these haphazardly thrown together units will turn out to be an important band. But, really, by merely opening up lines of communication and fostering a stronger sense of community in the Milwaukee music scene, All Messed Up Again is already a rousing success.

All Messed Up Again takes place at Linneman's on Saturday, Feb. 11, at 9 p.m. and Sunday, Feb. 12, at 6 p.m.