With all due respect for that quick summer jaunt your band has planned to the East Coast and back, a few involved in Madison music have the jump on you. I checked in recently with an eclectic handful of Madisonians after, or in the midst of, their international musical travels.
A world of Khans
Ankur Malhotra is known in Madison for co-founding the site madisonmusicreview.com, spinning world-music records as DJ Spin Cycle, and taking tons of show photos. But it's his background in engineering and startups that helps Malhotra most as he spends more time recording and releasing traditional Indian music with Amarrass Records. He started the label with three friends from his native New Delhi.
The aim is to showcase musicians who are "unknown names in India - forget the rest of the world," Malhotra says. So far, he says, 65% of the label's sales are within India. Earlier this year, an NPR reporter followed Malhotra and one of his partners to a village called Raneri, near India's border with Pakistan. There they recorded Lakhar Khan, a 65-year-old master of a stringed instrument called the sindi sarangi.
Amarrass has to figure out a commercial framework for music that's rooted in a traditional context. Malhotra says he himself once jumped in as a DJ to help some of the label's musicians put together a set that'd be appropriate for an electronically oriented music festival in India. And when he talks of "branding," that's not a frivolous concern. In just a few releases, Amarrass has amassed dozens of players with the last name Khan - the "Smith" of Muslim India - so the collections of field-recorded performances are released under names like Banko Ghodo or Mitha Bol.
"Just being a label and acting like a label is not going to cut it," Malhotra says.
While living in Madison means a lot of inconveniently timed conference calls, Malhotra says he prefers doing post-production here, sometimes using WORT-FM's equipment.
In addition to plotting events like December's Desert Music Festival in New Delhi, Malhotra and partners are working on booking some of their artists for U.S. world-music festivals in 2013. And he's not the only Madisonian to go on field-recording adventures. Luke Bassuener of Control began traveling to Ghana in 2003, as a Peace Corps volunteer. On his trips, he began recording musicians in and around the village of Zebilla, and in 2009 released a CD collecting their work, Bawku West Collective, Vol. 1, with proceeds going back to the musicians. Bassuener is currently in Ghana again, recording more of them for a planned second volume.
Still need help! Paris?
When Madison hardcore five-piece Pyroklast toured Europe this April and May behind its new album, The Madness Confounds, one thing that translated was punk's make-do circuit of venues.
"We played legitimate rock clubs, a few real squats, a youth center, a few huge places that used to be squats, and a workshop in the French Alps," vocalist Tim Offensive says. A tour flyer posted on the band's Facebook page suggests the sometimes tricky nature of booking shows along a planned route: "STILL NEED HELP!! (Paris??)," reads the information for May 10.
Offensive says Pyroklast's music was mostly welcomed, partially because the songs on Madness connected so bluntly with the politics of Europe's punk scene. On "Welcome to the Third World," he screams of "Imperial death machines/That run on the blood of the poor" and "trillions of dollars spent on destruction."
But practical concerns kept Pyroklast from the heart of Europe's turmoil. "We did not go to Greece, mainly because you never know if there is going to be a general strike, and you'll have no place to get fuel or food," Offensive says.
All in all, he didn't come back with many complaints: "For me, the biggest challenge, that I never overcame, was trying to find Bloody Mary mix."
At the Hard Rock Cafe in Saigon
Since his raggedy rock outfit the Nod broke up and he bought a plane ticket to Bangkok last July, young songwriter Brett Newski has managed to find a life for himself in Southeast Asia. What he says began as "kind of a grubby DIY mission" led him to settle in Saigon in October.
Last month his Vietnam-formed band, Brett Newski and the Corruption, celebrated the release of a new CD, Saigon at Night, at that city's Hard Rock Café. Newski will play a more modestly conceived gig on Aug. 3 at Madison's Dragonfly Lounge, then plans to do a solo tour of South Africa.