This story was produced in partnership with Tone Madison, an independent website covering music and culture in Madison, Wisconsin.
Towards the start of February, Madison arts non-profit Communication released a compilation of local queer musicians entitled Queer Madison Mixtape: Winter 2021. (Full disclosure: Communication is Tone Madison’s partner organization.) In one of the more endearing bits of copy that have surfaced in recent memory, the release was advertised as “a compilation of low-effort recordings.”
While that description may apply to most demo compilations in a very practical sense, the effort that went into writing a handful of these songs is both evident and sizable. Heather Rae’s “Making Peace With Both Sides” runs nearly 10 minutes and stays consistently riveting as it fixates on two fractured individuals in a relationship that’s perpetually a step away from being completely healthy, finding the unflinching humanity present on both sides.
Moreover, queer people are still being marginalized on a sweeping, systemic level, and are more likely to experience the infliction of targeted violence. Bleakness and vulnerability do weigh on a lot of the music on Queer Madison Mixtape, and tackling all that is a big lift in its own right. Pain is never easy to confront, much less accept as a fixture of one’s existence in a society. So, “low-effort” only seems to go so far as a descriptor, but does nicely complement some of the featured artists’ tendencies towards playful self-deprecation.
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Isaac Arms’ comp-opening track, “Safer At Home,” draws parallels between the risk of being out as queer with the risks of being caught in a pandemic in one of Queer Madison Mixtape’s most memorable moments. Ryan Eykholt offers up aching vocal runs, a heartrending narrative, and keys work on the ensuing “Crust,” which boasts shades of both Antony And The Johnsons and early Perfume Genius. Towards the compilation’s final quarter, Addison Christmas takes a characteristically cutting look inward, probing both the songwriter’s tendency towards self-loathing and body dysmorphia.
Sarah Akawa, who runs the Queer IRL event series and co-organizes the Hot Summer Gays series, adds a welcome electronic bent to the compilation under the Saint Saunter moniker with the vibrant “Quarantine Filler Track.” Ezreth’s sprawling “Looking Into The Sun (Realization Sequence)” extends a sliver of that electronic-based aesthetic to great effect. Tone Madison contributor Holly Marley-Henschen appears towards the top of the compilation with “Slove, Finally,” which is a fine bit of slapdash slop n’ roll.
An eclectic group of musicians round the release out and Communication has done right by them, providing a page dedicated to the songs that appear on the compilation which includes all of the available lyrics and some additional information about the artists.
There’s a sense of genuine community that can be found in the compilation, and the care that both the musicians and Communication has invested into the project is palpable. A group made up of Jess Wagoner (who contributed “Diners And Queer Bars”), Shaun Soman, and Communication’s Jennifer Bastian were the guiding forces behind the compilation’s development, operating under the name Queer Madison Mixtape Collective, extending the compilation’s identity as a truly communal piece. It’s a worthy effort from an often under-represented cross section of Madison artists, and it benefits an excellent cause.
In a statement to Tone Madison, Waggoner also noted that the series would be ongoing, listing this summer as the target date for volume two, emphasizing a commitment to expanding accessibility efforts for both live-streaming and when in-person events are able to resume. Waggoner also openly ecouraged more queer artist submissions to the ongoing project, all of which can be directed toward [email protected].
Queer Madison Mixtape is currently available as a name-your-price download, with all funds raised being donated directly to the local nonprofit Freedom, Inc., which tirelessly advocates for social justice. We could always use more chances to directly invest in Madison’s queer community while directly elevating the that contribute to that community’s culture, so this an opportunity worth seizing.