The return of Milwaukee’s “randomized musical experiment,” All Messed Up
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Keeping an annual event going from year to year is a lot tougher than it seems. The organizers have to be motivated, the venues have to be on board, and, more importantly, it has to fill some sort of need to keep the public turning up. Riverwest Fest celebrates an essential neighborhood, and the Milwaukee Noise Fest draws attention to an underexposed scene. Then there’s All Messed Up, Milwaukee’s “randomized musical experiment,” which gives the city’s musicians something collaborative and fun to look forward to once the dregs of winter set in. Taking 64 local artists and arbitrarily shuffling them into 16 brand-new bands—who then perform at a two-day extravaganza—All Messed Up is now in its third year of musical matchmaking, and shows no signs of slowing down. The 2013 extravaganza, All Messed Up III: No Return Possible, is scheduled for February 1-2 at Linneman’s.
“I had the hope that it would become a yearly thing, but I definitely didn’t go in saying, ‘This is going to happen every year. This will be a new institution,’” Anthony Schwader, organizer and bassist for local hardcore heroes Holy Shit!, says. “But the first year went really well, the second year went even better, and obviously this year it’s still happening. I’m planning on a fourth, assuming I’m still around.”
And why not? The interest is certainly there, with more and more people wanting in on the fun. “The first year it was basically my circle of musician friends. It was just kind of inbreeding,” Schwader explains. “But this year, I ran some stupid statistics, and close to three-quarters of the people are new, which is just excellent, because that’s where you’re getting into what the meat of the event is.”
After observing similar experiments while on tour, Schwader tailored the idea to Milwaukee, allowing a full three months for the flung-together bands to come up with 15 to 20 minutes of material, including one cover, and limiting registration, more or less, to the city and surrounding suburbs. The inaugural event came off well, and after some slight alterations, including standardizing the bands into quartets and moving the finale to Linneman’s in Riverwest, All Messed Up was up and running. The only real change this year is the reintroduction of an idea from the first event: a phrase that all the acts must work into their set. (This year’s being “You’ve gotta be fucking kidding me.”) “I don’t see any reason to change,” Schwader says. “This isn’t broken in any way, so let’s not try to fix it.”
The rules themselves are simple, but, like chess, they can play out in any number of interesting directions. “Last year, we started to see a lot of music that wasn’t just the usual pop-punk or hardcore or whatever,” Schwader says. “There was an instrumental band with two drummers, guitar, and bass. There was a band where the members switched instruments after every song, which I thought was awesome. The more the participants realize they can really do anything they want, I think All Messed Up will do what it’s really intended to do, which is to keep pushing the limits of what’s possible.”
Not only is registration open to musicians of all styles and persuasions, it’s open to all skill levels as well. “Since you’re not required to have any musical knowledge or to be able to play any instrument, a lot of people get into this thinking, ‘I’ve always wanted to play drums, I’ve always wanted to be in a band, this is my chance,’” Schwader says. “I hate the phrase, but this is a ‘judgment-free zone.’”
That may not sit well with more experienced players, but All Messed Up isn’t about taking things too seriously. “I always tell the 10-year vets that they must be prepared to be picked with people who have never played before. If you’re not prepared for that, this is not the event for you, because that’s what it’s all about,” Schwader says. “If you can’t handle that and you’re not willing to help, then, frankly, get the fuck out.”
According to Schwader, the only thing he can promise is that the final results will be fun. Beyond that, you should probably expect the unexpected. “If you could ever listen to a question mark, this is basically the event you’d be walking into,” he says. “It’s something exciting, something you don’t see every day.” Hopefully though, it’ll be something we’ll continue to see every year.