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The second annual electronic music festival resurfaces at Cactus Club this weekend with a sharper focus and provides an easy entry point for beginners.

While the city’s electronic music scene can’t be measured on the same scale as the expansive power pop or rap scenes, you can easily find its musical community if you know where to look. One gateway into that scene happens at Cactus Club, Friday, July 21, and Saturday, July 22, with the return of MKE Synth Fest. The second annual event comes back more refined and accessible than before. It features local producers like Seducer and adoptahighway and national acts like Wisconsin ex-pat Doormouse and Baseck. The festival also includes “build sessions” courtesy of Modular Addict, 2633 S. Kinnickinnic Ave., where budding producers can craft their first modulators. (See full schedule below)

In advance of this weekend’s festival, we caught up with organizer Jim Schoenecker on the second year, the city’s electronic music scene, and the more interactive elements of this year’s festivities.


Where did the idea to hold MKE Synth Fest come from?

There was a previous incarnation of Synth Fest a few years ago that the current organizers weren’t involved in. One of the original organizers left Milwaukee and so Ken Sabbar (Dead Pawn) thought that the gap needed to be filled. So last year he pulled a few people in to help out and brought it back with more diversity—maybe almost too much.

We were really ambitious and it was great, but 20 acts across two venues for two full days was a lot to digest. We’ve pared it down this year to only 10 acts across two nights. But of course we added artists from outside of the Midwest and extra side events. We couldn’t help ourselves.

Why do you think it’s more difficult for electronic musicians to play outdoor block parties and summer festivals?

I think that it’s becoming less difficult as time goes on. People’s expectations are changing. I’m sure we will see more and more of this in the future – at least I hope so. Who knows, we might be blocking off entire streets for the fest next year.

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How would you describe Milwaukee’s electronic music scene?

Right now it’s fantastic, and it’s growing fast with no signs of slowing down for a number of reasons: there is a new generation moving in that has much more awareness of electronic music in general; synthesizers are much more affordable (analog/modular ones especially); obviously social media; and I think overall audiences are much more open to hearing different styles and artists taking chances and experimenting.

I think a huge turning point in Milwaukee was when Paul Demix started his MELT series in 2011. This brought electronic artists from all different genres playing on the same night.  It really worked and still continues to. His recent series run has been phenomenal.

When I first started out, the electronic scene here, especially for experimental/IDM, was pretty bleak. Dance music in the clubs was about the extent of it, and even though I personally was making this type of music, it was hard to break and play club venues.

Are there any preconceptions that people who don’t listen to electronic music have about the genre?

I think one of the preconceptions that people still may have is that it’s not difficult to make electronic music, which may be true in some respects, but also to make good music and push the boundaries with experimentation, it takes a lot of work, planning and creative energy, especially with the resurgence of modular synthesizers.

This year MKE Synth Fest features interactive elements, including an open mic and build sessions for beginners at the newly opened Modular Addict store. Why add these to the festival?

We had this idea last year and we just needed to develop it more, so we waited.

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The timing turned out to be perfect with the build sessions. Modular Addict (an online DIY modular synth sale site) decided to open a storefront in Bay View. And while it’s not quite open yet, we are holding the sessions there. John Karbassi (owner) is opening up a shop unlike anything in the country, which further supports the booming synthesizer/electronic scene here in Milwaukee.

What do you think the future holds for the festival?

More great artists. More special events. More patch cables.


Full schedule for MKE Synth Fest

Friday, July 21

Build Session at Modular Addict, 5 p.m.
$29.99 for kit of “MSG” (Mini Søund Generatør)

Festival showcase at Cactus Club, 9 p.m.
($12 advance; $15 door; $30 weekend pass)

Sheila Teruty
Orange Drink
Milwaukee Drum Machine Quartet
Stave
Seducer

Saturday, July 22

Build Session at Modular Addict, 10 a.m.
$39.99 for kit of slimmed down version of Eurorack Karplus Strong module Karp

Synth Meet at Club Garibaldi, 1 p.m.
($10; $30 weekend pass)

Show & Tell courtesy of Synth Meet MKE; Synth Fest open mic; Q&A with multiple musicians & producers about their process; free equipment swap

Festival showcase at Cactus Club, 9 p.m.
($12 advance; $15 door; $30 weekend pass)

Sample and Fold
adoptahighway
CCDM
Baseck
Doormouse


 

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