PLAYING COLUMBUS: didi Grows into Their Second Album

Out of the 90 minutes I spend talking with didi, 30 are consumed by parking troubles. Circling foggy blocks in the Richmond District ahead of the group’s San Francisco show, guitarist/vocalist Meg Zakany tries fitting their tour van into one tiny spot after another, only to eventually find that the reserved load-in space has been taken by another desperate Bay Area driver. I can’t imagine a more fitting SF interview backdrop. And though the bulk of our conversation takes place before and after the time spent crowded into their car, these moments of pause and half-heard conversation are some of the most intimate I record. The car is cocoon-like, hushed and warmed by fabric hung into the back seat, and decorated with bottles of rose water. During tour, Zakany explains, “we all take turns driving, and we all take care of each other in that way. Sometimes there’s back rubs, [or] aromatherapy.”

didi and I have each gone out of our way to be in California this summer: myself taking half of my break from grad school to visit my home in the Bay Area, and didi scheduling their tour around visiting the West Coast. “We just did so well on the West Coast last tour–the reason we did twelve hour drives is to come out here,” vocalist/guitarist Kevin Bilapka-Arbelaez tells me. And so we meet each other, for the first time, outside of Columbus, Ohio, though Columbus is where we’re all spending the most time these days. Columbus is also where didi formed, five years ago, and where they released their self-titled debut. Since then, the band’s lineup–vocalist/bassist Leslie Shimizu and drummer Sheena McGrath join Zakany and Bilapka-Arbelaez–hasn’t changed, and neither has their dedication to each other. But much else has. “Five years in a person’s life is huge,” Zakany tells me. “In each of our lives individually, so much has changed. We’ve been through a lot: moving out of state, moving houses, ceremonies… we’ve been there with each other through all of that.”

All photos by Kaiya Gordon

While we talk, I notice again and again how the band communicates care to one other. They know each others’ sleep schedules, and do their best to divide tour duties equally. Zakany tells me how instrumental Shimizu has been in ensuring each member eats regularly over tour; after, I hear Shimizu ask her bandmates when they plan on getting dinner. When didi gives interviews, they make sure the whole team is present. Listening to them build off of one another, acknowledging each other’s strengths, adding on to and affirming their bandmate’s thoughts–I feel like I have been brought into their process. didi speaks to one another as though constructing a musical arrangement, paying attention to the rise and fall of each members’ contribution, pushing forward and falling back as needed. “It’s something that is important to us in general,” says Shimizu, “having all of the voices be heard in a group.”

While playing, McGrath says, “we ask each other for a lot of feedback. I think that’s a really important way in which the group is just checking itself.” Just as their conversations are, didi’s musical method is collaborative. As a new song develops, members will construct musical parts, send them to whomever initially brought the track, see if it fits, and then try the arrangement live. “We don’t really write parts for each other,” Bilapka-Arbelaez says. “Part of what I like about this band is that we all have very big personalities, but we all make room for each other.” The process isn’t always easy. Sometimes, Shimizu says, song processes will take rounds and rounds of collaborative trial and error. But they continue to center collaboration, says Shimizu, “because we care. That’s kind of what really comes across. That’s didi.”

Consistently, the band tells me, moments of personal instability have been balanced by their commitment to didi’s music. “[didi] is like my rock,” says McGrath. Back in 2013, when they first came together as a band, explains Bilapka-Arbelaez, “we were trying to figure out what our sound was. But now, us together is our sound. We love each other, and we love what we’re doing,” he says. “[We] know that it’s something that we do well together, and something we each contribute something really important to.”

Shimizu agrees. “It’s something that can actually give us strength now that we look up and say, yeah, we’ve been a band for five years. It’s something that gives us motivation and the course to keep going. If we can do five years, we can do forever.”

Yet growth, even when collectively supported, is never painless. With years of touring, interviewing, and art making under their belts, didi has learned, out of necessity, how to navigate working in an industry largely unsupportive of women and people of color. On tour, Zakany says, “You can observe the ways in which people have been socialized, for example, by the way that they carry themselves, and interact with other people.” When somebody doesn’t have “experience with people like us, a band like us or a person like us,” Zakany notices it. 

didi notices, too, when the conversation around their music rings only a single note: asking them to describe the band in terms of marginalized identity. “We recognize how important it is to have those shared experiences with artists, and to be represented,” says Zakany. “We all want to see ourselves represented in music, but I don’t know, sometimes that just takes over the conversation.” 

“I do think a lot about the idea of choosing when to talk about the things that I struggle with,” says Bilapka-Arbelaez. “Me being onstage, as I’m going to be tonight, and introducing two songs that are very important to me, is different than having something come out that like, really focuses on that identity and essentializes it. think I want authenticity more than I want brand recognition.”

“So many things that you do, and that we do, as a team, as women, [is] taking care of each other,” says Zakany. “We have a big guard up. And we have to, because we have to protect each other.”

Like Memory Foam, the band’s second album, has come out of all of this: from years of changes to their lives, their deepening connections to each other, and their experiences as musicians. When they decided on a title for the album, says Bilapka-Arbelaez, “We were talking about how different experiences can leave imprints in our lives and in the way we live our lives. A lot of the songs [on the album] are about those experiences that leave imprints on who we are.” Who they are, not just as individuals, but as a band, is something integral to didi’s artistic approach. Because they can’t speak to each other’s lived experiences, says Shimizu, didi focuses on making decisions as a group. “I can’t put into words why Kevin, for example, may have written a song in Spanish, or why Meg was envisioning this thing with [her] family,” she says. “The songs are personal to each person in a different way.”

Like Memory Foam, which had a soft release in Columbus last week, is different than didi’s first album in several ways. This time, the album will be released on a label, Damnably Records. The group has introduced new instruments, as well: percussive pieces, cello, and synth meant to “make the lyrics come alive with the music,” Shimizu says. “We spent a lot of time in the studio this time around. We had time to sit on the parts, and think about them, and play them over and over.” The result is an album which manages to be both lyrically diverse and emotionally cohesive. “I don’t think that we sat down and were like ‘what’s the concept of this album gonna be?’” says Bilapka-Arbelaez. “The through-line [of the album] is just that it’s personal to each of us, in that we each wrote songs that delved into things that we were dealing with at the time, and then musically we all helped each other sort of parse that out, and express it.”

Overall, says McGrath, as didi has spent time learning and living and making together, “We’ve learned a lot about how we are supported and what we draw strength upon in ourselves. You’ve got to find a balance between when to do it yourself and when to reach out.”

PLAYING COLUMBUS: Galen Tipton Sparkles on First LP Nightbath

As the dusk of May began to fall on Ohio, I discovered fireflies. The first time I saw them, flickering across my cobbled neighborhood street, my overjoyed reaction made my roommate laugh: pointing and squealing like a kid, I couldn’t get over the shock of them, the way that they zipped through the air, appearing as their lights turned on, and disappearing as they turned off. In California, I had dreamed of fireflies as a string of lanterns–as lazy, hazed orbs. But these fireflies were not like that at all; instead, it felt as though the air had gifted me with a thousand miniature spontaneous combustions.

Listening to Galen Tipton’s Nightbath feels like finding fireflies – the same rush of surprise comes to me as I listen to Tipton manipulate sounds, pushing and pulling elements so that, like the fireflies’ lights, they appear and disappear with heady energy. Tipton produced the entire album electronically, and I struggle to describe what they’ve produced with enough detail to match their accomplishment. Each sound used seems to be intimately crafted, as though in the making of the album, Tipton has blown thousands of glass balls, only to set them loose to smash against each other. The crafted quality, while difficult to describe, is also what makes the album compelling–each sequence of sounds brings with it the imprint of human design along with otherworldly effect. On Nightbath, Tipton has set up a carefully designed Rube Goldberg machine. One musical movement triggers another, and doubles of familiar sounds are tweaked to make them slightly new again. They walk a tricky line: if the sounds ring too close to home, they’ll come off as uncanny; too far, and they’ll lose any human context.

The record’s opening track, “endless black,” pours out in a rush of twinkling notes and scuttling, lurching beats. “I just feel everything, all the time,” a distorted voice says, about 2/3rds through the track. I feel that too–but on “endless black,” information overload, in the form of overlapping sounds, feels sorted. Likewise, on the album’s title track, Tipton builds an initially simple melody with layer upon layer of newly introduced sounds, recklessly changing the rhythm, tone, and octave throughout. But the song never feels like an onslaught. Moments of oasis, when layers peel back to reveal quiet, melodic beauty, serve as stepping stones throughout the track, leading the listener forward through the spinning sound elements.

Other songs, like “mutant,” featuring Atlas Moe, Tripp Fontane, T5UMUT5UMU, and Junior Astronaut, make me giddy. The song starts off with a syncopated, squealing beat, before a sound like the patter of footsteps on tin ushers the listener into a sequence of escalating pulses. After the pulses drop, shined, xylophone-like sounds spill into melody; it feels, only forty-six seconds in, as though while listening to the song I’ve parted the curtain into an alternate, brightly washed universe, where sounds as disparate as spooky Halloween effects and eating fruit on a beach make sense in tandem.

With Nightbath, Tipton has revealed the multi-modality of their talents: along with mixing and mastering the entire album, Tipton created all of the project’s artwork. But they are, above all else, a master conductor. Nightbath juggles fifteen collaborations throughout, mixing voices from Columbus’ electronic community, artists from Tipton’s label, DESKPOP, and featured artists and producers from around the world. It’s a testament to Tipton’s talent for composition that the album was even puzzled together. Yet Nightbath is an album invested both in small-scale craft and large-scale coherence, and, despite the number, each collaboration truly brings something new and needed.

The collaborations, too, reveal Tipton’s apparent interest in music as community; nine of the featured artists are, like Tipton, queer and non-binary. These partnerships have paid off: Nightbath succeeds as a multi-faceted sound project because each facet works in harmony. If handled poorly, I imagine that this album might have exhausted itself by introducing too many combative elements. But, while the project is clearly grounded in Tipton’s engineering, Nightbath treats each collaborative sequence as integral to the overall vision. As a result, the listener is not barraged by fighting sounds; rather, the sensation of listening to Tipton’s music feels much like taking in an elaborately woven tapestry. It’s a sensation representative of the lineage Nightbath comes from: experimental albums made by trans artists who specialize in manipulating sound.

Photo courtesy of Galen Tipton

Most remarkable, I think, is that you don’t need to forget about the crafting of Nightbath for it to be fun. Listening to the release for the first time, part of my glee came from marveling at the largeness of the music, at its unrelenting dips, inclines, and switchback. But the album also just makes me want to dance. It’s hard to listen without squirming in your seat, itching to realize the possibilities for movement folded into each beating sequence. There is something to be said, too, about what expansive music can do to a body: how it can unlock new ways to move, to travel, to understand oneself.

Summer in Ohio has been a surprise in many ways: I didn’t expect the rot, or the thunderstorms; the thickly humid air, or the sparkle of anticipation that comes before lightning. I didn’t expect surprise to feel good, either. But it does–I’m treasuring the shock of new seasons, and of new plants and bugs. There is freeness in feeling that any corner could bring wonder.

Back when I first saw fireflies, my roommate and I chased them in the cool evening air. He tried to show me how to catch one, fitting one cupped hand against the other. I failed each time I tried. This is what I’m learning in these high summer days: things don’t need to be contained to be felt. Surprise, when left expansive, can be difficult to share. But I am energized by the joy I hold secretly inside myself. Listening to Nightbath, I am struck by the way that it, too, resists my cupped hands. This resistance, the difficulty I have fitting my feelings about the album into words, is what will keep me going back to it.

Nightbath Is available via DESKPOP records. Stream the full album here:

For disclosure purposes: Kaiya Gordon’s poem “Roleplay as a Body” will be included in a zine released by DESKPOP to accompany Nightbath.

PLAYING COLUMBUS: Revisiting Queer Kevin’s “If I Had Known”

This is how I wrote this review: I listened to If I Had Known for an entire day, ears devouring my headphones as I walked from my office, to get food, to my home, and again as I rode the bus downtown, where I was set to be a Legal Observer at a political action, and again on the bus home, after I observed eight arrests of peaceful protesters. I sunk myself into it, letting the songs dissolve into the day’s feelings: my fear of the aggressive cops downtown; the social distress which has crept up on me in the past weeks; the wariness I’ve felt, stepping into online discourse around Pride; the way I thought to myself yesterday: “maybe I’m too tired to be proud this June.”


Columbus’ Queer Kevin released If I Had Known, their debut album, a year ago, but it only became available on Spotify this week. Beyond the re-release and upload, it seems appropriate to revisit the album during this time: the group, comprised of Felix O’Connor and Dylan Reese, is set to come out with their second album soon; the multi-disciplinary arts space, Bloom, that O’Connor and others have spearheaded is set for a pop-up event on June 24th; and June seems like an optimum time to listen to Columbus voices for queer and trans advocacy and liberation.

If I Had Known is thickly instrumental, Reese’s drums and O’Connor’s bass obscuring the vocals (also by O’Connor) so that they appear to be crystallizing through fog, or wafting in from another room. It’s a haunting effect, and one which makes it difficult to discern, on the first try, exactly what O’Conner is saying. Instead, the emotional weight is carried through vocal quality and pitch–each note, weighted by the heavy bass and drum lines, seems to be dragging itself forward despite the burden of attached feelings. Or, as the pair say on their bandcamp: the album is comprised of “songs about crying, or whatever.”


In public, I criticize coming out narratives for the ways in which they force self-disclosure from queer and trans people, continuing the violent idea that breaks from heteronormativity must be explained away, presented to be examined. In private, I just don’t have the energy. Sometimes, I think of switching my pronouns once again, just so I don’t have to advocate for myself as often. Waiting for others to intervene drains me daily.

Last year, I celebrated pride by attending the trans march in San Francisco, working a merch table on the day of the parade, getting paid, then immediately blowing the money on a haircut. I spent thirty minutes in front of the diffused light of my curtain, taking selfies until I found myself blurred and unrecognizable. “You know how if you look at something long enough it just becomes shapes?” I asked on my instagram caption. “That’s how I feel about my face.”


As much as the album’s affect is driven by its composition, the lyrics, when unveiled, are equally poignant. On “La Luna,” O’Connor sings: “I fell in love with the moon / glowing against my skin / something inside of me / awoke ancient and lost [fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][…] some days I am a looming cloud / and some days I reign soft / no matter the weather / she stays.” The pairing of surreal sensory detail and planetary personification is moving, and reminds me of another piece of beloved queer art: J. Jennifer Espinoza’s “The Moon is Trans.”

Other lyrics get straight to the point, though that point is no less meaningful. “We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it,” O’Connor announces on “here/queer.” The line is sandwiched between two verses with gut-punching descriptions of bodily control and implied harm, implying that the need to “get used to it” is imperative for the speaker because social discomfort and fear comes with the threat of violence. “Break my back and break my soul / kill me with every step you go / wake up cold, afraid, and alone / I am not a monster,” O’Connor sings. In the last vocal line, this lyric shifts–instead of the speaker advocating for themselves, they confront the listener. Says O’Connor: “I am not your monster.” The result of this progression, as well as the repetition of the “here/queer” refrain, is a song which simultaneously asks listeners to question their complicity in queer death and harm, and assures those same listeners that queer folks will exist despite.


After the trans march in San Francisco, my friends and I spent hours walking through the city, laughing through the cool summer air. In Dolores Park, we rolled down grass hills until we were too dizzy to stand. I texted my crush. I realized I hadn’t eaten all day, and we left to get burritos.

This is to say that I only know Pride in how I take care of myself, of my friends. Pride, people say, was a riot–but it was more than that, too, the public unveiling of networked safety and care that queer and trans folks had developed for decades. Riots last more than one night. They are sustained not only by sheer will, but by relationships strengthened by trust, need, the willingness to see one another, to sit at the same table. Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera did not only throw bricks; they spent years housing and feeding the trans people, street queens, and sex workers around them. And the work never stops–despite erasure, despite the constant movement and effort needed to keep the names and histories of elders afloat, we know Johnson and Rivera’s names today through the work of another trans woman, Reina Gossett, who sustains the veracity of their legacies with her careful attention and light archival touch. Another member of Johnson and Rivera’s community, Miss Major Griffin-Gracy, has continued to advocate for trans folks–especially incarcerated trans women of color–for decades. And the legacies of Johnson and Rivera’s radical work, including S.T.A.R. house, continues to inform the community’s fight for safety and freedom today.


After repeat listens, I am still bowled away by Queer Kevin’s skillful instrumentation and craft on If I Had Known; the album manages to suggest a kind of intimate interiority at the same time that its insistent drum and basslines push the tone and speed of the music. The vocals, intelligible and shifting, pull the listener in, as one whispering a secret might draw their confidant close, but the musical tone is assertive, confident, dark, and driving. It is this weaving of multiple levels, emotions, and points of entry that wraps around me each time I listen; my desire to unravel and then piece the album back together is parallel to my desire to unravel and then piece my own hurts and joys and wants together.

There is a kind of desperate strength to this album that I recognize in myself, and many of the queer and trans artists around me. It is strength desperate in its exhausting and constant need, in the need to take care of one another, to make resources and love out of nothing. But it is a fierce and unending strength too, the ability to fight for yourself, for your friends, to stand and say, clearly, as Queer Kevin does on “Burn all Cis Men,” “you will not hurt me again or I will guarantee to you / you will burn / don’t touch me or it will be the end of your time.”

Most of all, the ability to fight and keep fighting is strong because it is part of a legacy of radical love which reaches back decades. On the bus, listening to If I Had Known, I think of all of the friends and family I have chosen to care for, and to let care for me. I think about how revolutions are built on relationships, and of the connective tissue that has held queer and trans artists together, and which has kept them alive, despite.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]

PLAYING COLUMBUS: Stems Fearlessly Fuse Prog and Hip-Hop on Debut

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photo by Annie Noelker

Stems started as a high school project, but they’ve come a long way since band class. In the past year, the group – which members describe as “prog-hop” – has released an EP, two singles, and an album; they’ve been featured by Columbus’ Mouth Mag and The Dispatch; and on March 23rd they dropped their debut album with a show at Kafe Kerouac.

That album, Out of Fear, is a forceful premiere. The twelve songs, which range from a breezy 1:36 to 4:14, are decidedly ambitious in their variance. This is not a one-shot album; rather, Stems has been careful to draw from a wide selection of musical references and tools. Mickey Shuman, the group’s guitarist as well as composer, has managed to build out a full album which weaves a wide net: though tonally coherent, Out of Fear wriggles out from under genre-specific descriptors, shifting triumphantly from song-to-song.

The leading song, “Vices,” bounces between vocalist Kendall Martin’s relentless verses and an addictive, staccato guitar riff. It sets the tone for the whole album: beyond Martin’s lyrical explorations, Out of Fear navigates the relationships between disparate compositional elements. It’s reminiscent of a jazz ensemble – elements converse with each other, building the meaning of the song as they stagger in and out of focus. The additional two musicians in the group, Dante Montoto (bass) and Zach Pennington (drums), round out the quartet, grounding the instrumental conversation in a traditionalist four-piece structure.

Given the technical attention on Out of Fear, an initial instinct might be to question whether the album fits within hip-hop. But I’d argue that hip-hop has always been multiply-modal. The introduction of samples, remixing, verses, and electronic adjustment all speak to the relational quality of hip-hop and the importance of multiple voices to each track. What is remarkable about Stems’ work, then, is not the urge to expand their music but the way that expansion highlights each instrument’s vibrancy. Remarkable, too, is the ease with which Stems shifts beats and time signatures within the album, each song, and even within verses. Stems will shrug off one beat and into another so casually it’s easy to forget they’re trying something new each time.

“Out of Fear,” the album’s namesake and second single, is driven forward by an emotional and wrenchingly paced performance by Martin. “My life don’t mean the same as yours / this is America,” Martin raps, “where they judge you by your skin / and not your character.” It’s not the first stirring moment on the album, but it the careful balance Martin is able to strike between clarity, flow, and felt emotion in his lyrics and vocal performance still gives me pause each time I listen.

Stems’ emergence in Columbus comes as part of a long legacy of both hip-hop and rock in Central Ohio. And though, for many reasons, it is often not easy for youth to thrive in Ohio, it’s exciting to see bands like Stems unabashedly experiment with their releases, and to see them collaborating with other young artists, musicians, and makers.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]

PLAYING COLUMBUS: Three Ohio Acts That Slayed SXSW

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Remember Sports photo by Jess Flynn

While Columbus geared up for yet another snowstorm last week, Austin was getting ready for South by Southwest (SXSW), a yearly conference and festival highlighting music, film, and art. SXSW is notorious for its sprawl – the festival spills over the city limits for several weeks – its off-site events, and the breadth of artists in attendance; showcases put on by labels, outlets, venues, and even countries highlight the vastness of the music industry.

Like SXSW, music in Central Ohio crosses boundaries of genre, geography, and generation. Artists spring from larger cities, like Columbus, but also form in pockets of community found in smaller cities. Colleges, collectives, and a strong sense of locality generate musical projects which are diverse in their approach, instrumental treatment, and subject. This year at SXSW, Ohio was represented by a plethora of creators, managers, creatives, and more. This week, Playing Columbus highlights three musical artists who planted their Ohio roots at SXSW 2018.


Hometown: Columbus, OH
First formed in 2013 out of the Columbus DIY scene, didi has impressed both within Columbus and beyond; after the release of their debut album in 2015, the group toured with Speedy Ortiz, Sad13, and Diet Cig, among others. didi was named as a band to watch by Columbus Alive in 2017, and they’ve been featured by Remezcla and PBS. They’re an strikingly talented, tight-knit group: made up of Meg Zakany, Sheena McGrath, Kevin Bilapka-Arbelaez, and Leslie Shimizu, the group splits signing and song-writing responsibilities. They’re also an important figure in the Columbus music canon because of their advocacy for QTIPOC and women within the overwhelmingly white, inaccessible DIY community. Fans of didi can expect more work from the group soon – their second album is expected to be released sometime this summer.


Hometown: Akron, OH
Ohio has a rich history of hip-hop and rap, a legacy which has crystalized in the work of Swoope. Though he’s now based in Atlanta, the rapper was born and raised in Akron Ohio, where he grew up playing music with his family and within his church. Swoope’s been an iconic rapper within the Christian community since his earliest releases, but it was with his second full-length album, Sinema, that allowed Swoope to cross into the mainstream. Last month, Swoope released his latest project, Sonshine, on a new label, Native No./EMPIRE.


Hometown: Gambier, OH
Remember Sports, who are now based in Philadelphia, PA, formed in Ohio while the band members were attending Kenyon College. After self-releasing their first album under the moniker Sports, they signed to Father/Daughter records in 2015 and followed up with their second full-length project, All of Something. Since then, the group has graduated from college, added “Remember” to their name to avoid any confusion with other bands, and released a split EP with label-mates Plush. Like didi, Remember Sports includes three vocalists – Carmen Perry, Catherine Dwyer, Jack Washburn – who split duties. Their fourth member, Conner Perry, plays percussion for the band. But Remember Sports goes far beyond the expected instrumental components of a quartet, incorporating a remarkable number of instruments, including slide guitar, melodica, drum machine, and field recordings. They’re prolific, too; though it’s only been months since the EP release, Remember Sports already has new material on the way. Slow Buzz, their third full-length, is set to drop on May 18th. The first single from the album, “Up From Below,” has already been released – a pop-punk influenced song with syncopated rhythm and irreverent, gut-punching lyrics.


PLAYING COLUMBUS: The Turbos Critique Police Brutality with New Video

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Photo courtesy of Mitchell Multimedia

“America, it’s the land of the free/Most have rights, but they don’t extend to me.” These powerful lines open The Turbos’ latest release, “‘Murica.” Filmed by Caden Huston, the video that accompanies the new song shows the four-piece playing in front of a screen that flashes images of police brutality, sirens, and hashtags naming those who have been killed at the hands of police. As the video progresses, the images become distorted by screen glitches. With lyrics that describe faults between police testimony and recorded events, these increasingly glitchy images suggest a link between violence and manipulated truth. At the same time, The Turbos’ driving rock performance, as well as singer Alex D.’s moving vocal performance, compels the listener to think about resistance.

It’s an apt video to release in Columbus Ohio, which has one of the highest rates of deadly police shootings in the country. Just weeks ago, unarmed teenager Joseph Haynes was killed by police at Franklin County Courthouse. On Monday, members of Columbus’ #BlackPride4 were found guilty on 6 of 8 charges related to police interaction, despite months of community push-back.

“‘Murica” comes approximately a year after The Turbos’ debut EP Alternator, which was recorded after the members of the band – Matt Love, Cameron Reck, Lucas Esterline, and Alex D. – started working together as a side-project. The songs on Alternator take influence from the members’ disparate bands, as well as the Columbus rock scene as a whole. Though the EP comes in at just under 25 minutes long, each of those minutes is texturally ambitious, giving the overall project an anthemic impression.

The lyrics are charged, but that’s part of what makes listening to The Turbos dynamic–and the overall force of the music is reminiscent of your favorite ’90s garage-rock artists. It’s music that makes your body want to move.

At 8pm on Saturday, The Turbos celebrate their new single at The Shrunken Head in Columbus. They’ll be joined by Miller and the Hunks, who are releasing their new EP, And Jeff…pt. 2, as well as The A.M. Soul Society and Courtney from Work. For the sake of Columbus music fans, here’s hoping the show is only the first sign of more work to come from The Turbos.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]

PLAYING COLUMBUS: Damn the Witch Siren Makes ‘Magic’ on New album

Their first album since 2015’s Back to Dreaming, Damn the Witch Siren’s latest release, Red Magic is brooding and addictive. The band’s tags on Bandcamp almost say it all: “electronic, electropop, pop, sex, witch rock, Columbus,” they read. But along with the sex, and the dance beats, and the fizzy electronics, Damn the Witch Siren have, once again, produced a project which manages to make lyrically ambitious work sound effortless.

“On nights when I’m feeling superstitious/I light all the candles and burn the corners of my room,” starts Red Magic on opener “Sex U Up.” But the exterior ritual set up by these opening lines quickly turn interior; attention transitions from the “room” to “skin,” which, much like the image of burning candles before it, “spills.” Simultaneous to this physical transition, the lyrics introduce a level of–apparently sensual–taste, which continues through the rest of the song; “superstitious” becomes “superdelicious,” though the similarity between the words suggests that the two are closely tied.

In other words, Red Magic immediately introduces a complicated relationship between body and ceremony, sex and superstition. But it succeeds in doing this work without sounding strenuous; singer Bobbi Kitten’s driving vocals, paired with a quickening dance beat, are irresistible, weaving together to make music which almost compels the listener to moan along – vowels, notes, whatever halves of lyrics you can hear over the throbbed electronic sounds.

Formed in 2012, Damn the Witch Siren is made up of Columbus locals Krista Botjer and Nathan Photos (stage names Bobbi Kitten and Z Wolf, respectively) who came together after discovering a shared interest in experimentation and interdisciplinary art. Since then, they’ve collaborated on three albums and one EP. It’s a pretty prolific output for two people in six years, and their live performances are even more ambitious – the pair draw on theater backgrounds to build elaborately composed performances heavy on visual elements.

The band’s been interested in gendered experience, sexuality, and magic since the beginning, so while Red Magic doesn’t necessarily signal a stylistic depart for Damn the Witch Siren, the sleek production and general breadth of sounds invoked exemplify the years and labor that have gone into the project. One stand-out on the album is “Forever Young,” which invests a full minute in layered beats and noises reminiscent of twinkling lights before Kitten’s voice is folded in. It’s an excellent paring of high and low: quicker, vibration-heavy noises sometimes migrate into piercing range, and Kitten’s voice is partially obscured by twanging synths, but a low and steady bass beat grounds the song throughout.

Above all, each song on Red Magic is dance-able – in fact, the album almost insists upon movement. It’s fun and finessed pop, anchored by lyrics deeply interested in embodiment and bodily possibilities. And until the band’s album release party (Saturday, February 10th at Spacebar, accompanied by Columbus’ own Betsy Ross and Osea Merdis), I plan on binge-listening; letting myself get lost in the varied sounds; feeling both scary and sweet.

PLAYING COLUMBUS: Saintseneca Returns to Their Roots

Columbus’ Saintseneca has grown a lot since their start in 2007. But when they returned to Columbus on tour, playing two sold-out nights at Ace of Cups, it was clear that their hometown base hasn’t budged.

Joined by two other burgeoning local acts – Counterfeit Madison and Connections –Saintseneca’s show last Friday night was packed wall to wall with clearly joyful fans. And the joy was for good reason: along with buoyant performances by all three bands, the night was filled with affirmations of Columbus’ local music scene. Acts gave frequent shout outs to each other – and Ace of Cups’ sound engineer, Nick – often expressing disbelief at the luck they had in playing alongside their colleagues. Selling out a local bill on a larger stage doesn’t happen often (let alone twice) and it felt good to witness.

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all photos by Kaiya Gordon.

By the time Saintseneca took the stage, the crowd had thickened and warmed, and they poured themselves into the front of the room to press closely to the band. It was an impressive set-up – four of the five touring musicians lined up next to each other at the front of the stage, each of them with a full row of pedals and synths. They looked like a team. And when the band, at once, burst into play, the coiled energy that they had built together paid off in a big way.

Though the show felt, energetically, like a homecoming, the band itself continues to grow and change. Saintseneca released two new singles in 2017, which they played on Friday alongside their classics. The band also played material from a forthcoming album, which they’ve said is expected in 2018. But all of this material is compelling for the same reasons that the four-track, self-titled 2009 EP that started it all was – the musical complexity and depth, paired with sharply tuned songwriting, feels at once plaintative and deft.

The set itself was varied in composition: singer-songwriter Zac Little took the stage alone for several songs (while the rest of the band sat criss-crossed on the stage and watched, a move that I found very endearing), and the members often switched instruments. Twice, the band invited flautists Lesley and Laetitia onto the stage to play alongside them. With the flutes’ notes bouncing against the fullness of Saintseneca’s string selection, and wafting up to the high ceilings of the bar, the whole space felt transformed into a place of reverence.

Sharon Udoh of Counterfeit Madison expressed a similar sentiment during her set. “I live seven minutes away from here,” Udoh said to the audience, “and I want to talk about the privilege we have of watching Saintseneca perform.” She continued: “I grew up in church, and last night watching Saintseneca was one of the most religious experiences I’ve had.”

Udoh’s performance, too, was remarkable in its fervor. Each song from Counterfeit Madison’s debut feels intensely crafted, as though many different musical threads were woven tightly together to make songs which spring forth with energy. That energy is only further intensified onstage. Udoh and her band screamed, smiled, and laughed; Udoh’s physical presence on the stage was very much a part of her performance too. As she sang, Udoh flung her microphone onto the ground, picked up her keyboard to play it sideways, and at one point, threw her body into the crowd to finish the performance while writing on the ground.

If Counterfeit Madison’s performance was punk in its inhibition, it was also sweetly sentimental. “Bitches,” Udoh announced to the audience at one point, “I’m a queen. But Connections and Saintseneca are heroes, and I’m really proud to be around them.” Taking a step back and surveying the audience, Udoh continued: “I need to stop before I start crying.” It was a sentiment that many others in the audience, I think, echoed. By the end of the night, I would have been surprised if no tears had been shed.


PLAYING COLUMBUS: Bands to Watch – An Annotated Playlist

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Grunge Dad is one of Columbus Alive’s Bands to Watch.

Imagine: Columbus Alive just released their much anticipated lineup for their annual Bands to Watch concert, and the coffee shop conversation is relentless. The show – which will include Sarob, Grunge Dad, Akula, Souther, and Future Nuns – is this Saturday, but you don’t know any of the acts. What do you do? You can’t drop your hipper-than-thou act (you’ve been keeping that up for years), and your “support local artists” laptop sticker won’t mean anything if you need to ask all of your post-punk friends for input. But you don’t want to miss out on the show, either.

Fear not! School your friends and foes by reading up on our annotated playlist, your guide to navigating any of the niche convos sure to happen at Skully’s on Saturday night. And more: we’ve included five of our favorite up-and-coming locals, so you can not only go above-and-beyond to impress your roommates – you might find yourself investing further in Columbus’ varied music scene.


Sarob is a deeply introspective musician. His 2017 release, Seeing in the Dark, deftly combines piano, rap, and gorgeous vocals. Beyond the dazzle of the samples and sounds that Sarob pulls into his work, Seeing in the Dark highlights intentionally and emotionally impactful lyrics with skill.


Though Grunge Dad has been playing together for less than a year, their thoughtful, addictive first EP, I Feel Weird, seems timeless. It’s an EP’s casual coolness makes Grunge Dad come across as friends you’d like to have because of their mix of artistic drive and relaxed perspective. On I Feel Weird, vocalist Lisa Brokaw’s tone is flippant but intoxicating, driven forward by drummer Emma Headley and peppered with dizzying bass riffs by Marie Corbo.


Akula is made up of five life-long musicians – Chris Thompson, Jeff Martin, Scott Hyatt, Sergei Parfenov, and Ronnie Miller – and it shows in their ambitious debut EP. Though only four songs long, each of those songs is a marathon. But while the instrumentals are piled into melodic heavy rock, Jeff Martin’s vocals are surprisingly light. It’s a remarkably paced and balanced album: evidence of the years of craft put into its production.


The project of Carly Fratianne, Souther is influenced by Fratianne’s return to her home state of Ohio, as well as by her Americana and folk influences. Her debut Is For Lovers, is, as the first track suggests, brutally honest, but Fratianne doesn’t forgo attention to composition in pursuit of emotionality.


Future Nuns began and developed their group within Columbus’ DIY scene, and their scrappy approach to performance has served them well. The band frequently alters its line-up, as well as the instruments that individual members play. They’re magnetic, both on-stage and off.

Playing Columbus’ picks:


Being a multi-instrumental singer-songwriter and producer isn’t enough for Tatum Michelle Maura. She’s also an ever-present advocate for queer and trans folks in Columbus and regularly contributes to actions against police brutality. Her Facebook feed reads as a detailed and empathetic guide to the local music scene – Maura uplifts what seems like every new local release.

TTUM’s debut album, synthpop stunner Flwless Ruby, came out in October of 2017. Her latest release, however, is a slow-burning dance track she collaborated on with Maahikeee and Katskhi.


After a nearly 2-year hiatus, Cherry Chrome is back in the studio to record a new album. I’m stoked, and as soon as you hear the opening hook from the 2016 self-titled album, you will be too. It’s dreamy, well-placed music with a distinctive rock edge – and honestly, it’s also just catchy. All four members – Xenia Bleveans-Holm, Mick Martinez, Amina Adesiji, and David Holm – contribute vocals, building an eerie sound which nearly echoes against the group’s thick bass and drum lines.


“Our genre: what a cutoff t-shirt would sound like if it was music” reads a recent Facebook post by DIY locals Queer Kevin. It’s indicative of the general tone of the duo’s online presence. But Queer Kevin is a band to take seriously. Prolific both in their touring and musical output, Felix and Dylan release sprawling lo-fi songs with deeply impactful lyrics.


Sharon Udoh, who performs under the moniker Counterfeit Madison, has recieved much-deserved acclaim for her 2017 album, Opposable Thumbs. Still, I think she’s underrated. Udoh moves effortlessly between genres, her voice captivating throughout the classical, jazz, gospel, rock, and soul-inspired concoction that she has created on Opposable Thumbs. Udoh holds the great gift of being able to be funny, as well as beautiful in her art, and she wields it with impressive precision.


BLKGLD’s self-titled EP is art that makes you feel good about art. The smooth production on the album gives its mixture of stretched-out bass and guitar parts and poetry a mythic, almost underwater quality. It’s an album emblematic of the vast collaborative possibilities available within Columbus, as well as the talent and deft writing this city is filled with. Listening to BLKGLD feels like watching sun-glimmered water moving through the tide.


PLAYING COLUMBUS: Absinthe Father on Making DIY Spaces Safer

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Haley Butters of Absinthe Father doesn’t stop at making music – they also advocate for safer, more inclusive DIY spaces. All photos by Kaiya Gordon.

Haley Butters of Absinthe Father has been running DIY spaces since they were 16. “It was really time consuming,” they admit, “and probably not the smartest thing for me to be doing at sixteen, but it really shaped me as a person.” Now, Butters continues to be invested in the transformative possibilities of DIY spaces. “I’m trying to make sure that people don’t go down the path I went down when I was a kid,” they say, “but [/fusion_builder_column][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][that they] still have access to music.”

Butters is about as multi-disciplinary as it gets, though they’re reticent about their own talents. They’re thoughtful, funny, and clearly well versed in both accessibility strategies and music making. “A habit I have,” they explain, is that “I think about what I want to say, and then I go through every single possible way it could be interpreted, and I try to make sure it comes across as clearly and as intentionally as possible.” They’re scrappy, too–when they tell me about their production process, I’m surprised to learn how much of their DIY music they truly do themselves. And as we talk in a Columbus café, the snow mellowing into slush outside the windows, I’m happy to settle into a conversation which expands beyond their own musical output to include questions we both have about ethics and intentionality, and what it takes to make a safe space safer.

2018 is off to a good start for Butters. Along with their January 1st release, SP/IT – a split EP between Absinthe Father and Ness Lake, the band for which Butters plays bass – they started recording a new six-song EP, played shows in both Pittsburgh and Yellow Springs, and, after advocating for a friend abused by Ian Graham of Cheap Girls, got blocked by Jeff Rosenstock on Twitter (Haley and their friend have attempted, since last summer, to have Rosenstock withdraw his support of Cheap Girls; he released the now-defunct band’s first two LPs via his Quote Unquote imprint before accusations came to light but has not made a statement on his relationship to them in the aftermath of the accusations against Graham). “It was sick,” they tell me. “Two days into 2018 – blocked!”

On SP/IT, Butters’ work as Absinthe Father is dreamy and expansive; their voice sinking into guitar sounds which vary from airy to biting, inviting to cosmic. But when I ask Butters how they achieved the mix on the EP, they laugh. “This is gonna reveal all my trade secrets,” they tell me. “I open garage band, put it like ten yards away from me, press record, run to my bed, and I just play straight through.”

In truth, this is an over-simplified version of Butters’ method, which is more purposeful than they initially admit. Though they don’t put their music through post-production, Butters curates their sound with guitar pedals, in addition to manipulating sound and tone with distance and volume. On the split, they opted for three different recording techniques, highlighting, they tell me, that “you can make music, record music, and be successful (whatever that means) no matter what level you’re at, [and] no matter what equipment you’re using.”

“Absence,” the first song on the EP, was recorded with the method described above. For the second track (“a little nervous energy is perfectly normal and nothing to freak out about haley”) however, Butters changed their approach. “I have a little i-rig, which is a quarter-inch adapter,” they explain, “and then a little dongle that [I] put in [my] iPhone. So I played the guitar through that into garage band, and then I played that recording out loud and sang [live] to record my vocals.” Lastly, “Marco’s Song,” a Ness Lake cover, was recorded professionally at Daily Grind in Columbus. But, says Butters, the EP “shows you don’t have to make the fancy equipment, because I like ‘Absence’ more than anything, and it’s the least done-up one.”

When Butters talks about the split EP, it’s clear how much they admire their peers in Ness Lake. “[Chandler and I] push each other a lot to create things every day. I’ll give him a challenge – like, write a song about your cat,” Butters laughs. They continue: “He doesn’t actually have a cat. He has like, a tarantula. It’s named Rodeo.” And Butters’ support of their peers expands beyond the tarantula, and beyond their friends in Ness Lake: they gush about their roommates in Columbus duo Queer Kevin, and when I ask about bands they’re excited about, they nearly squeal. “Oh god,” they tell me, “this is where I can go off.”

This investment is a testament not only to the way Butters approaches collaboration, but to their position in the music community as a whole. These days, they balance recording, touring, and managing with running Middle Earth, one of Columbus’ only all ages spaces. “I’m super into getting queer youth involved in scenes really early, because we don’t make things very accessible to people who are younger,” they tell me. But still, they say, “I wish I could do more. I’m not doing as much as I can, especially when it comes to people of color – in our scene, they’re virtually non-existent. To be the only one – and I pass as white – that’s not enough.”

In Columbus, Butters has seen a lack of attention to safety within music spaces. At the last hardcore show they went to, they tell me, they were kicked in the head and projectile vomited. Nobody came to help. To them, that level of carelessness is unacceptable. “When it comes to the way I run my space,” they say, “I want to make sure that the first thing I say is: ‘Hey, my name is Haley. I use they/them pronouns – come introduce yourself to me.’ That way people know they can feel comfortable talking to me.” If guests can’t donate money for artists, Butters gets them involved by putting them to work: telling people where the bathroom is, checking in to make sure that everyone feels safe, or completing smaller jobs, like recycling – all of the “little teeny things that people don’t think about,” they say. Butters has other tricks to make their shows more accessible too: providing time between sets for the audience to go outside and take a break, and handing out ear plugs. “I know it used to be punk to not wear earplugs,” they say, but “2018: it’s the year of the earplug.”

Butters also has strategies for intercepting “rambunctious” guests. “You can’t let that slide out of fear from [that person] lashing out,” they say. “You just have to nip it in the bud and make sure that everyone around them is ok – but also, that that person is ok.” They continue, laughing: “Assholes are still people.”

Despite this attention to detail, Butters is aware that not everybody feels comfortable at DIY shows. “I can do my best to put together a diverse bill,” they say, “and still, there will be almost all white people there. Inclusion is only half of the problem. I think that finding out why POC don’t feel safe, [and] what we can do to improve – [things] like that that people don’t think about.”

“We all just need to do better,” Butters tells me. “I don’t know the answers. I know the problems, but I don’t know the solutions. I wish I did.” One way Butters is striving to do better is by joining friends in organizing a nationwide group of non-men interested in developing better ways to curate safe and accessible spaces. “We’re saying do-it-together, instead of do-it-yourself,” they say. Another is by continuing to book bands that might not be highlighted in other settings: groups made up of trans and queer folks, POC, and people harmed by misogyny. Still, Butters notes, they can’t do it all alone. They know that often, a band will choose to book with other promoters – even if they know about Butters’ work.

“I understand, completely, wanting to make money,” they tell me. “I think that musicians should be paid. I understand wanting to have a good turn-out, and a good show.” But, they continue, “assuming that a white dude is going to curate that better than a non-man is not only fucked up, it’s wrong. If you are an artist, and you give [a] white dude your resources – your social capital, your time, and the opportunity to curate a bill, and book a space, and learn those skills – they just move up.” Butters sighs. “It’s so incredibly performative,” they say. “Everyone wants to support non-men. Everyone wants to support people of color… until it’s time to actually do it.”

While DIY scenes can be a refuge, especially for youth who may have little access to community spaces or familial stability, they aren’t exempt from the structures of power which dictate access and wealth within the United States. Abuse often runs rampant, and in a space where so many hold identities oppressed by the state, naming that abuse can be tricky. “Nobody wants to face backlash,” Butters notes. “Nobody wants to be the person who called out this big artist [with] a lot of social capital. Nobody wants to go through that, and get dragged on twitter […] but everyone’s thinking it. So why do we continue to support it? Why do we continue to let it happen?”

Precarious social and financial positions only add to the fear of being dragged. And, Butters points out, folks don’t want to feel “demonized” for confronting members of their own community – especially if those members aren’t cis-het white men. “In the DIY sphere, when somebody is called out, they’ll use language, or their friends will, to protect them and make it seem like they’re super woke.” And when people don’t take responsibility for harm caused, it’s the survivors of that harm that suffer. “People can be shitty,” Butters says. “Queer people can be shitty, women can be shitty, non-binary people can be shitty, people of color can be shitty… and it’s up to us to hold them to a standard.”

Alongside their continued push for accessible spaces in Columbus, in the coming year Butters looks forward to making more music. Frankly, they tell me, it helps them stay alive. “There are certain feelings, and emotions, and words that I don’t know how to accurately say, and sometimes you can’t say things,” they explain. “I don’t want to make another person feel bad. And if I can put those feelings and words and thoughts into a song […] I have more creative control to make sure that what I’m trying to say is conveyed accurately.” And Butters wants everyone in their life to know that they, too, can pick up an instrument. 

“Anyone can make music,” they insist. “You don’t have to be rock god, finger tapping on a telecaster with a capo…you can do anything and somebody out there will enjoy it.”


PLAYING COLUMBUS: Rapper/Activist Vada Azeem to Release Poignant Children’s Story

Vada Azeem is irrevocably tied to Columbus. After growing up on the Northeast side of the city, Azeem studied at the Columbus College of Art & Design for a year, and then mentored youth at the Central Community House in Old Towne East (which you can support at no personal cost by signing up for Kroger Community Rewards) for longer. Azeem started rapping at 12, co-founded a hip hop collective at 23, dropped his first solo mixtape three years later, and now, he’s breaking into children’s books.

The Boy Who Tried to Touch the Sun is inspired by Akeem’s experiences working with youth, the children’s books which comforted him as a child, and his own son, Peyton. It’s dedicated to Ty’re King, a 13-year-old boy who was shot and killed by Columbus police in September 2016. In it, Anu, a young black boy, is pushed into impossible tasks by a community of white people who are scared of his presence. In many ways, it’s a direct extension of Azeem’s work as an educator and mentor–the book doesn’t shy away from difficult conversation, but greets it with empathy. Black children reading the book are greeted with a story of a child like them thriving despite the apparent impossibility of his situation. Along with writing the story, Azeem illustrated and colored each page with loose, deft strokes and brilliant color.


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illustration by Vada Azeem

The Boy Who Tried to Touch the Sun was first unveiled at the Columbus Museum of Art last October, but this week it will be available for general purchase when Azeem reads at The Poet’s Lounge on Thursday, January 4th. Along with Azeem, this week The Poet’s Lounge will have desserts by The Happy Baker: a reminder that creative events are so often able to connect community members and businesses that otherwise might seem disparate. The event starts at 7:30–but make sure to arrive early if you’d like to sign up for the open mic.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]


Whether you think Columbus is as cold as I do (@ me, midwesterners) or not, shorter days and darker skies can drag at anyone’s energy. And for those estranged from family or friends, this time of year is especially hard.

If the holiday festivities are draining you, fear not! Check out our Playing Columbus-approved activity guide to have *actual* fun and beat the Christmas blues. In true testament to Columbus’ burgeoning music and art scene, we’ve chosen something to do for each day this week. Grab a cocoa, strap into a sled, and find something new.

Thursday, 12/21

The Columbus Queer Open Mic featuring Tatum Michelle Maura of TTUM

Wild Goose Creative’s last open mic of 2017 will feature TTUM, the musical project of Tatum Margot, a Columbus-based multi-instrumentalist, singer, song-writer, and producer. Margot’s first electronic album, Flawless Ruby, came out in October of 2017. Along with TTUM’s performance, the community is invited to bring art, music, poetry, comedy, and story-telling to share. Sign up for a 5 minute slot at the door to bring your act onstage.

8PM, 2491 Summit St., Columbus OH

Suggested donation $5

Friday, 12/22

Jingle Jam Skate

This event is clearly marketed towards children, but I love ice skating, and I love glow sticks. Plus – it’s early! Skate to some holiday tunes in the early evening, with plenty of time to catch a later event.

7pm, Skate Zone 71

$8 (this includes skate rental *and* a glowstick!)

Saturday, 12/23

Nina West Christmas Pageant

This Saturday, local drag superstar Nina West will present her “sassiest, singiest series ever” at the Gateway. The event begins with a mixer, and is followed by a sing-along program featuring West’s comedy and performances by the Columbus Gay Men’s Chorus.

4:30pm mixer, 6pm show, Gateway Film Center

$20, including a $5 donation to Kaleidoscope Youth Center

Sunday, 12/24

Christmas Eve Karaoke

Honestly…who could miss this? Excess Karaoke is hosting their weekly Sunday karaoke at Ace of Cups (that means you get to perform on a real stage!) immediately after the 9th annual “gathering of people not celebrating xmas.” Ugly sweaters are optional.

10pm – 2am, Ace of Cups

FREE 21+

Monday, 12/25

Pink Floyd The Wall (1982) in 35mm

Well, my Gateway-employee roommate isn’t happy the film center is open on Christmas, but you might be! Check out their showing of Roger Waters’ 1982 film The Wall, showing in its original 35mm.

9:30pm, Gateway Film Center


Tuesday, 12/26

Jazz Jam

If you’re wiped out from the holiday festivities, recharge at Park Street Tavern’s Tuesday Jazz Jam, which features both their own house band and rotating local musicians.

8:30pm Park Street Tavern

FREE, 21+

Wednesday, 12/27

Sad Boyz “Sad Years Eve”

Dance to pop punk, emo, hardcore and alternative all night long at Skully’s to ring in the new year. If you’d like to get the night started early, head to Bodega from 6pm-9pm; $1 of every PBR purchased will be donated to mental health advocacy and suicide prevention organizations.

Skully’s Music Diner

FREE before 10pm, $5 after 10pm, 21+

Thursday, 12/28

Co-release show with Maza Blaska and Sweet Teeth


Local bands Maza Blaska and Sweet Teeth are both celebrating new releases on Thursday night at Ace of Cups. They’ll be joined by another Columbus favorite, Corbezzolo.

8pm, Ace of Cups

$5, 18+

PLAYING COLUMBUS: “Wrecka Playa” Imagines the Future of Music

I drifted into a nap at 3pm on Saturday, December 9th, waking an hour later to find all of Columbus covered in snow. I freaked out – it was cold, and I’m Californian, and I didn’t understand how the ground could disappear so quickly. But walking up to the entrance of Second Sight Project later that night, the snow felt like a perfect accompaniment to the art on display: a blanket of quiet interrupted by the bright vitality of the work inside.

Second Sight Project, founded by Mona Gazala in 2012, serves the Franklinton neighborhood by hosting “participatory public art projects,” funding residencies, and doing educative outreach. The impact Second Sight has had is visible to the naked eye – their “Faces of Franklinton” mural at South Green and Sullivant beams over the neighborhood, and inside the building their bookcases are overflowing with items for their residentiary book program.

The organization hosts exhibits, too, and on Saturday the gallery space was filled by a group show titled “Wrecka Playa – Album Art in 20 Years.” Though the exhibit was billed as a visual art installation featuring “album cover art as realized by visual and literary artists for music 20 years in the future,” once inside, I found that it was that and much more. Participatory artists built worlds of content for each album: backstories, liner notes, scandals, and celebrations.

Inside the gallery, the imagined album covers were diverse, ranging from traditional paintings to collage to digital art. Each was accompanied by written content, though the length and breadth of that content differed. Some, like local writer Hanif Abdurraqib, wrote entire essays – in Abdurraqib’s case, describing a future Future album, Sensational. Across the room, Eric San Juan asked the viewers if a Radiohead album was still a Radiohead album if it was created by just one man, and Beyoncé, tired of the upkeep that comes with constant performance, releases an album with Jack White. Prince and Micheal Jackson released a lost session of music (the making of which generated countless conversational gems), and Jay-Z made an album called 8:88.

Each piece imagined a world 20 years in the future, informed by contemporary music and conversation, but evolved by time. Looking to the future is a difficult task in any moment, but especially when artists are expected to grapple with centuries of power dynamics and systems of oppression with each creation.

Each of the artists highlighted by Wrecka Playa more than rose to the task. Wrecka Playa was a triumph of world-building applied to popular culture; music writing made magic. It was a genuine joy to experience each piece: moments of sharp and complicated racial discussion mixed with imagination and humor. Sitting in the adjoining gallery room, sipping on a drink made with homemade syrup, snacking on a goody-bag of candies, and enjoying a conversation about the possibilities of VR tech in art to come, I felt very lucky to be in Columbus, even if it was covered in ice. Second Sight Project shows that investment in local Columbus artists and neighborhoods can be done, and can be done well.

PLAYING COLUMBUS: Mouth Mag Highlights Local Hip Hop

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OG Vern. Photo by Annie Noelker

When Annie Noelker moved to Columbus in 2014 to attend Columbus College of Art & Design, she was already interested in stories. “As a little kid I would hide under my covers and read until I fell asleep,” she tells me. “I found visual art and storytelling in the form of drawing, painting, and then photography.” But something clicked when her college friends introduced her to hip hop artists like Kendrick Lamar, Tyler the Creator, Earl Sweatshirt, and Frank Ocean. “I listened to their albums as if I was reading a novel,” she says.

Over the summer of 2017, Noelker dove into the Columbus hip hop and rap scene, learning more about her local community. “Overwhelmed” by talent, Noelker turned to her background in portraiture to document the burgeoning scene. As her collection of portraits grew, she realized that she needed a way to share the work. Pairing her portraits with interviews of the artists, Noelker put together a magazine: Mouth Mag. “It’s been my baby for the last six months,” she tells me. 

Mouth Mag is launching this Saturday, December 9th, at Kafe Kerouac in Columbus, Ohio. The launch will be celebrated with performances by OG Vern, Yogi Split, Joey Aich, Broke Bois, Stems, Soblue, Breetherapper, The Collective, and RED. At the party, Noelker tells me, she’s most excited for “all the artists to hold their copy.” 

“I worked so hard on this,” she continues, “I cried when I unwrapped the first one.”

We caught up with Noelker ahead of the launch to talk to her about her process, favorite interviews, and the future of Mouth Mag. Check out the rest of the interview below.

Audiofemme: What is your portraiture process like?

Annie Noelker: Prior to a shoot, I research the artist and listen to their music. I write down colors, places, and emotions that fill my head as I’m listening and I try to emulate those things in each photograph. I don’t plan much outside of that. 

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Broke Bois. Photo by Annie Noelker

AF: I know that one of your focuses with Mouth Mag is photographing artists through the lens of a woman. But I’m interested in how you approach other ways that your identity is disparate from the artists you work with. Your entry into the hip hop community, for example, happened pretty recently. How do you avoid fetishizing your subjects, especially black artists who so often are problematically portrayed through photography?

AN: This is absolutely a huge issue: hip hop artists are, more often than not, portrayed as characters, leaving many with a desire to create and fulfill a persona. I find that the male gaze often feeds into the portrayal of these artists as characters rather than emotional human beings with stories to share. This familiarizes the public with the persona, not the person. I find my perspective as both a woman and a documentary portrait photographer allows for the stripping of pre-conceived notion.  There’s a huge significance in understanding the person standing before my lens. Additionally, black and white imagery has always had a significance for me. It strips away any glamor that traditionally follows hip hop photography, and allows emphasis on truth and honesty. Honesty is everything.

AF: What is your favorite interview in this issue? 

AN: I really love my interview with RED. He has this new album coming out (date = TBA) and I got a little sneak peak and had the opportunity to ask questions specific to that new music. I really love Correy Parks’ interview and doing the Broke Bois interview was so much fun.

AF: Are there any music photographers that you look up to?

AN: I really admire the work of Hayley Louisa Brown. She is not only a music portraiture photographer, but the creator of BRICK magazine which served as a huge inspiration for Mouth Mag. I also really love Olivia Rose and the honesty of her images and in how she approaches her subjects. 

AF: What has been the most challenging part of this project?

AN: I think the most challenging part of this whole process was having to narrow down images and limit the number of people I could showcase in the first issue. There is so much talent in Columbus – it’s absolutely overwhelming. I also don’t have any previous design experience or knowledge of how to use the programs so I taught myself InDesign to make the magazine and I borrowed my understanding of composition to help me with layout. Placing text was very difficult. 

AF: What does the future of Mouth Mag look like?

AN: I love Columbus and it will always have a place in my heart but I would really love to travel with Mouth Mag and take it to new cities.


PLAYING COLUMBUS: Kizzy Hall & Diet Cig @ Ace of Cups

All photos by Kaiya Gordon

“Y’all Ohioans know how to do rock bands in a way the rest of the country is trying to catch up to,” said Caleb Cordes of Sinai Vessel on Sunday night at the Ace of Cups. The band was following Columbus’ own Kizzy Hall, who opened the show with a fast-paced set that, yes, did reek of rock-and-roll.

It was clear that the crowd took pride in their Ohioan roots, cheering as Cordes gave his shout-out, and dancing with vigor throughout the night. As the night opened, hometown fans crowded the stage to sing Kizzy Hall’s lyrics back to the band, taking selfies and, later, collecting set-lists.

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Kizzy Hall

When headliners Diet Cig finally took the stage, Ace of Cups was vibrating with enthusiasm.

“I feel like Ohio gets a bad rap,” said singer Alex Luciano, as she opened the set. “But every time we’re out here, I [/fusion_builder_column][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][think] this is the best place in the world.” She continued: “We’ve played at the Ace of Cups a few times and each time has been dreamy…y’all are so nice and cool here, and good looking, and punk!”

Diet Cig is notorious for their high-powered live performances, and though Luciano was hindered by a torn ACL, the duo still played with force. On drums, Noah Bowman is unassuming but relentless, driving Luciano’s guitar riffs to their peaks. And Luciano, regardless of dancing ability, is magnetic onstage. As she sways, twists, winks, dips, and–of course–makes her signature high-kick, it’s hard not to look on with glee.

“Raise your hand if your crush is here,” said Alex, at the beginning of  “Maid of the Mist.” “During this quiet song you can look at them and wink. Or, if you can’t wink…blink twice.” Later in the set, during what Luciano called the “makeout interlude,” she said: “if you blinked at someone earlier, now is the time to kiss them.”

Though critics of Diet Cig find fault in the band’s saccharine qualities, I found it moving to be in a space where I could trust the musicians onstage to go to bat for each other, and for the crowd.

“A lot of times women, and queer folks, and trans folks, and non-binary folks get told that their voice doesn’t matter,” said Luciano at the end of their performance. “But it does matter. Thank you for coming and for taking up space here.”

Luciano also thanked survivors of sexual assault, saying, “It’s a radical act to be out at a show right now.”

Space, or lack of it, is a constant theme in Diet Cig’s work, and while I think it is all too easy to step on somebody else’s toes in the name of taking space, without considering the ways that one is structurally set-up to inhabit that space already, watching Luciano move freely around the stage is joyful. And I am grateful for the attention that the duo pays to creating a “safer space” at their shows.

Standing in the crowd, relieved to be done with the pressured social niceties that come with Thanksgiving, and thankful to be watching a band that is always so entirely themselves, I felt prepared to take on the world for the first time in a week.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]

PLAYING COLUMBUS: Double Happiness to Close After 7-year Run

It’s been a short but meaningful run for Double Happiness, which will close its doors on November 25th after seven years of music, drinks, and community-building. Opened and run by Yalan Papillons, with additional booking by Jenny Donaldson, the bar and venue hosted DJ sets, electronic music shows, and local artist showcases, as well as niche events like “Manicure Monday.”

Double Happiness will be played out by a run of free shows at the end of November, hosting sets by Columbus locals Youth Hostel, Dogbite, Nuclear Moms, Pink Reason, and more. It’s a line-up which, frankly, highlights the ways in which white men dominate the punk scene. One departure from this slew of bro-punk, however, is Betsy Ross, whose emotive vocals by Charity Crowe are refreshing in their clarity. Double Happiness’ last and final show will migrate away from the theme of white men as well. On November 25th, hosted by Polar Entertainment, the night will feature “special guests,” joined by Columbus Hip Hop artists Mood and Lone Catalysts.

Many have noted the venue for its Chinese decor, inspired by Papillons’ family, but what is truly significant about Double Happiness is the role it has played as incubator for many of Columbus’ local bands. More mainstream than a DIY venue, but smaller than other, more commercial spots, Double Happiness served as an outward facing door to the Columbus music scene, and a portal for those who would otherwise be out of the loop.

Along with local acts and EP releases, Double Happiness has hosted nationally touring artists like Angel Olsen, Helado Negro, (Sandy) Alex G., and Half Waif. Their catalogue of artists–the entirety of which can be found on their website–is an impressive mix in terms of both genre and popularity. Large acts have never shied away from the venue, despite its close quarters. One of the bar’s first publicized shows, in fact, was the official after party for Bright Eyes, after the cult favorite played at one of Columbus’ larger venues, Express Live.

It’s also worth noting that Double Happiness is one of few bars and venues which is both run and booked by a woman of color. Papillons highlighted community within the space, running the venue as all-ages, and limiting sales of national beers. And while no safer space is truly safe, it’s sad to see a venue which strove to center at-risk audiences be shut down.

Columbus will miss Double Happiness’ unique approach to booking, as well as its warmth and locality. To get in your last goodbyes–and maybe a few drinks, as well–catch one of the venue’s “farewell” shows, detailed on the calendar below.

All photos courtesy of Double Happiness’ Facebook Page

PLAYING COLUMBUS: Torres @ The Basement

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All photos by Kaiya Gordon

As I watched Torres’ show last night at The Basement in Columbus, I drafted what I thought might be the opening lines of my review in my head. Before getting to the show, I thought, I felt like I needed to either cry publicly or get in a fist fight. But Torres, the project of Mackenzie Scott, utterly transported me. Though it nearly blew out my ear drums, Torres’ ruthless live performance left me feeling weightless and renewed, as though I had opened myself up in some radical way, drinking in newfound grace and energy.

I thought of phrases I might use and lines I might write. Perhaps I’d say that I felt lucky to see Scott play guitar live, or that hearing Torres’ latest release, Three Futures, in person gave me a newfound appreciation for the album. I thought I knew how my review was going to go all the way up until the end of the set, when a fan lurched forward and kissed Scott on the lips, and I watched Scott’s shocked expression through the lens of my camera.

My stomach dropped. My chest clenched, and I could feel all of the muscles in my body buzzing with anger, shame, and remembered fear. And Scott kept playing. And the fan kept cheering and singing along.

It is truly exhausting to be confronted with assault on a daily basis. I hate waking up and scrolling through my Twitter timeline, bracing myself for the latest admission of hurt. I hate having to Google  each artist I interview, or photograph, or otherwise support, trying to discern whether or not they’ve been outed as an abuser. I hate having to rationalize that search to those who don’t understand why it is needed. I hate seeing reminders of my own assaults, and my friends’ assaults, every single day. And I hate that those reminders simultaneously confirm for me what I already know – that those most marginalized by systems of power are most susceptible to abuse – while highlighting how often those voices are excluded from the conversation.

It’s likely that Torres’ fan didn’t think of what they did as assault. Perhaps Scott didn’t either. But it’s horrifying to think that, regardless of where you are, and regardless of what protections you think you may have created for your body, it is unreasonable to ask that you only be touched with your consent.

Mackenzie Scott gave so much to the stage on Wednesday night, and I felt truly in awe of her sheer talent – of how she manipulated her guitar pedals, of how her hands ran up and down the guitar’s neck with apparent effortlessness, of how orchestrated the entirety of the set felt. I was amazed by how much she moved onstage, and by the way that her band used their instruments in new and interesting ways to fill in the gaps of each song with unexpected and illuminative sounds. When, at the beginning of the show, Scott apologized for having to fix her pedal board – “We’re removing the veil up front,” she joked – I was thankful for the moment to look behind that veil, because it only made me appreciate more the immense effort that went into making the set sound so tight.

But I’m angry that, in the giving, in making herself visible, she was touched in a way that, at the very least, surprised her. I wish that it was possible to be both safe and a live body.

“To be given a body / is the greatest gift,” Scott sings on the last track of Three Futures. It’s a song that Scott says she avoided writing until the end of the project. And frankly, it’s tough to write about bodies. Perhaps, some days, having a body really is a gift. Other days, it doesn’t feel like that. But always, we are bodies, and to be embodied is to be vulnerable to harm.

When I left The Basement, I was shaken. But I also recalled something that Scott had said to the crowd in the middle of her set: “I’m very honored,” she said, “to be here sharing with you.”  I am thankful that, despite everything, there are artists like Scott sharing their work with the world.


PLAYING COLUMBUS: Devin Xo Comes of Age on New EP

“Living like a man that was born without a soul / on paper I’m young / yet I feel so old” raps Columbus artist Philippe Laroque – who goes by Devin Xo onstage – at the beginning of his latest EP, Coming of Age. He continues: “If you don’t understand what you’re going through / then I made this song for you for you.”

As the title suggests, Laroque grapples with growing up on Coming of Age, working through changes that have rippled through his support structure, psyche, and music writing process. And though Coming of Age was only released on October 18th, Laroque has been working on the EP’s material for more than two years. That commitment and attention to detail shows. The project is thoughtful and balanced, considering both loss and love through a self-critical lens, but it is also deeply humorous. Laroque is a funny and deft writer, and on Coming of Age, with its glossy, soul-inspired production, that sense of humor shines through, cutting through the EPs emotional weight. The result is a lighter, more buoyant product than either of Laroque’s previous EPs, Fake Smiles (2015) and Journey to Paradise (2016).

Along with his prolific music output, Laroque is the founder of Give Love, a Columbus-based artist collective. Through it all, Laroque seems to maintain a vigilantly uplifting attitude. On his Facebook page, Laroque says his mission is to “inspire.” And on a recent post promoting his EP release, the rapper hashtagged: #positivevibesonly. Those much needed positive vibes are front and center on Coming of Age – perhaps bringing inspiration not only to Laroque, but to the Columbus music scene as well.

PLAYING COLUMBUS: Alien Boy, Perfume V & Lose the Tude at Organon Arcade

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Alien Boy. All photos by Kaiya Gordon.

On my way to the show, I tried to focus on my weekly readings. During my undergraduate experience, I got the bulk of my assignments done on public transportation. I liked the anonymity of the bus; the soft, indiscernible sounds of strangers talking; the sway of the wheels. But between my undergraduate years and the Perfume V, Alien Boy, and Lose the Tude show I attended last Tuesday, the world has become more distracting. Texts from home buzzed in my pocket, and my glasses kept slipping from my nose. But mostly – I was nervous. I was traveling to my first house show in Columbus (hosted by Organon Arcade), and I was alone. Is DIY the same everywhere? I didn’t know.

I slipped into Columbus’ music scene with little splash. Unlike the shows I had been attending in The Bay Area, my previous (and future!) home, Columbus’ events left little chance of running into an old crush, an ex friend, or my therapist. And it was easy to find out where and when things were happening – new shows, showcases, and art events have been popping up on my Facebook feed ever since I touched down here.

It’s easy to find music events in Columbus because, frankly, there are a lot of music events happening here. And though Columbus’ DIY spaces – like their counterparts across the country – have been hit by increased attention and zoning restrictions in the last year, the scene continues to thrive.

On Tuesday, I made my way into a basement I had never been in before, to see a show hosted by people I had never met. But by the end of the night, I decided that it didn’t really matter who I did or didn’t know; house shows are fun no matter your connection to the home. It’s fun to see the bands try new things, fun to see the in-house sound set-up, fun to watch singers and guitarists run wherever they felt like as they played. And there were many things, beyond the music, that felt familiar – the house cat I petted when I was feeling nervous, the conversations about astrology, the La Croix art I spotted in the kitchen, the house plants, and the carabiners everyone wore.

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Organon Arcade’s feline resident.

Though the line-up was dominated by variations of pop and punk, the performers varied in other, meaningful ways. Alien Boy and Perfume V, both touring from Portland, Oregon, have been playing together and recording music for about three years. In contrast, Lose the Tude, described on the event page as “a bunch of OLD men from here who still know how to rip as long as the show is over by 10,” have been making music since 2007. All three bands showed up with gusto. Alien Boy and Perfume V put on crashing musical performances, the vocals of Sonia Weber and Max Pogue – who both play in each others’ bands – complicated by frantic drum sequences and gritty guitar sounds.

Long-time locals Lose the Tude, whose latest album came out in March of this year, put on an enthusiastic hardcore performance. Singer Ryan J. Eilbeck nearly clocked me in the face several times during the set, which, in my opinion, is a pretty good indicator of a fun show. The band’s fervent dance moves – Eilbeck stopped the show, at one point, to clear the area in front of him by circling his hips in exaggerated motions – added to their relentless musical drive. They looked like a band that was having fun playing music together. And the joy of creation – of doing the work – is something to look for, whether in an unknown basement or a sold-out arena.

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Lose the Tude.