This month, THUMP honors Pride with a celebration of LGBTQ nightlife all across America. Follow our coverage here.
"We don't always want Milwaukee to be the town just one hour north of Chicago. We're trying to have our own scene here," says DJ, promoter, and scene fixture Max Holiday. Holiday, who runs a label called Close Up to the Serene, moved to the city in 2010 looking to enter the city's DIY scene.
"It never really clicked," he told me. "It felt very homogenous, very straight." So he checked out the city's many gay bars, and was initially disappointed there too, finding them a bit too pop-focused for his tastes.
So in 2013, he started DJing himself, spinning his bass-heavy club sounds at a variety of nights. Two years later, he started his own label with a similar focus, as well as a monthly party called Precognition that's held at a historic 80-capacity punk bar called Quotas. "Quotas has been operating since the 70s and 80s as a space for metal, hop-hop, noise, punk, and anything that doesn't fit anywhere else—it's very DIY-driven," he explained.
Now, Precognition acts as a beacon for queer clubbers and DJs in the Midwest, often working with likeminded nights like Cleveland's Heaven Is In You and the In Training crew as well as others in Detroit and Chicago. "There's been a longtime contingent of experimental and more noise-driven electronic music here—and there's a big gay community in Milwaukee as well," said Holiday. "We actually have the largest Pride Fest with a permanent venue in the country."
Through his party and label, Holiday has gotten the chance up to link up with variety of people, DJs, spaces, and parties in Milwaukee, a city that Holiday was quick to say is behind the times. "It takes longer for things to get here than other places," he said. "The internet obviously makes all the difference now, but it still takes people being on that tip.It's about being open-minded to new sounds and new culture before it's even happened. The gay scene here has not typically been one of an open-minded music policy. People want to hear what they want to hear; they want to go to the spaces they know." Holiday, and various other figures that he outlines below, are helping to change that.
Max Holiday: I started Precognition in 2015 with my boyfriend Will, who produces as Liquid City Motors. It's queer-run and I book queer-focused DJs, but it didn't start out as a "gay night." It was an open and queer environment. We're very close with the Astral Plane in LA—Will was roommates with him in college in LA before he moved here, so he masters all of Astral Plane's music. We have very close ties to people doing very similar things, sort of on a national level, too. It's been sort of up to us to spark this thing out of nowhere out here. There have been a lot of house and techno nights here for a long time. When we started, we came so much from the more bass-driven generation, so we were kind of joining this thing out of nowhere, and sort of pushing this more beat-driven, sort of broken up music.
Regularly occurring party ran by longtime DJ and promoter Asher Gray. House and techno focus. Has recently hosted artists like Brian "Biggie" Small and Niki Kitz.
100 is a regularly occurring party in basement club, ran by longtime midwest DJ and promoter Jessica "Fortune" Fenner. It's recently hosted Justin Long, DJ Shiva, and Jeff Derringer. It feels like there's a lot more people going out in Milwaukee these days. There's more people DJing. There's a definite uptake in the last year or so in electronic music, and even more so, club music. When that starts happening, people start holding other promoters to higher standards.
This is a new party hosted at Club Anything, ran by Tuga and YJ aka Lee Ka M'Diq, with an emphasis on experimental club sounds. First guest was CJ Milli, later this month hosting Steamroom and La Spacer. This and Precognition are the only two actual queer-run events on this list.
Melt is a long-running night focused on the noisier/more aggressive sounds of leftfield electronic music, run by The Demix. It has hosted acts like Seducer and Victor Orozco.
A monthly party held at Bremen Cafe, with dark and relentless techno. It's always packed, always rowdy. It's run by Jack Carpenter, Sam Armus aka Construct, and the late Sol Brown. Recent guests include Antenes and Neil Landstrumm.
The long-running music venue and club began a revamp last summer under the direction of Kelsey Kaufmann and Alex Pekka Hall. Important space for the emerging electronic community (hosts MKESYNTH meet up and Milwaukee Synth Fest), also hosts a variety of queer programming. I work here and run a regularly occurring Sunday night party called Natural Resource. I focus on progressive local DJs, including a Pridefest after party this Sunday with Steamroom and Tuga.