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Ruby Yacht Gets a Night of Its Own

Jan. 3, 2017
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Though the best ones create the appearance of spontaneity, rap shows tend to play out the same way: Performers take the stage, work the crowd and do some songs, typically ones the audience knows well. There isn’t usually a whole lot of risk taking involved—if anything, it’s a ritual that prioritizes familiarity. For their new monthly residence at Landmark Lanes’ Moon Room, though, the artists on Milwaukee’s Ruby Yacht label wanted to create an event that gave them the freedom to deviate from the usual script, a night that was less about presenting prepared music and more about the very act of creating it. 

“This seemed like a natural progression for us,” explains rapper Milo, who heads Ruby Yacht and runs it as a kind of oasis from the greater Milwaukee rap scene along with a small circle of likeminded rappers, musicians and beat makers, including Safari Al and Randal Bravery. “We’re touring nationally a lot, and we’re all making a lot of records. So we kind of need a place to workshop what we’re doing.”

Called Touch and Agree and scheduled for the first Saturday of every month, the event will open with a set from a jazz-leaning house band and feature performances from several artists before ending with an all-vinyl DJ set. “It’s going to be cool—just a place to feel a vibe,” Milo says. “I don’t know of any other event where cats are shopping material. This is going to be the place where you can see all of my new stuff, all of Al’s new stuff. I don’t know of a place where we could play at regularly that would let us do that, because people don’t typically think of rap as that kind of an art form.”

In a sense the Ruby Yacht artists are committing to showing their work, floating songs and ideas before they’ve been market tested through Soundcloud and Bandcamp and the usual online challenge. They’re putting themselves out there. “To me that’s the ill part of being an artist,” Milo says. “I love that transparency. That’s the dope part! Maybe even more than the final product, it’s the process that excites me.” 

The inaugural Touch and Agree event on Saturday, Jan. 7 will be the second major happening from the Ruby Yacht camp that day. Earlier that afternoon, at the Var Gallery at 4 p.m., Safari Al will host a poetry reading in conjunction with his new multi-media zine Silt Rifle. In addition to him and Milo, readers will include West Tank and Daniel Thompson.

Serviced through the crowd-funding platform Patreon, the bi-monthly zine includes both visual and audio components: a hand-stitched book spotlighting one poet, and a cassette tape and digital download of readings from the book, set to original music from Safari Al. The featured poet in the inaugural edition is, naturally enough, Al himself, so the accompanying cassette tape plays a lot like one of his mixtapes, but future installments will be more of a collaboration. The next edition will spotlight poet Max Bowen, also a jazz guitarist who plays in the Touch and Agree house band, so the accompanying audio will feature music from both artists. 

Al is planning promotional tours behind the zine, with the ultimate hope of discovering new poets worth spotlighting in future issues while on the road. And unlike most zines, which launch with ambitions of eventually paying contributors but never actually get around to it, Silt Rifle has made paying writers central to its business model. Featured poets will receive $500.

“I’m choosing to collaborate with people the right way,” Al says. “I feel like if you don’t start with that precedent, it won’t ever happen. I’ve learned so much about what one individual artist can do to create their own economy, so I’m just trying to show that it’s possible to pay writers a fair wage, and that even as one person, you can do that pretty easily.”

Ruby Yacht’s Touch and Agree event kicks off on Saturday, Jan. 7 at the Moon Room in Landmark Lanes at 8 p.m. The Silt Rifle poetry reading begins earlier that day, at 4 p.m. at the Var Gallery.

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