Forward documents Wisconsin’s independent music scene


Spencer Wells remembers it fondly.

Wisconsin's independent music scene from 2010 to 2015 was thriving with Eau Claire’s Bon Iver leading the way. Madison had Julian Lynch, Zola Jesus, Peaking Lights, PHOX and All Tiny Creatures. Milwaukee checked in with Decibully, Jon Mueller, Christopher Porterfield and Field Report. It was a time of numerous local music and culture blogs; Jonk Music, The Onion, Muzzle of Bees and Dane 101. All featuring a never-ending supply of new emerging music that couldn’t be found on commercial outlets.

Local music gatherings like Forward Festival and the Rock County Folk Symposium sprouted from grass roots followings. Live Nation was nowhere to be found and that independent spirit seemed to have been magnified locally by Madison’s progressive mindset.

Spencer Wells was a UW-Madison student and photographer at the time who ran a Madison music blog called Urban Agrarian. He and his cohorts chronicled local bands and touring musicians that came through Wisconsin. Spencer promoted shows at various DIY spaces across town. One of his more infamous shows at Gates of Heaven featured Julian Lynch and Yellow Ostrich.

Upon graduation Wells moved to Brooklyn for a photography career, but never forgot about the experience of being in the middle of a burgeoning Wisconsin independent music scene.

“I was just there taking pictures the whole time. I surrounded myself with all these people who were creating amazing music that was really inspiring. When I left Wisconsin, I realized that it was something very special. Something was happening there that was unique and not happening anywhere else that I could see. I wanted to have a place for all those photos to live and put a spotlight on that scene.”

The beginnings of the book "Forward" began to take shape in Wells mind and took several years to complete.

“In Wisconsin everyone was doing their own thing and where ever that inspiration came from, they sort of shared it with each other. Everyone came out to support it. That’s what you did.”

Wells commissioned some of the journalists, poets, and musicians immersed in the scene to write portraits of six artists.

Musicians featured in the book are Thomas Wincek (Field Report, All Tiny Creatures) Rory Ferreira (better known as Milo), Adelyn Strei (Adelyn Rose), Whilden Hughes (Double Ewes), Jon Mueller (Collections of Colonies of Bees) and J.E. Sunde (Daredevil Christopher Wright).

“The Forward Festival and Rock County Folk Symposium were a real inspiration for the book, “ says Wells. “Animal Cannon did a lot of those posters. Matt Riley who was in the Animal Cannon design collective who did all the Madison show posters. He also did the design for my book.”

The book is being self-published. “I entertained the idea of bringing to a publisher and shopped it around a little bit. It’s such a long process going that route. I just wanted to get out in the world while it’s still relevant.”
Wells is hitting the road for a multi-city Wisconsin book tour with stops in Madison, Milwaukee and Eau Claire. He will be in town at Madison's on King Street from 5pm – 7pm on Wednesday (2/13) discussing "Forward." Local musician Kainalu will be doing a DJ set followed by a performance from Thomas Wincek.

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