Zack Pieper and Didier Leplae have been sitting on some music. A lot of music.
Over the course of the last 15 years or so, the two longtime Milwaukee musicians have performed in dozens of local bands and recorded untold hours (and hours, and hours, and hours) of music. But while groups like The Trusty Knife, Competitorr, The Paragraphs, and Farms In Trouble were celebrated in their respective days, by and large, their music is currently hard—if not impossible—to find. Happily, all that has changed with the launch of Pieper and Leplae’s Activities Archive, a treasure trove of out-of-print, unreleased, forgotten, and/or aborted projects from Milwaukee’s recent music past.
In Pieper and Leplae’s words, the Activities Archive “is an ever-expanding, web-based catalogue of albums, tapes, performances, videos, songs, and other recorded ephemera spanning several decades.” (With two-dozen releases already to its name, it certainly lives up to that description.) The project came about from the two musicians’ collaboration on a 2015 album called Mandatory Fantasies, which is also included in the Archive.
“I started collaborating more with Didier,” Pieper says. “When I was younger, I remember seeing bands he was in that really impressed me. He had a ton of stuff that people from Milwaukee remember really well. Competitorr was legendary. Bamm Bamm was legendary.”
Those bands and more are included in the Archive, providing an invaluable glimpse into the Milwaukee music scene post-Internet, but pre-Bandcamp/Soundcloud. Here’s Competitorr’s 2002 self-titled full-length, featuring Leplae and former Milwaukeeans Sarah Price, Stephanie Barber, and Annie Killelea. Here’s the sole release from gonzo funk-freakout outfit The Chain. Here’s The Trusty Knife‘s 2008 debut, and its never-released follow-up Cyclops. Here’s the previously unreleased discography of Droope, headed up by the mysterious Andy Positive. Here’s Kabob, headed up by the even more mysterious Bob Krabbe. All of it digitized, remastered, rediscovered.
“I see it as a place to put stuff that wouldn’t be anywhere else,” Leplae says. “Stuff that’s good but wouldn’t meet the standards of a record label.”
At the moment, the Activities Archive remains largely tied to its two creators. The catalog is split roughly 50/50 between material originally released on Pieper’s Activities label, and material recorded for Leplae’s Neapolitan Records. Still, both musicians aim to quickly open the site up to other likeminded bands.
“For now it’s mostly projects that Didier and I have been involved in, just because we’ve been sitting on it,” Pieper says. “But we want to expand it to include…I hate to use the word ‘weird,’ but more weird pop music.”
Some of the “weird” material planned for the Archive includes albums, singles, and videos from Fudgy, Scrimshaw, Ravi/Lola, and Batten Review. “It’s not just nostalgia,” Pieper says.
Leplae, who, along with former Milwaukeean Joe Wong, has composed music for shows like Aziz Ansari’s Master Of None and Adult Swim’s Superjail!, agrees that the Activities Archive is more than a museum piece. “I think it would be a mistake to characterize as a history of Milwaukee music,” he says. “We’re not that all-encompassing. It’s just what we want to put up there.”
“I feel our scope is big in a way. It can be anything we want it to be.”
The Trusty Knife will celebrate the release of the Activities Archive with a rare show Friday, July 29 at Company Brewing. Andy Positive & His Blu Riders, WC Tank, and DJ Spero Lo Menzo will play in support. Listen to a mix of some of the music found in the Activities Archive here.