In our MKE Music Rewind series, we revisit notable Milwaukee music that was released before Milwaukee Record became a thing in April 2014.
I moved to Milwaukee in the fall of 1996, but sometimes it feels like I arrived much later. Some of that has to do with isolation—I lived in the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee dorms my first two years here, and I only rarely ventured outside the East Side. But I can’t discount good old fashioned laziness, either. While I was moping around that weird dance club they used to have in Sandburg Hall (and, yes, occasionally haunting places like Atomic Records and The Globe East), there was a whole Milwaukee music scene percolating around me. A weird Milwaukee music scene. Enter Competitorr.
Who was Competitorr? For those who don’t remember, here’s a brief band bio from the Activities Archive, where two of the band’s releases are currently preserved:
Competitorr consisted of four filmmakers and artists: Stephanie Barber (vocals), Annie Killelea (guitar), Didier Leplae (bass), and Sarah Price (drums). A legendary live act, these recordings offer a glimpse into their spastic, yet perfectly poised song-craft. While Competitorr met at film school, ironically, they never shot a music video. The band was active from about 1997-2003 and toured nationally, including a performance on Chick-A-Go-Go in 2001.
Barber, Killelea, Leplae, and Price were all part of the so-called “Milwaukeeists” scene of the mid-’90s and early-’00s. (All four musicians were accomplished artists, though Price achieved the most visible success with American Movie, which she produced with director Chris Smith in 1999.) It was an experimental, avant-garde scene born out of UWM’s decidedly experimental, avant-garde film program. And it was a scene—despite the fact that I, too, was in the UWM film program at the time—that I totally missed out on.
Why? Again, maybe I was just lazy. Sure, the “Milwaukeeist” folks were all 5-7 years older than me, but that’s no excuse for sleeping on something like “Stop Go,” the leadoff track from the band’s self-titled, Joe Wong-recorded 2002 album. Or this wonderfully bonkers performance of “Stop Go,” from Chicago’s legendary Chic-a-Go-Go public access dance party.
Is “Stop Go” a great song? Not really, but it perfectly sums up the scrappy, DIY, and endlessly inventive scene of the time. And it was brief: Barber, Killelea, and Price no longer live in Milwaukee, though Leplae remains an invaluable asset to the city’s music scene. Wong, meanwhile, has been busy with his Trap Set podcast and writing music for Netflix’s Russian Doll.
But the weird legacy of Competitorr remains, if only in homegrown streaming sites and pixelated YouTube clips. And get this: there’s a weird, wonderfully strange music scene still percolating in Milwaukee today. It’s out there and it’s waiting to be discovered. Don’t be like me and miss out.