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The Demix reflects on the return of MELT and live music

Over the next few weeks, many long-shuttered Milwaukee venues will open up for shows for the first time in more than 15 months, and many Milwaukee musicians will be playing for crowds for the first time since early 2020. Coming off of a global pandemic, it's only natural that they'd feel some ambivalence about it -- a mix of excitement and anxiety that's likely to linger for much of the summer.

Paul Demix, who records and performs as The Demix, is one of those artists plotting his return. In a couple of weeks he'll play his first post-vaccine show when his long-running experimental electronic music series MELT returns to Quarters on Saturday, June 19. Then the following month he'll play a much bigger show, opening for the Miami-by-way-of-Milwaukee electronic artist Doormouse at X-Ray Arcade on Saturday, July 24. Pre-sale tickets for that show have already sold out.

He's ready, he says. But he's also nervous. He chatted with Radio Milwaukee about his plans for his first shows of the year and how the pandemic reshaped his feelings about live music.

The Demix | Courtesy photo

Returning to live performances is a really personal decision for a lot of musicians. What was your thought process for booking these shows?

I had just been keeping my finger on the pulse, waiting to see what's going on with the city with mask mandates, capacity and all that. It was a few weeks ago where they set the dates where they're going to ease all restrictions, so I decided to just go for it.

I'm still going to do limited capacity at Quarters and we're going to do limited capacity at X-Ray Arcade, even though the city's back to full capacity. I just want to make sure everyone's comfortable and feels good about what we're doing. And I'll throw myself in there included: I've been really strict on Covid regulations, just in my personal life, so I'm not rushing. I haven't even been out yet. Like I haven't gone out to a show. I haven't been out to a bar. I just went out to a little block party this weekend for the first time; that was my first time actually being around people. But I just want to play music really. Like I'll play music for 10 people at Quarters by myself at this point.

But I think we have all the vaccines out there. The science is out there. We have all the resources to keep ourselves safe. And that's kinda how I feel. I just want to be proactive in getting music back to Milwaukee.

What are the challenges of doing a club show? I think a lot of us have accepted that outdoor music is fairly safe now, but the clubs and bars are still a leap for some people, even if they're vaccinated.

It's weird, man. I think it's really on every individual. Some people don't mind, other people are really nervous about going inside and, you know, and it's like, I don't want to force anyone to do anything. I just want people to know that I think we can do this and I'm going to do whatever I can to make sure it's a safe environment. I'm not going to run around and like tell people to put their mask on or check through their vaccination card or anything like that. I don't think we should do that.

Returning to shows is a slow process and I think we're kind of at the start of it now. I know people that have been playing shows for awhile. Like if you've looked, there's been plenty of things going on throughout the pandemic, especially in Wisconsin. But then there are a lot of people that are like me, who haven't done anything for a long time. And I think we're all kind of just taking it slow and feeling each other out, feeling the venue out. But I think it's good that it's happening. I do think it's time. And I have faith that the people that like play music and put on these shows and run the venues are going to do the right thing to make sure that we don't go backward. I don't think anybody wants that.

It's interesting. If you're somebody who's been health conscious for the last 15 months, you've spent a lot of that time hoping that the music scene keeps its foot on the brake for a while. After all that time it feels like a big shift going back to that promoter mindset encouraging everybody to go back to shows again.

It is bizarre. I mean, even I question myself sometimes, like, “is it too soon?” I don't think it's too soon, but I think if if people just are kind of like reactionary and just go back to doing the same thing they did before, then maybe it might be a little too soon.

If you have like taken this time to reflect on what you're doing in the city and what you're doing with your music and everything, then I think having the break wasn't necessarily the end of the world. For me, I kind of took it as like, “Well, this is a forced break. I can't play shows. I can't throw shows. It's what I love to do. So I'm just going to kind of sit back and reflect on how do I continue to evolve and do things differently and do things better.” For instance, coming back with MELT, typically at MELT shows we would do five artists throughout the whole night. They each get like equal time, like 45 minutes set. Coming back, I'm not going to do five artists for 45 minutes. We're going to do two artists and a special thing called Peace and Quiet, just to kind of ease back into it. Like we don't need this pack five people on stage with all their gear. At least not now, not yet.

You come from an interesting scene. The part of the electronic music scene you come from is largely lone wolves, a lot of people working on their own producing hermetically. It's not all that collaborative. What has the pandemic been like for musicians in your circle of music?

Oh, wow. I think a lot of people have retreated to the holes, myself included. Trying to stay connected with people, even though we have the internet and all this fun stuff, it can still be difficult. You know, I did some live streams over the pandemic to try to keep people engaged, just doing some by myself and then doing some with friends. But it's been weird though, man. It's not the same. I hate to say it, but it's not the same. A few live streams I did were fun. A couple kind of felt just too much like, “you know, I don't really need to do this.” A few felt like I was at home practicing for my cat, which is what I do anyway.

So yeah, I'm an introvert by nature. I'm not super social. My music, I spend a lot of time alone working on, even when I am like out engaged with people. It's like, I'm the guy that kind of like disappears and goes home and doesn't say goodbye. So it's a weird thing. I'm seeing a lot of like people coming out of their holes, like wide eyed, experiencing the world for the first time again.