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October 9, 2019 @ 8:00 pm - 2:00 am
Juiceboxxx has been performing as Juiceboxxx for most of his life, and that’s a tall order. From his first basement shows as a literal 13-year-old, to his stint opening for Public Enemy in the mid-2000s, to his reality-warping performance of “Like a Renegade” on Wisconsin local news, to the time he was the subject of an entire book, to his independent label Thunder Zone, a home for noise music, Lil Ugly Mane merch, and energy drinks… etc. etc. He’s done a lot. Like life itself, Juiceboxxx’s strange resume rolls on and on, at once populist, multidimensional, and always confounding expectations.
“Since the beginning, I’ve never totally fit in. I’ve always been on the periphery of a bunch of things at once,” says Juiceboxxx. “But I think that has put me in a unique position to create. Music is a tool for connection, and I don’t want to put walls around that.”
The point, ever since the beginning, remains this: to connect the dots of American music in a new way, and give face to the endless struggle to produce original art. He is as tireless as he is indefinable, the rarest and highest form of artist. Among a hellscape of trend-hoppers, trust-funders, pseudointellectuals, and pretty faces, who else has the conviction, not to mention the deep content to their music, to propel themselves forward as maniacally fast and hard as this stunning DIY lifer? There are few like him, because only fools try.
Juiceboxxx grew up outside Milwaukee, and from a young age began merging punk rock and rap in the sort of is-he-oblivious-or-painfully-aware way you sometimes find in the heartland. “Saying it’s rap-rock is obviously confrontational,” he said a few years ago, “but there are a lot of alternate realities where rap-rock can be sick.” If one thing is true, it’s that Juiceboxxx exists in this better, alternate reality. Chuck D once called him “the Buddy Holly of hip-hop,” and though he has always found high-profile supporters, not everyone has been a fan.
There’s a beautiful artifact found in footage shot after his first show in Canada, more than a decade ago, around the time of his debut EP, R U There God?? Itz Me Juiceboxxx. Outside the video frame, you can hear someone taunt him, “This is why you should have stayed in Wisconsin.” Juiceboxxx was still a teenager, lanky and shirtless, and his reaction is definitive: “You guys have lost your fucking will to live,” he says, energy building as he goes. “You might as well die right now. Juiceboxxx! 2006! Life is gonna be alright.” It’s soul-crushing yet supremely motivational — his defiant, signature mode.
Since then, his music has ridden the rip tides and hidden currents behind the mainstream. Juiceboxxx’s late-2000s featured, naturally, a blog house phase, where he made chanty club music often co-produced by Dre Skull (Drake, Rihanna, Popcaan), while at the same time touring with the noise and punk bands he grew up with. By his 2012 album, I Don’t Wanna Go Into The Darkness, and in its follow-up Heartland 99, he had fully returned to the basement, refining a bold combination of Bruce Springsteen, The Ramones, Lou Reed and the Beastie Boys. Though these styles might seem opposed, they are, like Juiceboxxx, fundamentally American: the focus is productive freedom and progressing toward a better future.
“The music might seem eclectic, but I’ve staked out the parameters,” Juiceboxxx says. “Currently, it all draws back to the feeling I get when I’m playing live with the Thunder Zone band behind me.”
This seems like a good place to say: Juiceboxxx is one of the single best live musicians working. Period. Backed by a tight band of lifers, he jumps and grimaces and does the splits, smashes his forehead with the microphone until he bleeds. He’s hungry, still. It’s not just the sounds that have influenced him from these disparate, iconic artists, but the raw energy of the performers.
By 2017, most of the promise of the early music internet had been eroded. Blog house was replaced by Spotifycore. But Juiceboxxx was still standing — and in fact, his weekly newsletter, The Boxxx Report, had become a beacon of wide-ranging, underdog-uplifting curation. That year, he released Freaked Out American Loser, his first album for Dangerbird Records. The studio recordings were coiled and tight, but a new pressure was on: you can tell just by the song titles, like “Permanent Brain Damage” and “Go to the Club Alone.” It’s admirable and inspiring to chase your dreams across the years, but there’s no small cost.
On “Coinstar Song,” the lead single to his forthcoming new album for Dangerbird, Juiceboxxx is back to pulling himself up by the bootstraps in the only way he knows how: with a borderline-absurd pop-punk precarity anthem. The music video is one of his best yet — and the man has had some inventive videos. Directed by Eugene Kotlyarenko, it was filmed entirely in the app TikTok, featuring appearances by fellow lifer musicians and random TikTokkers from all over the heartland. It’s fitting for a song about living off collected change. Getting by is a universal struggle, and Juiceboxxx, as always, captures it with a delightful grin.