Get plugged in to Benjamin Fawks’ Outlet series at Rozz-Tox

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Tatsuya Nakatani and Assif Tsahar

Rozz-Tox, Rock Island — Sunday, April 7 at 8 p.m.

Rozz-Tox’s Benjamin Fawks has curated the Outlet series since late 2017. — courtesy of Benjamin Fawks

Charles-André Coderre of Jerusalem In My Heart raises a loop of 16mm film to point out a tiny mountain range along the strip’s extreme right edge.

“That’s the music,” he says and then carefully replaces the loop onto a T-shaped stand alongside a few dozen more similar pieces of film.

Charles-André Coderre of Jerusalem in My Heart setting up projectors and film for their performance. — Melanie Hanson

There are four such T stands — one for each heavy reel-to-reel of the type that went out of production in the 1960s — opposite the Rozz-Tox stage where Radwan Ghazi Moumneh, JIMH’s other half, sets up his guitars and sound boards for the immersive audio-video live installation Daqa’iq Tudaiq.

Next month, the Lebanese-Canadian duo will be in Switzerland and then Belgium and the UK. But this night, they’re in Rock Island, Illinois, a place they’d never heard of before Benjamin Fawks asked them to perform for his curated series, Outlet.

The Outlet manifesto explains its philosophy using terms like “circuit,” “conductivity” and “flow” — generally in the figurative sense. In more concrete language: To qualify for the Outlet series, artists need to be innovative in experimental and electronic genres.

Radwan Ghazi Moumneh of Jerusalem in my Heart performs at Rozz-Tox. — Kevin Schafer

Outlet’s previous installment just four days earlier featured DJ Taye, who is typically billed as a rapper. The 24-year-old’s performances are much more complex, however, sampling from classic hip-hop and break dance as well as techno, 8-bit and pretty much anything heavy with syncopation.

“It’s footwork,” Fawks says from behind the counter at Rozz-Tox. “His show was part of Outlet because of footwork. Because it’s so innovative. It’s South Side Chicago. Teklife. They own that.”

Fawks is a wiry dude who moves fast and wears a colossal, quintessential man bun, which today is covered with a blue knit cap. He has owned and operated Rozz-Tox — a public café, gallery and music venue — for eight years, so though the Outlet series is only began in late 2017, he understands the challenges of getting an act on stage. Fortunately, Fawks has the drive and skills that make a career politician look like a chump.

Rozz-Tox owner Benjamin Fawks with the Teklife crew. — courtesy of Benjamin Fawks

“I’m working pretty closely with these booking agencies,” he says. “One of the guys who books a lot of this stuff is based in Montreal, and I actually flew out there for five days and stayed at his house. You have to build a connection. A personal one. There’s no way they would look at this market otherwise. It’s only because we’re reaching out and trying to build something.”

And it’s working. Renowned Italian DJ Elena Colombi played six dates in the United States in March of 2018. One of those was at Rozz-Tox. She skipped Chicago to perform for the Outlet series.

Colombi qualified for the series due to her experiments with technique, making her name in underground party scenes and paying special attention to unknown and underexposed artists.

While no one from the Quad Cities has headlined Outlet, Fawks doesn’t rule it out. He’s hoping, in fact, that these visiting artists will inspire locals to push boundaries.

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It’s an idea Fawks returns to again and again — that an Outlet performance is an experience. It’s not just a concert, and audiences aren’t just going to be entertained.

Japanese master percussionist Tatsuya Nakatani, performing on Sunday, April 7, is definitively innovative as he tests the limits of his homemade bows and gongs. His genre is typically labeled “jazz,” but what he does is beyond labels. He is a true outsider artist who abolishes all of preconceived notions of what a percussionist can do.

Tatsuya Nakatani performs as part of the Outlet series on April 7. — via his website

To appreciate the full effect of his art requires presence of body and mind. It’s a performance one can physically feel, according to Fawks, who calls Nakatani a sculptor of sound.

Fawks has added a blue cardigan that matches his knit cap that makes the sonic explorer looks like a Navy librarian. But in a couple of months, he’ll be in Berlin scouting clubs and cafés for potential future Outlet alums.

At the moment, he is sipping one of the Japanese whiskeys from the Rozz-Tox menu, saying: “Oh, man, what would I do? What would I do?”

He’s just been asked about his ideal Outlet show. Who would he bring to Rock Island, to the Rozz-Tox stage, if he had a giant wad of cash? The idea puts a sparkle in his eye.

The Outlet manifesto reads: “Electronic and experimental music is not just for a small circle, to be insulated and confined to elitists alone. Outlet seeks to expand the circle.” Unlimited funds would mean he could fulfill that ultimate goal.

Benjamin Fawks. — Mariah Woelfel

“What would I do?” he repeats, as he shifts body language with renewed energy. “I would bring Dean Blunt to the Quad Cities. He’s one of my favorite artists. He’s based in London … When he comes to the states, which is rare, it’s New York and L.A. He’s not a superstar or anything. In a very, very esoteric scene, he’s a god, but outside of that scene, nobody fucking knows who Dean Blunt is. I’ve hit him up so many times asking what it would cost. They won’t even give me a price.”

If you have to ask, you can’t afford it. But Fawks insists he’s not going to give up on Blunt.

“He’s my white whale.”

In the meantime, he says he’s stoked to host Nakatani and accompanist Assif Tsahar, an Israeli saxophonist-clarinetist. Get there early (doors at 7 p.m.) before there’s a line at the bar. Tickets are $8 in advance, $12 at the door.

Future Outlet acts include Xeno & Oaklander, a duo who will head a packed line-up on Friday, April 12, and Egyptian composer Nadah El Shazly, who will share some pieces from her critically-acclaimed first album AHWAR, on Friday, May 10. Freshly booked just in time for this interview: Anika, the British-German DJ and poet, makes her Outlet debut on Tuesday, June 11.

Keep an eye on Rozz-Tox’s program page for future events.

Rozz-Tox in Rock Island, Illinois. — Paige Underwood

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