The following article was written by Joe Lawler about the music scene in Fairfield, Iowa and focuses on former Maharishi University of Management students – Phil and Dom Rabalais. The original article was featured in the Des Moines Register.
Fairfield’s town square looks a lot like most other town squares: insurance offices, a pizza place, hair salons. But there are also multiple Indian, Thai and Turkish restaurants, and entertainment venues that point to a unique, offbeat local music scene rising out of the unique, offbeat southeast Iowa town of less than 10,000 people.
Live music happens regularly at Cafe Paradiso and The Beauty Shop. The musicians are largely Fairfield born and bred, a collection of intermingling acts like Utopia Park, Trouble Lights, Little Ruckus, Josie Overmyer and Julia Ross. At the forefront are brothers Dom and Phillip Rabalais.
“If someone asked me what I thought the 10 best bands in Iowa are, Phil and Dom would be in four of them,” said Nate Logsdon, singer for the Ames band Mumford’s and the June artist in residence at The Beauty Shop in Fairfield.
Dom and Phillip are both members of the band Utopia Park (named for the Fairfield trailer park where they grew up), while Dom fronts the punk/hip-hop act Little Ruckus and Phillip provides live production for electronic pop acts Trouble Lights and Animal.
Video: Living the Fairfield music scene
Those diverse dining options on the town square are the result of the Maharishi University of Management, long a big draw for practitioners of transcendental meditation, a spiritual and philosophical movement.
College towns are a hotbed of musical activity due to the constant influx of new students. Every year new faces arrive, connections are made and new bands are formed. It’s the kind of thing that keeps a stream of fresh new acts coming out of Iowa City and Ames.
While a lot of Fairfield musicians attend or have attended Maharishi University, they’re also Fairfield natives. Their parents moved to Fairfield because of transcendental meditation and spawned a new generation of young 20-something creatives who are using their experiences in the offbeat town to shape things to their vision.
“I wouldn’t say there’s a Fairfield voice, but there’s a Fairfield atmosphere,” Dom Rabalais, 22, said. “Going into this we didn’t know what was possible, so there was a feeling that we could do anything.”
The Rabalais brothers have dubbed their unique brand of energy Sweat Power. The idea came from Dom’s ramblings during the brothers’ Utopia Park shows, which are often high-energy, sweaty events.
In live shows, Sweat Power acts are full of movement. Dom jumps around the stage, doing kicks and landing in splits. Adrien Daller, the spandex-clad Trouble Lights vocalist, is constantly moving on stage, exhibiting vocal control she picked up during five years of musical theater in London.
Dom and Phillip have toured the country multiple times as Utopia Park, and Dom will be hitting Europe with Little Ruckus next week. Little Ruckus and Trouble Lights were the opening acts for the Girl Talk concert at Wooly’s last month.
Little Ruckus recently released an album, “Tank Girl Vs. Cape Girl,” and Trouble Lights’ debut album will come out through Maximum Ames Records this fall.
“A lot of it started as a joke, messing around and making tracks we thought were funny,” Phillip, 26, said of his work with Dom. “We started playing shows, and I think we’re doing it with the same feeling. A lot of it is seeing what we can get away with.”
Tanner Illingsworth, one of the organizers for the Iowa City Mission Creek Festival, first encountered the Fairfield music scene when he booked Utopia Park (then called Porno Galactica) to open for electronic musician Dan Deacon. It was one of the Fairfield band’s first shows. Illingsworth said the performance was one of the most memorable he’s seen at the festival.
“They were fairly young at the time, but the stage presence and energy was unbelievable,” Illingsworth said. “It made me take notice that something was going on in Fairfield.”
Illingsworth grew up in a small town and couldn’t wait to leave. But the musicians in Fairfield, he said, have flipped that idea on its head.
“They’re saying ‘This is our small town, and we love it,’ ” Illingsworth said. “There’s a great sense of community down there, and they want to represent their city in the best possible light.”
The Beauty Shop has been a hub for Sweat Power activities in recent years. The venue is located in a part of the Bonnell Building Project on the town square (named for the building that houses it). It is designed to provide space for Fairfield residents with startup projects and those wishing to establish learning activities.
The Bonnell Building Project also handles the nearby St. Mary’s building, a former Catholic school that now houses a performance space, artist collective and studios.
“Young people needed a place to express themselves without feeling inhibited or judged,” said Julia Ross, 23, the project manager for the Bonnell Building Project and a Fairfield singer-songwriter. “The nature of the project is that it rises to meet the needs of the community.”
“Everyone tries to give each other a lot of support,” Logsdon said. “When a good thing happens for anybody, everybody feels proud.”
The Bonnell Building Project sponsors monthly residencies for visiting artists, which have included stop-motion animators, book binders and more. The project provides a place to live and a small stipend so the artists can focus on their crafts.
Read the full article on the Des Moines Register’s website.
Explore Maharishi University of Management online.
Thumbnail photo credit: Adrien Daller
|Anna Bruen is a MUM alumna who graduated with a degree in Sustainable Living. Anna is the resident blogger here at MUM. To learn more about Anna take a look at her introduction post.|