The Friendly Specter Leads the Madison Underground Music Scene

Some report sightings of him sitting behind the sound booth in a dimly lit basement, ensuring experimental touring performers have the perfect cadence in their noise acts. Others saw him at center stage with a guitar, headlining shows in bars and houses around town. 

Overall, the odds are that if you attended a DIY show in Madison, you bumped straight into the scene’s friendly specter in the mosh pit.

Cam Scheller-Suitor, 26, is a veteran in the Wisconsin underground music community. The musician is the drummer of Midwest emo act Dear Mr. Watterson, and is responsible for booking acts and running one of the most popular DIY venues in town, as well as performing as his solo experimental punk project Friendly Specters.

Starting in April 2022, Scheller-Suitor turned the space his band used to practice into a hub for experimental music in town. They host an average of one show per month and have hosted an array of genres, from spoken word performance art to techno DJs and screamo acts.

“I try to find the right balance of variety, but not too chaotic of a bill,” Scheller-Suitor said. “I keep an aim towards experimental music and an aim towards small touring bands. And especially more this year, I tried to get local bands on the bills, who have either not played the venue in a while, or who haven't played there at all.”

In his free time, Scheller-Suitor books the acts, designs the show flyers, runs sound and often performs with his many projects.

Volunteers or performing band members are responsible for doors, which are usually done through sliding scale donations. At the end of the night, all the money goes to the performers, with larger percentage cuts going to touring bands.

Over the past year, local musicians like Sean Hovarth from Watermelon Collie became regular helpers at the venue.

“The main reason I volunteer at [Scheller-Suitor’s] shows is because no one does it like them. Cam has taken a chance on my own projects and no venues in Madison have such a unique crowd,” Hovath said.

Madison’s college town nature yields to an ever-rotating circuit of local acts, with a clear divide between the college scene and the Madisonian scene. The producer’s projects fall within the latter, with Dear Mr. Watterson together as a band for nearly five years.

“The thing I like the most about Cam is how reliable he is, not a lot of local acts can say they’ve been through as much crazy shit as us, and I know that he would be down to help out with any creative vision I have,” said Calen Williams, frontperson and guitarist of Dear. Mr Watterson and one of Scheller-Suitor’s close friends.

Because the scene is mostly made up of students, it is always transitional. With leases running on a year-by-year basis, house venues rarely last more than a year. There is the added risk of these places getting shut down by noise complaints, landlord policies and even police raids for underage drinking.

The DIY venue Scheller-Suitor runs benefits from being located off of the UW-Madison campus, with the added bonus of being all ages. However, on all the show flyers, the promoter has to mention how concertgoers have to “ask a punk for the address” to prevent shutting the venue down.

Even with Scheller-Suitor being the primary promoter for this DIY venue, the practice space is shared with bands from completely different sonic scenes. However, all the shows share the same ethos of bridging gaps between communities in the Wisconsin music scene.

“I love to book bills that have bands from multiple sects of the scene within a single bill. It's just good to know that people will end up coming out and seeing music that they might not have seen otherwise,” Scheller-Suitor said.

Alongside operating a venue, Scheller-Suitor experiences the other side of the scene, performing regularly with his bands, Friendly Spectres and Dear Mr. Watterson. 

Both bands take the DIY experimental mentality of Scheller-Suitor and channel it into performances in all sorts of venues in Madison. The musician has performed in makeshift stages in skate parks, abandoned warehouses and basements as well as the more traditional Frank Productions venues and venues like The High Noon Saloon and The Sett.

Through Friendly Spectres, Scheller-Suitor has done a solo Midwest tour once and is finishing preparations to embark on his album release tour in April

“It's an interesting way to tour. I love traveling very much,” Scheller-Suitor said. “I love going to places I've never done before. And I love exploring places that I've only been to once or twice before. And I also love seeing music venues in different cities and seeing bands and other cities, and sort of trying to identify what makes a venue or a band unique in the context of where they live, or where in the country they live or the city that they live.”

The connections the performer makes on the road directly translate to their booking skills. For artists like Scheller-Suitor being on the road is their form of networking. Some of the biggest influences behind Friendly Specters are acts like The Mall and Factual Brains, bands that have either played his venue, or he met during the first tour.

With institutions like the University of Wisconsin-Madison and FPC Live booking more local acts and representing different sects of the scene, the DIY community in Wisconsin is enabling all kinds of artists to have an equal shot at the spotlight.

“My hope for the Wisconsin music scene is that everybody stays inspired, and everybody keeps wanting to try new things. That's one of the best things that I've seen in the past few years is that more and more bands are going in directions that I would have never predicted. Creating a lot of just really beautiful, organic music. We’re not doing completely conventional rock or pop or punk,” said Scheller-Suitor. 

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