Dimitri Hegemann/Photo: Marie Staggat
By Lee DeVito
Detroit’s Movement Electronic Music Festival is a rare instance of the mainstream embracing what is otherwise still a relatively underground aspect of the city’s musical legacy. It’s an occasion on which thousands of visitors, from the city’s suburbs to the world over, flock to Hart Plaza to celebrate an entire genre of music that can be traced back to a handful of Detroiters tinkering with making electronic music in the 1980s.
At Movement, it’s not uncommon to hear DJs pay respect to Detroit’s contributions to electronic music by dropping tracks like Cybotron’s “Clear”—regarded as the first techno record—into their sets. As celebrated and accomplished as DJs like Juan Atkins, Derrick May, Kevin Saunderson and Eddie Fowlkes may be, they’re not quite household names to your casual millennial raver; yet at Movement, they’re reserved prominent slots alongside mass-appeal electronic acts like Skrillex, Fatboy Slim and Moby.
During the rest of the year you might catch some of those early Detroit DJs playing far more low-key events in Detroit’s smattering of electronic clubs. But while Mecca comparisons are a cliché, it’s hard not to evoke it in the way that many music fans, artists and DJs look to Detroit during Memorial Day weekend.
This May, as organizers were gearing up for the festival, members of the local media gathered for a more low-key appreciation of techno, centered around a man from Berlin who has been making waves in the media for his vision for the city. Read the rest of this entry »
Photo: Daniel Meyering
By Lee DeVito
To be fair, none of the parties involved ever actually declared that rock was dead. Yet that sentiment was the takeaway for many earlier this year when The Magic Stick, an iconic Detroit rock club, announced it was switching formats to electronic dance music.
The club—part of a historic entertainment complex that includes The Majestic Theatre and the city’s oldest continuously operating bowling alley, The Garden Bowl—enjoyed its peak as the epicenter of the “garage rock” boom of the early 2000s. Homegrown acts like the White Stripes, the Von Bondies, the Detroit Cobras and the Dirtbombs helped make stripped-down, guitar-based music cool again, resonating with audiences in Detroit and beyond.
For a time, bills stuffed with four or more bands were common, with the second-floor venue’s wooden floors flexing somewhat alarmingly under the weight of up to nearly 600 sweating fans. Hip national acts like Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Sleater-Kinney and Arcade Fire would make stops at the venue in the following years. The White Stripes, by then selling out theaters and stadiums across the world, even considered the venue as the location for an “Elephant”-era secret show, before those plans were thwarted by Jack White breaking his hand in a car accident. Read the rest of this entry »
In the late seventies and eighties, a group of local DJs—Wayne Williams, Jesse Saunders, Alan King, Tony Hatchett and Andre Hatchett—helped turn Chicago-style house music into an international phenomenon. In 1990, the by-now-self-christened Chosen Few Disco Corp. (self-esteem obviously not being a problem area for them) held a reunion picnic at Jackson Park, and rather than being a wistful, weren’t-the-old-days-great-please-pass-the-potato-salad affair, the party generated enough high-energy mojo to launch an entirely new phenomenon: an annual house-music festival that grew to incorporate live performances as well as epic-scale spinning. Read the rest of this entry »
By Robert Rodi
There are few musicians more fondly remembered in Chicago than tenor sax giant Von Freeman, who died in 2012. So when Freeman’s son, Chico, also a sax man, and brother George, a celebrated guitarist, came together to record for the first time, it was hard to avoid invoking Von’s memory… especially since they chose to call the album “All In the Family.” (Titling one of the cuts “Vonski” didn’t help, either.) But beyond the nod to their late relative’s legacy, the two surviving Freemans manage to make the music entirely their own. Comprising all-original compositions (with the exception of the haunting standard “Angel Eyes,” plus a smattering of very short improvised pieces that serve almost as amuse-bouches between the more substantial tunes), “All In the Family” plays like an intergenerational conversation between George’s burnished, impeccable guitar and Chico’s deft and energetic sax. Read the rest of this entry »
Chicago singer-songwriter Joe Goodkin is perhaps best known as the founder of the local indie band Paper Arrows. But his career took an interesting turn when he wrote a thirty-minute adaptation of “The Odyssey” for voice and guitar, which he ended up touring around the country to widespread acclaim. I’ve only heard excerpts, but there’s an aching plangency in the work that seems to give it a direct connection to the Bronze Age texts. Now Goodkin has emerged on the other side with a new EP, “Record of Life,” that comes across almost as an adaptation of his own earlier work—or more accurately, a commentary on it; a corrective of where it didn’t go far enough—as if all that time spent with Homer has given him the cojones to call bullshit on his previous, more timid self. Read the rest of this entry »
Rock ’n’ roll used to be a force for social change—and if the employees of megabucks retailer Guitar Center have their way, it will be again, goddammit. The workers unionized two years ago, and now find themselves fighting for a fair contract—meaning one that provides a living wage and affordable benefits. They stress how much they love their jobs, but lament that “we often have trouble making ends meet, thanks to low wages and fluctuating hours. We are asked to do many non-selling tasks which hurt our commissions. Sales workers do not receive sick days, health benefits are expensive and part timers are not even offered health benefits.” Read the rest of this entry »
Not sure what it is about the long-awaited arrival of summer in Chicago, but it invariably unleashes the urge to go out, cram oneself into a small club shoulder-to-shoulder with the demoniacally like-minded, and have one’s face melted by an unapologetically balls-out local rock band. Well, June is that month and She Rides Tigers is that band. In case the endlessly extended winter has eroded your belief in just how much noise a mere trio of human beings can make, Joe O’Leary (guitar, vocals), James Scott (bass, vocals) and Matt McGuire (drums) are happy to remind you. Read the rest of this entry »
Illustration: Ray Noland
By David Safran
I am a solo artist who performs live music in Chicago. Urban Dictionary, the summit of our English language, has a few definitions of “solo artist.” The second is fitting: a musician who works on “material/songs in a primarily solo state.” But I prefer the first definition: solo artists are musicians so skilled at masturbation that “they take it to the level of an art.”
At any rate, I write songs and perform them live. I use my own name—a tricky sell in 2015—and I hire musicians to accompany me on stage. These musicians are professional and skilled—and expensive. It’s a costly process, taking on a show. Each musician gets about $100-$150 for the performance. I reimburse the band for travel expenses. Sometimes they request separate payment for rehearsals. I also rent space for our practices. If I perform one local show, I need at least $450 to break even.
Occasionally I get offers to open for touring solo artists. Over the past couple of years, talent buyers have contacted me about support slots not because the music matched or the headliners (and their agents) were David Safran fans, but because I could “add heft in ticket sales.” Those headliners—all global and careered and acclaimed—were, for whatever reason, having a tough time selling tickets here. Per-show booking fees for artists I’ve supported have all been in the thousands. My guarantees have been meager. For example, City Winery paid me $300. Lincoln Hall paid me $200. In October, SPACE offered me $100 with the expectation to bring the crowd; the headliner had only sold twenty-five tickets. SPACE is a music room in the back of a suburban pizzeria. You’d think its talent buyer, Jake Samuels, was booking La Scala. Yet I couldn’t get a guarantee higher than $100. I turned down his show offer. Read the rest of this entry »
Kenji Bunch/Photo: Erica Lyn
By Dennis Polkow
“I don’t think it’s a coincidence that so many composers have been attracted to the viola,” says violist and composer Kenji Bunch. Like Bach, who noted that he enjoyed playing viola because he was always “in the middle of the harmony,” Bunch observes that “it lets you experience music from the inside out and you really get a unique perspective on how things are put together.
“If you sing alto or tenor in a choir rather than soprano or bass, those are the hard parts to hear and be able to pick out the right notes for those funky inner lines rather than the more obvious top or bottom lines. I think the viola really finds you. It’s suited for a certain kind of personality that is interested in more offbeat things, literally offbeat things.”
Since the viola is a darker-colored instrument with less brilliance than its more popular cousin the violin, “we don’t have a lot of traditional repertoire written for our instrument, which means we violists usually gain exposure to twentieth century music a lot sooner than violinists or cellists do. Read the rest of this entry »
Seun Kuti / Photo: Johann Sauty
By Gail Dee
What a conundrum that the vast majority of western music enjoyed today—rock ’n’ roll, blues, jazz and hip-hop—has roots in African music spread through suffering. Slavery’s tentacles stretched wide. This cultural diaspora isn’t limited to the U.S. and Caribbean, but extends to Mexico (with Son Jarocho), Colombia (with cumbia and champeta), Peru, Brazil and Uruguay. Even the Argentine tango has its origins in the African slave trade, though Argentina itself is often considered a European (i.e. culturally white) country. The story is told in the film “Tango Negro: The African Roots of Tango” on June 18 at Facets Multimedia (1517 West Fullerton, 8pm, $9).
And the story doesn’t stop there. Like a snake consuming its own tail, the funky soul of James Brown, the acid rock of Jimi Hendrix, the cool jazz of Miles Davis and salsa from New York City then traveled back across the Atlantic and influenced popular music throughout Africa.
This summer, an abundance of exceptional African and Afro-Latin music comes to Chicago, bringing opportunities to check out the amazing diversity of the Afro-musical melting pot. And don’t assume the sound is all about drums; jazzy horns, electric guitars and electronica also prominently propel the dance rhythms. It’s going to be one heck of a hot, sexy summer. Read the rest of this entry »