Ambient, Chicago Artists, Experimental, Festivals, Indie Rock, Krautrock, Minimalism, New Music, Post-Rock, Rock, Space Pop
By Kenneth Preski
Kranky is the most high-profile, under the radar record label that calls Chicago home. For the past twenty years, founder Joel Leoschke has fostered a stable of uncompromising, unpretentious artists whose work may have gone unreleased were it not for his uncanny knack for curation. The thread drawing together outfits as disparate as Deerhunter and Stars of the Lid has united musicians worldwide under one umbrella: part ambient, part electronic, part black earth rock ‘n’ roll. And “Black Earth” might be the best description available for the abstract sound Leoschke is after. As the title of local quartet Implodes’ full-length debut suggests, there’s an engrossing mysticism at work in much of the Kranky repertoire. The solo recordings of Implodes’ guitarist Ken Camden echoes this boundless energy, but even he is quick to acknowledge the fleeting nature of his alchemy, and his hesitancy to share it.
“I’ve always been making recordings at home and stuff, but I’m kinda bashful and wasn’t about to slip [Leoschke] a tape or anything.”
Cajoling artists of this ilk is an elusive art form, something Leoschke has perfected. Somehow he’s managed to cater to the cagey, artists wise enough to avoid making a deal when they needn’t, musicians hungry for harmony on a cosmic scale rather than the fleeting fame offered by superficial scenesters. Art of this kind often has a unique origin story. Read the rest of this entry »
The night before Thanksgiving is the biggest bar night of the year. Beyond the omnipresent college students with a semester of binge-drinking under their ever-expanding belts relishing the opportunity to flaunt their newly minted fake IDs, the night offers a chance to catch up with old friends before spending the following day filling up on food to the brink of discomfort. Spent wisely, the evening is a free-form homecoming for adults in mental preparation for the familiar apprehension that only Thanksgiving with the family can offer. Looking to celebrate a return to sweet home Chicago? There is no better bet than boogieing down with the beat-maestro himself, a man so Chicago he has a street named after him, The Godfather of House Music, Mr. Frankie Knuckles. Smart Bar promises to be packed with Chicagoans of every stripe, as this event is part of the Queen! series, events that openly cater to the LGBT community. Fresh off the legalization of same-sex marriage, the celebration will be a culmination of the jubilation that has been bubbling around the LGBT family since the House vote on November 5. Read the rest of this entry »
By Kenneth Preski
No genre of music has done more to exploit technology than dance. Practitioners have so radically altered the sonic landscape as to render mid-range frequencies obsolete. This is the region of space traditionally reserved for a guitar. Now the sound is maximized at each end of the spectrum, producers opting for punishing squeals of noises that ratchet and reel, high-end frequencies capable of piercing through devastating low-end bass deep enough to rattle your chest. Even vocal samples are subjected to pitch shifting, as much to match tempo as to fit the mix. The music is meant to be physical, hence the overwhelming emphasis on sounds that manipulate movement. From exciting your eardrums to throbbing your torso, if you ever wanted to feel like a vibrating cell phone, you should head to a DJ Rashad show.
Rashad knows much about the impulse to dance. As a member of the House-o-Matics crew, Rashad spent his youth as a dancer immersed in Chicago’s ghetto-house scene—a faster, more aggressive, often explicit take on the post-disco rhythms preferred by the genre’s forefathers. It wouldn’t take long until he became dissatisfied with his role, “I kinda accomplished everything I wanted to do as far as dancing goes, and people wouldn’t take me seriously for doing both, me doing DJing and dancing, so I kinda just like put the shoes down and picked up the needles and took it from there.” Read the rest of this entry »
There’s a lotta club music out there capable of summoning images of greasy-tan women and broheims doin’ rails in the bathroom or folks in shiny shirts grinding on the dancefloor. However we arrived at a point in the music’s history when that’s pretty much the norm is regrettable. But UK producer Nightmares on Wax has nothing to do with that–and in fact, has cultivated a recorded legacy that’s so far removed from those stereotypes, it’s difficult to understand how a lesser strain of the genre exists. Beginning in a time when DJ culture was coming into its own in England allowed for NoW to draw from a blinding kaleidoscope of source material, including soul, Jamaican styles and, of course, now-classic D.A.I.S.Y. Age hip-hop. Since releasing his first disc in 1991 and the pair of quintessential albums following that (“Smokers Delight” and “Carboot Soul”), he’s swung focus from genre to genre, synthesizing it all for the recently released “Feelin’ Good,” which was recorded at his farmhouse on Ibiza. Read the rest of this entry »
Trippy visuals broadcast upon an electronic musician pushing buttons to trigger recorded sounds is about as appealing to the average concertgoer as staying home to stare at a screensaver. Given that experimental linchpin Daniel Lopatin’s Oneohtrix Point Never project is carefully conceptualized to forgo the robotic rhythms of dance, it’s alarming that he would continue to arm his android impulse with the same performance tropes as his EDM counterparts. To be sure, Lopatin is after something different, elusive, abstract—he’s trying to get your brain to dance, not your body. Read the rest of this entry »
On their sixth musical foray, the duo formed by Garry Hughes and Andrew T. Mackay emerge with their trademark mix of electronica, orchestra and Indian sounds. During their career they have collaborated with luminaries like percussionist/composer Karsh Kale (who co-produced one of their earlier efforts) and sitarist Anoushka Shankar, all the while maintaining a tendency to focus on a dance-floor-friendly format.
This time around, they lean toward a more diverse direction by incorporating Asian-centric grooves. For instance, “Blue Mosaic” features wordless vocals and the koto, a traditional Japanese instrument, while “City of Amber” contains a fierce drum ‘n’ bass groove, much to the delight of DJs and remixers. Read the rest of this entry »
There’s a fine line between the perfection of chill-out music and the type of cheeseball production often heard accompanying nature documentaries. Bonobo, an English beatsmith named Simon Green, has appeared on both sides of the divide. His latest disc, “The North Borders,” doesn’t stray far from the tuneful electronics of his efforts dating back a decade, but with each successive long-player, Green insinuates more and more guest vocalists into the mix. Snagging Erykah Badu for a guest spot isn’t gonna do much else other than engorge record sales, and the effort’s a neosoul deal not necessarily sonically cogent given the album’s remaining instrumentals. When including crooners on his tracks, Green tends to pull back, allowing the performer to mark each song with his or her own style. It’s a thoughtful musician’s move, but results in some ambient moments easily overshadowed by largely instrumental tracks like “Jets” and its accompanying wooden drum sound. Read the rest of this entry »
Fuck Buttons got their band’s name by filtering their endless textural destroyers into colorful child’s-toys-turned-aural-tidal-wave-triggers. They wanted to be as playful as they are visceral. When I listen to their music through my earbuds at my work-desk, the wondrous build of their instrumentals turns my rote data entry into the staircase to outer space I’ve always wanted it to be. I dream of being trapped inside a tiny room with Fuck Buttons—Benjamin John Power and Andrew Hung, two Brits—and letting them have their way with my ears and even my body; I want these tones to consume me. Read the rest of this entry »
There’s no question that Chicago prides itself on being the Bethlehem of house music, but its definitive history is still being uncovered and put into order. The Sunset Records Inc. story’s unique arc has seemingly gone unrecognized until now. We can thank the local record label Still Music and its founder, Jerome Derradji, that we know its story at all. Since 2004, Still Music has dedicated itself to reviving rare American dance music gone lost by reclaiming its infancy in the form of remixes, remasters, biographies and documentaries. Last year, Still Music put out “122 BPM: The Birth Of House Music,” a two-disc compilation of Mitchbal Records and Chicago Connection Records artists along with extensive liner notes chronicling the labels from beginning to end. Read the rest of this entry »
Purity Ring/Photo: Kate Garner
Rap votaries who have not found themselves yet adequately sated by the glut of performances which comprise Chicago’s festival season need only look to the Green Line to fill their needs. The North Coast Music Festival features a healthy dose of hip-hop, with acts spanning the breadth of the gloriously fracturing rap spectrum. The traditionalists can find comfort and nourishment in New York City stalwarts Nas, producer Just Blaze and The Wu-Tang Clan, who will be performing “36 Chambers.” Younger cats are represented by the vastly improved Mac Miller and the druggy, raw stylings of Detroit emcee Danny Brown and Brooklyn’s Flatbush Zombies, both of which etch tracks like acid with sybaritic bars, and K. Flay and Psalm One provide a taste of the non-drill side of the Chicago scene.
Beyond rap, North Coast boasts a rather multifarious lineup, including electropop acts Passion Pit, AlunaGeorge and Purity Ring, the last of which laces the paroxysmal clicks, lumbering low ends, and funeral-shroud aesthetic of trap music with ethereal poetry. Fans of the other kind of trap music, the accusations-of-cultural-tourism-engendering dance-focused kind, can tick and stomp with A-Trak and label mate RL Grime, while Datsik and Afrojack add dubstep and house to the dance card, respectively. Read the rest of this entry »