Reviews, profiles and news about music in Chicago

The Germans Are Coming: Techno Entrepreneur Has Big Plans for Detroit

Electronic/Dance, News and Dish No Comments »
dimitri_hegemann_-_photo_by_marie_staggat

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 »

Is Rock Dead? What Killed Detroit’s Popular Venue, The Magic Stick

Alt-Rock, Electronic/Dance, News and Dish, Rock No Comments »
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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 anElephant”-era secret show, before those plans were thwarted by Jack White breaking his hand in a car accident. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Chosen Few Picnic/Jackson Park

Chicago Artists, Disco, Electronic/Dance, Festivals, House, Live Reviews No Comments »
Wayne Williams

Wayne Williams

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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 »

Preview: Wire’s DRILL Festival/The Hideout, Thalia Hall, Metro

Alt-Rock, Chicago Artists, Electronic/Dance, Festivals, Indie Rock, Post-punk, Punk, Rock No Comments »
Wire

Wire / Photo: Marylene Mey

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Whether or not you believe Wire to be a seminal punk and post-punk band, you have to admire its insistence on evolution—from its minimalist beginnings in 1976 through its various genre-defying iterations. Which brings us to the new format for the band’s ongoing DRILL festivals: small, curated events built on artistic kinship across divergent musical styles, influences and generations. This version of the festival (with different supporting/collaborating artists) hit London earlier this year, and we have the privilege of being the only other host city on the agenda. Read the rest of this entry »

Art > Commerce @ SXSW 2015: A Survivor’s Story

Alt-Rock, Chicago Artists, Dance Pop, EDM, Electronic/Dance, Festivals, Folk-rock, Garage Rock, Indie Pop, Live Reviews, Post-Rock, Rock No Comments »
Twin Peaks

Twin Peaks

By Bart Lazar

“To hell with poverty,” Gang of Four tells us, “we’ll get drunk on cheap wine.” The only problem is that the band is playing at SXSW on a stage sponsored by dozens of global megabrands and funded by tens of thousands of trade show attendees, each of whom has shelled out thousands of dollars to attend. But just like the song, SXSW has an irresistible beat you can dance to, so that art, entertainment and fun ultimately trump commerce. Read the rest of this entry »

Raw Material: For Live Music, a Not-So-Bleak Midwinter

Alt-Country, Alt-Rock, Chicago Artists, Electronic/Dance, Festivals, Folk-rock, Indie Pop, Indie Rock No Comments »

July Talk

By Keidra Chaney

It’s an interesting time of year for live music in Chicago; it’s right before the spring and summer concert season, so many of us are preoccupied with summer-festival-lineup announcements or buying tickets for recently announced shows taking place in the upcoming months. At the same time, it’s smack dab in the middle of the worst part of winter, so many of us are suffering from major cabin fever and eager to leave the house for anything remotely interesting. Chicago’s musicians and venues often approach this time of year in novel and creative ways.

The 2015 Dunn Dunn Fest returns to Chicago February 19-21. In an indie-rock-heavy festival scene, Dunn Dunn Fest has traditionally stood out from the crowd by focusing more on American, folk and roots acts. Six venues will host this year’s event, including The Hideout (1354 West Wabansia), Subterranean (2011 West North) and Beat Kitchen (2100 West Belmont). While Dunn Dunn Fest started in 2013 as an intimate festival focused primarily on Americana, a closer look at the lineup this year reveals a much larger and more diverse list of forty-plus bands that don’t fall so neatly into that category. On February 19, Toronto alt-rock band July Talk plays Subterranean (8pm, $10) and on February 20 sunny indie-poppers Save the Clocktower play the Hideout ($10, 10pm). For more information on the full lineup, venues, times and ticket prices go to the Harmonica Dunn website. Read the rest of this entry »

Live Review: DJ Spinn/Pitchfork Music Festival

Chicago Artists, Electronic/Dance, Festivals, Live Reviews No Comments »

Since the sudden passing of DJ Rashad, it’s been unclear how Chicago’s Teklife crew would move on, let alone fill his slot at this year’s festival. The group’s unequivocal response was an impassioned set that featured dozens of dancers and DJs on stage, and non-stop footwork music, save for a pause to honor their fallen comrade. It was an incredibly warming, moving experience, to dance along with the Teklife crew in their hometown at such a crucial moment. The performance was more a celebration than an occasion for mourning, and the crowd picked up on that, spontaneously breaking into dance circles, throwing up their arms and flailing along with carefree love and affection for the big beats and manic pace that left no choice but to move, and move on, with Teklife, even without DJ Rashad. No other moment at the Pitchfork Music Festival seemed as poignant or touching, DJ Spinn and the Teklife crew capturing the power and beauty of music’s possibilities, and redeeming Pitchfork for only choosing two Chicago acts to perform. At least they chose wisely. Rest in peace, DJ Rashad. (Kenneth Preski)

Live Review: Majical Cloudz/Pitchfork Music Festival

Electronic/Dance, Festivals, Live Reviews No Comments »

I was so engrossed with watching a group of presumably intoxicated festival goers staring at some sticks or ants or something, I didn’t make it to Majical Cloudz in time to be very close to the stage for the electronic duo’s set. No matter, because after the first song, a technical difficulty delayed the band’s performance. Singer Devon Welsh tried to stall with attempts at knock-knock jokes from fans, and beat-boxing, but then quickly moved to plan B, singing fan requests a capella, which was actually quite compelling, even after the lead singer forgot some of the words to a song and turned the mic over to a wobbly voiced but enthusiastic fan.

After fifteen minutes and two unaccompanied songs, a pared-down version of the set (sans the full suite of effects and patterns) was all Majical Cloudz could muster. It mostly worked; the songs are melancholy and sparse, and Welsh allowed himself to carry the set with his expressive vocals. Though fans attempts to be helpful by clapping along didn’t always go smoothly, he good-naturedly brought them back on track, and thanked the crowd for sticking around. Considering this is my worst nightmare as a musician, I must say Welsh handled a potential disaster with good humor and grace. (Keidra Chaney)

Live Review: Kelela/Pitchfork Music Festival

Ambient, Festivals, Live Reviews, R&B No Comments »
Photo: Robert Loerzel

Photo: Robert Loerzel

Of all the Saturday sets, Kelela’s was the couples skate, offering r&b romance for the masses. The audience at the Blue Stage was dominated by women, and Kelela was in absolute control of her rhythm and range, her vocals run through an effects setup manned by her DJ. Throughout the performance, Kelela was personable, offering insights into her craft, and singing well into her highest register with a practiced mastery. Many of Kelela’s tracks feature hand-clap samples, and the impulse was infectious. “Bank Head,” and a wonderful remix of “Keep It Cool” were the highlights, and of course Kelela’s teaser to follow her on Twitter and Instagram to find out where she’ll be performing at an after-show tonight. She let it slip that the venue has a capacity of one-hundred-and-fifty, but also offered to come outside and serenade anyone who doesn’t make it in. I’d take her up on it if I were you. (Kenneth Preski)

Live Review: Giorgio Moroder/Pitchfork Music Festival

Electronic/Dance, Festivals, Live Reviews No Comments »
Photo: Robert Loerzel

Photo: Robert Loerzel

Giorgio Moroder on stage was kind of like having your grandpa play DJ at the family BBQ, if your grandpa was one of the architects of seventies and eighties dance music. There was something endearing about watching the white-haired Moroder raise the roof from behind his MacBook Pro. Too bad the muddy sound made it difficult for those in the distance to parse out much except the throbbing four-on-the-floor beat throughout the set. The set itself was a mix of his greatest hits for those too young to remember Moroder’s body of work—a few hits from his muse Donna Summer, the theme to Flashdance, Blondie’s “Call Me”—with Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy” slyly thrown in for good measure. The crowd ate it all up, singing along with giddy enthusiasm and little irony, with the exception of the one or two snarky remarks on Moroder’s stage show, which really did look like an iTunes visualizer. (Keidra Chaney)