Reviews, profiles and news about music in Chicago

Songs About Gentrification and Euthanasia: Dance Early and Often with The Julie Ruin at Pitchfork

Alt-Rock, Disco, Electro, Festivals, Indie Rock, Post-punk, Rock No Comments »


By Bart Lazar

Music can be fun, danceable and meaningful; this is what The Julie Ruin teaches us. Originally formed as a solo project by Kathleen Hanna, the founder of the riot grrrl movement, The Julie Ruin combines pulsing disco, electro-clash and punk to provide the most danceable band you may find at Pitchfork, or anywhere else, this year—and the only one singing songs about gentrification and euthanasia.

Ken Mellman—keyboardist, vocalist and former member of the Obie-award winning drag cabaret duo Kiki and Herb—took time from recording The Julie Ruin’s second album to let us know a little bit about this veteran, artistic and activistic band, and why you should get to Pitchfork early on Sunday.

Tell me about The Julie Ruin.
Kathleen wanted to start a new band, so she systematically tricked each of us into joining her. She snagged her old bandmate from Bikini Kill, Kathi [Wilcox, bassist], who was just moving to New York from D.C., Sara Landeau [guitarist and proprietor of the Brooklyn Music Studio for Women and Girls], who she met when they both were volunteering for Girls Rock Camp, and Carmine Covelli [drummer], who had been Le Tigre’s tour tech guy. Kathleen had been a fan of my old act and we had been friends for years. 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


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: Mark Farina & Audio Soul Project/The Mid

Acid, Chicago Artists, Disco, DJ, Downtempo, Electro, Electronic/Dance, House No Comments »

Mark Farina


The “Mayhem at The Mid” event series presents its “Windy City All Stars” edition on Friday night, during which both of the venue’s rooms will be overwhelmed by the sounds of Chicago house music. The artist lineup ranges from classic to cutting-edge, from Mark Farina and Specter, to Justin Long and Tyrel Williams. Farina, the force behind Mushroom Jazz, is celebrating a birthday, which would make for a sold-out show on its own. Audio Soul Project, the brainchild of Fresh Meat Records honcho, Mazi, will deliver a live performance that, following the praise of last year’s “Hip Shake Heartache” album, just might be the event’s defining moment. Farina and Mazi both specialize in the swinging rhythms and chunky beats derived from the collision of funk, deep house and jazz. Justin Long and Tyrel Williams exert some left-field influence on the affair, bringing the tech-inspired sound of their .dotbleep residency (Smart Bar) to the decks. Tetrode co-founder and loft-party veteran, Specter, adds his ambient-fused house style to the lineup, which also includes All About founder Luis Baro and Mid residents Just Joey and John Curley. (John Alex Colón)

March 25 at The Mid, 306 North Halsted, (312)2653990. 9pm. $10 advance, $20 door.

Preview: Matthew Dear (live), Loyal Divide (live), Lee Foss, Orchard Lounge/The Mid

Chicago Artists, Disco, DJ, Electro, Electronic/Dance, House, IDM, Indie Rock, Post-punk, Techno No Comments »


Techno hyphenate Matthew Dear has been a regular visitor to Chicago over the years, most recently back in October with his full live band at the Metro in support of 2010’s excellent “Black City,” Dear’s third full-length album. While some fans might be less engaged with his recent pompadoured, crooning Morrissey act, and maybe wish he’d just show up with a bag of records and DJ, you have to give Dear credit for constantly evolving his performances. This time around, Dear revisits the Big Hands project he debuted back in 2007 at the Empty Bottle. Opening for Dear is local electro-psyche-rock outfit Loyal Divide, who recently remixed Dear’s “Slowdance.” Following the live performances, DJs will take over, with local favorites Orchard Lounge and former Chicagoan Lee Foss commandeering the decks. Foss has made plenty of waves since leaving Chicago for LA, debuting on Resident Advisor’s vaunted Top DJ poll for 2010 at #38—the highest debut this year. His avalanche of recent productions—both solo and with Jamie Jones as Hot Natured—reflect the same formula he’s been using to construct his sets for years: combining deep house and techno influences with the playfulness of disco and nineties R&B. Foss doesn’t appear to be slowing down anytime soon, with his latest collaborative project, Pteradactil Disco (Jones, Foss, Robert James and FB Julian) dropping the “Big Ass Biscuit/Clive’s Alright” EP next week on Hot Creations (Foss & Jones’ label, natch) and his anticipated “Your Turn Girl” EP dropping later in February. A cool customer behind the decks, we wouldn’t expect too many hands-in-the-air freakouts. Set phasers for: tastefully restrained and boogie-tested for a more discerning dance floor. (Duke Shin)

January 28 at The Mid, 306 North Halsted, (312)265-3990. 10pm-4am. $12 presales.

Audio Soul Project/Smart Bar

Chicago Artists, Disco, DJ, Electronic/Dance, House, Soul No Comments »


Sometimes settling for a DJ set isn’t so bad. When Mazi Namvar is behind the decks, the soul of his Audio Soul Project certainly shines through. His recently released album, “Hip Shake Heartache” (Fresh Meat), attempts to highlight every facet of Chicago house music and succeeds, thanks to the painstaking selection of Namvar’s recording partners. Stellar vocal work permeates the album, driven home by big-room basslines and unmistakably swinging rhythms.

Namvar confirms the nostalgic inspiration behind the album, the sound of late nineties house music, is still captivating dancefloors, from loft spaces to nightclubs. The vocals and sax may not be live, but Namvar hopes his DJ sets can open the door to a live tour in support of “Heartache.” House music’s past and future collide this weekend at Smart Bar’s monthly Dotbleep event, where Namvar is joined by two more local heroes: Justin Long and Mark Almaria. (John Alex Colon)

January 22 at Smart Bar, 3730 North Clark, (773)5490203. 10pm. $10-12.

Record Review: “Leave It All Behind” by Jason Walker

Alt-Rock, Dance Pop, Disco, New Music, R&B, Record Reviews, Rock No Comments »

Photo: Karl Giant

On “Leave It All Behind,” New York-based indie singer-songwriter Jason Walker explores all the influences that make up his musical style with a clear focus on Gospel-inspired soul. Possessing a voice with an uncanny resemblance to Simply Red’s Mick Hucknall (he is no imitator, though), Walker kicks off the disc with the piano-based “I Am Changing,” an ode to believing in oneself and recognizing the past. The title track is clearly intended for the dance floor with its techno-inspired beats, but paying close attention to the lyrics Walker sings of living through a mutually satisfying love affair.

Another memorable moment is the Brazilian-inspired “Como Te Llamas” (“What’s Your Name?”), a bossa that features an awesome guitar and keyboard arrangement. The very hummable neo-soul ballad “The Song in My Heart” is another great highlight that showcases Walker’s broad range. The presence of strings augments the tune well, and makes this one of the most enjoyable moments on the disc. Give the live version of “Sad Eyes” a spin just for producer/pianist Rami Ramirez’ solid accompaniment. (Ernest Barteldes)

Jason Walker
“Leave It All Behind”

Preview: Lady Miss Kier/Metro

Acid, Disco, DJ, Downtempo, Drum 'n' Bass, Dubstep, Electro, Electronic/Dance, Experimental, House, Microhouse, Soul, Techno, World Music No Comments »


Freakeasy’s two-year run in the underground loft scene is over but the vibe lives on in a post-Thanksgiving soiree at Metro that features Deee-lite’s former songstress, Lady Miss Kier. The Freakeasy 2nd Anniversary Freakin’ Ball celebrates the continued tenure of the fabled Freakeasy initiative and rumor has it this won’t be the last time it visits Metro. Expect the finest underground sounds from the illmeasures DJs, including Striz and Justin Reed, a live set from Brad Miner, Radiohiro and MC Zulu. Additional highlights include live art installations around the venue to complement the musical performances. Presale tickets are available at (John Alex Colón)

November 26 at Metro, 3730 North Clark, (773)549-4140. 8pm. Tickets $20-$30. 18+.

Preview: Lindstrøm/Empty Bottle

Disco, Electronic/Dance No Comments »


Hans-Peter Lindstrøm is not a DJ, and he’s not interested in playing your track. The human tent-pole of icy/cool Norwegian imprint Smalltown Supersound has influenced the sonic landscape of electronic dance music in a huge way. Consider it a case of global cooling, as evidenced by virulent disco-themed nights spreading worldwide, pitching down on tempos and making people shake more, fist-pump less. Sure, many detractors would love for this worldwide down-tic in dance-floor degrees to end, but Lindstrøm will likely keep moving onwards, simply by making music and performing it live. Typically, his live setup is basic, with a keyboard and a laptop running Ableton Live sequencing software. But this no-frills approach has served him well in his last couple visits to Chicago, most recently at 2009’s Pitchfork Fest, where adding just a touch of new improvisations—like a nasty acid squelch over the familiar prettiness of “The Contemporary Fix”—went over smashingly with the crowd. Having slowed down a bit with remixes (more of a forte for his semi-regular collaborator Prins Thomas, anyhow) and productions since the January release of the full length Lindstrøm & Christabelle “Real Life Is No Cool” (which featured minor crossover hit “Lovesick”), we’re hoping that our favorite Scandinavian disco don has some brand new Norwegian Wood to lay down, and perhaps we’ll get lucky with a sneak peak at new Lindstrøm material. And if not, well, Chicago is the last of only three stops that Lindstrøm has on schedule for the US. Miss at your own peril—it might be a minute before he returns… (Duke Shin)

November 14 at Empty Bottle, 1035 North Western, (773)276-3600. 9:30pm. $15.

Preview: Diz/House of Blues Foundation Room

Disco, DJ, Electro, Electronic/Dance, House, Soul No Comments »


Soul Foundation’s monthly Saturday affair at the House of Blues continues with a visit from the inimitable Diz, a veteran Chicago DJ whose early achievements and funk-laden approach to house music are matched only by his enthusiasm for the city itself. With an impeccable ear and innate sense of arrangement, Diz turned his skills on the decks into vinyl treasures for the masses. As a longtime resident at Boom Boom Room, he delivers the grooves with a nod to his teeth-cutting nights on the loft circuit. Joined by Soul Foundation mainstays, Frique and Brenda D., Diz provides the soundtrack for your house music sanctuary this weekend in the House of Blues Foundation Room. Proper casual attire is required for this event. (John Alex Colón)

September 25 at House of Blues Foundation Room, 329 N. Dearborn, (312) 923-2000. 10pm. Free.

Preview: Black Devil Disco Club and Appleblim/Smart Bar (Sónar)

Disco, DJ, Dubstep, Electronic/Dance, Experimental, Festivals, Glitch, IDM, Techno No Comments »

Black Devil Disco Club


Smart Bar and Red Bull Music Academy support the Sónar festival’s inaugural visit to Chicago by presenting quite possibly the show of the weekend. Out of the library and onto the stage bounds Black Devil Disco Club, the reclusive astral traveler whose compositions on early French, Italian and UK experimental labels inspired Richard D. James at Rephlex. Influencing James, aka Aphex Twin, brings a heavy dose of street cred, which explains the fervent anticipation surrounding Bernard Fevre’s visit to this Sonar Club Night. Also on the bill is Skull Disco alum Appleblim, whose work with Shackleton and Tempa Records propelled him into dubstep’s royalty. His nods to techno elements are well-known, his stark, metallic percussion often playing bad cop to Shackleton’s rhythmic, dub-inspired efforts. These two heavyweights are not alone on this special night: Space Dimension Controller offers a live set, Todd Osborn brings his spectral side to bear, and Cosmin TRG drops his signature ‘hitek-house’ dubs. Get there early, folks. At $5 all night, this show is on everyone’s radar. (John Alex Colón)

September 10 at Smart Bar, 3730 N. Clark, (773)549-0203, 10pm. $5 all night.