Reviews, profiles and news about music in Chicago

Live Review: Big Freedia/Empty Bottle

Bounce, DJ, Electronic/Dance, Live Reviews No Comments »

Big FreediaIt was another tryingly cool night in Chicago, but inside the Empty Bottle temperatures sweltered as Big Freedia and her bootylicious dancers got things hot, sweaty and a little bothered. Before all the p-poppin’ madness, our own Chances Dances DJ troupe and Salonathon, a weekly queer-friendly showcase featuring emerging artists at Beauty Bar and beyond, entertained the crowd and got the dance floor loose.

Around 11:30pm, Big Freedia’s DJ traded places with DJ CQQCHIFRUIT and kicked things off with DJ Snake and Lil Jon’s “Turn Down For What.” Wearing white jeans, a dark denim vest and a white shirt with a print of herself (as any diva would) bearing a Cheshire grin and shades, Big Freedia took the stage, setting her designer purse on an amp. Read the rest of this entry »

Still Spinning Strong: Getting to the Heart of Soul Togetherness USA

Chicago Artists, DJ, Festivals, Funk, Soul No Comments »
Photo: Whitney Ross

Photo: Whitney Ross

By Jessica Burg

The universal truth that music is best when shared remains unequivocal. For the last forty years, folks have traveled distances far and wide in pursuit of one of America’s original treasures, 1960s soul music. Over weekend-long parties they celebrate camaraderie, record trading, drinking (for some, not all) and most importantly, dancing till the wee hours of the morning. There are two standout characteristics to this little-known tradition, which has come to be known as a Northern Soul weekender. The first is that the songs they play aren’t the familiar standbys most often affiliated with the era—the Temptations or Otis Redding. The second is that you’d be hard-pressed to find anything like it going down on American soil. In fact, you’d have to make the stretch across the pond to England or another part of Europe. That was until Pilsen residents Kevin Jones and Brenda Hernandez held the first ever Soul Togetherness USA event in 2013. This year’s weekender incorporates four nights of free (that’s right, free!) local, national and international DJs, a record swap and Soul Serenade bus tour, making it the only bash of its kind in the States with the exception of Soul Trip USA, a European export. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Icona Pop/Allstate Arena

Dance Pop, DJ, Electro, Electronic/Dance, House, Pop No Comments »
Photo: Fredrik Etoall

Photo: Fredrik Etoall


Electronic DJ duo Icona Pop make tracks that sound exactly the way pop music of today should. Run, leap and tumble beats soar through starry, energetic electro-synth melodies, and land on their feet in the foggy midst of a humid, glitter-coated dance floor. When Caroline Hjelt and Aino Jawo met at a party in the suburbs of Stockholm in 2009, a connection surged almost instantly as the two discovered they shared nearly identical tastes in music. Within a few days they were writing songs and booking gigs, and in that same year the two moved to London to cut their first studio record with TEN Music Group. There, they met London’s Charli XCX who shared a song written for her by another Swede, Patrik Berger. The three women collaborated and came up with the international hit, “I Love It.” The song was released as the second single from their self-titled album in May 2012 and again as the first single off of their second album, “This Is…Icona Pop” in September 2013. As for the time in-between, the song’s commercial success flourished. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Deejay Earl/Chicago Cultural Center

Chicago Artists, DJ, EDM, Electronic/Dance No Comments »


The year 2010 marked when Chicago’s own footwork dance music was dubbed by the media as the music of the future. Competitive and super frenetic at 160 bpm, this juke derivative has evolved to cater specifically to the dance style itself, aiming to ignite a chemical reaction within the foot, faster than a tap dancer with a gun to his head. At the forefront, Chicago’s TEKLIFE crew has forged the way for footwork music to flourish outside the hometown and take hold of the EDM scenes in LA, London and Paris just to name a few. Among the crew them is Deejay Earl, younger in age but with the tenacity and work output of someone you’d expect to be older than twenty-three. Last year he grasped a handful of milestones: headlining LA’s Boiler Room, countless internet releases and TEKLIFE colabs including a thirty-one track album on SoundCloud, two EP releases on an American and European indie label, as well as a hike in demand from nightclubs across Europe. Read the rest of this entry »

House Rules: DJ Rashad Revitalizes Dance on “Double Cup”

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

By Kenneth PreskiDJ Rashad

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 »

Record Review: “Tales From The Grand Bazaar” by Bombay Dub Orchestra

DJ, Drum 'n' Bass, Electronic/Dance, Indian Classical, Orchestral, Record Reviews, Vocal Music, World Music No Comments »


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 »

Preview: North Coast Music Festival/Union Park

DJ, Dubstep, Electro, Festivals, Hip-Hop No Comments »
Purity Ring/Photo: Kate Garner

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 »

Back to the Old School: Inside Impala Sound Champions’ Mixtape Series at The Owl

Chicago Artists, DJ No Comments »
Phto: Aatish Puniani

Phto: Aatish Puniani

Every Sunday, DJs Esteban La Groue and Dave Mata lug a sizable chunk of their record collection, packed in a dozen or so crates and backpacks, to The Owl in Logan Square. They are the Impala Sound Champions, spinning six hours of vinyl, including soul, boogie, rap classics, reggae and rock ‘n’ roll. On a Friday or Saturday night, their selection would have any dance floor packed and sweaty. Sundays bring a more relaxed atmosphere, but not without a healthy dance floor.

Last month marked the first night in a new monthly mixtape series wherein Impala Sound Champions is featuring DJs from other cities. Prior to their guest appearance, each DJ compiles a two-sided mixtape cassette to be duplicated and given away to twenty early attendees. DJ Akalepse made the voyage from Brooklyn for the premiere of his mixtape “Stop the World/Truth and Soul,” which featured cover art by Chicago graffiti artist Slang. While the tape granted some lucky patrons a little piece of DJ Akalepse to keep here in Chicago, they also copped a small original illustration by the artist famed for his El train mural honoring the life of Mayor Harold Washington when he passed back in 1987. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Adventures in Modern Music/Empty Bottle

Chicago Artists, DJ, Electronic/Dance, Experimental, Festivals, IDM, Metal, New Music, Noise No Comments »


So late in the year, the frequency of quality festivals tapers off. But setting off that autumnal awe is the tenth installment of Adventures in Modern Music, a joint venture between the Empty Bottle and The Wire, to bring together a sizable selection of out-sounds from different genres. One of the better-known acts to be fitted into this sprawling look at contemporary music is R. Stevie Moore, who’s been given credit for presaging the slew of home-recording projects clogging up the internet nowadays. His work’s something like Daniel Johnston’s in that there’re clearly some ghosts being worked out in each affectional composition. He performs Wednesday. To highlight Adventures’ desire to strip genre of meaning, Rob Mazurek’s São Paulo Underground takes a spot on stage during the same evening, raving up experiments that use jazzy frameworks birthed from south of the equator. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: DJ Babu/The Shrine

DJ, Hip-Hop, Turntablism No Comments »


There was a moment in the late nineties, heading into the aughties, when Pharoahe Monch was featured on major-motion-picture soundtracks. Jurassic 5 was in the charts, and a generation of MCs weaned on The Pharcyde and A Tribe Called Quest landed major-label record deals. It’s not only because of these cultural occurrences that SoCal’s DJ Babu has been able to hit the road with nothing more than a few crates of records and two turntables, but it obviously didn’t hurt. Read the rest of this entry »