Reviews, profiles and news about music in Chicago

Preview: Darkside/Metro

Ambient, Downtempo, Dubstep, Electronic/Dance, IDM No Comments »


From pilotless killing machines to the surveillance state realized, there is no shortage of topical political source material for artists engaging with technology, making the biggest electronic music trend of 2013 all the more puzzling. With greater possibilities for the radicalization of computer software and synthesizers than ever before, the most successful electronic acts chose instead to retreat into the mundane. Daft Punk released “Random Access Memories” to widespread commercial acclaim, a feel-good disco retread blessed by a resurgent Nile Rodgers; leaving the remaining widespread critical acclaim for Darkside, featuring much-hyped wunderkind Nicolas Jaar’s production and Dave Harrington’s noodling guitar. The duo did their best to invert the trend by altering the mood, but since the yesteryear-leaning technique remained consistent across their complete album remix of “Random Access Memories,” expectations for their debut full-length were tempered. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Nightmares on Wax/Lincoln Hall

Downtempo, Electronic/Dance, Hip-Hop No Comments »


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 »

Preview: Bonobo/Riviera Theatre

Downtempo, Electronic/Dance, IDM No Comments »


10.18 bonobo @ rivieraThere’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 »

Record Review: “Pro Whoa!” by Nikka Costa

Alt-Rock, Dance Pop, Downtempo, Electronic/Dance, Indie Pop, Pop, R&B, Record Reviews, Singer-Songwriter No Comments »


The former child performer (and daughter of late producer and arranger Don Costa) shows on her new EP that she is in constant evolution as a performer. After dabbling in electronic and soul music on her previous efforts, Costa meets halfway by blending all her influences into a very personal musical form. The record opens with the bass-heavy “Head First,” a soul-inflected pop song that sounds ready for remixers and DJs to dabble with. “Never Wanna C U Again” shows her angry-girl side—it’s a female empowerment rocker about not allowing herself another lover’s deceit.

The title track is a bit unimpressive. Costa tries a bit too hard to mix a punk attitude with electronic elements, but the result is at least danceable even if it falls flat musically in comparison with the rest of the material on the disc. On the other hand, the downtempo “Chase the Thrill” has just the right blend of soul and psychedelics without sounding overproduced. The tune shift tempos towards the end, allowing for the instruments to take over and carry on its dreamy state—think of it as a cross between Alanis Morissette and the more trippy sounds of the late sixties in a well-balanced package. (Ernest Barteldes)

Nikka Costa
“Pro Whoa!”
(Go Funk Yourself/Giant Step)

Preview: MusicNow presents Mercury Soul/Redmoon Theater

Classical, DJ, Downtempo, Electronic/Dance, House, IDM, New Music, Techno No Comments »

Mason Bates


MusicNow is touted as “the exploratory arm of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra,” and has previously held events featuring engaging new music performed by members of the CSO and guests, most notably German electronic artists Mouse on Mars. Tonight, MusicNow takes over the home of Chicago’s favorite makers of spectacle, the Redmoon Theater, for Mercury Soul, a night combining classical musicians, elaborate lighting and set design, and adventurous DJs. Maestro Benjamin Shwartz of the San Francisco Symphony, set designer Anne Patterson, and MusicNow curator/DJ Mason Bates (aka Masonic) have previously teamed up to successfully bring Mercury Soul to San Francisco DJ-destination Mezzanine. Tonight’s installment adds a splash of Chicago DJ flavor with underground favorites and previous MusicNow guests Justin Reed and Striz from illmeasures on the bill. With Reed’s penchant for both angular techno and soulful house, and Striz’s mastery of rhythms from dub, breaky and broken beats to thumpin’ 4/4, their additions to an evening of fully actualized guest immersion (sound and sight, performance and environment, with no programs or seats and plenty to drink) makes attendance to Mercury Soul mandatory for the adventurous weekender. Bonus points: sound for the evening will be reinforced by a Void Audio system. (Duke Shin)

May 13 at Redmoon Theater, 1463 West Hubbard, (312)850-8440. 9pm. $20.

Record Review: “Patio de Juegos” by Guti

Downtempo, Electronic/Dance, House, Record Reviews, Techno No Comments »

Following a productive 2010, Guti begins this year with his first album on the Desolat label, “Patio de Juegos.” The record exploits his penchant for driving, percussive creations and signals a continuation of his successful run at producing house music.

The title translates from Spanish to English as “playground,” which is apt in regards to both sound and the number of featured collaborations. DJs will welcome the rhythmic tools offered by most of the tracks, while others foster a balance that qualifies “Patio de Juegos” for a start-to-finish listen on the home stereo.

Guti invites support from tech-house luminaries Guy Gerber and Ryan Crosson, each adding their telltale influence to the album’s driving beats and pervasive, Latin percussion patterns. The high-profile cameo on “Lucio El Anarquista” by renowned tango singer and composer Daniel Melingo certainly stands out. His unmistakably raspy vocals permeate the track’s pounding beats and wandering piano loop. The downtempo departure of “Still Here” is quite memorable, eschewing layers of percussion for a minimal shuffle and melancholy keys.

Proving he can play well with others, Guti’s first full-length effort highlights his diverse musical background as well as his production skills, and establishes him one to watch for the foreseeable future. (John Alex Colon)

“Patio de Juegos”

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: Nicolas Jaar/Smart Bar

DJ, Downtempo, Electronic/Dance, Experimental, Glitch, House, Techno No Comments »


Following the late-winter release of his impressive “Space Is Only Noise” album (Circus Company), fans of Nicolas Jaar are likely wondering what to expect from his upcoming appearance at SmartBar. Hardly similar to previous adventures in tech-house, Jaar’s latest includes nods to jazz, blues, R&B and ambient breakbeat, resulting in compositions that place him closer to James Blake than Richie Hawtin on the electronic-music continuum. Rest assured that Jaar is also aware of the conundrum this presents, particularly as a touring artist associated with dance music. His slow-burn approach proceeds from the downtempo aesthetic, to which he adds effect-laden layers of bass, instrumentation and vocals. What results could be deep house, jazz-fueled breakbeats or defined by a lack of percussion. Jaar’s body of work is replete with elements often described as organic, ethereal and melancholy, in order to define efforts that defy traditional genre labels. Jaar’s music sits comfortably in that defiant category for his interest in and talent for composing disparate, yet sonically intriguing elements. As such, there is little need to discuss his use of Ray Charles’ samples or what his album says about the state of electronic music. (John Alex Colón)

March 25 at SmartBar, 3730 North Clark, (773)5490203. 10pm. $10 advance, $12-$15 door.

Preview: MusicNOW featuring Mouse on Mars/Harris Theater for Music and Dance

Downtempo, Electronic/Dance, Experimental, Glitch, IDM, Krautrock, New Music No Comments »


The Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s MusicNOW series features performances from the CSO collaborating with guest composers, with the last edition featuring avant-jazz, electronic flourishes and dynamic arrangements, highlighted by their talented principal percussionist Cynthia Yeh. But this next edition is definitely one of the more intriguing programs to grace the Harris Theater in Millennium Park, and features none other than Jan St. Werner and Andi Toma—better known to music fans worldwide as German genre-leaping electronic geniuses Mouse on Mars. And from the icy, off-kilter 4/4 beauty of “Send Me Shivers,” to the ambient washes of “Glim,” to the Squarepushing glitch assault of “Milleader,” to the digi-ragga-meets-chimes playfulness of “Scat”—and we could go on and on and on here—Mouse on Mars provide an intriguing amount of sonic possibilities when pairing with CSO musicians. The duo normally incorporate a drummer along with other live instrumentation to augment their electronic brilliance, and with eighteen years and nine LPs of material, this should be an unpredictably unique experience. The evening’s program will also include “A Cat’s Seven Lives” by Martin Matalon, originally written to accompany Luis Buñuel’s 1929 surrealist film masterpiece “Un Chien Andalou.” Local electronic artist Brad Miner of Illmeasures fame will also be on hand to perform two live sets of original electronic music in the lobby before and after the event—stick around for the free food, drinks and an opportunity to mingle with all of the artists. (Duke Shin)

January 31 at Harris Theater for Music and Dance, 205 East Randolph, (312)334-7777. 7pm. $20.

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+.