Reviews, profiles and news about music in Chicago

Preview: Oneohtrix Point Never/Constellation

Ambient, Electronic/Dance, Experimental, Glitch, New Music No Comments »


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 »

Full Spectrum: Guillermo Scott Herren Takes on All Musics as Prefuse 73

Electronic/Dance, Glitch, Hip-Hop, IDM No Comments »
Photo: Angel Ceballos/

Photo: Angel Ceballos/

By Dave Cantor

A few weeks back, Guillermo Scott Herren and Ramble John Krohn played a show in San Francisco after not having performed on the same bill in almost ten years. Hitting the stage, these gentlemen performed as Prefuse 73 and RJD2.

Musically dissimilar, Krohn and Herren have traversed similar paths through adversity, releasing music encompassing an unwieldy range of influence. Herren’s had the good sense to erect various pseudonyms to work under, differentiating his Spanish-language pop constructions under the guise of Savath & Savalas from the production work being released as Prefuse 73. Krohn was simply clobbered after releasing “Third Hand,” a collection of pop songs at odds with his established DJ persona, under the RJD2 banner. Discerning Herren’s various intentions, though, hasn’t insulated the New York-based producer from criticism. But releasing work at the rate he does almost ensures pissing off some of his most dedicated fans.

“Me going down different paths, and maybe alienating my audience, it wasn’t my intention,” Herren says over the phone. “The last record I did [2011’s “The Only She Chapters”], I won’t even call it psychedelic, it’s a palette of sound and frequencies. I flushed it out of my head, and I’ve been reevaluating my own approach to beats.” Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Jan Jelinek & Andrew Pekler/Pritzker Pavilion

Ambient, Experimental, Glitch, IDM No Comments »


Part of what’s set to make the Loops and Variations series an interesting idea is the contrast between electronic productions and the outdoor venue. Despite Pritzker Pavilion’s futuristic, shiny bouffant, it’s still an outdoor venue, offering as much space to sprawl out on the grass as in proper seats. Three distinct acts kick off the summer series, with Louisville-based Casino Versus Japan dispensing the easiest-to-palate take on electronica. Chris Clark, a Warp Records affiliate, will work in more frantic dance terms at this outdoor gig. But it’s the Jan Jelinek and Andrew Pekler collaboration that’s bound to be the most intellectually stimulating—and least likely to get folks on their feet, swaying through the Chicago evening. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Rephlex Records 20-Year Anniversary/Jay Pritzker Pavilion

Acid, Dubstep, Electronic/Dance, Glitch, House, IDM, Industrial No Comments »


Electric Picnics at Millennium Park have been going swimmingly this summer. Who knew that a little bit of twitch with your ham sandwich could be so enjoyable? Helping to round off the summer series is a celebration for the twentieth anniversary of Rephlex Records. Richard D. James, better known as Aphex Twin and the founder of the label, has been lying low for the past few years. While he hasn’t released anything personally, his label has been churning out records from other artists, including Squarepusher and Kevin Martin. Rephlex must be feeling extra celebratory, as they’re having a party for each decade that it has been around: one at Pritzker Pavilion and the other at the Empty Bottle. Read the rest of this entry »

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: 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.

Preview: Ben Frost/Chicago Cultural Center (Sónar)

Electronic/Dance, Experimental, Festivals, Glitch, IDM, Industrial, Metal, Metalcore, Noise No Comments »


Listening to Ben Frost’s “Theory of Machines” (Bedroom Community), it’s difficult to concur with the categorization of “post-minimalism.” His compositions fly in the face of any label, at once gorgeous and terrifying. Certainly electronic music in the experimental vein, Frost’s work seems to interpret the would-be sounds of a blissful void, shockingly interrupted by the overwhelming sounds of pain. Imagine the backdrop of Loscil and Brian Eno pierced by the industrial tendencies of Trent Reznor and you might come close to Ben Frost’s sound. Felt as much as heard, his music elicits the feelings of fear and loneliness reserved for horror-film scores and thunderstorms, amplified by guitar-shredding and haunting vocal samples. Frost appears as part of the internationally acclaimed music and multimedia art festival, Sónar, which visits Chicago from Barcelona for the first time. (John Alex Colón)

September 11 at Chicago Cultural Center, 78 East Washington, (312)744-6630. 6pm. Free. Limited capacity.

Preview: Nosaj Thing/Chicago Cultural Center (Sónar)

Electronic/Dance, Experimental, Festivals, Glitch, IDM, Pop No Comments »

Photo: Mikey Tnasuttimonkol


Critics and fans continue to swoon over his debut, “Drift” (Alpha Pup), and for good reason: Nosaj Thing fuses the sounds of ambient electronic music to hip-hop and glitch rhythms and doesn’t disappoint. Comparisons to Four Tet, Boards of Canada and other genre favorites are barely apt, save for some echoing tone or uniquely juxtaposed breakbeats, and the fact that his is a must-see live act. The Nosaj Thing Visual Show is on the bill for the Sónar festival’s inaugural run in Chicago and it promises to drop some jaws. Rhythms trigger an array of visual settings that obscure and highlight the stage, enveloping the silhouette of artist and laptop, while they ultimately control the entire situation. This awesome interaction of music, light, and color can be found at the Claudia Cassidy Theater within the Chicago Cultural Center, dubbed the “SonarComplex” for the duration of the festival. (John Alex Colón)

September 10 at Chicago Cultural Center, 78 East Washington, (312)744-6630. 6pm. Free. Limited capacity.

Preview: Caribou with Budos Band/Millennium Park

Downtempo, Electronic/Dance, Experimental, Folktronica, Glitch, IDM No Comments »


Dan Snaith began his musical career as Manitoba, before an unfortunate legal issue forced him to change his name to Caribou. But over time, there’s been a lot more changes at work than merely replacing a maligned moniker. Initially stamped along with friend and sometime collaborator Four Tet with the unfortunate “folktronica” tag, Snaith began building an impressive body of work, with early albums like “Up In Flames” and “Start Breaking My Heart” showcasing his ability to find both beauty in subtle rhythms and childlike innocence (“Crayon”) and energy in wiggy freakouts (“Lemon Yoghurt”). While these extremes were all tempered within the context of their respective albums, as a remixer Snaith was sonically emancipated to retread the widely varying work of others: adding barely perceptible touches to the twangy slide guitar of Mojave 3’s “Bluebird of Happiness,” juxtapositioning skittish caffeinated beats and near-trademarked chimey serenity to Junior Boys’ “Birthday,” and, my personal favorite, a completely unhinged noise-to-rolling breakbeat treatment of Seelenluft’s anthemic 2003 breakout “Manila.” This year saw the release of Caribou’s “Swim,” an epic leap in evolution that showed Snaith’s succesful move to more dance-floor-friendly material. And while his last album “Andorra” began showing Caribou’s shift from instrumentals to tracks with vox, like the swirling, Brian Wilson-tapping “Melody Day,” “Swim” showcases Snaith’s vocal maturation which shines on standouts like the delicate falsetto tenderness of “Odessa”. But old school fans who loved the depth of his instrumental work needn’t worry, with tracks like the trance-inducing, prayer bowl-sampling “Bowls.” Electronic collages of sound built for the lawn and for the dance floor…sounds like a perfect night for (yet another) night out at Downtown Sound: New Music Mondays! (Duke Shin)

July 12 at Millennium Park’s Jay Pritzker Pavilion, Michigan and Randolph, 6:30pm, free.