Reviews, profiles and news about music in Chicago

In Memoriam: Frankie Knuckles, 1955-2014

Chicago Artists, Electronic/Dance, House, In Memoriam, News and Dish 1 Comment »

Frankie-KnucklesBy Keidra Chaney

There was no better gauge of Frankie Knuckles’ influence on the global electronic music community than when word of the DJ/producer’s passing hit social media on the evening of March 31st. Within a half hour after the news of his death was first posted online–even before it was officially confirmed by journalists–Twitter and Facebook were flooded with condolences, memories and musical tributes. He was born in 1955 in The Bronx as Francis Nicholls, but in so many ways Frankie Knuckles belonged to Chicago. He made his mark on the city’s underground dance scene by spinning at The Warehouse in the late 1970s (where house music got its name) and became one of the first marquee names in the electronic music scene. Frankie Knuckles was widely known as the “Godfather of House.” It was an esteemed title he accepted with great responsibility during his career, as he served as an ambassador for house music in clubs across the world, but even that title understates the enduring imprint of his work on contemporary EDM and club culture.

Knuckles once referred to house as “disco’s revenge.” As a genre, the birth of house music was somewhat of a happy accident, a response to disco’s waning mainstream popularity in the late seventies and early eighties. In a 2011 radio interview on BBC 6, Knuckles attributes the invention of house as, quite simply, a career move. “It all came from me… trying to keep my dance floor interested and coming to the club every week after disco was declared ‘dead.’” Knuckles said. “I was already playing R&B, it was just a matter of me refashioning so that it could fit the dance floor.” Inspired by Philly Soul, the Europop and Italian disco scenes in Europe, and his own experimentation with reel-to-reel track editing and drum machines, Knuckles created a gloriously pulsating patchwork of genres that became its own original, influential style. You can hear his masterwork in the hypnotic synth of his seminal 1987 track “Your Love,” or the driving hi-hat of 1989’s eternal dance floor anthem, “Move Your Body.” 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

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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: Frankie Knuckles/Smart Bar

Chicago Artists, Electronic/Dance, House No Comments »

RECOMMENDEDKnuckles

The night before Thanksgiving is the biggest bar night of the year. Beyond the omnipresent college students with a semester of binge-drinking under their ever-expanding belts relishing the opportunity to flaunt their newly minted fake IDs, the night offers a chance to catch up with old friends before spending the following day filling up on food to the brink of discomfort. Spent wisely, the evening is a free-form homecoming for adults in mental preparation for the familiar apprehension that only Thanksgiving with the family can offer. Looking to celebrate a return to sweet home Chicago? There is no better bet than boogieing down with the beat-maestro himself, a man so Chicago he has a street named after him, The Godfather of House Music, Mr. Frankie Knuckles. Smart Bar promises to be packed with Chicagoans of every stripe, as this event is part of the Queen! series, events that openly cater to the LGBT community. Fresh off the legalization of same-sex marriage, the celebration will be a culmination of the jubilation that has been bubbling around the LGBT family since the House vote on November 5. 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 »

Home Run: How Jerome Derradji Uncrated “Kill Yourself Dancing: The Story Of Sunset Records Inc. Chicago 1985-89″

Chicago Artists, Electronic/Dance, House, Record Reviews No Comments »

Kill-Yourself-DancingThere’s no question that Chicago prides itself on being the Bethlehem of house music, but its definitive history is still being uncovered and put into order. The Sunset Records Inc. story’s unique arc has seemingly gone unrecognized until now. We can thank the local record label Still Music and its founder, Jerome Derradji, that we know its story at all. Since 2004, Still Music has dedicated itself to reviving rare American dance music gone lost by reclaiming its infancy in the form of remixes, remasters, biographies and documentaries. Last year, Still Music put out “122 BPM: The Birth Of House Music,” a two-disc compilation of Mitchbal Records and Chicago Connection Records artists along with extensive liner notes chronicling the labels from beginning to end. Read the rest of this entry »

House Party: Chosen Few DJs Picnic is an Annual Lovefest

Chicago Artists, Festivals, House No Comments »
Dave Risque at TCFP 2011/Photo: Dawn Colquitt-Anderson

Dave Risque at TCFP 2011/Photo: Dawn Colquitt-Anderson

By Christian Holub

The teenagers who flooded downtown a few weekends ago, adorned with face-paint, tutus and even more ridiculous costumes, were a visceral reminder that another EDM festival had come and gone. This particular time it was Spring Awakening, but it could just as easily have been Electric Daisy Carnival or Wavefront Music Festival. All showcase a style of dance music that has become immensely popular over the past few years, focusing on dubstep and flashy “drops.” But July’s Chosen Few Picnic Weekend is a testament to the fact that EDM is not the first wave of electronic music to find a home in Chicago, no more than Spring Awakening and Wavefront are the first Chicago-based dance music festivals.

The Chosen Few Picnic Weekend was started in 1990 by a group called the Chosen Few DJs who’d originally met in high school during the apex of house music’s popularity, but had started to go their separate ways over the years. Founding DJ Alan King says the picnic was originally conceived as a reunion, for both the Chosen Few group and the house fans who used to party with them back in the day. The picnic’s twenty-three years of existence demonstrates the worldwide popularity of the house genre, as it grew from an event with a few dozen people in 1990 to a massive “tent city” that demonstrates the lasting, global popularity of house music. 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 »

RECOMMENDED

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: MusicNow presents Mercury Soul/Redmoon Theater

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

Mason Bates

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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)

Guti
“Patio de Juegos”
(Desolat)

Preview: Mark Farina & Audio Soul Project/The Mid

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

Mark Farina

RECOMMENDED

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)265-3990. 9pm. $10 advance, $20 door.