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 »
There’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 »
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 »
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 »
With the Pitchfork Festival looking increasingly like a summertime fleecing as opposed to any sort of grand exposure to new and important music and the digital criticism machine moving its headquarters to Brooklyn, who knows how much longer this shindig will (or should) last. More importantly, how many times a year do Chicago audiences need to see Ty Segall? Apparently, at least once more. Granted, digging up acts like Olivia Tremor Control, Godspeed You! Black Emperor and exposing concert-goers to Olympia’s Milk Music is a worthwhile endeavor, but apart from those folks and A$AP Rocky, standing around hoping not to pass out from a booze-induced coma or heat exhaustion doesn’t seem like a good way to spend a day. Read the rest of this entry »
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 »
Into its third decade as electronic provocateur, Brit-based Plaid has constructed a towering catalog detailing the genre’s ins and outs with little concern for accepted practices. Prior to Andy Turner and Ed Handley issuing this year’s “Scintilli” on the venerable Warp Records, a significant portion of the aughties involved Plaid engaging with some sort of soundtrack work. “Greedy Baby” was released as a CD/DVD package a few years back; then the duo moved on to scoring a Japanese drama. There’s been a pretty thorough consistency over the course of Plaid’s recorded output regardless of the medium in which each beat’s meant to be dispensed. Read the rest of this entry »
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 »
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.
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.