Reviews, profiles and news about music in Chicago

Record Review: “Blank Project” by Neneh Cherry

Dance Pop, Drum 'n' Bass, Electronic/Dance, Experimental, Industrial, Pop, R&B, Record Reviews, Soul, Techno, World Music No Comments »


Is “Blank Project” a jazz, soul, art or pop album?  Listening to the disc attentively one could easily say all of the above, as the Swedish-born singer Neneh Cherry (known by mainstream music fans for her collaboration with Senegalese star Youssou N’ Dour) does her thing on her first solo release since 1996. Backed solely by Four Tet’s mix of percussion and electronic sounds, the music grabs you from the beginning with the Afro-inspired “Across The Water” and doesn’t let go until the very last track. 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


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: 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: Kate Simko & Brenda D./Darkroom

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


Soul Foundation will host a record-release party for Chicago’s own Kate Simko, whose innovative tech-house exploits have garnered both domestic and international acclaim. Philter, the DJ collective’s monthly event at Darkroom, provides an apt setting in which to celebrate Simko’s forthcoming “Lights Out” LP, slated for an April release on the acclaimed Berlin-based Hello? Repeat imprint. The album’s first single, “Mind On You” features Soul Foundation alum Brenda D. on vocals, and will be available March 7.

Despite an already impressive discography, Simko is hardly confined to studio work. Deft programming and impeccable mixing skills have earned her regular appearances at world-renowned music festivals and club venues. Her approach to house and techno employs a hypnotic layering that often results in a distinctive sound still unmistakably Chicago at heart. Simko is joined at this month’s edition of Philter by Brenda D., Brian Gardner and the long-anticipated return of DJ Apocalypse. (John Alex Colón)

March 12 at Darkroom, 2210 West Chicago, (773)276-1411, 9pm, free before 11pm, $5 after, 21+.

Preview: Moldover/Darkroom

Chicago Artists, DJ, Electro, Electronic/Dance, Experimental, House, Industrial, Metal, Noise, Prog-rock, Punk, Techno No Comments »


Simultaneously garnering props from music industry hotshots and technology aficionados, Moldover’s 2009 debut album was more than an Internet flashpoint, it fostered the growth of a paradigm shift in live electronic stage acts: controllerism. Like a phoenix rising from the ashes of a dysfunctional MacBook, Moldover’s work catapults the stoic, laptop-based events of years past into a new era of rockstar idolatry, with the software controller in the driver’s seat. An unmistakable rock influence pervades his musical efforts, which deftly run the gamut from rapid, techno-fused breakbeats to glitch-inspired funk. Moldover will be supported by the DJ skills of Chicago favorites Striz, Magpie and Duke Shin. (John Alex Colón)

March 11 at Darkroom, 2210 West Chicago, 9pm, free before 10pm, $6 after.

Preview: Matthew Dear (live), Loyal Divide (live), Lee Foss, Orchard Lounge/The Mid

Chicago Artists, Disco, DJ, Electro, Electronic/Dance, House, IDM, Indie Rock, Post-punk, Techno No Comments »


Techno hyphenate Matthew Dear has been a regular visitor to Chicago over the years, most recently back in October with his full live band at the Metro in support of 2010’s excellent “Black City,” Dear’s third full-length album. While some fans might be less engaged with his recent pompadoured, crooning Morrissey act, and maybe wish he’d just show up with a bag of records and DJ, you have to give Dear credit for constantly evolving his performances. This time around, Dear revisits the Big Hands project he debuted back in 2007 at the Empty Bottle. Opening for Dear is local electro-psyche-rock outfit Loyal Divide, who recently remixed Dear’s “Slowdance.” Following the live performances, DJs will take over, with local favorites Orchard Lounge and former Chicagoan Lee Foss commandeering the decks. Foss has made plenty of waves since leaving Chicago for LA, debuting on Resident Advisor’s vaunted Top DJ poll for 2010 at #38—the highest debut this year. His avalanche of recent productions—both solo and with Jamie Jones as Hot Natured—reflect the same formula he’s been using to construct his sets for years: combining deep house and techno influences with the playfulness of disco and nineties R&B. Foss doesn’t appear to be slowing down anytime soon, with his latest collaborative project, Pteradactil Disco (Jones, Foss, Robert James and FB Julian) dropping the “Big Ass Biscuit/Clive’s Alright” EP next week on Hot Creations (Foss & Jones’ label, natch) and his anticipated “Your Turn Girl” EP dropping later in February. A cool customer behind the decks, we wouldn’t expect too many hands-in-the-air freakouts. Set phasers for: tastefully restrained and boogie-tested for a more discerning dance floor. (Duke Shin)

January 28 at The Mid, 306 North Halsted, (312)265-3990. 10pm-4am. $12 presales.

Preview: Nick Curly/Smart Bar

DJ, Electronic/Dance, House, Techno No Comments »


Launching a new residency at Space in Ibiza and recording a mix with Marco Carola makes for a successful summer by most accounts. Nick Curly visits Chicago on the heels of such news, prepared to bring his tech-house selection to Smart Bar. Tracks on Plastic City, Cocoon and Get Physical brought Curly to the forefront of the German techno scene, particularly his “Cecille” releases. Curly is joined by Savile and Lee Jarvis on the decks. (John Alex Colon)

January 21 at Smart Bar, 3730 North Clark, (773)5490203. 10pm. $10-$13.

Preview: Isolée (live), Frankie Vega vs Sevron, Quadratic (live)/Empty Bottle

DJ, Electronic/Dance, House, IDM, Microhouse, Techno No Comments »



Through gently twinkling melodies and subtle machine beats, German microhouse innovator Rajko Müller, aka Isolée, possesses a rare talent in finding that illusive soul in the machine—the warmth and depth and emotion that is inexplicably a greater sum than the whole of its whirring, clicking, robotic parts (as evidenced by his early release on Playhouse, a sublime remix of Blaze’s house classic “Lovelee Dae”). His debut album “Rest” would follow in 2000, tent-poled by his previously released breakthrough track “Beau Mot Plage” and the eerie “I Owe You.” But only a mere smattering of releases would follow until 2005 with the unveiling of “We Are Monster,” which showcased a greater range, from the post-apocalyptic soundtrack feel of opener “Pictureloved,” to the classic R&B-infused riffing and twisted Americana of “Schrapnell.” Fast-forwarding to 2010, Isolée has remained active on the remix front with unexpected gold found from retreads of French next-big-thing the Shoes, and Ed Banger’s resident disco freak Mickey Moonlight. And while the latter showcases an incredible juxtaposition of off-kilter bending piano notes and warbled bliss with vocals, we wouldn’t expect to hear it, as Isolée is performing a rare live set—his first in Chicago since 2005—in support of his latest release on Dial, “The Fantastic Researches Of Yushin Maru.” But with an upcoming full-length on DJ Koze’s Pampa label set for January 21, Chicago fans will likely be treated to a preview of this much-anticipated release. Strong local support is also lined up for the night, with a live performance from Quadratic and the debut tag-team DJ appearance of techno stalwart Frankie Vega and underground makeparty machine Sevron. And just to make sure all of your senses are immersed in the evening, live visuals will be provided by video artist Kawa. File Under: Do Not Miss. (Duke Shin)

December 2 at Empty Bottle, 1035 North Western, (773)276-3600. 9:30pm. $10.

Recycled Plastic: Richie Hawtin goes back to the future with “Arkives”

Acid, DJ, Electronic/Dance, Experimental, House, Techno No Comments »

By John Alex Colón

Enter the box set. Such backward trips through past creations, recent efforts and unreleased recordings are reserved for the end of the road, the geriatric frontman’s shameless grasps at the straws of relevance. With Richie Hawtin’s Plastikman project, such relevance is not only palpable, but also possesses an inertia poised to upend the electronic music live performance.

Hawtin acknowledges his defiance of the natural order and explains that his newest project, “Arkives,” encompasses all things Plastikman in an effort to “go back to some of those ideas we wanted to do back in those early days in Detroit, back to the early Plastikman shows.” His goal is to develop the moniker and live performance, which requires an update for longtime and newfound fans.

Such progression requires a sense of history and Hawtin’s answer is this comprehensive box set, which aggregates seventeen years of Plastikman material. The limited collection must be pre-ordered before December 31, 2010, and only the number of orders placed will be manufactured. Read the rest of this entry »