Reviews, profiles and news about music in Chicago

Music 45: Who Keeps Chicago in Tune 2014

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Photo: Joe Mazza of BraveLux

Photo: Joe Mazza of BraveLux

Chicago, you are a big, bold, beautiful city of infinite complexity. Your historical heritage, your social and political upheaval, your segregation, violence and corruption have birthed an incredible wealth of musical expression. It’s by virtue of these artists that our community confronts and escapes the mistakes of our metropolis. And so our publication listens intently, offering a nuanced dialogue with the musicians who craft our culture. Yet, once a year, we redirect our approach to the opposing swing of the pendulum. We zoom-out where we would normally zoom-in. This list offers a broad-stroke survey of those Chicago musicians whose current cultural currency is readily represented to the city and to the rest of the world, living artists whose quantifiable influence echoes their effect. Some big names are missing, some rankings seem arbitrary, but it’s toward these acts, firmly Chicagoan, that we look when we seek out the spirit of home. Where our words might fail, the music will not. (Kenneth Preski)

Music 45 was written by Kenneth Preski, Dennis Polkow, John Wilmes, Jessica Burg, Robert Szypko, Eric Lutz, Keidra Chaney, Reilly Gill, Corey Hall and Dave Cantor

All photos taken on location at The Hideout by Joe Mazza of BraveLux. Read the rest of this entry »

Record Store Day 2014: The Good, The Bad, and The Huh? How the hoopla plays out for a record store regular

News and Dish, Record Store Day No Comments »

By Kenneth Preski

The GoodOutkast - Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik

Outkast “Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik” (Legacy)
Only issued once on vinyl, back when it was first released in 1994, the duo’s debut effort is worthy of re-evaluation in the wake of Andre 3000 and Big Boi’s first touring stint in six years. Outkast is headlining Lollapalooza, and one suspects Andre’s got the itch to rap given his numerous guest verse appearances since 2007. He raps all over “Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik,” so it’s likely some deep cuts will make their way to a wider audience this summer, reminding the festival circuit just where and who and what Outkast represents—right there in the album title.

Gil Scott-Heron “Nothing New” (XL Recordings)
Taken from the same sessions that produced “I’m New Here,” this posthumous collection, limited to three-thousand copies, presents Gil Scott-Heron as singer-songwriter, performing fresh takes on two decades worth of compositions, now rendered immediate through the same throaty vocal that made his swan song LP such a painful and rewarding listen. When contrasted with the original versions of his tunes from the eighties, “Nothing New” provides a welcome facelift for the material, settling the legendary poet’s spirit by surrounding it with minimal frill. Voice paired with a piano yields a candid document of a life well-spent in pursuit of truth. Read the rest of this entry »

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 »

For the Record: Inside Chicago’s Crate Digging Culture

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040314By Kenneth Preski

The best music criticism has no author. It resides in the soul of the listener, enveloped in sound, sitting centered on a couch, fixed between two body-sized speakers. Instinctive insights from tweeter to woofer, spirit basking in full frequency warmth; the type of hypnosis that makes you forget you’re hearing a recording at all. It isn’t spoken or explained, analyzed or dissected. It’s in the sway of your hips, and the way your head bobs; whatever makes your fist pump, or gives you goosebumps. Electrical impulses recorded and reanimated, melding minds distanced by time.

The truth about music comes from the singer of the song connecting to the listener at home. Though digital technology is the overwhelming favored medium for consumers of recorded sound, CDs fail as a physical product because what is contained therein is so easily procured elsewhere. The internet ended the era of the compact disc. Vinyl remains lucrative because it cannot be replaced by anything other than another record. So begins the collector’s choice: do you store your music inside of a computer, or inside of a crate? Analog enthusiasts answer the question on the basis of liveliness. Here are five Chicagoans who have dedicated their lives to collecting records. Read the rest of this entry »

Newcity’s Top 5 of Everything 2013: Music

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Top 5 Releases of 2013
Swirlies, “Complete Discography” (Sneaky Flute Empire)
Bill Orcutt, “A History of Every One” (Editions Mego)
Kanye West, “Yeezus” (Def Jam)
Chance The Rapper, “Acid Rap” (self-released)
Allen Toussaint, “Songbook” (Rounder)
—Kenneth Preski

Top 5 Electronic Albums of 2013
DJ Rashad, “Double Cup” (Hyperdub)
Rashad Becker, “Traditional Music of Notional Species Vol. I” (Pan)
Emptyset, “Recur” (Raster-Noton)
Grouper, “The Man Who Died in His Boat” (Kranky)
ÄÄNIPÄÄ, “Through A Pre-Memory” (Editions Mego)
—Kenneth Preski

Read the rest of this entry »

Marc Ruvolo Sells Out: Johann’s Face and Bucket O’ Blood Owner Plans to Play the World

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MarcRuvoloBy Craig Bechtel

Although Marc Ruvolo has toured a fair bit, he’s lived in Chicago all his life. From a couch in the Logan Square apartment he shares with his partner, Ruvolo, the forty-seven-year-old former lead singer for punk rockers No Empathy, and more recently of Das Kapital and The Fur Coats and owner of record label Johann’s Face, explains what has prompted him to sell most of what he owns and embark on a global adventure.

Up until two weeks ago, Ruvolo was also the owner of Bucket O’ Blood Books and Records in Logan Square, but now he’s sold the store he built from the ground up over three years to some longtime customers. Selling the store had always been part of his plan, although at the beginning he didn’t know whether it would be a success. “I like challenges,” he says, and given he had never worked in retail before, he knew he would have to “work hard and bust ass… I put all my energy into it, in the hopes that I would sell it and then head out and travel the world and play music.” Read the rest of this entry »

Death Grips to Chicago: You Got Gamed

Festivals, Hip-Hop, News and Dish No Comments »

deathgripsBy John Wilmes

Scheduled into one of the headlining sets of Lollapalooza’s second day, and for a sold-out performance at The Bottom Lounge, the night prior, Sacramento-based band Death Grips (described variously as noise rock, noise rap, experimental rap and thrash rap) skipped it all. At The Bottom Lounge there was only a large projection of a fan’s suicide note behind the stage, and the venue’s announcement, moments after they themselves had learned, that the band wouldn’t be coming. In a reaction of incalculable irony, fans then rushed the stage to destroy the band’s equipment, as Death Grips’ angry, caustic tones played over the P.A.—but it later came out that this was not, in fact, their equipment. The next morning, it became clear that they never even got on a plane, and their Lollapalooza set was cancelled. Everyone had been gamed.

The internet exploded with this news. And this wasn’t the first time that Death Grips has scorned their fans, eager to see them—they’ve cancelled large stretches of tours, before, to work on new material instead—or upset the booking and distribution titans of the industry, either. Their most recent album, “No Love Deep Web,” was set to be released by Epic, but the band released it for free instead, on their website, with an erect penis on the cover art. An act of defiance that, after Death Grips refused to undo it, had them dropped from the label. Read the rest of this entry »

Music 45: Who Keeps Chicago in Tune 2013

Chicago Artists, Classical, Electronic/Dance, Festivals, Hip-Hop, Jazz, Music 45, Rock No Comments »
Cover by Colin Denney

Cover by Colin Denney

Music is alive and well and living in Chicago.

While that once might have meant records and radio and bands being signed to major labels, it’s a much more complex score these days, with artists and venues more entrepreneurial than ever. But at the core is the shift in emphasis from recorded to live music, and it’s a change that’s made Chicago a town of festivals, from the city’s bedrock blues, jazz, gospel and world music festivals, to Lollapalooza and Pitchfork, to the new electronic dance music festivals—Spring Awakening, Wavefront and North Coast—as well as the explosive growth of an old one, the Chosen Few DJs Picnic. With these shifts, the players are changing too; since we last made this list of the behind-the-scenesters, the power list if you will, most of the list has changed. This year’s forty-five include twenty-six folks who were not on the list that last time in 2009. (Brian Hieggelke)

Music 45 was written by Brian Hieggelke, Dennis Polkow and Kenneth Preski, with additional contributions by Dave Cantor, Keidra Chaney, Dylan Peterson, John Wilmes and B. David Zarley. See previous years here. Read the rest of this entry »

DVD Review: “Last Shop Standing” and “Brick and Mortar and Love”

Record Reviews, Record Stores No Comments »


I remember one afternoon (I think it was in the late eighties) walking into a record store in Sao Paulo, Brazil, where I went to purchase a Kate Bush album (I have been a huge fan of the reclusive singer-songwriter for the longest time), and as I made the purchase, one of the employees there put on a record by a blues guitar player I had never heard about before. It was a raucous guitar followed by a powerful voice backed by a tight rhythm section.  The song was “Love Struck Baby,” the opening track of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s debut LP “Texas Flood” (Sony, 1983). I was immediately hooked, and was saddened when just a few years later I heard about his untimely death following a concert in Alpine Valley, Wisconsin.

A story like this one would be far less likely to happen today, because record stores are increasingly a rarity thanks to download sites and big-box stores that offer music at a discount that independent owners are just unable to match. New music is still discovered in interesting ways today (like I found out about Guatemalan singer Ricardo Arjona via—you guessed it—a free download from iTunes), but the culture has completely shifted since that day so many years ago. Read the rest of this entry »

Newcity’s Top 5 of Everything 2012: Music

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Top 5 Albums of 2012
John Butcher, “Bell Trove Spools” (Northern Spy)
Killer Mike, “2012, R.A.P. Music” (Williams Street)
Mako Sica, “Essence” (La Société Expéditionnaire)
MV & EE, “Space Homestead” (Woodsist)
Victor Rice, “Dub Discoveries from Version City” (Stubborn)
—Dave Cantor

Top 5 Classical Concerts of 2012
Riccardo Muti & the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, Cherubini Requiem
Chicago Chamber Musicians, Debussy Chamber Music Festival
Bella Voce, Music of the Sistine Chapel
Riccardo Muti & the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Bruckner Sixth Symphony
World Orchestra for Peace, Solti Centennial Concert
—Dennis Polkow Read the rest of this entry »