Reviews, profiles and news about music in Chicago

Music 45 2015: Who Keeps Chicago in Tune

Music 45 3 Comments »


Our biannual behind-the-scenes look at Chicago’s thriving music community gets a little more complex every year. Performers are easy enough to pin down; they’re front and center, by definition. But it can take some digging to excavate the driving forces behind the city’s rich tapestry of orchestras, festivals, music venues and record labels. On the other hand, a certain kind of celebrity has attached itself to bloggers, promoters, radio announcers, artistic directors and journalists, that puts them almost on an equal footing to the artists they’re here to support. So we find ourselves, in this year’s Music 45, ranging wide across the city’s musical landscape, reacquainting you with names and faces you may know almost as well as your own, while introducing you to several newcomers who have labored, if not quite in obscurity, then without the recognition their endeavors have earned them. What they all have in common, is that your life—yes, yours—is a little bit richer because of them. (Robert Rodi)

Music 45 was written by Robert Rodi and Dennis Polkow
With additional contributions by Keidra Chaney, Corey Hall, Robert Loerzel, Dylan Peterson and John Wilmes

Cover and interior photos by Joe Mazza/Brave Lux on location at Metro Chicago Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Frankie Knuckles/Smart Bar

Chicago Artists, Electronic/Dance, House No Comments »


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 »

Music 45: Who Keeps Chicago in Tune 2013

Chicago Artists, Classical, Electronic/Dance, Festivals, Hip-Hop, Jazz, Music 45, Rock 1 Comment »
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 »

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.

Audio Soul Project/Smart Bar

Chicago Artists, Disco, DJ, Electronic/Dance, House, Soul No Comments »


Sometimes settling for a DJ set isn’t so bad. When Mazi Namvar is behind the decks, the soul of his Audio Soul Project certainly shines through. His recently released album, “Hip Shake Heartache” (Fresh Meat), attempts to highlight every facet of Chicago house music and succeeds, thanks to the painstaking selection of Namvar’s recording partners. Stellar vocal work permeates the album, driven home by big-room basslines and unmistakably swinging rhythms.

Namvar confirms the nostalgic inspiration behind the album, the sound of late nineties house music, is still captivating dancefloors, from loft spaces to nightclubs. The vocals and sax may not be live, but Namvar hopes his DJ sets can open the door to a live tour in support of “Heartache.” House music’s past and future collide this weekend at Smart Bar’s monthly Dotbleep event, where Namvar is joined by two more local heroes: Justin Long and Mark Almaria. (John Alex Colon)

January 22 at Smart Bar, 3730 North Clark, (773)5490203. 10pm. $10-12.

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: 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: Marcel Dettmann and Justin Long/Smart Bar (Sónar)

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


Smart Bar’s farewell to Sónar juxtaposes the dark, dancefloor-minded techno style of Marcel Dettmann with the jack-inspiring tech-house skills of Chicago’s Justin Long. The dot.bleep ambassador promises a much-anticipated techno set for the occasion. Dettmann, resident DJ at the revered Berghain nightclub in Berlin, employs the long mix, blending sparse yet percussion-driven tunes to deliver his futuristic techno message to the waiting crowd. His pair of remixes for Fever Ray’s debut album were impressive and his productions for Ostgut Ton and other imprints keep the masses hungry for his monthly chart. Justin Long’s set is shrouded in mystery as most of us are used to his familiar blend of house classics and glitch-influenced tech-house. A techno showdown is indeed a fitting end to Chicago’s dance with Sónar. (John Alex Colón)

September 11 at Smart Bar, 3730 N. Clark, (773)549-0203, 10pm. $12-$15.

Preview: Dustin Zahn and Drumcell/Smart Bar

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



The driving basslines and menacing synths on the “Analog God EP” were only hinting at the tough techno mayhem inherent in a Dustin Zahn and Drumcell pairing. Released on Drumcell’s Droid imprint, the EP was hailed as an introduction to techno’s new breed. In the two years that followed, Drumcell and Droid supported the LA techno movement with innovative releases and massive events. He regularly takes the Droid sound on the road and provided one of the highlight performances at this year’s Movement festival in Detroit. Zahn helmed the Abiotic label and channeled its success into his current imprint, Enemy, which just released an acclaimed project with Joel Mull. His three-turntable DJ sets and highly-regarded live performances provide him with an incessant touring schedule. While both are capable of aggressive techno sets, they tend to incorporate funky, minimal tunes and house elements to keep the crowd on the dancefloor. (John Alex Colón)

August 27 at Smart Bar, 3730 N. Clark, (773)549-0203, 10pm. $10-$12.

Preview: Soul Clap/Smart Bar

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

Photo: Eric Levin


Boston’s Soul Clap, the self-described “Great White Hope” of techno, descends upon Smart Bar for a visit with Chicago favorites Mazi and Nathan Larsen. After releasing movers on Freerange and Wolf + Lamb Music, Soul Clap founders Eli and Charlie carved a bottom-heavy, tech-house niche that leaves sweaty, cheering dancefloors in its wake. Their latest efforts include an EP with Voodeaux and Sergio Santos, and a vinyl-only offshoot with Wolf + Lamb co-founder, Gadi Mizrahi. Boasting a new website, blog and several upcoming records, Soul Clap arrives with shuffling beats, inviting horns, and nod-inducing basslines in tow, poised to leave their mark on a memorable Chicago summer night. It’s time to dance to Boston’s finest.
(John Alex Colón)

June 18 at Smart Bar, 3730 North Clark, (773)549-0203.