Reviews, profiles and news about music in Chicago

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 »

Preview: Dubfire/Spy Bar

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Dubfire, half of the legendary progressive house superduo, Deep Dish, is in town for his last Chicago visit of the year. Dubfire’s approach to techno and tech-house ignites many a dance floor, fueled by driving grooves and relentless beats, subtly augmented by synths, vocal samples and infectious minimal techno elements. Dubfire’s Sci+Tec imprint boasts club-movers such as Paul Ritch and Oliver Huntemann, both of whom have partnered with Dubfire’s dark and sultry sound. The accolades continue to roll in for this DJ veteran, and this holiday weekend he joins Richie Hawtin in a coordinated attempt to destroy the Spy Bar massive. (John Alex Colón)

November 26 at Spy Bar, 646 North Franklin, (312)337-2191. 10pm. $12-$29.

The Ultimate Road Tripper: Steve Lawler’s Halloween bus stops in Chicago

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

By John Alex Colón

Last week, Steve Lawler jumped on a bus, embarking on another North American tour in support of his VIVa MUSiC label. In 2009, he and Jimmy Hill brought the VIVa banner from city to city by jet, much like the 2008 tour that included Audiofly and Tiefschwarz. Lawler will steer the bus to Spy Bar on Halloween night, joined by Leon and David Pher, Italian house sensation and busy, techno-minded Berliner, respectively. Both artists have releases on Lawler’s imprint, which is known for its recognition and support of new talent.

Lawler recently released his own EP, titled “Gimme Some More,” which features prolific house music vocalist Roland Clark, and remixes by an impressive roster of artists. Upon listening to Clark’s earlier work, Lawler saw fit to capture his a capella skills on a track of his own. “He’s kind of a legend when it comes to house vocals like that,” Lawler says. “He has an amazing voice and is an amazing, amazing lyricist.”

Lawler’s own career can certainly be regarded as prolific, even legendary. A longtime fan of acid house, he promoted events beneath a UK highway, cut his teeth as a resident DJ at Cream, and released singles and remixes on several established labels, including Harthouse, Cocoon, Souvenir and R&S. His residencies at Space in Ibiza and The End in London are known for marathon sets of six hours or longer, fueled by Lawler’s approach to house music: erotic grooves, deep basslines and layers of percussion influenced by African and Latin drum sounds. Read the rest of this entry »

Steve Lawler/Spy Bar

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From label management to music production, Steve Lawler handles business and makes it all seem effortless. For nearly two decades, he’s recorded and remixed for renowned house and techno labels, such as Drumcode, Rekids, and Sci+Tec. Lawler’s own VIVa MUSiC imprint experiences continued success thanks to his discriminating ear and supportive demeanor, and the recruitment of top-shelf artists, including Simon Baker, Davide Squillace and Tiefschwarz. Unsurprisingly, Lawler is no slouch in the DJ booth, either, earning residencies at London’s Ministry of Sound and Ibiza’s Space. His style combines elements of classic house and driving techno, fueled by tribal percussion and uncompromising kickdrums, and aimed squarely at the dancefloor. Lawler brings the heat, so prepare to dance until the lights come on. You might pack a towel for this one.
(John Alex Colon)

June 8 at Spy Bar, 646 North Franklin, (312)337-2191.

Preview: Matthew Dear and Gui Boratto/Spy Bar

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Matthew Dear’s last visit to Chicago was his November Smart Bar performance as Audion, where he dropped his inspired and mind-bending “Hecatomb” live set to a sweaty packed room. It was, without question, one of the top parties of 2009. Dear now returns to Chicago to DJ at Spy Bar under his birth name as part of a short U.S. tour before he returns to his home state for some appearances during the Movement festival in Detroit. The multi-talented musician always attracts a crowd, so early arrival is recommended to claim your spot on Spy Bar’s intimately sized dance floor. Also headlining Spy Bar is Brazilian Kompakt recording artist Gui Boratto, who recently released a double-length mix CD for the Renaissance label. Expect lots of cheery, melodic tech-house from Boratto to balance out Dear’s driving techno-oriented selections. Opening the night is Chicago’s Wahi.  (Elly Rifkin)

April 16 at Spy Bar, 646 N. Franklin, (312)587-8779.

Preview: Radio Slave/Spy Bar

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Brighton’s Matt Edwards, better known as Radio Slave, has been DJing since the early nineties. Today, Edwards produces music under half a dozen monikers representing a wide range of genres and styles, including everything from pop-inspired radio-friendly tunes to downtempo jazz-based voyages to obscure, twisted techno burners. His remixes and production work as Radio Slave (his most dancefloor-oriented alias) have led to headlining gigs around the world, including appearances at enormous festivals. Edwards’s acclaimed label Rekids, established in 2006, has emerged as a dominant force within the global electronic-music community, introducing the world to several important emerging artists. Spy Bar will showcase Radio Slave’s DJ set, and the club has put together a unique lineup of special guests to appear alongside Edwards. Rekids label-mate and Canadian house and techno producer/DJ James Teej will DJ, as well as up-and-coming Düsseldorf producer Alex Niggemann, who has released several popular remixes and tracks on Get Physical , 8bit, and 2020 Vision. Rounding out the lineup is Curbed Recordings label owner Wahi, a Chicago-based producer/DJ and Spy Bar regular. Insider’s Tip: Use the password “PURE” at the door to take advantage of the discounted entry fee for this unique showcase. (Elly Rifkin)

March 19 at Spy Bar 646 North Franklin, (312)587-8779, at 10pm.

At Zeroes End: Music in Chicago 2000-2009

Chicago Artists, DJ, Electronic/Dance, Festivals, Hip-Hop, News and Dish, Rock 1 Comment »

By Tom LynchDM_1161

Here’s an example of how much can change over the course of ten years—Lincoln Park’s Lounge Ax, the premier indie-rock venue in the city, which even had a cameo in the Chicago-shot “High Fidelity,” took its final bow on January 15, 2000, just two weeks into the new decade. By now, it’s unlikely the majority of those who frequently attend rock shows at places like Empty Bottle, Schubas or Hideout were old enough to have ever gone there.

When considering changes and adjustments in all mediums over the last ten years, music offers the most significant transformation, not only here in Chicago but across the globe. Moving into 2010 we’re heavily entrenched in the digital age, as it took iTunes, introduced by Apple in January of 2001, and the iPod, which came in October of the same year, a relatively short amount of time to make over the record industry and put the future of record stores, independent and corporate, in limbo. Goodbye Virgin. Goodbye Tower. It was sort-of nice knowing you. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Ida Engberg & Konrad Black/Spy Bar

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In just a few years, blonde bombshell and multi-talented Swedish techno DJ/producer Ida Engberg has gone from a relative unknown to an internationally in-demand DJ. She took everyone by surprise at this year’s Sunday School for Degenerates party at the Winter Music Conference in Miami with an uncompromising techno set, and certainly got Chicago’s attention with her energetic mix of techno and tech-house when she performed at Spy Bar a few months back. Ida is scheduled to only play a handful of U.S. dates before returning to her massive European tour that will keep her booked until late April. A versatile DJ, Ida’s sets may lean towards deep house, tech house or funky and percussive techno, depending on whether she’s playing an intimate club like  Spy Bar, or the main stages at massive European festivals. Also headlining at on this night is Vancouver DJ/producer Konrad Black (aka Todd Shillington). In addition to his DJing and his production and remix work on labels like Minus, Poker Flat Recordings and Get Physical, Konrad Black is responsible for running the critically acclaimed record label Wagon Repair along with Mathew Jonson and several others. Opening this showcase is Chicago’s Phil Stone. Make sure to e-mail an RSVP to for discounted admission and for information on VOLATL’s second event of the evening, which will take place after the club closes. (Elly Rifkin)

December 11 at Spy Bar, 646 N. Franklin, 9pm.

Preview: Luciano/Spy Bar

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UPDATE:  This show has been cancelled. 

Anticipation runs high with Swiss/Chilean techno star Luciano dropping a rare Chicago DJ set at Spy Bar. The producer and Cadenza label-head saw the release of his second full-length album “Tribute to the Sun” earlier this year—a full five years since the release of his debut album “Blind Behaviour” (as Lucien-n-Luciano). While Luciano has always excelled at infusing melody into his minimal-leaning productions, “Tribute to the Sun” caught some fans by surprise, with a focus on world-music influences and otherworldly vocals that enchant in its many tender moments. But beneath all the beauty bubbles audible potential energy stored in muscular rhythms, like in the opener “Los Niños de Fuera” and twelve-minute opus, “Celestial.” Consider those varied textures of audio as Luciano’s palette; tonight should be a treat to experience how much of the light, and how much of the dark he chooses to paint your earholes with. Do. Not. Sleep. On. This. One. (Duke Shin)

November 27 at Spy Bar, 646 N. Franklin, 9pm.

Preview: M.A.N.D.Y./Spy Bar

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For international dance powerhouse label Get Physical, Chicago has become a regular stop for its artists, with principal members DJ T., Booka Shade and M.A.N.D.Y. logging plenty of hours here on their way across the globe, spreading their distinctive take on tech-house that seems firmly rooted in Chicago house and Detroit techno, but with plenty of funk bass lines and 1980s-influenced hand-claps and synth washes to keep it dance-floor friendly. Philipp Jung and Patrick Bodmer, the duo known as M.A.N.D.Y., don’t stray from the formula, but seem the most fun-loving of the bunch when performing live. Although tonight’s performance will be from Phillip only, he’ll be joined by another international talent in British DJ, producer and label head Damian Lazarus—the man responsible for unleashing electro-tinged gems like Tiga & Zynthgerius’ “Sunglasses At Night” and Felix Da Housecat’s “Silver Screen” through his City Rockers imprint, and since 2003, the mutant techno releases on perennial late-night DJ favorite Crosstown Rebels. Between these two superstars tonight, you can expect to hear the light and the dark, the melodic and the twisted, and the best from today’s premier tech-house labels. (Duke Shin)

November 20 at Spy Bar, 646 N. Franklin, 9pm.