Felix Da Housecat
With a list of worldwide clientele that includes Madonna, Britney Spears and Kylie Minogue, it’s no wonder Felix Da Housecat has crossed the pond to make waves in London. Don’t get confused, Felix is still certainly pushing his hometown forward, especially with his “Chicago Blakkout” mix series and an accompanying European tour. Outside of teasing a new full-length release with rumored collaborators Nile Rodgers and Boy George, Felix drops down every so often for sets at the Mid, a potent reminder of just how far he’s come.
No one doubts the importance of Curtis Jones to Chicago’s house scene, but his presence on this list is warranted not by what he’s already done, but what he continues to do. Regular appearances at big festivals worldwide, including Coachella, have cemented Green Velvet’s legacy beyond “La La Land,” and have made fans out of dance duo Disclosure, whose megahit “When A Fire Starts To Burn” may well be the second coming of a Green Velvet single released two decades prior. DJs worldwide took note: original pressings of “The Preacher Man” have started selling for over $70 online. Preach on, preacher man.
Until recently, soul musician Syl Johnson’s talent was only made famous when someone else cashed in on it. In the fifties, Johnson began backing Chicago blues musicians until 1967, when his hit-making career took off. Having recorded notable songs like “Take Me To The River” and “Is It Because I’m Black”, one song, “Different Strokes” has been sampled more than 200 times, including by Wu-Tang Clan, Kanye West and Jay Z; with Johnson demanding compensation for its use without consent. Since putting out an extensive compilation with Numero Group in 2010, his career has made a comeback, with sold-out shows and a well-deserved documentary.
There’s an historic importance to trumpeter Phil Cohran’s work as an educator in the community, as well as his recordings over the last half century. His time in Sun Ra’s Arkestra and the few dates he led in the studio will remain touchstones for a very specific strain of free-boppin’ spiritual jazz. And further expanding that legacy is the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, a hip-hop-influenced brass band, comprising his progeny, and the subject of the “Brothers Hypnotic” documentary, broadcast this year on PBS.
Few bands held a stronger dominion on their city’s version of DIY rock than Naked Raygun did in 1980s Chicago. The only group that could compare was Steve Albini’s Big Black, which also featured Raygun’s Jeff Pezzati and Santiago Durango. Alive today (after a 2006 reunion, the band’s second rebirth) with more pronounced melodic direction and pop bombast than was audible in their murky doomscape anthems of their genesis years, Raygun is an indelible Chicago brand.
Tim Kinsella and Mike Kinsella
Listed here in birth order, these brothers began releasing albums together as teenagers in Cap’n Jazz, and continue to collaborate in Joan of Arc and Owls. They both have their own unique talents: Tim is a published author and a formidable collaborator, while Mike has made albums of acclaim with Owen, American Football, and Their / They’re / There. For those keeping track at home, that’s six different highly regarded indie-rock bands between the two of ‘em. A new generation of musicians owe it to these gentlemen, who remain continually relevant to the art form, despite the unflattering genre tag emo.
In the process of building a recorded output whose style sits somewhere between Sun Ra and Miles Davis, Mazurek’s considerable talents on the cornet have encapsulated collaborations with a great variety of musicians, and quite often artists who are acclaimed in their own right. Most impressive is that Mazurek’s role in the best of these encounters is always as bandleader; his presence is vital to the shape, scope, and vision of Chicago jazz. No doubt the upcoming release of Mazurek’s Chicago/São Paulo Underground group collaboration with the legendary Pharoah Sanders will bear the epic fruits of his inventive discography.
They might as well erect a skyscraper in Robbie Fulks’ likeness, that’s how indispensable he is to the lifeblood of working musicians in this city. Imagining how Chicago would look without Fulks’ never-ending Hideout residency is akin to envisioning the Cubs as World Series champions. On the heels of his best album in years, Fulks continues to amuse himself and his audience with creative outlets of grand scope, from appearing on “A Prairie Home Companion,” to an upcoming live performance of “The Blue Mask” in honor of Lou Reed, with actor Michael Shannon on vocals. Never a dull moment with Fulks; Chicago is lucky to have him.
The Welshman deeply embodies core Chicago values. Langford’s unflinching perseverance and dedication to authentic expression has turned more than a few heads throughout his lengthy career, but that hasn’t prevented the first-wave-punk-turned-country guitarist from immersing himself completely in all things Chicago. From hosting duties on WXRT, to publishing a collection of compelling visual art, Langford lives and breathes at a pace so fast it’s easy to miss, but do so at your own disadvantage. This year’s “Here Be Monsters” is yet another wonderful addition to a catalog already full of substantial recordings.