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The Seventh Annual WNUR Sportsathon is set to kick off Friday, November 10th, at 6:30 PM and continue until Saturday, November 11th, at 9:00 PM. The event is over 24 straight hours of sports programming on WNUR 89.3 FM and WNURSports.com. This year’s Sportsathon will include live coverage of four different Northwestern sporting events, including a women’s soccer NCAA Tournament match on Sunday, November 12th.
For more information, including a full programming schedule, visit wnursports.com
A community congregates Thursday nights at Elastic Arts. These are the same people you might see any given week here, the same who sit around the island, the same on the couch, the same sitting in the front row taking photos. Concerts at Elastic Arts have always felt like stepping into a family to me, a large disjunct family who all like weird, exploratory, awesome music. And no matter how long I spend outside, there is a sense of homecoming whenever I step throw those doors.
Homecoming, a word I would use to describe Paul Giallorenzo’s entrance to the stage on Thursday night. The newly ‘former’ executive director of Elastic Arts, took his seat at the piano on Thursday night to a crowd of friendly faces that would only grow throughout the night. Paul, along with Dave Rempis and Sam Lewis also in attendance, started Elastic Arts over 15 years ago in a converted church in Humboldt Park. Their location, and importance now as a fixture in the Chicago improvised and creative music scene is an extension of the network of friends and performers feeding energy into the space from the beginning to now. And so this is a homecoming for Giallorenzo, his album release could not conceivably be anywhere else, this is his space, this is his community.
The music starts with a motif common to many of the tracks on FLOW, Giallorenzo’s new record out on Delmark — an interlocked ostinato bass line between piano left hand and bass. There is a grounding in the ostinato, a grounding in Joshua Abrams solid repetitions, never wavering, always holding the music in place and pushing forward. Mikel Avery starts up his drum set and the trio moves as one, full force through the “rolling” lines of Giallorenzo’s coy right hand melodies. So often Thursday nights at Elastic are spacious, are astral moving through zones of free improvisation, and these three musicians are certainly no stranger to musics like this, but October 12th was something different, something more earthy, more grounded. As Abrams starts to walk, I try to remember the last time I heard a walking bass line in this space, and aside from the music played before the show, I honestly can not. The bass can be a grounding instrument, aligned with time. And that walking bass line of tradition itself is too a grounding force, something many struggle at a certain point in their musical lives to separate from (maybe that’s why so many of us have ended up with our heads in the clouds?) Giallorenzo’s is two feet on solid ground music, is rooted music in the tradition of piano trio music, in the sound and stylings of Thelonious Monk and Cecil Taylor. It’s refreshing to move your toes in the earth sometimes, to remember perhaps the jazz you first heard and first fell in love with.
It’s in this remembering these three musicians play, and you can see it on their faces as they smile on at each other, challenged by the music Giallorenzo has written. Writing music is a reduction of possibility, a constraining towards what cannot be, but without constraint what would we need creativity for? Avery smiles at Abrams, and on the second to last tune he breaks his G string, this is reduction too, and Abrams smiles on. There is a joy to operating within the construct within the tradition, there is a challenge to saying something new in a book with already so much written. And the Paul Giallorenzo trio does all of this, subtly, with restraint, all operating within the minimal. My head hangs on every note, every slightly disjunct tinkling piano line, every rattling snare hit responding to or prompting some boom or jab from Abrams. In so much jazz I hear or, tradition or innovation, and I am refreshed to hear and tonight. As I search for a ‘how’ in this supreme and I think of reserve and reduction, the careful attention of writing music, of constraint, of one note references and quiet clustered comping. I come to the word minimalism. In Ben Remsen’s liner notes to FLOW he mentions the minimalism of Giallorenzo’s playing many times. His playing and composing is an economy of speech, saying much with little, moving forward in small steps, and we as the audience are invited along for the ride with the smallest of gestures. And suddenly I know this is FLOW, this is piano trio, this is Paul Giallorenzo, this is Elastic Arts, moving forward with small steps in all directions.
FLOW is out now on Delmark Records.
Near the end of summer, I was in Minneapolis and stopped by Extreme Noise Records, a volunteer-run co-op record store. I thought it would be a good time to pick up a couple records for the Rock Show stacks, below are the three records I picked up, which can be found in the new vinyl section of the stacks.
Y’all know what this is. 2017 Providence, RI punk. On this one they tone down the sax and move towards a little less raw sound, but the anger and politics are still very much there. The band blends first wave british punk and post-punk with 80’s hardcore and 00’s indie as Victoria Ruiz screams blistering spanish/english lyrics against oppression on all sides. The lyrics rail against may of our ugliest current issues, including police brutality, xenophobia, Trump, and the poisonous disinterest society exhibits towards solving its problems.
This is their first release on Sup Pop, granting these Chicana, queer, and latino voices a much wider platform and audience. And all the better. This album is angry, vital, and fucking rips. You saw ‘em play at Dillo day, check this one out in the stacks.
Big Boys were an Austin, Texas punk band, this album dating from way back in 1981. Their sound is somewhere in the vicinity of James Chance & the Contortions, or the Minutemen. Very skronky, with lots of funky backbeats, but also some fast n’ loud hardcore. The Big Boys were pioneers in many ways. They were an early band the Texas hardcore scene. They were an early skate-punk band, as can be seen in the beautiful inner photo on the gatefold of this record, and evidenced by their appearances in Thrasher magazine. They spearheaded a vein of danceable, funk influenced punk, and influenced many queercore bands as a group with a charismatic, confrontational, gay frontman.
This record was initially released in hundreds of copies with a hand-silkscreened jacket. As such, it was essentially impossible to find a physical copy until it was reissued in 2013. I think it’s a great addition to the stacks as an important record that was obscure enough to escape the reach of WNUR back in the day. And we’ve got a copy with a beautiful, green-marble disc to boot!
Finally, after being a little naughty and splurging on a copy of Goat by the Jesus Lizard and a Butthole Surfers t-shirt for myself, I asked for a recommendation from the clerks there, looking for a local, vinyl V/A compilation. What they suggested was this record. It’s a great addition to WNUR’s extensive collection of local comps, and contains some great late 90’s/early 00’s metallic hardcore, with lots of metal-tinged riffs, blast-beats and pissed-the-fuck-off vocals. Some standout tracks include ‘Blind Lead the Blind’ by Calloused and ‘Burn My Eyes (Motherfucker)’ by Dreadnaught. Thanks again to the guys at Extreme Noise. If you’re ever in Minneapolis and looking for a punk-first record store, it should be at the top of your list.
This year marked my first experience at the Electric Forest Music Festival. While day one and two didn’t agree with our campsite, (it was rained out and my tent collapsed), the weather did not overshadow the tremendous impact that E-Forest had. The art instillations, musicians, diversity of stages, and beautiful setting made it feel like fiction. Above all, my interactions with artists made it a worthwhile weekend. Among those, our team was given the chance to interview the kingpin of Dirtybird Records, Claude Vonstroke. While starting in San Francisco, Dirtybird has made large waves within the house scene, through Claude’s distinctly funky sound, the famed Dirtybird BBQs, and the label’s rich roster of talented artists. Claude was as friendly as he was brutally honest, within regards to his relatively unexpected career trajectory, emerging projects, and the struggles associated with becoming a fulltime artist while developing a label. Our discussion is below.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
Marc: Cool, well first off man it’s great to meet you. Thanks for speaking with WNUR. I’m originally a Bay Area fan so it’s special for me.
Claude: Cool, thank you.
Marc: So, for our listeners, I’m just going to briefly describe what you do (and your background). You have Dirtybird, which has been very successful, with an exceptional roster of artists from many different countries. From Eats Everything, to Justin Martin, to Nick Monaco for a time, (who is also from SF). You’ve also had the Sirius XM station the Bird House, which I tune into when I drive, and you have the Dirtybird BBQs.
Claude: Right, and now it’s (grown to) a campout festival.
Marc: So setting the stage, you have your fingers in a lot of different areas, as an artist, as a curator.
Claude: And we have the Birdhouse stages.
Marc: Yes, and bringing other artists out using your platform. So I wonder what was it like for you in SF right at the very beginning? Right when you were starting off?
Claude: So I started off in Oakland, and my roommate went to high school with me, and he was kind of a techy guy, nerdy kinda, doing math and stuff. And he taught me how to build PCs. He had taught me over the phone before I moved to Oakland, but then I started really doing it. So I was able to make these really cheap PCs that were really fast. And then we would get all this bootleg software from China and I was able to have a much better rig than I should have. So I made a documentary about how to become a famous… Well not a famous DJ, but how to become a DJ that gets gigs. I interviewed all like the most famous people at that time, so like Paul van Dike, Orbital, Derrick Carter, and Derrick Main.
Marc: I believe Derrick Carter actually used to play at our station. He had a residency.
Claude: Cool that’s awesome! Ya, so I got all these people on it, and I edited it, and directed it, did everything on these bootleg rigs, and then I (chuckle…) ran out of money completely. So I had to make all the music, because you need music to play under the interviews, so we just remade songs that sounded like the people who were on the interviews, and I used some songs from other people as well. But then by the end of it, basically, I knew how to make house music. Then I moved to SF. The whole time I was working in SF, at an editing place, video editing. But I was going out all the time too.
Marc: Damn that’s really interesting, I know SF has a music scene with a lot of culture and history, but it’s not the music central area. It’s not LA or New York…
Claude: So it’s not, I have this thing, like it’s a great place to have a clique. It’s like, really cliquey, and awesome, if you’re in one of the cliques. So I really liked Drum and Bass when I first got there… I could not get into that clique. Like forget it. I’m sure some people say the same thing about us.
Marc: What were some of the venues you went to? I’m just curious?
Claude: Cat Club, eventually they had it at a Pizza Place.
Marc: DNA Lounge?
Claude: No I’m talking about the Drum and Bass Party. They had it at a Pizza place upstairs, then they had it at Cat Club. Ya I went to DNA Lounge, I went to the Top every Wednesday. Justin had his thing there.
Marc: And what year was all this? What was the timeframe?
Marc: Word… DNA Lounge is closing. The owner mentioned it had been there since the first .com boom but that they’ve run out of funding.
Claude: It is? It had a good room. Are they selling it to some giant computer company? It’s not a bad room. I’ve had some good nights in there.
Marc: Good to hear, so you’ve kind of jumped into my next Q which is what it was like as an emerging artist in that area. I was wondering if you had any SF influences based on cultures that inspired you, from the Hyphy movement to funk?
Claude: Ya, I mean I was from Detroit, and if I had done straight Detroit music I don’t think it would have been as eclectic. So there was kind of this extra element of, hippie, slash funny weirdo, like hip-hop head, lower height vibe that got snuck in there.
Marc: That’s awesome. Another question I have, a bunch of our listeners as well as quite a few members of our station are students. Many of us are aspiring artists as well. What advice would you give, or impart to someone who is at the beginning of their career as a musician? Also what is it like starting a label?
Claude: It’s two different kinds of advice. It’s like, be realistic, and be unrealistic (more chuckles…). So be unrealistic but don’t be stupid. The only way that I was able, I’d figured out that I really wanted to do it, so I had to make a plan to do it. Not just like, “I’m just gunna DJ everywhere and smoke a bunch of weed, and hope that something happens.” You have to make a really hardcore plan about where you want to go and how you’re going to get there. Even if it seems completely ridiculous just do it anyway. Really like, don’t quit your job from like another six months to a year from when you think you should quit your job. Also get just a tiny stockpile of money, so you can actually survive not getting booked for six months. Do you know what I’m saying?
Claude: Just get a little bit of a nesting before you go full on. That’s good advice. Otherwise you can just burn out, two months. Be like, nahmean, we used to eat mustard sandwiches. Which is just like two pieces of bread with mustard, and sh** like that just to make it. If you get to the mustard sandwiches in the first two months, you’re not gunna be a DJ.
Marc: That’s really useful advice.
Claude: You gotta be able to go a little bit longer than that.
Marc: One thing I wanted to ask as well… I think often using the general umbrella term of House, there’s often not equal representation within both gender and marginalized communities. Which is kind of ironic because House and Techno started from marginalized groups. (Speaking towards gender) I know you have J.Phlip on your roster, and I’m wondering what you think about this issue?
Claude: Ya that’s a very big question. This is something I really also noticed after last year’s Campout. I just looked at the lineup and I was like, “Man, I think we f** up” (laughs around the room…). So now I booked 8 women, and all kinds of people. I just definitely, I’m not gunna have like, this only really (male dominated). I made a concerted effort this year, but I really think, it’s not like you need to try hard. There’s so many good people that it’s pretty easy, you just have to not be an idiot.
Marc: Do you think it’s improving, that there’s more representation now?
Claude: I think that also, a couple people in the higher range of events, like Garry Richards, even though he made a crazy video. He is thinking about it, and booking more women and stuff now. There are a few people that are doing it, and then there are always a few people that don’t give a f**. Just like how life goes forever right?
Marc: So one thing, I saw you at Bonnaroo, and your alter-ego project, which is actually just your name Barclay. So I was wondering if you wanted to talk about how that started?
Claude: That was originally what I wanted to do when I was eleven, was be a rapper. All that stuff was basically from when I was like eleven to fourteen. I had a flap hat, I had a jam box, I wanted to be RUN DMC. It was just like, I was from a different planet. I made up, technically, I said I would never admit that I was actually (from) another planet. But anyway, all that stuff is from my childhood, and I just thought that was what I was gunna do, but I just got really good at making House music… So I just said that I need to go back because that was so fun and interesting, and I just still want to do it.
Marc: So it’s your passion project? That’s really cool. So this is my last Q and then I’ll let you fly, no pun intended. But I was wondering, personally, who illustrates the album covers for Dirtybird because they’re crazy!? The animal morph combinations.
Claude: OK, this is also a passion project of mine. So every year for the last five or six years, we were just doing sh** art, for a long time. Like that little bird that I drew, it was just like, really bad. For someone who likes art I was like, “Uggh why are we doing such bad art”. So I just said why don’t I get all the best people that I can possibly find to do the art. So every year, I hire one person to do all the Dirtybird art, but it’s a different person every year. It’s always low brow pop surrealism, which is my favorite kind of art. It’s always weird as f**. So… this year’s guy his name is Dolk, and he’s from Spain. Last year was Dan May from Michigan, with the fuzzy monsters. The year before that was Rahul Delilo, from the Netherlands, with the combined animals. And then the year before that was Bram Carter, who’s just a really cool illustrator from Brighton, England. So they’re from everywhere.
Marc: Awesome we’ll that was my last question, so to close I just want to say thank you.
Claude: Oh ok perfect (timing).
After his neck-breaking set at Electric Forest, I sat down with dubstep legend Funtcase. The U.K.-born producer and DJ has been in the dubstep scene since it’s underground inception. Funtcase rocks a ghastly graffiti mask and takes his crowd through a psychotic rage with nasty basses and electrifying energy. Learn more about how he got to where he is by reading our conversation below.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
Vic: Hey, I’m here with James, a.k.a. Funtcase. So you’re from the U.K. correct?
F: Yeah, South U.K.
Vic: Can you tell me a little bit about how you got your start?
F: I’m from a little town called Bournemouth, it’s not really well-known by anyone, unless you’ve been on holiday there. It’s a nice really tiny beach town. I’ve lived there my whole life, I never moved away.
Vic: Still living there?
F: Yeah, all my friends and family are there, so it’s just home, you know? I could be moving to Chicago or New York or L.A. for my job, but I always felt like if I were to do a big tour, it wouldn’t feel like home. I feel like I’d be on a big holiday.
Home is when I smell the sh***y air in London, and the rain is going on. I get home to Bournemouth and see all the old people, and I’m like “ahhh, yes!”
Vic: So when and where did you start playing gigs?
F: It’s weird, cuz my whole teenage years, when I first discovered that I liked music over anything, my mom bought me my first drum kit when I was 14. I was playing drums for fun, at school, and I was in a band till I was 16. I had long hair and all of that.
Vic: What type of band?
F: Death metal bands, some thrash, and some hardcore bands. I was never into drum and bass or any electronic music. I was always like “Metal for life! I will never like anything else!” I was young.
My mom was a DJ, she DJ’s drum and bass, so I used to always hear it. There was one track I heard where I went “woah, this is actually kinda cool!” I heard that track and I had to find out what it was. Eventually I grew into a love for drum and bass and electronic music.
Vic: I actually see a lot of common ground between hardcore, metal, all the heavy genres of “rock”, and heavy electronic music, like dubstep, drum and bass, grime. That style is very similar in my mind, because it’s just about letting the rage out. Do you want to comment on that?
F: Yeah I agree. I mean, head-banging is kind of a new thing, but it definitely coincides with the mosh pit, which has been around for a few years now. It definitely has the same “vibe,” head-banging, fast-speed, all of that.
Vic: So I wanted to know what plugins are in your production arsenal. What helps give you your sound.
F: My main go-to plugins, cuz I use Cubase, are FabFilter for compression and EQing, and Waves for reverbs and delays. If someone says “put a delay on that”, boom! I go straight to Waves. I also use either Massive or Serum (synths) for my basses. I don’t use Serum as much as everyone else.
Vic: Really? I would think your basses were made in Serum.
F: No, mostly Massive. Any of my new sounds are a combination of the two. I’ve always just been comfortable in Massive, because I know what I’m doing. Serum, I don’t know, I haven’t figured it out yet. And that’s why a lot of my sounds are quite similar, they’re not the same. The same vibe, but not exactly the same, cuz I know what I want, and I have a general sound that I want people to recognize.
That’s the thing, everyone gets so shocked when I say that I use Massive. Everyone thinks that all the sounds in Massive have been done. I go “No, I use Massive.”
Vic: So can you tell me a little about your aesthetic on stage? How did your act evolve, and how did it get to how your show is presented now?
F: It’s weird, I was thinking about this the other day. When I started I was just doing head-nodding, making sure I’d do perfect mixes and double drops. Then it became a less about the mixing, and more about the entertainment. And that was just a natural evolution, that wasn’t me trying to keep up with EDM. That was me just actually doing that.
I realized that no one cared about the double drops anymore, they just care about a good drop in general. People don’t care, they just wanna go to a show and have a good time, and enjoy the music, rather than go “ooh that double drop was perfect!” The culture is less about the DJ and more about the entertainment now. So I naturally just followed that, I never ever tried to aim for that, but it always just happened.
I remember I used to just head nod when I was on stage, and trying to do those perfect mixes. But then for some reason, I just got more and more crazy over the years. I started jumping, and then I was doing this gun-finger sh*t, and then the claws happened. That wasn’t even from the beginning, it just happened mid-way through.
Vic: Correct me if I’m wrong, but from what I got, I see Funtcase as having very “psycho” vibes.
F: F: It’s more “punked-up.” I mean there’s a certain psycho element to it. For pictures and whatnot, I try to be this mysterious, dark character.
Vic: What I see when I see you on stage is like a villain from a monster movie, you know? Like Michael Myers or Freddy Krueger.
F: Yeah, you could associate the way I act, cuz I beat my chest on stage, say all this sh*t like “AWW F*CKIN’ HELL!” I treat that stage like I’m the f*cking god! And that really inspired the whole act. It’s almost like I’m summoning lightning.
Vic: I definitely love seeing you act out the bass with your hand movements and expressions.
F: Yeah, it’s weird, cuz I don’t know where that came from. I just did it. It’s almost like I’m orchestrating. You get conductors doing these movements [to the band], and I’m doing the same thing.
Vic: So let’s talk about the mask. How’d that come to be? Did you always wear it?
F: Nah, I was doing drum and bass for like 7 years before Funtcase, and I never had a mask. And then I got booked for my first Funtcase show in the second room of a club in my own hometown. I played to 5 of my friends and one random person, in the tiniest room on a table with the worst sound system. I was a bit nervous, cuz it was my first dubstep set.
A day before that show, I was booked for a festival to do graffiti (I was a graffiti artist as well), and it was a dress-up thing. So I was in a full costume, with the same mask I use now. [The next day] I thought I took everything out, but I left my mask in the bag. So when I pulled out my CD case, my friend saw the mask and said “ohhh! Wear that!” So I put it on and played, and it became a thing. It was such a sh*tty, low-budget suit, I don’t think people even knew what it was. But yeah, it was my friend’s fault.
Vic: Well I gotta say, I love the aesthetic. It really fits the music, and it portrays everything you’re doing on stage.
F: I’m glad I’ve got a mask! You always see perfect-looking artists, which appeals to people. I don’t have a face of music. Like, Calvin Harris is a good-looking muscly dude, Diplo is a good-looking muscly dude. Then you’ve got Valentino Khan, who’s got this redneck, handlebars mustache. You’ve got Borgore with this good-looking, but aggressive vibe. Everyone has their look, and then there’s me. I’m just some young, grey-head dude, haha! I don’t look like what my music portrays, so I’m thankful I have the mask. If I didn’t, what the f*ck would I look like? I’d have to put a hood up and die on stage!
Vic: So talk a little about how you got to the point where you can do this for a living.
F: I came in when dubstep was still completely unknown, but was starting to turn heads a bit. July 2009 was my first release called Gorilla Flex, and that was really off-key dubstep, but it did really well in the dubstep scene. Dubstep was so underground at that point.
It was when my good friend Chrissy Chris, who had a station on BBC Radio One, was playing a festival with an MC. And he started his set with my tune as the intro, and the crowd went f*cking apesh*t, they went nuts! It got two rewinds.
Vic: Rewinds? They played it back?
F: Yeah, we do rewinds in England; it’s our culture. It’s huge in England. If a drop is that good, and the crowd goes crazy, we rewind it and play it again, and the crowd loves it. You can’t do it in America, though! People are like “what the f*ck are you doing?! Why are you stopping the music?”
But yeah, from that point on, people were like “Yo! What is this music?” It was very energetic dubstep, which was really new in that scene. All the dubstep at that time was either really minimal, or it didn’t have that energy. The energy we have in dubstep now is so upbeat, and it was not always like that. It was slower, it was 140 [BPM] and everything was more about a powerful sub. At the beginning, it was all about sub, even the drums. And that’s the thing, it was about the power of the sub, rather than the energy of the tune.
That’s when I came in and brought my DnB sound into dubstep, and that’s what turned peoples’ heads. It was the moment when us energetic guys came into the scene. Dubstep was just the new thing in England, and I was lucky enough to be in the perfect moment in the scene to come up in the U.K.
Vic: So did this happen in London, somewhere else in the U.K.?
F: Dude, this was all over the place. My schedule in 2010 was beyond crazy! I think I did seven shows in one week. One show Thursday, two shows Friday, two shows Saturday, another show Sunday and another show Monday.
Vic: Wow! How’d you even pull that off?
F: Well this was in the U.K. It’s not like the States. You can get anywhere in 2-3 hours.
Vic: I mean in terms of energy, I wouldn’t even be able to hit play haha!
F: I wasn’t doing what I do now. I was head-nodding and just DJing, it wasn’t so crazy. If I do that now, I would be dead after two shows.
Vic: How do you compare the U.K. scene to the American scene today?
F: It’s hard to describe the U.K. The best way to think of it is they take it for granted. It’s like they don’t care about the superstar lifestyle, they don’t go crazy for DJs. They don’t ask for pictures that much. Compared to here [the States], it’s completely different. In the U.K. everyone is very chill, they go enjoy the music, and then they go home. No one head bangs, they just dance to themselves, and just enjoy it. They don’t cheer when a drop is good. And then they go home. It’s good, it’s all about the music and vibe. There’s no like “YO! Can I get a picture?? You’re the greatest!!”
In America, everyone considers DJs like these gods. People dedicate their lives to DJs.
Vic: You mentioned earlier that you kind of like that though. Becoming a god.
F: Oh yeah! I am so unbelievable grateful for America. The scene died so much in the U.K. and Europe. If there was no America, I’d probably be out of a job right now. There would be no Funtcase. If America did not exist, dubstep would’ve died in Europe, I would probably stop doing dubstep.
Vic: What scene do you think is dominating England right now?
F: House has been a thing lately, but I think dubstep is coming back. I played my first show in London, at a commercial club, it was 500 people, me and Doctor P. And the club was f*cking grand! Absolutely packed, and it was great. It was underground as f*ck, the ceiling was low, it was hot as f*ck, there was steam everywhere, people going mad. So dubstep is coming back, thank god!
Vic: I’m sure some weird sh*t goes down at your shows.
F: **Chuckles** Yeah!
Vic: Give me a story that pops into your head. Weirdest thing you’ve ever seen in the crowd.
F: I mean this is not really weird. I saw a guy in Holland in a wheelchair, and people were lifting him up; he was crowd-surfing in his wheelchair! The weirdest thing that’s happened to me was actually when I was 19 in a band. A girl threw ramen noodles at my head, and it turns out she won a competition and got a life-time supply of these noodles. I had said on Myspace (I think it was in those days) that I love Ramen noodles, so she threw some at me. So I was like, thanks!
Vic: Well that was a great conversation, any last words you have for WNUR or our listeners?
F: Just want to say thank you to everyone, I love everyone so much. Thank you for keeping me in this job!
This past weekend I got to meet the up and coming talent known as Big Wild after his booming set at Electric Forest. We chatted and conversed over his craft, how he creates the signature Big Wild sound, and what it means for him to play on stage. Big Wild is a part of Odesza’s Foreign Family Collective, and has shared the stage with the likes of Odesza and future-funk legend Griz. Jackson is currently working on new material that he hopes to have out soon. Be on the lookout! Read on for a full transcript of our conversation.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
Vic: I’m here with Jackson, a.k.a. Big Wild. So tell me a little bit about where you’re from, how you got your base and your start.
BW: I’m from Massachusetts, and I started producing when I was about 13. I’m 26 now, so half my life has been about making music.
Vic: All electronic music?
BW: I actually started making hip-hop. I wanted to copy what I was hearing on the radio. I used to sell instrumentals throughout high school, that was my first little business. It was when I got into college when I started to pivot more towards electronic music, it was what was inspiring me at the time.
Vic: Where’d you go to college?
BW: I went to school in Boston, Northeastern.
Vic: Very cool! Lots of people making music around there. So did you play a lot of gigs in college, around Northeastern?
BW: I actually didn’t. I never played any shows growing up. I was always the kid behind the computer, making music, and that’s what I love to do. It wasn’t until I started meeting with an agent, who heard my music through Odesza, and getting shows that way. That’s when I realized that I needed to start improving this part of my career.
Vic: So you produced first, then started playing live.
BW: Totally, for like a while too. That’s how I first discovered and learned everything about music, through producing on the computer.
Vic: So I know you use keys and drums while playing on stage. I’m guessing you started playing instruments before you made electronic music.
BW: Well the only instrument I played before I made beats was trumpet. I played that for like 6 or 7 years.
Vic: Ok, jazz band?
BW: Yes, jazz band at school. I enjoyed trumpet, but I think one of the main reasons I ended up producing was because I felt like trumpet was kind of limiting. I had this one instrument and I could play one note at a time; and here I have this computer software where I can literally make an entire song, environment, or whatever just out of my head. It was so interesting to me, and it was kind of along the way that I started to learn keys as I produced. It wasn’t really until I started playing live that I picked up the drums. I was late in the game, I’m not a trained drummer or keyboardist, it’s just something I learned along the way.
Vic: Well you definitely have rhythm!
BW: I always wanted a drum set when I was a kid, but my parents said it was too loud. I feel like I have a natural sense of rhythm, and that definitely helps me with learning drums.
Vic: So this goes along with playing live. Some artists are known to play the same set at every show. What do you do to keep your sets fresh, new and exciting?
BW: I tap into whatever is inspiring me at the moment, and figure out how to put that in my sets. I ask “how can I draw more emotion out of this part? How can make this part feel more like a moment? How can I make this build a little more intense?” People sometime really want that drop to hit. A set, how I view it at least, is just tension and release, and there’s a million ways to do that. But as long as you have that formula in mind, you just have to play around with it, have fun.
It also helps to go around these festivals and hear what everyone else is doing. A large part of what I do, making it individually to me, is noting what I like and what I don’t from others, just listening. So it’s keeping it true to myself, not trying to hop on a trend. I just put myself into the show, by playing instruments, and make it feel like my music. It’s really just me.
Vic: So I actually found out about you through your remix of Griz’s For the Love. I actually play that on my radio show all the time, great track! How do you feel about taking a song and gaining exposure through a remix?
BW: I think it’s really cool, and I’ve done a couple remixes where I’ve ended up on tour with the artists I’ve remixed. That happened with Odesza and Griz. It was a really cool gateway into getting to know their fans, and what they’re into. It’s a test for me too, where it’s my own sound, but it’s also something their fanbase would like too.
Vic: Well you definitely flip the songs on their heads.
BW: Yeah! I flip it a lot. That’s what I find fun. It’s all about a challenge, I like a challenge.
I haven’t been doing as many remixes lately, because I’ve been focusing on my own music. But there’s something awesome about remixing and adding your own flavor to something that’s already out there.
Vic: So switching gears a little, what are your most used production plugins? What’s something every Big Wild song uses.
BW: Hmm, I like to use Arturia synths, they remodel a lot of vintage synthesizers, like Moogs, Prophet, and Jupiter. I like to use a lot of models of old synths from the 70’s and 80’s. I just love the sound, and integrating them with more modern sounds. I’m really big on bridging old and new, because I think they both have something really cool to offer. I really like Soundtoys as well.
Vic: I love those plugins too! What is the vocal manipulator called?
BW: Little AlterBoy! Yeah! I use this trick with AlterBoy where I put it on a piano track, and set the plugin to hard tuner, and it acts like an auto-tuner. It adds this chorusing effect, and makes your piano sound super distorted and old. It’s nice to throw a plugin used for vocals on a piano and see what happens, you know? Don’t look at a plugin as only being used for that one thing, because a lot of awesome sounds are made by breaking out of the box.
Vic: So if you weren’t making a living off of your music, what do you think you would be doing with your time?
BW: It’s tough to say, because I’ve been wanting to do music for so long, but I think I’d want to be doing something along the lines of environmental protection. Working to protect national parks from becoming privatized. I’d want to do something to help climate change, that’s something I really care about.
Vic: Did you study music in college?
BW: I studied music business, but I did a lot of music classes. I quickly found out that music business didn’t really interest me that much. I did a lot more traditional music classes, like training your ear. I tried to learn jazz piano and I was just experimenting with things.
I knew music on a very technical level, and I wanted to learn how people had been making music for hundreds of years.
Vic: So what’s the weirdest (or coolest) thing you’ve seen in one of your crowds?
BW: One time when I was on stage at Okechobee Music Fest, it was the first year they did it. I was on the beach stage, and it was the very first day. I don’t think the festival expected as many people to come as did, so my crowd was HUGE. So far back for a tiny little stage. There was no security at all, and people were climbing on stage, dancing, doing whatever they wanted. It got really rowdy.
So I was doing something on the drums, and I turn around to trigger something on my controller and I see this person out of the corner of my eye just standing very close to me. I was immediately like, “woah!” I had no idea he was there. You could tell he was on something, but he had a big smile on his face and put his arms out. So I hugged him and we had a little moment on stage, and then he peacefully walked off the stage.
Vic: Haha! That could have turned out a lot worst than it did.
BW: It could have, but it was a cool moment because there are plenty of instances where people get knocked out by security, and it was cool to see something happen where that wasn’t needed. It was just like “alright, you wanna hug me? Let’s hug. We’re cool!” It was a very peaceful way to do it.
Vic: So I didn’t see you have a computer or CDJs on stage, so I was really curious as to how you control your music on stage.
BW: I use Ableton, but I try and keep the computer out of sight. It’s on the side of my riser, just on a table. I have it there in case something goes wrong, but I don’t really look at it. I have an Ableton Push controller, and that’s what I trigger all my clips from.
Vic: That’s honestly a great way to do it. I was convinced you were playing without a laptop. I was trying to figure out how you were triggering everything, and I knew you had a controller, but it still made me wonder how you were pulling it off. It’s very cool since you don’t have a screen in front of you.
BW: That’s a big part of what I’m trying to do, I don’t like things to be between me and the crowd. A computer just really feels like a barrier for me. So try to put everything to the side, and I try and make my setup really open. There’s no table, it’s just me and my instruments.
Vic: Anything else you want to say?
BW: I’m working on new music. I’m singing a lot, and writing lyrics. I don’t know if it’s an album yet, but I’m making a bunch of demos and seeing where it goes.
Vic: What type of style should we expect?
BW: It’s similar in style to what I already do, but at the same time a bit of an evolution of my sound. I’m creating music that integrates vocals and makes you dance too. It’s not just instrumental. I’m really excited about it and it’s what is really inspiring me right now.
Maxime Usdin and Marc Chicoine of WNUR Streetbeat had the pleasure of chatting with Ben Swardlick and Eric Luttrell, the San Francisco duo behind The M Machine! They discussed their beginnings, joining the label OWSLA, and the release of the new album GLARE. Check the interview out here!
Silke Eberhard is a Berlin-based Alto Saxophonist, clarinetist and composer. Her work simultaneously explores both tradition and progression through projects of original composition and study. Her most recent album, recorded with the I Am Three trio, reimagines the work of Charles Mingus in a bass-less, sax-trumpet-drums trio setting. Eberhard is in Chicago for the second annual Exposure music series at Elastic Arts in Logan Square. The series aims to bring a internationally recognized improvisor, like Eberhard, into the Chicago music scene for a series of workshops, rehearsals and performances. Silke and Paul Giallorenzo of Elastic Arts were kind enough to stop by the “J-Word” this week to talk about the series and the music. Hear the full interview below:
Brock: Thank you so much for coming in, thank you so much for playing, I wanted to start out with asking you about your relationship with Chicago, and the musicians who you will be playing with the next few evenings. How did that collaboration between these Chicago musicians begin?
Silke: The first time I came to Chicago, I think it was 2013, was for the Umbrella Festival and I played in a quartet with Mike Reed, Jason Adasiewicz and Jason Roebke. That was my first real encounter with the musicians, but of course I always looked at Chicago scene and really enjoyed what they do and felt a very strong connection. So I’m really happy to be here now and have that relationship flourishing.
Leo: I’m interested even, if you could talk more about Berlin. Because the city also has such a flourishing experimental music/improvisation scene, of a different nature artistically and stylistically than Chicago. So I’m wondering, for someone like you who is back and forth in conversation with both scenes, what do you see as interesting qualities that bring you to Chicago or why do you think people from Chicago want to go to Berlin?
Silke: This is not an easy question, I have the feeling there are some people in Berlin who like to play jazz, but also improvised music. Of course some people like to separate and do only one thing, but there is a large pool of people who like to do both, and I can see the same thing in Chicago. People play improvised music, but it is also very rooted in jazz, none of us are afraid to swing also!
Brock: Swinging is always good haha, who, if anyone, were you influenced by when you first started playing, either the clarinet or the saxophone? I find it very interesting that you have some records which fall on the much more free-improv side of the spectrum, and also records like the I Am Three record focused on what would be considered more traditional in the jazz canon.
Silke: I started on clarinet when I was a child, playing Bavarian folk music, so it was a long way to get to jazz from there. I don’t know, I love all those old jazz recordings and I want to dive into them and study them. I also like to play tunes, not only my own, but also those of other people and especially my heroes. It was always my goal to rearrange them, not to make a copy, but to make my own out of the tune, and in turn that process has influenced my own music writing.
Brock: It’s interesting you started with the Bavarian folk, because in a way, jazz is an American folk tradition. And in a way, that to approach the music from the tunes and a rearranging concept is a more folk approach to the genre. In particular, on the Mingus record, what drew you to play those Mingus tunes in a trio setting, and what were the challenges you faced adapting those orchestrations to a small ensemble?
Silke: Nikolaus Neuser, the trumpet player, had the idea to do a jam session and play some Mingus tunes wondering how they would sound without bass and piano? We discovered “ah yes,” because those melodies, even the chords are so strong, that everyone in the group could always hear them and play off of them. So we said let’s do this and play the skeletons of the compositions. We don’t think so much about “I am playing my solo now” we really try to do a collective thing all of the time. Every one of us knows all of the voices, mostly the bass notes and the melodies, so we can constantly exchange and switch parts throughout.
Brock: I think you can definitely hear that, especially if you are a big Mingus fan like myself, how each of you are able to bring in these recognizable parts of the tunes at various moments in the songs. So these references are constantly popping up, that if you’ve heard the tunes before, you are probably hearing anyway.
Leo: So you played a short solo set last night, and then you have trio and quartet on Thursday and octet on Friday. You’re covering the the range of ensemble sizes, growing as the week goes on. Was that the plan, or even more broadly, how are approaching the different groups?
Silke: The octet will rehearse, and I have written and brought some music specifically for that group. The smaller groups will be improvised.
Leo: From your experience as an improvisor, what’s the difference between playing in those different groups and playing solo as well? How does your mindset change as a performer, especially with some of these musicians you have never played with before?
Silke: Of course, I’ve played with Fred Longberg-Holm once and with Mike Reed several times, but the set ups are so new, and for instance I’ve never played with Dave Rempis and I’m looking forward to meeting my saxophone colleague. But, you know what, I don’t know what will happen and that’s cool.
We are now happy to be joined by Paul Giallorenzo from Elastic Arts, what is the Exposure series?
Paul: This is actually the second annual iteration of the series. Last year we had Tony Malaby, a great saxophone player from New York. He was in town and we had a similar arrangement of a workshop, rehearsals and two performances. We made this an annual program at least partially to kind of do something a little bigger and more special than our usual programming, which consists of about 3-5 concerts or arts events per week. That works out to about 200 performances or events every year, so we wanted to try to put something together that was a little different, a little higher profile and maybe more special than the usual local-centric weekly programming. The idea for Exposure came about with the intention of bringing someone both significant in stature musically and professionally from outside of Chicago, to come here, not only to give audiences a chance to see and hear them, but also to give local musicians an opportunity to work with this person. In that we are trying to facilitate communication about different types of practicing, different modes of rehearsing, composing and improvising, so there can be a mutual exchange of ideas and influences. Last year was very successful and this year has also been really great so far and we are looking forward to the concerts.
Leo: Thank you so much for putting together this great event, and thank you to Silke for both traveling across the Atlantic and making your way up to Evanston.
Silke: Thank you for having us.
Look out for Silke’s new record out on Intakt records in June featuring her trio and a collection of original compositions.
Guitarist, composer, and multi-instrumentalist Kurt Rosenwinkel is among the most celebrated jazz musicians in the music’s contemporary era. It is not hard to find fragments of his distinctive melodic vocabulary and songwriting – they permeate the slick modern jazz coming from a younger generation of artists in Los Angeles and New York City (people like Kamasi Washington, Ambrose Akinmusire, and Julian Lage). Kurt has performed and recorded in various configurations: with his Standards Trio, Quartet, Quintet, the Portuguese big band OJM, and has also appeared on over 70 albums as a sideman. His March 10th, 2017 release Caipi (Sunnyside) features Rosenwinkel on guitar, bass, piano, drums, synths, and vocals and the guest work of Pedro Martins, Mark Turner, Amanda Brecker, and Eric Clapton, among others. You can catch Kurt and the Caipi band during their run at the Jazz Showcase from Thursday, March 30th to Sunday, April 2nd.
L: This project is your total brainchild. You’ve been working on it for years and it goes in a slightly different direction stylistically. What musical or life experiences inspired Caipi?
K: I guess around about ten years ago, the first couple songs came out and just kind of came through me. I didn’t really feel like I wrote anything. I saw these songs and noticed that they had some Brazillian aspect to them, and I thought, ‘oh that’s interesting, I wonder where that’s coming from.” I was in Brazil a few times, had some great times there, and I loved the music of Milton Nascimento. I think when you have a very important time in your life and there’s music that goes along with it, it becomes part of the fabric of your memory. As an artist, when songs come out and are an expression of feelings or memories that you’ve had, the music that’s part of those memories comes out in a way as well. My best guess as to where this music came from is memories of love or lost love and different aspects of life wrapped up in a lot of different music that are part of me. And this came out as Caipi.
I started to realize that all these songs were related. I would just record them in my studio as the years went by. During the year, a lot of travelling and touring. When I’m home, if I can get into a creative space in my studio, then I’ll work on these things that come through, you know, through the years. And these songs were one genre within my musical world that I kept working on, and they eventually became this album
L: I’m wondering if you could speak to the sonics of this record. There are real clear “Kurt” elements that come through but on the other hand it sounds very different from any other of your albums. Were there particular sonic inspirations from Brazil that you drew on while making this album?
K: There are also a lot of rock influences on this album. I’ve always loved rock music and British rock. And obviously there’s my jazz and personal composing style, and that language goes into it. But one of the things that was important for the album was the mixing that we did in London with a great producer and friend of mine named Paul Stacey. He is an incredible producer and guitarist. He’s produced the Black Crowes and was working with Oasis – he’s deep in the British rock scene and his musical tastes are wide ranging, as all of ours are. So part of the sound of Caipi are his sonics. And we were able to mix the album with a good amount of time, which was necessary to get it to sound like that.
B: What was your experience of playing the instruments and parts separately, of overdubbing and elongating the approach to recording and making a record?
K: I did it all on my own, in my studio in Berlin. And then I did a couple overdub sessions in New York with Mark Turner and Amanda and Pedro. I’ve always worked on music track-by-track, since the early eighties. I’ve always been doing that, as well as recording live in the studio with a band. Working on this music it was really a matter of enjoying the process, thinking of what the music needed and imagining it in my mind, and then doing it. I have a bass lying around, so I’ll record some bass. I’ll record some piano. Just doing everything that I can, and then the things that I can’t do I would call different people. To play french horn or violin or saxophone or acoustic bass.
L: Historically, the “live” aspect is such a vital and defining part of making jazz records, and the emphasis is on capturing the interaction between musicians in real time. How did this more insular style of making a record affect your creative process in terms of composing and performing the parts, and then translating the project into a live setting?
K: Yeah, there’s a lot in there. Jazz has so much to do with the interaction moment-to-moment and the chemistry of the band. I certainly would do that if I were making a jazz record. This is something different in the sense that it’s music that is formulated in my imagination and I know exactly how it should be. So my only job is to manifest it. In that sense, I can take care of each moment in the music to make it exactly how I hear it in my head. Yeah, it’s different. But the way that I hear things, it does sound like a group playing because that’s the way it sounds in my head. If I’m playing all the parts then I know how each moment of the music feels. So if I reacted on the drums to a certain moment then at that same moment I can react on the bass or guitar. Then the music has the feeling of that moment in all these parts and they are all together.
It was interesting to bring [Caipi] to a live situation, and I wondered if it might be difficult. I made a record in 2002 called Heartcore, and this was also an album that I did everything by myself at home. And when I formed a band to play that it was very difficult. But this time around, it was a very magical and karmic transformation from the recording process and that very solitary existence of making it. It translated into this group of people, we all came together in Berlin and it was kind of instant magic – chemistry between everyone in the band. From that moment on Caipi has lived in the real world, which is fascinating for me. It’s such an incredible feeling to play this music live and to hear it and play it for people because this has all just been lived in my semi-private world for the past ten years. It’s incredible to me how easy it was to translate it into a live thing. The band that I have is amazing; we’re on the road and having a great time doing our world tour. It feels very karmic.
L: The Caipi band features Pedro Martins on guitar & voice, Olivia Trummer on piano & voice, Frederico Heliodoro on bass & voice, Antonio Loureiro on percussions & voice, and Bill Campbell on drums. Can you talk about these musicians and why you chose them to help you transform Caipi into a live setting?
K: Well Olivia is from Berlin. We met in the Berlin music scene, at jam sessions. I played on her record and she’s a fantastic pianist and also a vocalist, so when I thought about the piano chair I thought about her. Bill Campbell is a drummer who I met through pianist Barney McAll. When I heard him playing it was love at first snare (laughs). I didn’t actually play with him until I flew him to Berlin and we all starting playing together and it was perfect. I just knew he would be perfect for Caipi because he has this groove, this feel and pocket that fits exactly what the sound is, it’s very unique.
Pedro Martins I met when I was president of a jury at the Montreux Jazz Festival. They have a guitar competition there. Two years ago, Pedro was one of the contestants and he was amazing. He won hands down and what he won was a mentorship. We got to know each other over this five-day period and after that we became very good friends. I already had the mixing date set when I met him but I just asked him to do a whole bunch of stuff at the very last minute for Caipi. And he kept hitting it out of the park. Everything I asked him to do he came back with the most amazing stuff.
Another thing that he won through the competition was a recording sponsored by the Montreux Academy. I produced this recording session and it was there that I met Frederico and Antonio. All three of those musicians are from Brazil, from different cities. When I wanted to put the band together I immediately thought of them because they are so fantastic.
I’ve recently become fascinated with locality, as in defining characteristics of cities and places and events, as in aspects of an experience which orient you geographically or socially or sonically. The more I travel and interact with this world, the more I realize locality is slowly dwindling away. Culture and place in America are becoming homogenized, big cities are big cities are big cities and the shoes on your feet can probably be bought anywhere at anytime. I say this not to be cynical, but just as an observation, one that for whatever reason struck me this weekend at Big Ears Music Festival in Knoxville, TN. Because, amid a sea of sameness and predictability, Big Ears is a beautiful contradiction.
It’s a music festival where the music means more than the festival, where the artists are the audience, where curiosity and open-mindedness are paramount, and where your expectations will be broken. Big Ears lineup defies genre divisions set by the music industry by bringing together an incredibly diverse collection of artists of all different backgrounds, conceptions, and aesthetics. By organizing the festival within the venue-dense downtown of Knoxville, Big Ears is able to give every one of these artists a proper concert, both in terms of space and length of performance. The unbelievable concentration of venues aside, Knoxville as a city feels unique in the same ways Big Ears does, with almost no chain restaurants or stores in the downtown space. Big Ears and Knoxville are together.
Together, that’s an important one, an important word in describing Big Ears and the audience to artist interaction that I’ve found the past two years as an attendee. Colleen paused in her set Friday night to mention how incredible of a time she was having at the festival as a fan. She talked about seeing Michael Hurley the night before and lamented on wanting to see him again but having to sound check for her show instead. Behind me I heard a soft voice say, “I’m right here!” I turned around to see Michael Hurley in his blue ball cap, guitar in hand, who’d come straight from opening for Wilco at the Tennessee Theatre down the block. It was special moment, and one that happens often at Big Ears as the lines between the audience and artists begin to blur. Greg Saunier from Deerhoof was at almost every show I went to, Frode Haltli was constantly saying hi to Dori and I on the streets of Knoxville, and MEV could be spotted sharing a bottle of wine at sidewalk cafe. At Big Ears the performers you see on stage are also fans of the diverse and incredible music, as Owen Gardner of Horse Lords said during their set “congratulations, we all have great taste.” Big Ears is a festival of taste, different tastes converging on one geographic location all fitting under an umbrella of music appreciation. It’s pretentious like a friendly nonjudgmental record store clerk inviting you to check out something she’s got behind the counter. It’s a festival made for people who are prabably too deep in music, people who have left the surface long ago to plunge into the depths of experimental and niche groups and styles, but it’s not about projecting that knowledge to the rest of the world. A bunch of self-aware music nerds unconcerned with image and proving themselves, artists included.
There were a number of moments at Big Ears 2017 that shattered my expectations. Matthew Shipp blew me away twice, solo and accompanied by Bobby Kapp, in my first time seeing the prolific pianist. Ståle Storløkken and Arve Henriksen played ethereal organ and trumpet duos in a large Methodist chapel, and later closed my festival experience on a foggy stage joined by Deathprod as Supersilent. Xiu Xiu played Twin Peaks, unpopular opinion among the WNUR crew: I really enjoyed it. Matmos performed portions of Robert Ashley’s Perfect Lives and Musica Electronica Viva decided to play on in the middle of the crowd on a sunny Saturday afternoon. I ran from Colleen to Carla Bley to Wilco in the span of an hour and was listening to Meredith Monk sing solo songs composed in the hills of New Mexico the next morning. Steve Lehman and Sélébéyone gave my favorite performance of the festival, intertwining complex polyrhythmic jazz with the rapping of HPrizm and Bamar Ndoye. Horse Lords put forth their own statement on polyrhythm with a blistering set on Saturday afternoon and the night before Michael Hurley sang about wishing for a potato. You can see photos of some of these moments above, and stay tuned for a video we made covering the festival and the surrounding scene.
Big Ears is special in a way not many music festivals are any more. Where else could you see Wilco and Supersilent with a little MEV sprinkled in? There’s nothing quite like it, and that’s quickly becoming a novelty in a continually shrinking and homogenizing music world. If this sounds like the place for you, it probably is. I hope to see you there next year, and who knows, your ears might even grow a little.