In the year of our Lord 2016, it’s difficult to discuss the live music scene without inevitably bumping into the topic of music festivals. Whether it’s one of the 20+ in Chicago of all different shapes and sizes or one of the countless elsewhere in the world, music festivals have slowly become one of the dominating forces in live music culture over the past 50 years. These festivals are really just another reflection of the recorded music business at large and the continual cycle of artistic commodification in our capitalist society.
At the top of the charts are the large corporate festivals you all know: Coachella, Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza, the list goes on. Importantly, all these festivals were at some point fairly independent and small festivals. As the indie aesthetic became more marketable, they became perfect breeding grounds for a takeover of popular indie culture by corporate music and fashion industries, selling not just music but a brand of insiderism.
On the complete other side of the spectrum are the niche festivals like the Bix Beiderbecke Festival Memorial Jazz Festival in Davenport, Iowa, or the exceptional Vision Festival in New York City (focusing on free jazz) that by their nature will never really grow or appeal to the commercial powers because of their exclusive and dedicated audience.
As festivals have gained traction in the 2000s and the space between these two styles have widened, there has been increased potential for hybrids and highly-curated festivals to fill the space in between. These festivals essentially take the concept of a diverse music festival and make it marketable towards the niche festival audiences. I give this brief overview and festival theory to contextualize Big Ears as one of those wonderful festivals existing between.
I can still vividly remember walking into the Sun Ra Arkestra concert the first night of the festival last year after a long 11 hour drive from Chicago to Knoxville. The small group of WNUR travelers was certainly tired, but that didn’t seem to be a word the 92-year-old Marshall Allen even conceptualized as he launched into a ripping solo the moment we entered the room. The sound was electric; the crowd danced; the sequins sparkled. As the band played an extended rendition of “Saturn,” we collectively felt the sleep wear off. We all became a little more conscious of how incredible these three days were about to be. Instead of talking about specifics five months after a festival, I would like to touch on some of the lasting impressions of the experience, the profound effect the festival had on my music listening practice and concept.
In many ways, the most special aspect of the entire festival was logistical, which counters the pop-culture perception of what a music festival should be. Instead of following the trend to create a festival grounds and centralized area for the festival with food vendors and beer gardens, Big Ears organizers really use the city of Knoxville to its full potential, utilizing already established venues for music and stores and restaurant spaces. This planning strategy, especially holding music in real venues, does away with the “festival set” phenomenon that affects many other, especially outdoor, festivals and legitimately creates a feeling that each show you are seeing is as the artist intends their music to be presented.
Along with the attention to space, the time allotted for and between performances, adds to the feeling of seeing actual performances and not just festival sets, and allows musicians to take care in their sound checks and incorporate any staging they may want to. Overall, I think this reflects music-first festival programming, that maybe doesn’t appeal to the usual festival-going crowd, but provides a festival experience for the serious music listener.
With the thought of who Big Ears attracts in mind, I remember very warmly the feeling of community that developed over the course of the beautiful weekend. I had the feeling that every person standing next to me at every show, from those in the crowd for Anthony Braxton to Nicolas Jaar to Lambchop, shared a deep love and appreciation for the music at their core and through that felt a sort of universal understanding. It’s a feeling anything I write here cannot possibly do justice, and a feeling that calls me back this year’s festival. Considering the more curatorial aspects of the festival, a glance at the festival lineup can tell you, Big Ears is one of the most incredibly diverse and genre-defying festivals in the country. It’s the only place I know of to hear incredibly high level performances of free jazz, hip-hop, contemporary classical, drone metal, alt-country and Brazilian psych rock in one day. (If you know of any other places, please share.) That fact alone stands an incredible testament to the booking job and commitment to a wide variety of underrepresented music Big Ears consistently demonstrates.
In many ways, I came into the festival with medium-sized open ears. Ears eager to hear experimental music, ears equipped for non-judgmental listening, but ears with varying levels of experience listening to the music and genres they were about to encounter. And I left with big ears, very big ears ready and prepared to devour experimental music in Chicago. Ears that will lead me back to the next beautiful summit of musicians and listeners in Knoxville, Tennessee.
The lineup for Big Ears 2017 was recently released and tickets are available now for the March 23-26 festival. This year the lineup features Carla Bley, Henry Grimes, Supersilent and Henry Threadgill representing jazz among others, all favorites of DJs here at the WNUR Jazz Show. Chicago bands Wilco and Tortoise will hold down the rock programming, along with Coleen, Blonde Redhead, Deerhoof and the Magnetic Fields. Michael Hurley is going to play some guitar and sing (wow), and Steve Lehman and Sélébéyone will make a special appearance to present one of the most innovative jazz and hip-hop albums of the year. The list goes on; I could write pages about every one of these musicians just listed, but I’ll stop here, give you a link to the website, and let you find your own collection of Big Ears artist to get excited about.
Tracks from Erykah Badu’s Worldwide Underground fill Evanston’s SPACE tonight as audience members mill about in anticipation. An older man parades by in a straw hat, a floor-length gingham tunic and a distressed denim jacket. Another audience member leans up against the bar wearing a white tee and a grey vintage military officer’s hat. Clearly the crowd here tonight is one with an appreciation for the aesthetic; they embrace pairing old with new, familiar with foreign.
KING, an alternative R&B trio made up of sisters Paris and Amber Strother and their “musical sister” Anita Bias, rolled into SPACE on October 11 as part of their two month long tour across the country. Riding high on a wave of critical acclaim for their February 2016 debut We Are KING, the LA-based group has been touring on-and-off for the past nine months, making a stop at SPACE less than a week after the album’s initial release. After their first EP, The Story, came out in 2011, KING slowly gained attention, acclaim, and avid followers as they released several more singles over the next five years. With excitement surrounding each step of KING’s musical journey, it was clear that the crowd at SPACE was eager for Paris, Amber and Anita’s signature lush, soulful grooves.
After a tight, sample-laden set from up-and-coming crooner Nick Hakim, KING floated on stage wrapped in beautiful, intricately quilted floral robes. Opening up with “Mister Chameleon,” the trio fueled audience excitement with their upbeat melodies, hand-clapping, and vigorous bass lines. They continued the pace with an audience favorite, a sure-footed, sleek version of their single “The Greatest.”
It is tempting to refer to the group as the KING sisters—their smiles and encouraging glances convey a unity and mutual admiration that only sisters could have. Often referring to themselves as “musical sisters,” it is this familial love that translates into tight harmonies and intricate vocal arrangements.
The night progresses with more songs from We Are KING: “In the Meantime” and “Love Song,” KING’s favorite song off the album according to Amber Strother.
Taken together, the two songs truly show the depth of KING’s influences. Their twinkly synths and echo-y, distorted vocals sound like things you might hear on an R&B or funk song from the 80s’ or 90s.’ Later, they cover “Computer Love,” the 1985 hit from Ohio-based funk band Zapp, long-time champions of synth-laden, bass-heavy music.
Despite the clear connections to music from earlier decades, though, KING manages to avoid sounding dated. Their music transports you to a hazy dreamland infused with the music of the 80s’ and the heat of the tropics. Dense and lush, their songs possess a familiarity brought about by musical elements from the past, but one that is inviting rather than stifling.
With bright, jewel-toned lights shining on their floral robes, Amber Strother, Anita Bias, and Paris Strother clearly have a grasp on how to translate the images and ideas from their music into a sleek, multi-sensory live experience.
What makes KING’s show so alluring, though, is the love they have for each other and the appreciation they have for their audience—it adds a warmth that no amount of colorful lights or cool outfits could replicate.
Armed with a sense of identity and self-assuredness that only longtime “musical sisters” could possess, KING knows where they came from and where they are going. With the warmth and love they radiate to their listeners, it’s clear that fans will follow them wherever they end up.
I went to Riot Fest this year, and it was a great time. It was conveniently timed the weekend before classes started, and it was great to move back into my apartment and catch some shows before I had to start going to school again and all that lame shit.
From 2005 to 2011, Riot Fest was a multi-venue punk festival, where bands would play at the standard rock venues around the city. They still do a little bit of that; this year the Violent Femmes played a show at Concord Hall in mid-July through Riot Fest. But that’s not really what Riot Fest is anymore. It’s a much bigger, three day outdoor event that plays acts from a wide range of genres. Hip hop, metal and indie rock are all heavily represented.
So sure, it could be said, and it has been said, that Riot Fest has lost its identity. Whatever. If you’re a bitter, aged Chicago punker, you and your extensive knowledge of ‘83 Naked Raygun setlists might be better off staying at home. But as for the rest of us, Riot Fest is a place where you’re probably gonna have a good time. This year’s Friday lineup with Ween (Ween!) and the Flaming Lips back to back was fantastic.
But even on Friday, I saw dozens of people walking around in Misfits shirts. The Misfits played on Sunday. Just walking around the grounds, it was very clear that this festival was about. This was the festival with the Misfits reunion.
Yeah, Misfits played at Riot Fest. The real Misfits. Not Jerry Only and some random guys, not a bunch of ex-Black Flag members carrying the torch. It seems a moderate amount of communication, a momentary casting aside of legal beef, and lots and lots of money were able to get Glenn Danzig, Jerry Only, and Doyle Wolfgang von Frankenstein on the same stage together for two shows this fall, one at Riot Fest Denver, and the one in Chicago.
To those mostly in the dark about the Misfits and their music — yes, the Misfits were the band on the shirts of all the Hot Topic kids in middle school. They also used to be really really good. They emerged in the New York punk in the late 70’s, their music a original mixture of b-movie horror and sci-fi themes and melodic hardcore punk. By 1983 singer and songwriter Glenn Danzig, and bassist Jerry Only absolutely hated each other, and they broke up. During the band’s existence they were known within the punk community, but held little notoriety beyond that. Interest in the band accumulated over the following decade with widespread release of their recorded material, and in the mid-90s Jerry Only re-formed the Misfits with Doyle and without Danzig, who was uninterested. This incarnation of Misfits, with Jerry Only mostly on vocals, and a different, heavy metal sound, have been performing with some lineup or another up to present day. They are not very good. Yet, the Misfits’ popularity, and interest in their 80’s work has only increased with time.
As anyone who’s ever frequented a Hot Topic knows, when Glenn Danzig left the band, he didn’t just leave behind albums of fantastic material. He left behind a handful of incredibly well designed, very marketable logos. The merchandizing of the Misfits is the main source of their legal battles. When Only re-formed the Misfits, he acquired a large share of the merchandising rights for these logos. Only and Danzig have been in and out of court since the mid-90s, in large part due to Danzig attempting to get larger cuts of this merchandising revenue.
So that’s all really boring and lame, right? But that’s the environment that these two shows came out of. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Jerry Only said that the idea of a reunion was conceived of and agreed to during a court date. The motives of these guys couldn’t have been more obvious — they hate each other, and they are only doing this because they are going to make a ton of money. And you know what? The show was really really good.
Things started off a little rocky when Danzig’s wireless mic malfunctioned and he kept bitching about it, but someone gave him a new mic and further friction was avoided for the rest of the set. Their setlist totaled 26 songs, all from their Danzig-era years, and mostly off their three classic albums Static Age, Walk Among Us and Earth A.D./Wolfs Blood. The crowd was huge and very into the set. The Misfits’ logos flashed on the giant screen behind them while two huge, evil pumpkins with glowing green eyes guarded either side of the stage. “You guys like our fuckin’ pumpkins?” Danzig yelled at the crowd at one point, “Pretty fuckin’ sweet huh?”
One thing I found interesting was that, though they weren’t playing any of their newer, heavy metal material, the metal guitar tone lingered. It wasn’t overtly metal, but it wasn’t plug ‘n play punk guitar tone by any means. Regardless, the set was packed with their best material. You give the people “Death Comes Ripping”, “20 Eyes” and “I Turned Into a Martian” back-to-back-to-back to start the show and the people get going. The set was great. And most importantly, these reunion shows have let tens of thousands of Misfits fans experience the band they love live for the first time in decades, or for the first time ever.
Much has been made about the recent trend of bands reuniting and cashing in on the festival circuit. There is no doubt that that is exactly what this concert was. And it was amazing anyway. We would all love for musicians to care about their music, to engage with their fans and enjoy playing with their bandmates. But sometimes musicians are greedy, narcissistic pricks, and in that case giving them a bunch of money and shoving them out on stage works pretty well too.
Q: What is your goal with the all vinyl tour?
Richard: You know there’s definitely a couple aspects of why we’re doing it. One of them is just to bring back the art form again because we felt like the art form was being lost, and its no disrespect against people who play on CDJs, we play on them and I’m sure we’ll go back to play on them. But there was just an art form that we felt was missing from DJing and kids that haven’t seen it. We also wanted to challenge ourselves again, mixing on turntables is no joke. The first day we decided to do this tour I hadn’t mixed on turntables in 12 years. I couldn’t even find my turntables. When I got on them, I was train wrecking, I couldn’t believe it and I thought what did we get ourselves into, this is hard! It took me at least a week to really get into the groove, because there’s a skill to that.
Bill: Exactly the same reasons, it’s the art, its exposing to a new generation, that’s really for me, it didn’t exist, the kids now days don’t have any clue about it. (Vinyl)
Q: What has been the hardest thing you’ve had to deal with in a set?
B:The hardest thing we’ve dealt with was in Atlanta last Friday, somehow between sound check between us, and doing the performance, there is a setting on the Pioneer mixer that compresses the output of the booth monitors. So were blasting the monitors, and we literally cant mix on beat when there’s compression, so were like what the hell is going on. So we had to DJ this whole set with compression in the booth monitors, that was the toughest thing at least that I’ve had to deal with.
R:Tough night for us, I mean we know when we play a good set, were our hardest critics. We record the set for ourselves, nobody else gets to listen to it, we listen back and say, alright we need to tighten that up, that could be a little bit better, come on Bill (haha).
Q: So you guys are like constantly practicing and listening in just to make sure?
R: Yaya and tweaking anything and trying out different things, lets try this lets try that.
Q: And you guys have been working together for over two decades? How did you guys meet?
B: I had booked up his group, he had a group called the movement, I used to throw parties as well and I booked them, then he actually booked me up for his club in LA, then after we performed he was like “yo do you wanna jump on?” And I ended up DJing at this club, and I’d never seen a club like this before it was called the Dome. It was a Saturday nightclub in LA with like 2000 people, Go-go dancers. We didn’t have anything like that in Chicago, so I was actually a little nervous like this is insane I’ve never seen anything like this. So they let me play for like 30 minutes or whatever, and we went back and fourth, where he’d bring me out or whatever and we’d start changing and exchanging records.
Q: When did you guys start actually getting together for gigs?
R: We did a CD we came up with an idea of House Connection, saying what if we both played at the same time on four turntables. At that time it was groundbreaking, because there were a lot of guys who would do a mix CD with one guy doing one CD and the other guy doing the other, so we thought what if we do the whole CD because our styles work. Certain things he compliments me on and certain things I compliment him on. There was something better with us doing it together, and that’s how House Connection 1 and House Connection 2 began and we started touring.
Q: How do you think your styles differ?
R: I think Bill is definitely into a funkier groove. I’ll try off the wall things sometimes, that may or may not work, but we both like the funky stuff. We also both like the excitement of playing a record that changes the energy of the room.
B: Ya what I think is that I’m a little more technical where he’s a little more creative. He wants to keep it musical or vocal, and I don’t care about that. So its good that we balance each other out like that, he’ll know if I’m getting to monotonous, or getting to hip-hoppy with vocals. He’s always interjecting and making sure we stay musical. So I think that’s a good balance. I always feel like it has to sound perfect and he’s like nah let it go! And sometimes he’s right sometimes it is better not perfect, its good to have that balance, and we think differently so its cool.
Q: What’s the best story or thing that has happened during a show?
R: I think every night has its great elements. I think the first few nights it was nerve wracking because we didn’t play on vinyl in front of the crowd with the monitors. I think about three or four shows in we started to get very comfortable and I think that was probably the best element. Like all right yo, we got this. It sounded great on paper but you don’t know until you actually go do it. In Houston a guy had a CO2 blast and I see him with one of the guns, he doesn’t think about it, and Bill has this record with a great drop. And he shoots the CO2 blast, hits the needle, and silence… I grab the mike and say “this is why we do it live for moments like this”. Crowd screams and Bill scratches it back in. But its shit like that, good or bad, that makes it real.
B: To top it off it was about 110 degrees, and during sound check our records were literally warping. We ended up putting a tent up so the records wouldn’t warp.
Q: Last question, what music do you recommend, where should new listeners start with House?
R: Bill has a really cool house label called Moody, I have a cool label called Soulmatic. There are labels like Infected, Dirtybird, Perfect Driver, there’s a lot of DJs that are pulling out some really cool sounds, Nick Rockwell is doing some crazy stuff. There’s a lot of really good house music out there right now. I think the most interesting stuff is house music right now. The most inventive people right now are people doing house and people doing bass music, those two things.
Emerging Chicago band, Friends of the Bog, which consists of NU grads Jake Pollock (’12), Patrick Budde (’13), and Gaby Febland (’14) will be having an EP release show at Martyr’s.
Friends of the Bog writes sing-alongs from the murky side of the soul. The band recently recorded its debut EP with acclaimed engineer Steve Albini. The self-titled release is exuberant, eclectic, and a sign of exciting things to come from this new folk collective.
Friends of the Bog EP Release Show (w/ The Flood + Erik and Jessie)
Martyr’s – Sept 13, 8PM – $7 – 21+
Sioum is a progressive instrumental band from Chicago. The trio often draws inspiration from dreams, movies, video games, and emotion itself. Formed in 2008, the band consists of Dorian Zdrinc (guitar), Arthur Zdrinc (drums) and Kevin Clark (keys). They often draw inspiration from film, video games, and most frequently, emotion itself. Post-metal, as well as progressive influence are often noted, although occasionally, many broad (and unusual) influences, such as contemporary classical and chiptune, can be heard.
WNUR Steetbeat is teaming up with Metro/Smartbar for some giveaways! And all tickets will be given away on the streetbeat fb page!
How To Kill is a new endeavor from Detroit collective F.A.M.E. These anonymous artists have been involved in the Detroit dance music scene for over 15 years in various capacities. Some hold DJ residencies at Detroit’s current mecca for dance music, TV Lounge, others have had releases on Apollo Records, Two Circles, and Sly Fox Records. The collective had it’s first release this year on Greg Wilson’s A&R edits imprint, which was well received and found it’s way to the top ten on Juno’s disco charts. 10-18-13 sees the release of the first vinyl-only imprint of the Detroiters’ massive catalog of unreleased, unique dancefloor couture.
Most new record labels take a few releases to establish themselves, especially when the people behind them are unknown. They cultivate a sound and a look, a vision begins to emerge, and then we start to buy their records. That’s generally how it works. White Material, however, positively burst out of the blocks. Their first four records quickly sold out, leading to inflated Discogs prices and frustrated fans craving what they couldn’t get. Read the rest of the feature here.
Chrissy is a genre-bending DJ/producer with productions on esteemed labels like Classic, Freerange, Razor N Tape, Tugboat Edits, and Hypercolour. He co-runs The Nite Owl Diner label with Alex Burkat, and is a resident DJ at the legendary Chicago nightclub Smartbar. The nite owl diner is a streetbeat label in residence.
Meet Dhaea Kang – a Korean American singer-songwriter based in Chicago. She has been growing in popularity after winning an annual Asian-American talent showcase called Kollaboration Chicago. She draws inspirations for her songs from people whom she had shared significant moments and changes in life with, from living on her own for the first time to grieving the loss of close loved ones. She is always looking forward to meeting new people, both in her personal life and on the stage, who she can connect with through her music.
Q: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
My name is Dhaea. I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago. I’ve been here my whole life. I guess more specifically I’ve been songwriting since my early teens. My songwriting kind of evolved from teenage angsty poetry that I put into [my] music.
Q. How did you start off as a musician?
I mean like most songwriters, I feel like I started off writing [music] for myself, by myself, and played for myself in my room and in front of the mirror. And I didn’t start playing out[side] until college. I think it was right when I turned 19, because that is when you are allowed to get into the bars for the Open Mics in my college campus. So I did a lot of that in college and it just kind of grew from there.
Q. What are the steps you take when you make a song?
It depends. There are one of several ways. One way is I try to just freewrite. So basically I just write whatever is in my head without even thinking about it, so a lot of it is just nonsense. After I write all that down, I tend to revisit it and pick up one or two lines that really resonate with me and try to build off of there. Another way is I play a melody that I really like or chord progression I like and I pair it with words. Other times a song just seems to come right out without me having to sort through the mess of the freewrite that I do. And those [songs] actually tend to be the ones I enjoy performing the most.
Q. What were your inspirations when you wrote your songs?
First one is Stairwell. I wrote that about a year after a good friend of mine in college passed away. The Stairwell, the title, is in reference to the stairwell of our dorm room where we used to meet up sometimes while I played music during the wee hours of the night. He would come sit with me and listen.
Next One is the most recent song I’ve written in completion. It was last April and I wrote it the night after my grandfather passed away. My grandfather and I were really close. He raised me when I was a kid. Even as an adult, I would visit him frequently. I was actually with him when he took his last breath and it was a pretty jarring experience, because I’ve never seen anyone take their last breath. [I have] never seen anyone die right in front of me. So the next night I was kind of thinking about that experience and reflecting on the other losses in my life, like my college friend who I was just talking about. I felt like Next One was my way of trying to deny the finality of death and just trying to hope for meeting up with someone who has passed away in another lifetime. (not shown in the video) I wrote [Let’s Go] in college. I think I was probably around 19. Like many 19 year olds, I was feeling really lost and directionless; I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. I was really confused and that is where that song came from. I still feel like that 6 years later. I still enjoy playing the song as it still personally resonates with me.
Q. What do you enjoy about performing on a stage?
I guess I enjoy the feedback I get back from the audience, especially when someone comes up to me and tells me that they really connected with my songs. I think it’s a very special thing because, as I said before, when I started writing, it was only for myself. It wasn’t [written] with the intention to share with an audience. So the fact that someone can relate to something that means so much to me personally is a pretty incredible feeling.
Q. What is one defining point in your musical career?
This past year, I was part of this showcase called Kollaboration, which showcases Asian-Americans in the arts, and I won the Chicago showcase. That was pretty unexpected for me, because I auditioned for Kollaboration during the time [when] I had taken a step back from music and it just wasn’t really a part of my life. I was immersed in other work, and I just auditioned on a whim. So the fact that I won was a really good feeling and I was really excited about it.
Q. What are your other hobbies besides writing music?
Besides work, I like to garden [in the summer]. I have a patio garden. I grow vegetables and herbs. I like to read a lot. I am a big reader. I like to write short stories. I used to. I should probably get back into that too. I like to hang out with friends [as well], pretty typical.
Q. What is your favorite track among the songs you have written?
I feel like my favorite song tends to be the most recent one I’ve written. So right now I would say Next One, because that’s the most recent song I’ve written. But I guess I’ll have to say Let’s Go. I feel like that is one of my older songs that is still in my regular rotation. I feel like a lot of the songs I’ve written at [a young] age – I can’t even listen to them. It’s just too cringy, too angsty, but [Let’s Go] in particular has lasted.
Q. Anything you want to say to your fans?
I would say thank you for listening. I really do appreciate it and I love receiving feedback about [my] music. So thank you. Thank you for tolerating my self-indulgent Facebook page.