The Frequency Series began in 2013 as a weekly Sunday night show curated by Peter Margasak at Constellation focusing on Chicago’s burgeoning new music scene. Since that time both the scene and the series have grown and flourished with new venues, musicians and festivals continually popping up throughout Chicago. This year the Frequency Series Festival will take place over six days at three venues and feature the music of seven exciting and important artists in new music. The festival kicks off tonight with Chicago-based music/performance ensemble, Mocrep, at the MCA presenting a program of identity, chaos and translation. Tomorrow night the festival continues at the Bond Chapel at the University of Chicago with Denver contemporary pianist R. Andrew Lee. Thursday thru Sunday Constellation will host the Morton Feldman Players, Bill Orcutt & Austin Wulliman, Olivia Block & Quince, and Ensemble Dal Niente.
It’s an eclectic and well curated mix that in my opinion explores the relationships between performer, ensemble and composer while also presenting a wide scope of both acoustic, electric and mixed new music performance. No venue in my mind, presents consistently well-curated shows like Constellation and the Frequency Series Festival is a logical extension of that. Tickets are available for the individual shows, some are free and you can pick up a pass to all seven shows for only $40. More information on performers, locations and time here.
SATURDAY, BLUE STAGE, 6:45pm
Planet Mu’s Jlin came out the gate swinging with 2015’s invigorating Dark Energy, an eleven-track whirlwind of heavy synths and fast-paced percussion that breathe visceral meaning into the album’s title. The Gary-based RP-Boo mentee has since continued to carve a unique sound and space for herself as one of the few established female producers in the footwork scene (though she’s been producing since 2008).
The anonymity of female producers is inescapable despite Jlin’s feats, as illustrated by my ignorance of her womanhood for an embarrassing number of months after I first listened to Dark Energy, but she’s far from tokenized or humored in the scene. Her music evokes hyper-specific yet undefinable emotions and sensations (some combination of unsettling, thought-provoking, and physically stimulating), drawing on distinctive vocal samples that are both sourced and warped in unprecedented ways. The themes and track titles of her discography allude to a wide array of social and political issues without directly addressing them (or do they?), leaving the listener to marinate and interpret these themes in the absence of Jlin’s music. Her tracks contain a raw power that permeates everything it touches.
The producer’s eclectic catalog includes the unmistakable breathy vocals of fellow Pitchfork artist and experimental composer Holly Herndon on Dark Energy’s “Expand.” Jlin focused her recognizable style with late 2015’s Free Fall EP, adding elements noticeably rave-synthier and more suited for the club. She’ll be sharing a stage with multiple collaborators at this year’s festival, and you won’t want to miss any of them. Here’s to hoping a live collaboration is in store this weekend–perhaps a tri-performance with Holly Herndon and RP Boo? A DJ can dream.
The Year is 2013 and the electro/alternative R&B/dance vibe is arguably at its peak. I am in San Francisco visiting family and friends. It is summer. I’m sitting on a couch with Joe who i do not particularly like nor dislike but I find rather boring. Neither of us is really talking, so I pull out my phone and open my email. A blade of regret sears through my body and I sigh. On my screen is an email for will call tickets for The Range that night, but I decided to go to a dinner party instead. It was a bad dinner party, I later heard from my friend Dennis, who did go, that the Range was great and that the crowd alternatively swayed and danced.
“He brought mellow vibes to the club but still honored the purpose of the club. I bet he would be great at Pitchfork,” my friend Dennis said. Dennis has never led me astray before so I will be at the Blue stage at 7:15 on Saturday expressing myself through dance.
– Ben Shear
Releasing on average a single per year since 2012, it’s unclear whether LUH. is artistically detached or maybe just exceedingly careful. Whatever the case, the singles they do release, such as “Unites” and “l&l”, typically generate quite the buzz. Created by former WU LYF frontman Ellery Roberts, the arrival of LUH. was accompanied on YouTube by what could only be considered a break-up note à la Laura Palmer mixed with some Matrix-level doom, reading, “I am gone. This isn’t the end. This is the beginning.” Since that fateful day, Roberts has gone on to collaborate with visual artist Ebony Hoorn and The Haxan Cloak to create sensitive odes cautiously masked as powerful anthems. LUH.’s debut album, Spiritual Songs for Lovers to Sing, marks a sharp divide from their smatterings of past singles, with EDM elements driving the undercurrents rather than their typical guitar fallbacks. Catch them on Saturday at the Blue Stage for what will surely be an emotional dance fest.
– Lauren Ball
Carly Rae Jepsen
The following declaration may shock you: Carly Rae Jepsen is cool. Yes, the chick from “Call Me Maybe” has successfully subverted the mainstream and been embraced in force by hipsters. This transformation is due to the critical success of Jepsen’s third album “ E•MO•TION ,” which was released in June 2015. The album smartly plays off 80s pop tropes with the help of musicians with major indie cred like Dev Hynes (aka fellow Pitchfork performer Blood Orange) and Vampire Weekend’s Rostam Batmanglij. The resulting sound is intoxicating and emotionally overwhelming, a pure sonic boost of euphoria. The critical success and “underground” embrace of Carly Rae Jepsen showcases a longing for earnestness, a deviation away from conceptions of apathy as the peak of cool. You can expect to find me in the front row of Carly Rae’s Pitchfork show having a deeply uncool emotional experience—join me.
– Aliza Abarbanel
BONUS: Oneohtrix Point Never
Last time I went to an oPn show I came face to face with the ghost of Earth’s future and witnessed the result of all the technological detritus we leave behind and it was so beautiful that I fainted. Really a special artist at the peak of his game. And the visuals are not to be missed.
– Ben Shear
FRIDAY, BLUE STAGE, 5:15pm
Click this. Now look at me.
There’s a certain kind of sound that is avoided when a musician forgoes formal training. It’s a sound of tired melodies, recycled structures, trite lyrics. Too many proficient musicians box themselves in to produce derivative works, while others put forth great effort to unlearn their conventions and perfected techniques so that they may explore musical space for themselves. We respect them for it. Their work stands out.
Moses Sumney is one of these artists. Self-taught in the guitar, and often self-recorded with looper pedals, his singles released this past year have been inventive and caught the ears of those craving new sound to break into. A beautiful voice adds to the experience, and Sumney puts it up front on all his tracks.
In interviews, Sumney reveals a career built as much on listening as performing. He discusses strong influences from Amy Winehouse in nearly all of his interviews, and from his miraculous O Superman cover, which was improvised live, one can gather that he’s listened to a fair amount Laurie Anderson as well.
On Friday, Moses Sumney will be among the first acts to perform at Pitchfork Music Festival. Unless a lot has changed in the past week, he will wield guitar and mic and not much else to create a unique and raw artistic experience just for you. Dip out of work early and be there.
SATURDAY, GREEN STAGE, 1pm
I do not speak french, nor am I particularly good at intuiting french pronunciations, so when I see this band name I think “circus du Sux.” Turns out that is not the case and the French pronounce “Yeux” like “You” but with a french accent, and Haley Fohr, the mastermind behind Circuit des Yeux, pronounces “Circuit” the way it is pronounced in American English (sir-cut). So what we have is this band whose name sounds like “Circuit du You” and if “Yeux” means “eye,” which it does, then we have a band whose name sounds like a connective route to YOU, specifies a connective route to the phenomenal (sight) and suggests a connective route to the I. And circuits always connect.
The music of Circuit des Yeux does not swerve from its own lane because it does not have to. Fohr and her cast of music makers keep the pedal to the metal on this metaphysical roadtrip, stopping to rest in the pleasant meadows of hushed fingerpicked guitar, treading with caution through dark, dark forests where by some act of black magic the wind in the trees sound like bassy drones that layer until they are monolithic, and hauling ass down the intergalactic psychedelic highway as Fohr, white knuckling the steering wheel, opens her throat and channels the spirit of a long gone alien eulogizing it’s planet. This planet that used to be a fact, a home, a collection of ten million songs. Now all that remains is this mournful voice and its host, driving through the dark. I imagine the car is otherwise silent.
All the while they circle this turnstile called “Folk”, centrifugal force pulling them closer and closer with each rotation until the connections between YOU and I and THE REST disappear due to inutility and YOU and I and THE REST are around a campfire passing around an acoustic guitar and a harmonica and experiencing a sense of communion.
In conclusion, “circus du Sux” more like, “circus du ROX!”
SATURDAY, RED STAGE, 3:20
If the fact that Ishmael “Butterfly” Butler named Digable Planets after reading through works by Jorge Luis Borges doesn’t convince you to see them at Red Stage on Saturday afternoon, I don’t know what will. After releasing just two albums since 1993 and disbanding in 1994, the Planets are back together after a quarter of a century hiatus for a momentous summer tour. The Brooklyn-based jazz/hip-hop trio (who certainly deserve all of the overtly sensational hype they can possibly amass) are especially relevant this year, as their tracks typically carry politically-charged messages such as a celebration of black power on “Jettin’” and a woman’s right to choose on “La Femme Fetal.” There’s a good chance that this will be Digable Planet’s last tour as Butler has since dedicated most of his musical energy towards his new project, Shabazz Palaces, so be sure to catch this integral part of hip-hop history before they’re just that.
WNUR and Pitchfork have at least two things in common. We’re longstanding media outlets based in Chicago, and we’re both regularly accused of being pretentious music snobs (a decade later, we still hear you, Jason Bolicki). The partial validity of this criticism (depending on your perspective) is beside the point: the fact remains that our organizations have earned this reputation by exposing and booking artists who typically aren’t being heard elsewhere in the Chicagoland area. Of course, we have our occasional qualms with Pitchfork’s reviews like anyone else–and I’m sure they’d have a thing or two to say about our programming. But when it comes to Chicago music festivals, Pitchfork is leagues beyond any other in supporting musicians who align with WNUR’s mission and have seen regular airplay on our station across the genre-spectrum (though Big Ears still takes the cake on a national level). This year, we’re embracing that commonality more than ever.
Does this mean we’ll start celebrating and/or playing Carly Rae Jepsen on our station? No, but we will give you a rundown on the artists we’re most excited to see at the festival in two weeks, and why we think they deserve the shine. Keep an eye on our website in the days leading up to Pitchfork as we give individual, in-depth assessments of some of this year’s performers (and listen to WNUR this week for your final chance to win passes to #P4Kfest).
Kamasi Washington seems an almost-obligatory place to start this preview; this guy has been everywhere in the past year. First, he was part of the studio band that performed on Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly. Then, his aptly-named, three-hour debut album The Epic dropped on Brainfeeder in May 2015, earning an 8.6 and “Best New Music” classification on Pitchfork. All of this was preceded by a lengthy career touring and collaborating with established artists like Lamar and Snoop Dogg–but his momentum has only snowballed in the past six months. Some of our staff first got a taste of his (or should I say, his group’s) live performance at Big Ears in April. I caught them again at an overpriced-though-worth-it 2AM after-show in New Orleans post-Jazz Fest, so this set will be my third time around.
This collection of musicians is comprised of childhood friends from the LA area (as you’ll learn during their performance, unless they change things up; there was a fair amount of repetition in the banter and format of the performances I’ve seen). It quickly becomes evident that their performances are more about the group than they are about Washington himself–the collective spent a year dedicating all their time to recording and playing on each other’s projects, and the group mentality that results is palpable. The buzz is credited to Washington because his album was the first to be released (and likely also, of course, because of his involvement in TPAB), but they’re still sitting on the rest of the musicians’ projects. That knowledge puts things in perspective: though he’s undoubtedly talented, Washington’s live saxophone-playing isn’t really what makes the show something special. The dynamic between the musicians is paramount, and the key lies in Washington’s recognition and mediation of that. He’s generous with sharing the spotlight on the stage, and he exudes a warmth and calm in his demeanor that structures the entire experience–and makes it into a just that, a genuine experience. He brings out his dad (who turns out to be pretty killin’ on the flute and clarinet) for the better half of the performance, which proves both endearing and impressive while adding to the familial vibe. Add in two (yes, two) exceptional drummers and a funky keytarist and you’ve got something undoubtedly unique. Keep an eye on the bassist, Miles Mosley, who manipulates an upright in ways you’ve likely never seen (or even considered). And in the meantime, give a listen to “Re Run Home” and “Final Thought.”
Chicago has a history of sending its emerging musical stars overseas to spread the word–and sound–of its modern musical creations. Since the city’s best-known homegrown dance music, house, traveled with Chicago DJs to London and beyond in the mid-1980s, the Windy City hasn’t stopped shuttling iconic sound-prophets across the globe. And with great success–today’s house legends continue to populate the most highly regarded underground dance havens with unmistakably unique styles (for example, Gramaphone Records owner, WNUR Streetbeat DJ, and Queen! resident Michael Serafini still graces Berlin’s Berghain on a semi-regular basis). A more current example lies in Teklife, Chicago’s premiere and pioneering footwork crew, whose fast-paced, dance-oriented creation has caught like wildfire in Japan and beyond.
Both the city’s historic and contemporary liaisons journey abroad while the sounds they bring (and the artists themselves) are still under-the-radar, carrying their budding (and often, yet-unheard on a large-scale level) genres to various locations where they take root and materialize into multitudes of sub-genres and stylistic variations that regularly end up vastly different than the original style (see: Chicago house compared to EDM). Chicago’s original pioneers often remain underground stars once the genres gain popularity (like Serafini, and even the late Frankie Knuckles), leaving commercial success to disciples across the globe.
You might, then, call this a city of tastemakers. It’s only fitting that some of Chicago’s brightest emerging stars are found on this year’s Outlook Music Festival lineup in Croatia–a festival devoted to various underground bass musics. We love local artists and we love the underground here at WNUR, so we’re giving you a read on Chicago artists on this 2016 lineup far from home.
DJ Spinn. This booking is perhaps the least surprising, given Spinn is the oldest living member of Teklife and most widely recognized as its current OG (rest in peace DJ Rashad, his childhood friend and best-known co-pioneer of the genre who passed in April 2014). But his presence on the lineup speaks to the growing notoriety of footwork across the globe, and a nod to one of the artists who started it all. The Chicago genre has been picked up by labels like Planet Mu and Hyperdub since its inception–also included in the lineup is UK-based Kode9, the founder of Hyperdub and a friend to many Chicagoans, Teklife and otherwise. Spinn’s anthemic, chord-driven “All My Teklife” can be found on last year’s Hyperdub 10.1. He’s also featured on eight of fourteen tracks on Rashad’s critically acclaimed Double Cup (2013), including two of my favorites, “She A Go” and “Feelin.”
DJ Taye. The youngest member of Teklife’s inner circle, Taye wouldn’t be my first guess to be one of footwork’s young guns invited to Croatia (I might have assumed DJ Earl), but his booking makes a lot of sense. He’s released less music overall than other members of the crew, but what he’s put out has made a significant splash. Of particular interest–and fitting Outlook’s bill–are his collaborations with barcelona-based Zora Jones (who I’m surprised not to see on the lineup, now that I think about it). Their Fractal Fantasy collaboration, “Neutrino,” pairs gritty, hard-hitting percussion, massive horns (it sounds like Jones’ partner, Sinjin Hawke, may have had a hand in that signature sound) and spaced-out synth progressions with suitably mind-boggling, rendered-object visuals. Taye generally represents a spacier footwork sound with higher frequency melodies, a characteristic that gives his style some distinction among the multitudes of releases from the crew. Check out 2014’s TEK x TAR Vol. 3, or 2015’s Break It Down, his debut release on Hyperdub.
Mick Jenkins. This is the most unexpected Chicago artist on the lineup, in my opinion. Jenkins isn’t not established, but he’s no Chance the Rapper or Kanye in terms of mainstream popularity (at least at this point). His presence suits the somewhat rap-heavy lineup, though a majority of the other Outlook MCs hail from the UK and other non-US locations and are associated with grime instrumentals. Jenkins first gained attention with his album The Waters. His deep, distinctive voice is reminiscent of Tyler the Creator, but his flow couldn’t be more different (see his latest release, “Sunkissed,” featuring TheMIND). His acclaim has grown with his most recent release, Waves. Jenkins’ performance at Outlook will round out a two-month European tour; he’s making the rounds like Chicago pioneers before him.
Who might we add to the ranks? Given the festival’s mission, the Chicago artists included are interesting and deserving of their bookings–but they’re centralized around one end of the “underground bass sound” spectrum. If we’re talking somewhat-established yet emerging Chicago artists making forward-thinking bass music, and we want something different, Jeremiah Meece certainly fits the bill. And of course, there are plenty of house DJs and producers to choose from here as well. Time will tell what next year brings, but in the meantime–anyone trying to take a trip to Croatia?