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.
Marquis Hill’s performance this past Thursday evening at Constellation was, in many ways, a homecoming for the young trumpet virtuoso. The awards and accolades which sprung him out of this city go without saying for any fan or frequenter of the Chicago jazz scene, and his current residence in New York is one which surely makes those same fans proud. In coming home, Hill left his current ensemble project, The Blacktet, in New York (with the exception of Joshua Johnson) and instead chose to play with Chicago mainstays Makaya McCraven and Joshua Abrams. The bill, correspondingly, was not simply Marquis Hill, but the names of each in the quartet. In the spirit of this non-permanent ensemble, the feeling of a relaxed homecoming pervades. On Thursday night, the homecoming seeped through in the familial interaction between the four musicians on stage, celebrating the return of their friend, but also, in the sense of the overall connected American jazz culture, asking the question: did he ever really leave? We live in a time, and an international Jazz culture in which Chicago’s tentacles of influence and musicianship extend all around the world. Be it Wadada Leo Smith and Nicole Mitchell in Los Angeles or the annual Doek Festival in Berlin celebrating the ongoing collaboration between musicians from Berlin, Amsterdam and Chicago, Marquis Hill has joined the ranks as a continuing force in/of the Chicago jazz scene, regardless of where he calls residence.
After three flowing and fairly free compositions each with distinct moments of freedom and rehearsed starts and stops, Hill took to the mic for the first time to thank the audience for coming. In doing this he also expressed his motives for coming home “to play some creative music, to play some improvised music.” This statement from him, a declared connection and homage to the AACM tradition in Chicago, set the tone for the rest of the concert, which featured mostly loosely composed, freely improvised extended pieces. For a musician like Hill, who tends to stay more “in” than his AACM forbearers, the choice to play a set of mostly free material was, if nothing else, a bit surprising. But with this surprise there also came a treat, as the sold out room experienced an ensemble and a sound rarely heard from one of the city’s contemporary greats.
These free compositions were structured around the individual sounds of those making up the group. Each took their turn beginning a tune with an open solo, and seemingly dictated the nature of the improvisation to follow from there. The standout player of the night for me, and for many others, talking as they left the club, was Makaya McCraven. Another Chicago staple, McCraven has been playing and recording his unique brand of fast rhythmic “beat-jazz” for some time now. The distinctive and virtuosic voice he brings to the instrument was one which lent itself very well to the creative music sound Hill seemed to be reaching for on Thursday night. There were certainly moments of rhythmic cloudiness and indistinguishable pulses, but to my ears, what made Hill experiment novel was the fairly continual rhythmic underpinning McCraven provided. Halfway through the concert, Hill brought out a friend from New York (via Houston), the young and supremely talented James Francis, who sat down at the piano for the rest of the concert. With the addition of the piano, the group took on a different sound, suddenly tethered to a more complex and harmonically-driven rhythm instrument. Francis, like Hill, plays a more ‘in’ style of jazz than the AACM creative music of the mid-sixties, but nonetheless embraced the genre and experiment with tact and open ears.
Those two descriptors, tact and open ears, for me really sum up the night. In saying “creative music” Hill acknowledged his experiment and the footing he and the rest of the band would be taking outside of their comfort zones. This experimentation and paying homage was admirable for a proper homecoming, but also as an audience member, enlightening to hear musicians playing outside of their primary musical focuses. Frankly, the creative music of the quintet on Friday night pales in comparison to the Wadada Leo Smith and Roscoe Mitchell shows I saw in the same room last year. Maybe that is an unfair comparison, to the true masters and legends of Chicago creative improvised music, though it certainly reflects the conundrum musicians encounter when they take a moment to step outside their sound. While it would be easy, and perhaps commonplace, to tell a musician to stick to what they know, it was above all refreshing to hear musicians at the level of Marquis Hill experimenting and expanding the range of their sounds together in respect for the great Chicago jazz tradition. As with any style of music, there is good and bad free jazz, and as far as I can tell that distinction has to do with respect. Do the musicians approach the tradition with tact and open ears? In the case of Hill, McCraven, Francis, Abrams and Johson on Thursday night, that answer was yes and the resulting experiment was successful because of it.
Catch a show at Constellation soon! Full calendar here: http://www.constellation-chicago.com/calendar/
The mechanics of the live musical performance enter a whole new arena when the separation between the artist and the observer breaks down. When the observer spontaneously becomes the art, the result can be quite exhilarating. When the artist performs without a stage detaching them for the viewer, it is refreshing. I’ll always remember the time my roommate, an extremely casual concert goer, turned to me during Princess Nokia’s headlining set at the Language Between the Lines event and shouted to me “this is one of the coolest things I have ever experienced.” He had not heard a note of Princess Nokia’s music before, but that didn’t matter; when you are accustomed to experiencing art within a bubble, all types of emotions rush by when that bubble pops.
This intimacy was one of the inherent strengths of Living in Color’s event, a showcase of underrepresented expression among the Northwestern community. More specifically, this event exhibited the art of many young creatives who “live in color,” a condition defined by Living in Color as “the heterogeneous, always fluid lived experience of people of color and other ‘others’ such as those in the queer, trans, and epiphenomenal communities.”
In addition to the Afro-Nuyorican Princess Nokia, performers included Northwestern students such as rapper Joshua Kim (pictured above), whose performance focused on the identity crisis lingering over members of the Asian-American community, poet Tanya Munoz, who discussed the pain caused by oppression of Hispanics in America, and punk-rock band Carbona ( lead singer Jacqueline Ovalle below), a bilingual group who delivered venomous political music.
The audience opted to stay seated and munch on many of the mouth-watering snacks from the back of the hall during the student performers, but the first sign of this barrier breaking came when Carbona urged the audience to fill the space and come closer. Just like Princess Nokia, this amped up the dynamic; screeching violin solos are significantly more intense when they occur a few feet in front of your face.
However, when the lights dimmed for Princess Nokia (above), the crowd promptly formed a circle around her, before she proceeded to plow through bangers like ‘Tomboy’ or ‘Cybiko’. The only source of illumination was from the video projection behind her, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t lit (haha lmfao)! When my buddy Samuel Berston lost himself to the music and joined Princess Nokia to dance during the last song, it was sensational. When Princess Nokia handed the mic to someone in the crowd because “she had blood dripping down her leg,” the community of viewers became even more united. Props to Living in Color for throwing together something so visceral. It’s not everyday that student groups put together an experience that transcends expectations and celebrates diversity quite like this.
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.
WNUR Media Team reported on Chicago International Movies and Music Festival (CIMMFest) this spring! Watch this little recap to see what we saw.
Despite a brief but perilous afternoon storm, Saturday was arguably the best day of Pitchfork. Best performances of the day included Sleater-Kinney, Kurt Vile, and early afternoon standout Bully. We kicked off the afternoon around 2pm with a killer set by the latter Nashville-bred breakout act. Bully gave a high-energy, technically sound performance; lead singer and frontwoman Alicia Bognanno drove the music and banter with some serious Riot Grrrl-influenced wailing and lyrical content. We spotted her sidestage the next day, eagerly soaking up Kathleen Hanna’s legendary presence during The Julie Ruin’s set–another standout of the weekend–and providing further evidence of the band’s punk-feminist inspiration.
The rest of Saturday’s lineup was stacked with good music, and we had a hard time deciding where to compromise. We first journeyed to the Green Stage for Future Brown, where we spotted WNUR alumnus and former Streetbeat Music Director Nick Harwood–one of the group’s managers–scurrying about comically backstage. He blew a kiss from the back corner as three of Future Brown’s four members (Nguzu Nguzu’s NA was absent) approached the CDJs. The performance was disappointingly mediocre. There’s not a whole lot to see when three people man two CDJs (I can only imagine what it looks like with 4 of them) and it seemed that J-Cush was heavily dominating the mixing. Asma Maroof and Fatima Al-Qadiri bounced around half-heartedly and exchanged whispers for most of the set. To make matters worse, an unidentified group of rappers came on stage to perform one collaboration but ended up staying for five or more songs. The squad clearly lacked experience and stage presence; they acted as poor hype-men (adding little originality and leaving large gaps of silence) and took superfluous selfies until Harwood made the move to vacate them from the stage. Suffice to say that chunk of time seriously impacted the overall vibe of the performance. One of the show’s saving graces came from Sicko Mobb’s arrival and performance of their Future Brown collaboration, “Big Homie,” and the Chicago bop classic “Fiesta.” Sicko’s arrival marked the only time that the three members of FB appeared to be genuinely enjoying themselves, despite the fact that Sicko Mobb are unforgivably obvious lip-syncers. The poor sound quality of higher frequencies and the group’s decision to omit Maluca-featured banger “Vernáculo” ensured that the performance was decidedly average.
After Future Brown, our group parted ways. A few headed to the Red Stage for Ex Hex while the rest imbibed in VIP (thanks, Pitchfork!) and awaited Vince Staples’ slot. Our revelry came to an abrupt halt when the sky caved from tense humidity, unleashing sheets of rain onto festival-goers. Attendees ducked under umbrellas while promotions tent staff tossed a variety of branded ponchos to people running desperately for cover. I spotted Shamir, who had been bopping around the festival quite conspicuously all day, sprint into VIP with his hands over his head and his pink button-down clinging to his adolescent body. What at first appeared to be a brief bout of flash floods quickly became a dangerous thunderstorm; a friend walked away from the beverage tent with two beers in hand and reported that the festival was closing (she wanted to get her money’s worth of alcohol before then). Union Park became chaos as people stormed the exits while others huddled under trees and umbrellas–two of the worst places to stand during a thunderstorm. We managed to collect our friends and escape just before the sky cleared and Pitchfork announced that the festival would re-open in a mere twenty minutes. In the interim, I was interviewed by Fox News, Chu did the Nae Nae in the background to the chagrin of the interviewer, and we unsuccessfully attempted to dry our socks in a bathroom hand dryer and have a drink in Kaiser Tiger across the street.
Though the first half of his set was cut short by weather, Kurt Vile put on one of the best performances of the weekend. Three long and well-chosen jams–”Walkin’ On A Pretty Day”– lulled the audience into post-rain trance and brought our spirits up despite muddy, squishy socks. We hung around on the Blue Stage for the next three sets, catching the very end of Ariel Pink and most of (a forgettable) A$AP Ferg and Shamir. I had high hopes for Shamir, and they weren’t necessarily betrayed; the young artist put on a good show with great stage presence, and it was clear that he had a lot of fun. But his age was evident in his vocal control, which could use a bit of maturing and development for a fuller sound (not his fault; staff also struggled with soundcheck and delayed his set by about 45 minutes, which might have something to do with it). As we grooved to Shamir’s dancey beats, we got word that Sophie had been delayed in New York by the storm and would be replaced by Towkio. Sophie had been one of our most anticipated sets of the day, but we tried not to be discouraged by the news even though the chosen replacement act essentially rendered Pitchfork a Savemoney circle jerk. We headed to the Green Stage for a close spot at Sleater-Kinney instead. As much as I appreciate Chicago’s own Kanye protege Vic Mensa, the lady rocker trio has my heart.
They did not disappoint. Years of experience on stage and as a group are evident in these seasoned musicians. As it was at their February Chicago show, Sleater-Kinney’s sound was clear and their timing tight. Corin Tucker’s voice still hit those beautifully agonizing wails and Carrie Brownstein’s held up lyrically, too, though it sounded a bit worn and gravelly when she spoke. The band mostly played songs from their acclaimed January release “No Cities To Love” (sadly omitting our album favorite “Gimme Love”), including the title track, which Brownstein coincidentally wrote in a hotel room in Chicago. Of course, the group sprinkled some older hits in between–stealing our hearts, for example, with 1997’s despairing “One More Hour” off of Sleater-Kinney’s third studio album, “Dig Me Out” (whose title track they also played). The duet is an homage and farewell to Brownstein and Tucker’s brief but evidently passionate former romance. It continues to be one of the most moving breakup songs on the market (in my opinion), and it’s undoubtedly a unique experience to watch the two share their mutual personal experience through performance. That they got through their breakup without letting it ruin either their musical chemistry or friendship–as demonstrated by the fact that they wrote a song about it, which they continue to play 18 years later–gives the track an even weightier presence.
The show wasn’t all angst, though. The cisfemale trio seemed to be having a grand old time on stage; spirits were high and smiles plentiful as they attacked their instruments in brightly colored dresses. Drummer Janet Weiss carried the performance with incredible precision. Brownstein, notorious for spastically jerking around stage with her guitar and wieldy limbs, threw one leg kick too high during “Ironclad” (ironically, as Corin sang the words “you will fall the hardest”) and went down hard with the momentum. Yet she didn’t miss a beat (or a chord) and rebounded upright with graceful finesse–she even threw in another post-slip kick for good measure. The whole wipeout happened so fast that it was easy to miss. The band’s energy propelled the performance forcefully onward. Suffice to say that S-K was the perfect end to a rollercoaster of a day, and by many accounts the best set of the weekend.
*Note: the below discussion does not reflect the opinions of all WNUR members. This is only one DJ’s recap of the festival. “We” does not refer to all present WNUR members; WNUR members did not see all of the same performances.
The sun hauled itself into the sky with a vengeance on Friday morning of Pitchfork weekend, bringing with it a thick humidity that signaled the first real day of Chicago summer. The thousands who streamed into Union Park late Friday afternoon happily endured muggy air and relentless heat over the forecast’s predicted weekend-long thunderstorms (which, as it turned out, appeared in full force for a brief but perilous hour on Saturday afternoon). Friday’s mellow lineup and shorter set list–presumably designed to accommodate the work schedules of Pitchfork’s young professional demographic–provided a pleasant relief from the day’s unexpected high temperatures, gently easing festival-goers into the long weekend.
Entrance lines were far inexcusably long but moved quickly as attendees trickled in from the Green line. We arrived just after 4pm to catch ILoveMakonnen for our first set of the festival. We were skeptical from the start, and Makonnen met our expectations by giving one of the less memorable performances of the weekend. Crowd teasers were scattered between indistinguishable crooning; Makonnen pulled the all-too-predictable move of playing his hit, “Tuesday,” last (after pulling the also-predictable move of pretending to start playing it two other times during his set). The highlight was easily “I Don’t Sell Molly No More”–and though it’s up for debate whether he actually performed that song better or we just loved the song to begin with, Makonnen’s most sonically unique production was a refreshing break in an otherwise monotonous set.
We dashed off to Steve Gunn–whose performance I had missed at Big Ears–before Makonnen’s set ended, and prepared ourselves for a subsequently more rock-oriented evening. I wished we were able to give Steve the time he deserved as we stage-hopped to Red for Mac DeMarco, whose physical build had grown in proportion to his fan base. I barely recognized the burly singer–a far cry from the skinny 22-year-old on the cover of 2. I could hardly see him over the vast crowd anyway, but his music proved perfect (as ever) for sunset on a summer Friday.
Friday on the whole proved somewhat unsatisfying in its length and scheduling. We had previously agreed that we thought the first day hosted the least interesting lineup of the weekend, and numerous overlapping time slots made it difficult to experience (and thus make a proper assessment of) any full performance. Our small squad–which did not consist of all WNUR members present at the festival–drifted to the Green stage and sat in the grass, disappointed that we missed the better half of Mac DeMarco’s set. I half-heartedly engaged in Panda Bear’s performance amidst our dialogue; my interest was driven more by nostalgic curiosity than genuine enjoyment. He sold out every show I wanted to go to in high school, yet I was not impressed. I wondered whether my musical taste had changed that drastically or Panda Bear’s music had not changed (read: developed artistically) enough. Jaded by Iceage (how many festivals have they played at recently?) and uninspired by endlessly over-hyped CHVRCHES, we spent most of the next hour catching up with friends and WNUR alumni. We were so absorbed in each other’s company that we missed Ought–one of my few regrets of the weekend–but it was well worth the laughs. Spent from a full day’s efforts, the sun drooped below the horizon and Wilco’s homecoming set ricocheted through the trees by the time we collected ourselves. We wandered through the thick crowd and towards the exit. I surprised myself with my disinterest in hanging on to every note of Wilco’s set; they were another of my high school favorites. But a few songs were enough to satisfy my desire. I couldn’t help thinking I’d rather see drummer Glenn Kotche performing alone.
This past Spring Break, seven Rock Show DJs ventured into the heart of Knoxville, TN for Big Ears music festival. Check out these recaps of their experiences!
Kronos Quartet: 40 Canons with Bryce Dessner
The official Big Ears schedule for Sunday early afternoon told us to expect Canadian throat singer Tanya Tagaq at The Square Room, so when Bryce Dessner walked on stage instead, a large portion of the crowd was genuinely surprised. It took us all a minute to accept the fact that we were about to watch a meticulously composed arrangement rather than a visceral, bodily performance. Despite the initial shock, I was enthusiastic about seeing Dessner.
The first piece sounded disappointingly like a string quartet covering a National song, but other pieces ventured into territories not explored on any National record. While his compositional style still shone through in his use of repetitious phrases and a minimalism-inspired climatic song structure, ‘40 canons’ showed a playful side of Dessner usually masked by the sombre vibes of The National. Dessner joined the quartet on stage with his guitar to play this piece. The five of them exchanged shy smiles of friendship throughout the show. This was quite a charming performance. -JPM
Terry Riley with Gyan Riley & Tracy Silverman
Time was short on Sunday, so our final hours were carefully planned out: we’d catch the first 30 minutes of Kronos Quartet’s intimate performance with Tanya Tagaq at the Standard–those of us who missed Tagaq’s mind-boggling solo show on Saturday were eager to see what we were missing–before travelling swiftly across town to witness the rare talents of composer and legend Terry Riley.
Riley was scheduled for a two hour set from 4pm to 6pm at the Knoxville Museum of Art. With a strict departure time of 5pm and a ten hour drive ahead, our schedule was tight and anticipation was high. Of course, Kronos pulled a fast one at the last minute and switched the ordering of their set times without announcement: it became clear as they took the stage that Bryce Dessner would join the quartet for the first half, and Tagaq would follow.
If our intuitions were correct, Tagaq and Riley now filled directly conflicting time slots. And as the final notes of Dessner and Kronos resounded through the auditorium, the seven of us were confronted with an existential crisis: Riley’s performance would begin in minutes, Kronos had exited stage temporarily (with Tagaq’s presence still uncertain), and our departure time loomed ever nearer. Which performance to attend?
This was a question to be individually determined, of course, and the consensus was split. I concluded that Riley would probably pass away before I had the opportunity to see him perform again. Intrigued as I was by Tagaq’s throat singing, I have a history with Riley’s music and infinite admiration for his influential work. I scurried over to the KMA with Stephen and Jenna while the rest waited for Kronos to reappear with Tagaq.
Gentle cycles of piano, guitar, and violin washed over us as we entered the museum. We descended into a cavernous hall, towards the sound source, and I felt comforted by the familiar minimalism cascading down the stairs with us. A shiver flowed through my body as we approached the stage. Riley sat at the piano clad in a tunic, vest, Taqiyah cap, and his ever-magnificent beard. The audience was composed primarily of older folks and more children than we had seen all weekend, but the overall turnout was surprisingly sparse. Listeners sat quietly at the foot of the stage, some standing in the back or on the sides, dispersed loosely throughout the space. As we took a seat on the floor and settled into the present moment, my extremities tingled with mixed emotion–an effect I sometimes experience when listening to Riley’s compositions. Piano riffs meandered meaningfully over the walls and back over themselves and I was enveloped in sound. I closed my eyes. Lost in relaxed concentration, I didn’t notice the tingling sensation migrate from my extremities to my throat and up into my head until it began seeping out of my eyes. All the memories and mindsets I’ve come to associate with Riley’s music struggled to the surface, fighting for air, and I drifted with them on a conceptual journey through the soundscapes.
The first movement drew to a close. I dried my eyes as Riley introduced his colleagues, including his son, Gyan, on guitar. When it came time to introduce himself, he concluded: “And I’m an old man,” with a soft-spoken chuckle. Riley briefly spoke about the next piece, a movement inspired by the California desert, as the three musicians settled into their places. A drone creeped warily into the atmosphere. Riley lifted his left hand and began chanting in the tradition of classical Indian music, letting his fingers rise and fall and tremble with the vibrations. Again enveloped in the moment, I bowed my head and prepared to float through time indefinitely, obediently following the trace of Riley’s rasping voice–I had no idea how long the movement would last, but it didn’t matter. I had reached a rare and temporary state of equilibrium that resisted the intrusion of external thought. And I still haven’t fully processed it. -Maddie Higgins
Tyondai Braxton: HIVE
so many drummers. the sounds made me feel like crimes were taking place all around me. one dood played the drums like a gargoyle and it was awesome. -Jay Smith
Max Richter: The Blue Notebooks & Infra with the American Contemporary Music Ensemble
I settled into a middle seat in the balcony of the Bijou Theatre, creating precisely the same vantage point from which I watched Jonny Greenwood’s and Iannis Xenakis’s pieces performed the previous year. “Infra” confined most of the fast-paced movement up to the treble range, complemented by slowly-evolving droning harmonies and textural sounds. His pieces have the effect of confusing the listener’s perception of time by drawing attention to the dramatic foreground while subtler elements of the piece continue to evolve. I kept finding myself completely absorbed in the feeling of one moment of the piece, then suddenly, with no recollection of how it got there, I’d realize the piece had entered a different stage entirely. Richter has an interesting compositional ear that is creative at the least and downright extraterrestrial when in full force. -JPM
I’m writing this re/+/cap as if it contains a typog/+/raphic strobe light because by /+/far the most mem/+/orable sensation from F/+/rost’s show was the incessant fl/+/ickering of a collection of str/+/obes. Ben Frost’s sh/+/ow was one of t/+/he more energetic performa/+/nces of the weeke/+/nd. Frost himself coolly/+/ let the music guide his moveme/+/nts and a continual head bob rippled t/+/hrough the crowd. Frost’s fu/+/zzes, tings, and glitches some/+/times took on the persona of IDM, so/+/metimes ethereal soundscapes, and s/+/ometimes mechanical ind/+/ustrialism–most of the time all/+/ three simultaneously. Similar to his strag/+/gly yet sculpted beard, his /+/music is in many ways fr/+/ee yet structured. The quietly confide/+/nt Ben Frost is a powerf/+/ul force in the experimental elect//ronic world and it w/+/as a real pleasure to get to see him in s/+/uch an intimate ven/+/ue. -JPM
Jamie XX reminded us that WNUR knows how to shake its groove thang.
yoo this performance was WILD. probably my favorite of the weekend. I wasn’t sure if Tanya was an exorcist or an exorcisee or somewhere in between, but this set was DOWNRIGHT ANIMALISTIC. That shit was primal af. WOW. I honestly don’t think I’ve ever experienced a more psychedelic performance (and I’ve seen String Cheese Incident like twice!!) Tanya’s one of the illest throat singers in the game right now. all the way turnt 10/10 -Jay Smith
Maddie had the gnarly opportunity to interview Clark! Check it out here.
Nels Cline & Norton Wisdom: Stained Radiance
My only exposure to Nels Cline before this performance was through his work with Wilco, so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. We joined a seemingly aimless line that wound back into a long, narrow amphitheater with no windows. All the seats were filled, so we lined up along the stairs, one of us on each stair. Cline began the set by requesting that audience members look at painter Norton Wisdom, not at him. The duo blew us away with Cline’s seemingly effortless ability to reflect the mood and tone of Wisdom’s painting in real time. This was a “whole is bigger than the sum of its parts” situation–Cline’s strands of ambient electric guitar dictated how the audience perceived the figures spewing from the tip of Wisdom’s brush. The two had obvious chemistry with each other and with their respective media. Wisdom’s wizardry with a paint brush awed the audience, while Cline’s reflective drones tied the artwork to their hearts. A once-in-a-lifetime experience I’m feelin’ lucky to have witnessed once in my lifetime! -JPM
“Once a song has left me I want it to belong to whoever finds it”
“Everything subjective, which due to its dialectical inwardness eludes a direct form of expression, is an essential secret”
So an impasse. I thought really that Grouper’s performance suggested that she would not, could not escape the fundamental inwardness of her art and offer something readily available to the audience. I would have said that of all the artists we deem confessional, the music that is called so deeply personal, Grouper and her performance stand out in taking seriously the claim that this type of expression is necessarily not for the taking. Any attempt by Grouper to directly express the kind of really inner things she has in mind will only mislead, and the performance indicates an awareness of this difficulty. Phrases bleed into one another and sounds collapse into noise just as they become discernable. She almost hides herself on stage, sitting on the ground surrounded her gear. I thought it was stunning despite my being necessarily outside her world.
Kierkegaard describes his “knight of faith” as admirable but not comprehensible. We can watch the truly subjective person dance between infinity and materiality, but in doing so gain no knowledge of how we ourselves might emulate the motion. The direct relationship between the individual and God, or for Grouper between herself and Love, is something for which observation offers no education, as everyone must work out their salvation in radical isolation. If all of this seems ridiculous then everything is in order, because gleaning anything other than awe and mystification from the story of Abraham or a live set by Grouper is the highest of comedic paradox. Two thumbs up. -Brian Campbell
Lovely midday set in Knoxville’s Modern Art museum. Loscil provided subdued, watery vibes whilst surrounded by some sweet glass sculptures. Pleasing sub-bass tones. Heavy low pass filter. Grainy textures. Contemplative. Everything you’d want from an ambient set. It was hot. -Stephen Antonoplis
this guy’s gnarly. no better place to listen to Steve Gunn than Knoxville. Hints of Appalachia bleed through Steve’s pensive guitar licks and weathered vocals. It’s impossible to overstate how phenomenal this performance was. Fans of Kurt Vile look no further; a former Violator himself, Steve’s melancholic melodies hit at the same feels. Me and Emai got to meet Jim Jarmusch after the show which was also cool. Sweet dood, former Wildcat (meow).
These gents are righteous. Big Ears was kind of light on the traditional bands (at least traditional for me: guitar, bass, drums… discernible melodies), but Amen Dunes hit the spot and provided a nice dose of downright listenable grooves. LISTEN: you gotta listen to these guys.
Stephen interviewed Herndon! Checkout the killer feature here.
Images via the WNUR Fam.
From late June through July 2nd, Northwestern’s Dittmar Gallery housed an exhibition curated by the Modern Dance Music Research & Archiving Foundation. The gallery included archival materials courtesy of WNUR Streetbeat on display alongside handwritten set lists written by the late Frankie Knuckles and memorabilia from the Power Plant, both of whose legacies were the focus of the exhibit.
With the opening panel, outgoing Streetbeat Music Director Nick Harwood considered the role of Chicago House in both African-American culture and in the evolution of dance music. A second panel specifically considered WNUR’s night-time programming from the ‘70s through the birth of the Streetbeat program in the ‘80s. The second panel was composed entirely of former NUR DJ’s who afterwards dropped by the studio in Louis Hall for a tour of the facilities. The beat does indeed go on.
The Beat Goes On… was curated and hosted by Dr. Charles Matlock and Lauren Lowery, who kick ass and work to preserve Chicago’s musical heritage at the foundation.
This year WNUR partnered with Pitchfork Music Festival to send two of our own with VIP passes, give away tickets to listeners on-air, as well as to fans on Facebook. Friends of Streetbeat and frequent guest DJs of the Teklife crew like Taso, DJ Taye, and Sirr Tmo all joined DJ Spinn (plus Treated Crew and Era dance crew) on stage to pay tribute to the late great DJ Rashad. While the Teklife set was an obvious highlight of the weekend, Rock Show favorites like Jon Hopkins, Deafheaven, and The Haxan Cloak all brought their talents out to Chicago’s beautiful Union Park. And it didn’t rain even once!
This summer some 20+ scholars from Africa had the opportunity to study at Northwestern through President Obama’s African Leaders Initiative. As a way of thanking the president, the fellows recorded a song at WNUR. Keep an eye out for the track, “Yali”, on WNUR’s soundcloud page. Later in July, Chicago rockers Malafacha Ska came in for a live set during El Zilencio (link to El Zinlencio page)! Stay tuned and keep your ears and eyes on WNUR as we continue to offer Chicago’s finest in experimental music, news broadcasting, and Northwestern sports.