Top Ten Albums of 2014

When I left the office life in April of this year, one of the unforeseen consequences was finding/absorbing less new music. When I was sitting at a computer with headphones on for eight hours a weekday it was easy to stay on top of new music. This year I fell off a little bit. Ok, a lot bit. Nonetheless, I still listened to enough new music to get me to a top ten of the year list. This one’s a little different for me — I didn’t scour the internet looking for things I might have missed, no last minute scrambles to listen to every damn thing, and I didn’t look at anyone else’s list either. These are the ten albums that stuck with me over 2014, each of them got multiple front-to-back listens and I kept coming back for more.


10. Sage Francis – Copper Gone

If you’ve been a fan of Sage Francis for a decade, there’s no way you didn’t love this record. Copper Gone felt like it traveled back to the Personal Journals days, sounding far more like his work ten years ago than his more recent albums Li(f)e and Human The Death Dance. The soft-edged string arrangements and somewhat stilted sense of artiness were replaced by a raw, stripped-down production. Sage is undeniably one of the best musical storytellers in the game, but this time around it seemed like he let things happen as opposed to making them happen. It’s pretty clear that little hiatus between albums completely re-calculated his mental state — Copper Gone is one of his best albums yet.

jack white lazaretto

9. Jack White – Lazaretto

Jack White pulled the rug on us a little bit with Lazaretto. When he released “High Ball Stepper” and “Lazaretto” as singles, it seemed as if this album was going to be easily his heaviest work to date (aside from with The Dead Weather). As it turned out, the rest of the album was quite a bit mellower than the two singles, which was disappointing. There was only one other song on the album that stood up to the singles — “That Black Bat Licorice” — and it might be the best song on the album. Even though much of this album was a little softer than it should have been, the three monster songs on Lazaretto are enough to put it in my top ten — I’m a sucker for everything Jack White does.



If you’re looking for the funkiest release of 2014, look no further than ART OFFICIAL AGE. It appears that Prince’s voice hasn’t aged at all in 30 years as a rock star. It’s not even fair, in fact, it doesn’t even seem humanly possible. Naturally his guitar skills are still outrageous, but on his latest album, he mostly eschewed the shredding in favor of sexy funk riffs and raunchy R&B licks. This album is a perfect blend funk and R&B and came as one of the biggest surprises of 2014.

adebisi shank 3rd

7. Adebisi Shank – This Is the Third Album of a Band Called Adebisi Shank

It’s a goddamn shame that Adebisi Shank called it quits shortly after the release of their 3rd album, because this one is by far their most ambitious work to date. If you liked their first two albums, the opening and closing tracks of this album will remind you of their past work. But it’s the gooey center of this album, a cluster of three tracks, that really set this one apart. Not only do they all sound different from each other, they sound completely different than anything they’ve done before. The real gem is “Sensation,” which might be the very first ‘electro’ track on the Sargent House label. This song blew my mind on first listen and I still don’t quite understand how this band came up with this song. RIP Adebisi Shank, you will be greatly missed.


6. Flying Lotus – You’re Dead

And now for the weirdest album of 2014. Over the past couple of years, FlyLo has seemingly gotten more into trap music, so when You’re Dead came along and didn’t really have much trap influence at all, it was a pleasant surprise. In fact, this album has more jazz influence than anything else — it’s filled with a bunch of short, scattershot tracks that change the mood and flow on a dime. Nobody else in 2014 smashed genres together like Flying Lotus did on You’re Dead — it’s the perfect intersection of electronic music, hip hop, and jazz. And enough weirdness to satisfy even peak weirdos.

snarky puppy WLIH

5. Snarky Puppy – We Like It Here

Another year, another top five Snarky Puppy album. These guys never fail to blow my mind in all the best ways. While We Like It Here might not be the complete & cohesive work that last year’s groundUP was, it’s still a bold record that sounds like nothing else anywhere in the world. This album is cornerstoned by possibly their best track to date, the spine-tingling “Shofukan.” As soon as they started playing this one live, it was clear they had a new banger. But when the album version finally came out, “Binky” all of a sudden had competition for best Snarq Dogg song.

todd terje its album time

4. Todd Terje – It’s Album Time

After toying with everybody for a long time, only releasing a few tracks here and there that every house DJ in America immediately wanted to play, the enigmatic Todd Terje finally released his debut album, the aptly-titled It’s Album Time. Aside from one track, this entire album stood up to the near-mythical stature of his small stream of releases. The only drawback is that the material on It’s Album Time was partially recycled — it would have been better to hear all new stuff. But how can anyone really complain about hearing “Inspector Norse” again? It’s basically a perfect track. Put this on at your next house party and blow your friends’ minds with your impeccable taste in dance music.


3. Freddie Gibbs + Madlib – Pinata

The definition of Instant Classic. On first listen of this album I was convinced that it was going to be the best album of 2014. While a couple of albums made just slightly more of an impact on me, this album is nearly perfect. It’s got everything that has made Madlib the best hip hop producer on the planet — all of his crackles, twists, and idiosyncrasies are on full display. Nobody else does what Madlib does, period. But the real surprise of this album was Freddie Gibbs, who instantly became one of my favorite rappers. This guys ability to keep flowing for extended periods of time is truly mind-boggling. At points it seems like he doesn’t breathe at all for about a minute. I simply had no clue how awesome Gibbs is. This rapper/producer combo is a true revelation.


2. Odesza – In Return

The best electronic album of the year was an easy call. Even though Todd Terje’s album is badass all-around, what Odesza did with In Return is pretty monumental. It was instantly clear that this album was every bit the brilliant work of both Disclosure’s and Flume’s debut LPs. In fact, these three groups are all very similar in that they are some type of house music, some type of garage music, but all three are basically genre-free. And they’re three of the best electronic producers in the world. Nobody defines the difference between ‘electronic music’ and ‘EDM’ quite like these three… but I wouldn’t have said that before In Return. This album is stupidly good and cements their place near the top of the electronic music totem pole. Especially when you listen to “Bloom,” which somehow took trap and made it sound awesome — it’s by far the best appropriation of trap beats I’ve ever heard. And “Say My Name” is my favorite dance track of 2014 by a landslide — it’s basically 2014’s “Latch.”


1. Run The Jewels 2

It was a tall order for any album to leap over Odesza and Madlib/Freddie Gibbs heading into the final quarter of the year. But as soon as I put my ears on Run The Jewels 2, it was clear that this was hands down the best album of 2014. This record is as close as it gets to an actual sledgehammer; it’s the most aggressive thing I’ve heard in a long time. It’s hip hop straight from the gut of two of the best in the game. The combo of El-P and Killer Mike is almost too good, their styles complement each other perfectly. Their raw emotions utterly pour out of this work — their anger is palpable, and it’s clear why the establishment is scared of these guys. This is what hip hop is all about — if RTJ2 doesn’t get your blood flowing, you’re definitely in a coma. The year 2014 definitely belonged to Run The Jewels.

Suwannee Hulaween 2014


[Words and photos by Adam Taylor]

The String Cheese Incident’s Suwannee Hulaween, which just celebrated the second year of its reincarnation after a few year hiatus, is held at one of the most beautiful and enchanting outdoor music parks in the country, The Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park (SOSMP). The home of festivals such as Wanee, Bear Creek, Aura, and The Purple Hatter’s Ball has a stunning landscape, with a mixture of grassy clearings spread out amongst a dense forest full of gargantuan Live Oak trees. The winding trails, and Spanish Moss draped over the trees, amplify the connection to nature you feel in this place, making the venue as central a piece of the festival experience as any of the music performed or friends made. Taking place over Halloween weekend, from October 30th through November 2nd in the wilderness of Northern Florida,  Suwannee Hulaween features an incredible seven sets of Cheese – three on Halloween night including a special theatrical cover set as well as two each other evening – in addition to a stellar, impeccably selected lineup of other acts, both in headliners and artists lower on the bill. Some of these included Beats Antique, Greensky Bluegrass, Keller Williams & Friends, Joe Russo’s Almost Dead, Shpongle, Thievery Corporation, Kung Fu, and Big Gigantic.

Photo by Josh Timmermans
Photo by Josh Timmermans




Festival Experience

Aside from the non-stop music heard throughout the grounds, whether that be from a campsite, car stereo, or one of the stages, and the beautiful natural setting you find yourself immersed in, the weekend is non-stop stimulation.  Everywhere you turn, there is something competing for your attention: live artists, wildly dressed performers or crazy costumed fans .  From the Spirit Lake, which offers some incredible visual imagery, which even further transforms the landscape when the sun goes down, to simply walking around to check out how people have set up and Cheesified their campsites with spider webs, tapestries, inflatable furniture, light projections and more, there isn’t a dull moment, even when there are no artists performing on-stage. Even in while immersed in live music, the madness onstage can’t keep you from looking around at the effects of the lights on the mythical looking Oak trees, wandering over to the the live artists, or being drawn in by the hoopers, some in large groups, in total synchrony.

My journey to The Spirit of Suwannee involved planes, trains, and automobiles and began with waking up before the crack of dawn to catch the first flight out of Chicago to Atlanta. I rendezvoused with my crew of ATLiens before our road trip down to Live Oak, loading up on snacks and food at everyone’s favorite Wal-Mart in lovely Valdosta, GA. Seriously, after a 5-hour car ride with the promise of 7 sets of Cheese at the end of the tunnel, this South Georgia mecca of commerce felt like being in an episode of South Park.  We finally pulled into the park at dusk Thursday night to be greeted by beyond friendly and enthusiastic staff.  Since SOSMP is a park that is literally built for crowds and even more-so for music festivals, entry into the park is smooth and ticket issues, while rare, are quickly resolved.  The grounds are pretty spread out, yet incredibly easy to navigate, with easy to remember landmarks throughout: the Bat House, the Lake, the General Store, the disc golf course, the stables, and so on. One of the most unique parts of attending a festival at SOSMP is that open campfires are not prohibited.  Aside from this being a lifesaver given that the temperature dropped below freezing at night, who doesn’t like sitting around a fire, staring at the flames while reflecting on the face melt you just experienced and sipping on hot bourbon-cider? This goes on-and-on when it comes to things I love about this park, but you definitely get the picture by now.




Thursday Pre-Party:

I’m a huge fan of the festival pre-party, and there was a great line-up of artists set to open the festival on Thursday night at the Amphitheater stage.  With acts like Particle, Yo Mama’s Big Fat Booty Band, Modern Measure, and MZG, the night could have easily been complete.  But the crowd wasn’t through yet, and neither was the music: we were treated to a 2-hour closing set from Electron, the all-star supergroup formed by Marc Brownstein, which also includes Aron Magner of The Disco Biscuits, Mike Greenfield of Lotus, and Tom Hamilton of Brothers Past.  This was truly the highlight of the night for me. Brownie & Co. played to the energy in the crowd on this one, catering to emotions of excitement and gratification with everyone in attendance having made the journey from near and far to make the most of their Halloween weekend.  I feel like the set-list was also very well thought out, a sprinkling of DB tracks including ‘Home Again’ and ‘Confrontation’ and later a mesmerizing cover of Pink Floyd’s ‘Comfortably Numb’ to warm up the crowd on an extraordinarily chilly night in North Florida.

Bonus: Camping in the area behind the main stage, as we journeyed back from Electron, the SCI production team was testing the lighting rig for the nights ahead…sweet.



Friday, October 31st

Friday, October 31st, Halloween Day, was one of the most picturesque days for camping and listening to music outside I’ve lived to experience.  Slightly cool weather, but warm in the sun, not a cloud in the sky – wary, but anxious festival-goers arriving in a steady stream of cars from all over – the knowledge that The String Cheese Incident, who many have not seen in so long, will be taking the stage that night for not one, not two, but three sets.  It was hard to even imagine that besides Cheese being the main course that evening, it was sandwiched between early sets by Greensky Bluegrass and Emancipator and late night sets by Beats Antique and Thievery Corporation, with a palate cleanser in the form of Simon Posford, AKA Shpongle, coming between Cheese sets one and two, as the production team prepared the stage for the special Halloween cover set.




With so many of my favorite artists coming together in one night, in a place tied to so many memories with so many of my close friends, Friday of Hulaween was really one of those days that I felt like it was made for me.  Greensky’s matinee set was only made better by the fact that the band members were dressed as “Perfect Little Angels” – while there might be nothing funnier than seeing 5 grown men dressed up as angels on-stage, those that know Greensky were cracking up at the irony of the group’s costume choice. Emancipator’s set at the Amphitheater stage was something I had long looked forward to.  The past year I have crossed paths with Doug Appling’s musical ventures several times, but this was my first time seeing just violinist Ilya Goldberg and Appling up there without the Ensemble since Hulaween 2013.  He never disappoints, and with the fading sunlight popping through the moss-draped trees onto the transfixed and costumed crowd, I couldn’t help thinking how well planned this scheduling was with SCI coming up next.  Thinking ahead to the genius of Shpongle getting everyone moving for the Afterlife set as darkness creeps in, and to how nuts Beats Antique is going to be in this very location when 8,000 people stagger over after a heavy dose of Cheese.  A wave of excitement washes over me and I know it’s time to put my game face on.



While that was my magical moment of the day, theres is nothing in the world like the first set of Cheese.  While this is not to say that Set Two: The Afterlife wasn’t one of the most ridiculously awesome musical experiences I have ever been a part of – I mean, The String Cheese Incident in elaborate costume playing songs like ‘Sympathy for the Devil,’ ‘Live and Let Die,’ ‘Stairway to Heaven,’ and ‘Thriller?’ Plus pyrotechnics, horns, huge blowups skulls, Giant Michael Jackson, and confetti cannons? Pretty sure we’re painting a pretty clear picture here.  And I don’t want to put down any aspect of that third set, continuing the trend of the day, seemingly crafted for yours truly with an explosive rendition of “Rosie,” a personal top-choice, but SCI’s opening set just hit it for me in all the right places.  Something about sunset Cheese, the first of seven sets over the weekend of your favorite band and after such a long wait, truly put me in a state of total joy.  Opening with ‘Restless Wind’ and moving into ‘Joyful Sound,’ ending with ‘Valley of the Jig’ and ‘Can’t Wait Another Day,’ I was in bliss.  This feeling is the best in the world, and especially knowing that that was just one down with six more to go.




Shpongle and Beats Antique, as expected, were in their best form, both with distinct world sounds.  Having attended the Creature Carnival Tour in Chicago a few weeks earlier, featuring Emancipator, Shpongle, and Beats Antique, I knew to expect a lot of theatrics from the latter, yes even more than we usually see from Zoe Jakes,  including a variety of dancers, masked drummers and performers, a giant inflatable Cyclops Kitty, wacky inflatable arm-flailing tube-people, and a hammering of psychedelic, mind bending visuals with Lafa Taylor actings as the ringleader of this midnight circus.  The Bassheads in the crowd definitely got their fix, opening with with Bassnectar’s remix of ‘Rustabout’ and dropping ‘Butterfly’ later in the set. This all after 3 sets of Cheese with still more to come.



Thievery Corporation is always an eye opener, and Rob Garza’s brainchild always seems to entertain no matter the crowd or time of day.  Sticking to the theme of old world and ethnically influenced sound, the crowd arrives at the main stage to see Rob Myers center stage, sitting Indian Style on a couch with his Sitar.  For me, each time I see Thievery, I expect something exciting and different every time, between their middle eastern influence, affinity to acid jazz, and wide array of synthesizers. However one member of the collective I can never seem to take my eyes off of is bassist Ashish Vayas.  This guy, while obviously inexplicably talented as a musician, was simply born to be on stage.  A rowdy individual in his own right, he has a mop of wild long black hair, and as he constantly struts across the stage, he is interacting with all the other performers, making eye contact with members of the audience, energizing the crowd and his bandmates like it’s science.  Thievery played their well-known track ‘Lebanese Blonde’ as most would assume, but what I thought stood out during their set was the amount of reggae performed.  We are all fans of this genre, but for some reason, I feel it is the type of music I get to hear performed live the least for some reason.  After some exploring of the incredible Spirit Lake and a lap around the park, it was time to set up the campfire and make some much deserved grilled cheese sandwiches.




Saturday, November 1st

While Friday was an epic marathon while at the same time felt surreal, the music lineup on Saturday was nothing short of stellar.  The temperature dropping significantly from the day before, with early afternoon sets by Bear Toe and Strung Like a Horse, and performances by Cope, The Heavy Pets, Nahko & Medicine for the People, and The Suwannee Bluegrass Surprise, Keller Williams, all coming before 6 pm, this was a day chock full of feel good sounds and rock & roll.  A celebratory feel was in the air as well, The Heavy Pets playing their 1,000th show ever, a huge milestone in quite a special setting. A personal highlight of the afternoon included seeing the Tampa-based jammers, Cope, for the first time with a unique sound that’s easy to get lost in.  The crowd was feeling it as well and it became an all out dance party.  There was certainly no disappointment in getting to see the Suwannee Bluegrass Surprise, Keller Williams, who opened with ‘Kidney in a Cooler’ and played a great rendition of ‘Scarlet Begonias,’ a great warm up for the main act of the night.



Cheese killed it as always, with the first set featuring Keller Willams and Nicky Sanders in addition to songs like ‘Search,’ ‘Lost,’ and personal favorite knee-slapper, ‘Resume Man.’  The second set was even more of a journey, opening with ‘Let’s Go Outside’ and ‘Black Clouds,’ and getting more intense and hyper-sensory with ‘Sirens,’ ‘Live Oak Jam,’ and ‘ Rivertrance’ before a ‘BollyMunster’ encore.  How can you not be utterly out of breath after this? After taking this all in and letting my jaw rest on the floor for a while, it’s back to the Amphitheater stage for The New Deal, which is a nice little break before heading to either The Spirit Lake stage or Main Stage for Kung Fu or Big Gigantic respectively.  One of the few overlapping set-times of the weekend, I am still impressed by the planning and organization that went into this scheduling – Big G and Kung Fu attract very different factions from within Cheesehead Nation, so I don’t think this decision was very hard for anyone.  Big Gigantic played the same set they’ve played the 3 times I’ve seen them in the last 6 months, but it was nonetheless a huge party and everybody there had a blast, myself included.  Kung Fu on the other hand, was one of the most exciting sets of the weekend – I very much regret missing the first half of Kung Fu to catch a little Big G.




And although Kung Fu absolutely blew my mind with so much craziness coming off that tiny stage, one set in particular stood out distinctly on Saturday and forever won my fandom: Conspirator.  I’ve always been a fan of Brownie, and I have long been a supporter of side projects, which allow artists to explore certain elements of the musical spectrum that may not be as acceptable to a widespread fanbase.  However,in the handful of times I’ve seen Conspirator, I have been left less than impressed and wanting more.  In previous experiences, either the sound was mixed poorly, the artists on stage did not have seem to have good chemistry, or the track selection felt simply monotonous and dull.  But this late afternoon timeslot, preceding the second night of an onslaught of Cheese as described above, was one of the high points of the festival for me.  The sound was mixed to perfection for this set, with the bass physically moving the crowd, but not in excess.  The synths and slight intricacies of the performance were heard loud and clear, and the lighting effects were the perfect compliment to the diminishing natural light disappearing through the trees.  Combine this with Dominic Lalli as well as drummer Jeremy Salken of Big Gigantic joining Conspirator on stage…game, set, match.  This brings up another one of my favorite elements of Hulaween, in that since it is a festival put on largely by The String Cheese Incident, you end up with artists who have a lot of history with one another, who are good friends, and have experience collaborating and improvising, both in a live setting and in a studio.  It gives the festival a vibe which shrinks the disparity between artist and fan, and making all in attendance feel a personal connection to the acts and brings the musicians down a notch from the celebrity treatment one might see at a massive, more commercialized fest.  For example, just minutes after finishing up Cheese set number 2 on Saturday night, percussionist Jason Hann could be seen throughout the park chatting with fans, taking selfies those who dared to ask, and taking in the magic at Spirit Lake.





Sunday, November 2nd

The final day of the festival is always a little different in knowing that you have one more day to get your fill before leaving fantasyland for the real world.  The weather was cool and sunny, and Ghost Owl opened up the day before a beautiful set by Rising Appalachia, a quickly up-and-coming act led by sisters Chloe and Leah Smith.  Their music is a mixture of folk and soul, and they employ a variety of different world instruments, creating an incredibly unique sound.  This show was one the most impactful of the entire weekend, completely unexpected and moving.  The crowd was entirely captivated, entranced by the beauty emanating from the stage.  Their set flowed perfectly with songs like ‘Filthy Dirty South’ and ‘Medicine,’ both clear crowd pleasers.


The day-party continued, with Dean Ween rocking out on the Amphitheater stage, getting everyone ready for the final two sets of The String Cheese Incident to come that evening. I’ve said it before, but one of the great things about Cheese is the evolution to what they are capable of now from their bluegrass roots, and it is truly incredible how they craft each set to showcase so many different talents and musical genres, while retaining that distinctive Cheesiness we all fell in love with. This final Incident at Suwannee Hulaween was definitely one to remember, opening up their first set with ‘Sometimes a River,’ and closing with ‘Round the Wheel,’ which hasn’t been played in at least a year.  The second Cheese set was killer as well, everyone in the crowd getting goofy with jam after jam: ‘Song in my Head’ > ‘This Must Be The Place’ > ‘On The Road’ > ‘Bumpin Reel’ > ‘Texas’ (encore).  And though there was more music to come that night, I just kept hoping that they would come back on stage for just one more.  People all over had the same sentiment, evident by the sporadic shouts of one last song requests: “Jellyfish!”, “Little Hands!”, “Lester!”




With Cheese having ended, I was really looking forward to the rest of the evening, although slightly bummed about another one of the few set conflicts that weekend.  This time it was between EOTO on the Main Stage and Van Ghost at Spirit Lake, before the festival finale down at the good old Amphitheater Stage with our friends Joe Russo’s Almost Dead.  I knew I would be splitting time between both, but opted to stick around for EOTO first.  Unfortunately there were some hiccups getting Travis and Jason’s equipment working correctly and this delayed their start time a bit. Despite this, Hann was all smiles and the duo dropped serious some seriously freaky noises on the crowd.  It was definitely the crunch I was looking for all weekend, although I really was hoping they brought their lasers!  Oh well…no complaints from me – it was a fantastic display of musical talent, and a snapshot of what it really means to play to a crowd.  By the time I could peel myself away from EOTO to head to Van Ghost, there was just a little bit of time left in their set.  But I am really glad I made it for a few songs because Michael Harrison Berg was tearing it up on that packed in stage with our girl Jennifer Hartswick.  After this ended, all bodies converged upon the Amphitheater one last time for Joe Russo.  Man do I love these guys: there really is no music that brings about nostalgia like the Dead and I always cherish every note when I get to hear Joe Russo’s Almost Dead. Closing out the festival, I saw several moments within the set when groups of people huddled together for group hugs, rows of the crowd putting all their arms around one another while swaying to the music, and so many happy couples.  Just so much love and happiness and good feelings set to an amazing soundtrack. A part of the night I will never forget is their rendition of ‘Uncle John’s Band,’ which hits a sweet spot for me, in that way that cannot even be described in words.  From there they went into a crazy jam on ‘No Quarter’ then back into ‘Uncle John’s Band’ with ‘Franklin’s Tower’ to shut it down. It was a spectacular way to end the festival and the creatures of Suwannee Hulaween were in no way left unsatisfied.





Biggest Musical Surprise

While Conspirator, Electron, Rising Appalachia, and Kung Fu were definitely some of the highlights of my weekend (aside from Cheese of course), there was a very special set played in the park that only those in proximity were lucky enough to experience.  With SOSMP so well equipped for large crowds and built for heavy duty camping, there are electrical hookups and water spouts at just every few yards in certain parts of the park.  Sitting around our fire listening to music in the wee hours of Halloween night, we start to hear some very powerful blues/folk rock coming from somewhere close by.  As a group of us grab our headlamps and venture out into the dark towards the sound, we come upon an impromptu concert, with 4 or 5 musicians playing, instruments loud and deep, hooked up to amplifiers, and a projector emitting bizarre visual imagery onto a screen and the trees surrounding the camp.  A crowd of 50 or so had gathered, huddled up to keep warm and sitting on the ground and the music was mysterious and beautiful.  The band, who we later found out was Bear Toe, had opted to camp with the fans instead of in the artist area or in a cabin and really connected with their crowd that night.  Scheduled to perform on Saturday at the Spirit Lake Stage, I really appreciated them having treated our little community to some bonus tunes.  There was something incredibly organic about this experience, and I can only hope to have more similar opportunities like this in the future.  Hats off to Bear Toe: certified.



Spirit Lake

Spirit Lake, an adventure for the senses in 2013, was much improved and way more immersive this year.  From mystifying light projections, art installations, to the legendary Jelly Swing, you could entertain yourself forever in there.  The landscape morphed throughout the weekend with artists adding to it each day.  And with the Spirit Lake Stage right there, you could still enjoy late night live music while exploring all the different areas of the setup.  Many took refuge near the 20-foot tall Infinite Infant, famous from Burning Man which warmed all those gathered nearby with its frequent, and rhythmically released flames.  My favorite part of the Spirit Lake area this year was what was called the ‘Sonic Forest.’ In here, as you walk through a grid of metal poles, sounds are emitted from behind, in front, and to the sides of you.  It really confuses the senses, and you become utterly disoriented, trying to stay focused on where you are going.  The lights being projected onto the trees at Spirit Lake, most visible from across the water from the art installations, were mesmerizing as well, a perfect fusion of technology and nature.  Another breathtaking installment is tough to describe in words, but my best summary would be projections overlapping on paintings, to make these pieces of art seem almost lifelike.  I was very pleased with what the Spirit Lake experience had to offer this year, and hope that it continues to build upon itself as a Hulaween in the Swamp tradition.


Photo by Josh Timmermans
Photo by Josh Timmermans

Let’s be honest.  No one goes to a music festival and has a bad time.  But there are those special weekends, when everything just seems to align perfectly.  A Halloween camping festival, located at Spirit of Suwannee Music Park in Live Oak, FL, featuring The String Cheese Incident for seven whole sets: this is the type of festival where you leave feeling fulfilled and that by having now attended, it would be a travesty to miss one in the future.  I for one had the time of my life at Suwannee Hulaween 2014, made so many new friends and reconnected with so many others.  Growing up in Atlanta, the southern scene is one that I feel very comfortable with. Going to festivals in the south just has a slightly higher degree of laid-back, no rush, kind of vibe.  A goal I have set for my future self is to spend as many music weekends at SOSMP as possible, but I can wholeheartedly guarantee my attendance at Hulaween 2015.  See you in the Swamp!





Interview with John Medeski


[Interview by Joel Berk | Photos by Stuart Levine]

Earlier this year jazz/funk/improv giants Medeski Martin & Wood re-joined forces with legendary guitarist John Scofield for Juice – their third studio record as Medeski Scofield Martin & Wood. While MSMW’s debut, A Go Go, was entirely Scofield material and Out Louder – their second studio record – was culled from hours of improvisation, Juice is a collection of new originals written for the album and drastically reimagined covers that are distinctly this band. This is not a trio with a guest or guitarist + backing band, this is a quartet with undeniable chemistry and a life all it’s own.

We caught up with keyboard madman, John Medeski to discuss the record and supporting tour.

about the record:

How did this record come about? What determines when it’s time for you four to get together and work on new material?

This band has a life of its own, and it seems like there comes a point when we just HAVE to get together again and make music. It was that time.

Did you have anything written for the record before Billy circulated that mix of African rhythms, or did you come into the studio with a basic idea that was fleshed out collectively?

We circulated the music as soon as we decided to record to use as inspiration, realizing that that would mean different things to each of us. It was boogaloo music, which is funk influenced latin groove music. All of us love this music. The possibilities are too many with this band, so we decided to have something to provide a little focus for this recording. Everyone came in with some ideas or tunes and as we recorded, what worked was very clear. It was fun and easy.

How does Juice differ from MSMW’s previous two studio records?

I suppose our approach was a little different from the previous recordings, maybe a combination of methods. A Go Go was Sco’s record, his music, his project. We put our sauce all over it, but he was the leader. Out Louder was a total collaboration where we worked in the studio together to create the music, completely collective. Juice is somewhere between the two. We have developed a special language over the years which made it easy to decide on a general direction then come into the studio with some music prepared, still allowing for things to happen on there own.

What sparked your inclusion of the acoustic piano on this record?

Sound is everything for us. We went for the classics: piano and organ. I think it helps give this recording a different character than the others.

How is the MSMW recording process different from making MMW records (other than the obvious inclusion of another musician)?

The process is not that different, but the addition of a different personality into the mix changes how things turn out, in the same way an intimate dinner party is effected by who is there.

Was there a conscious effort to include so many covers this time around, or did it just pan out that way? Any other cover ideas kicked around or attempted?

It wasn’t conscious, we just tried a few things, they worked, and they ended up as part of the album. “Light My Fire” was an experiment. Chris Wood brought the idea in and we didn’t know if it was going to work, but we loved it. “Sunshine of Your Love” was the surprise. We just started that one in between takes of the stuff we had planned. When we listened back, we knew we had to use it. Danny Blume’s mix took it where it needed to go.

What about John Scofield’s playing clicks so well with MMW and makes this one worth going back to time and time again?

Well, John is a great musician, one of the great guitar players out there now. We all love so much of the same music and have both been trying to do the same thing in our own different ways. We’ve been trying to keep the spirit of improvisation that is jazz while integrating and exploring other music. We have a lot of cross over between us. The chemistry that can happen in music is impossible to explain, but its strong and undeniable with MSMW. It’s a band of its own that is different than what either of us would do on our own — thus it has a life of its own.


about the live show:

What can we expect from MSMW on tour time time out? Aside from material from Juice, what else will the set be comprised of?

We’ll be playing the music of Juice, and almost anything from the history of what we’ve done together, plus some new music of the moment that will be unique each night never to happen again.

You four have such telepathic chemistry, it’s always exciting to watch you leave the script, how much of a given MSMW show is improvised?

The basic structure of the songs is defined, but EVERYTHING else is improvised, plus we always keep the option open for anyone to take the music in another direction at any time.

Is your role on stage any different with MSMW than with other projects?

Well, I get to be an accompanist, which is one of my favorite things to do. It’s a natural role for a piano player and something I have always loved. Really, I try to deal with any music I play the same way. I listen to what is going on as a whole and try to add something that becomes part of it. Depending on so many different factors-the style or the other musicians involved, et cetera, I do different things.

What can you do live with MSMW that you can’t with other incarnations of the MMW thing?

It gives MMW a chance to be a rhythm section and take on a supportive role together when Sco is soloing, which is something we love to do.

Medeski Scofield Martin & Wood’s Juice is out now via MMW’s Indirecto imprint.

Their tour continues tonight at Massey Hall in Toronto tomorrow then The Vic in Chicago on Saturday before concluding Sunday at First Avenue in Minneapolis.

Commentary: Run The Jewels at Metro

[Photos by Jon Pliske]

"The people made us a rap group"
“The people made us a rap group”

It’s hard to write an objective show review about a group that you really like. Especially when you’ve seen them four times. Especially when their modus operandi is “fuckboys beware” and they have a side project called Meow the Jewels.  Especially when they are Killer Mike and El P.


Are you guys okay if I forgo a set list and a metaphorical description of the energy of the crowd from that night at the Metro?

The show ruled, they played all of the songs you would want them to play, I love the Metro, and Run the Jewels might be my favorite hip hop act on the planet right now.


Alright? Cool? I think we have some more important things to get to.

Okay. Last week a Grand Jury refused to indict an NYPD officer for choking a man to death. Eric Garner. The craziest thing is, this isn’t an isolated incident. I won’t get into the laundry list of “reasons why living in America right now is fucking terrifying.”

In this country of ours, you can murder someone *on film* and get away with it. It’s crazy. It’s… wrong. It’s inhumane. It’s evil.

This has what to do with Run the Jewels? Well, everything. Hip hop and societal anxiety surrounding the issue of race/gender/poverty are intrinsically tied to one another. There has always been tension between institutionalized racism (police brutality, mandatory sentencing etc.) and Hip Hop music.

From Grandmaster Flash’s “The Message” to Public Enemy’s Fear of Black Planet; from Lupe Fiasco’s The Cool to Ice T’s early stuff, et al. So called “conscious” Hip Hop — Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Brother Ali, Immortal Technique, Cunninglynguists, just to name a few. These are all artists who have used their talent to voice dissent against a system that has refused to include them. I am not just talking about being black, or being white, or whatever else. I am talking about being powerless in a society that doesn’t care about you or your future.  (My friend Ben made a good point here- what about Punk Rock and Henry Rollins et al? Punk Rock was around saying “fuck you” to the system and sticking safety pins through it’s ears while Hip Hop was still a glimmer in Soul music’s eye… but perhaps Punk doesn’t have the same relationship with race/class issues that hip hop does… but that’s for another time).

In the last 15 years it is pretty obvious that Hip Hop has gone away from the fringes of society, out of the hands of the “undesirables” and into the hands of Katy Perry and the people who orchestrated her bionic breasts. Right? Top 40 is fun to dance to and makes money. That is why Taylor swift was given a “ghetto blaster” and Jason Aldean had Ludacris guest spit on a song that I am pretty sure is an extended Chevy Truck commercial. Also, who the fuck is Jason Derulo?

The popular musical landscape is littered with shiny pop music that says little and means even less. Haters gonna hate, and we will shake it off, right?

No. Fuck that.

Fuck all of that.

We need music to do what only it has the power to do. We need it to be a reflection of our humanity. If that reflection truly is One Direction and Ariana Grande… well… I quit.

We need music and more specifically Hip Hop to be an agent of change, and to bring us together, and to make us feel things again.

Rolling Stone just named Run the Jewels 2 as the best Hip Hop album of the year (let’s pretend they didn’t give the album of the year to U2). It is pretty clear. This record released without fanfare or marketing dollars is what we want and what we need because it addresses how precariously balanced we are on the precipice of becoming totally fucked.

Let’s rewind that back for a second. Run the Jewels started as a side projects of sorts. El P had a bunch of stuff he wanted to get into the studio with after Cancer 4 Cure and Killer Mike happened to jump on some songs. Then some more. Then people told them it was good, and they turned it into an album. El P even said, “The people made us a rap group. We never set out to be one.”

They released RTJ 1 as a free download because they didn’t want to mess with all of the bullshit that comes with pushing a major record release. They wanted to get their music into the hands of the people who wanted to hear it.

Turns out, we wanted to hear it.

We are thirsty for music that has meaning and speaks to our angst. We want and need music that is honest and articulate, music that stands for something and stands up for us. This so called “conscious” Hip Hop can no longer be just the stuff of bleeding heart liberals, academic Hip Hop heads and chatty grad students. Hip Hop is conscious. Hip Hop is consciousness.

We may not be able to dismantle this horribly flawed system on our own. We all got bills to pay and shit to do and dogs to walk and gluten-free manicures to get. But we can lend our voices in dissent. We can start an open dialogue. We can vote and we can be activists in our communities and we can learn from each other and we can be kind. We can support those whose voices speak the truth and reach many. We can get together and listen to good music and go to rap shows and smoke blunts. We can be Jewel Runners. Alright?


Okay Killer Mike and El P, you have our attention. Lead the way, homies.

Umphrey’s McGee’s 2000th Show at Orpheum Theatre in Madison, WI

No matter how you slice it, 2,000 shows is a whole lot of stage time. It’s quite an impressive feat for Umphrey’s McGee to reach 2,000 shows in right around 16 years of playing together. That’s a high average of shows per year for a sustained period of years. There’s no question that they’re one of the hardest working and most dedicated bands in the world, and when you stand back and look at numbers like those, the case is open and shut.

The average career length in the NFL is 3.3 seasons, which seems kinda short at first glance when stars like Peyton Manning seemingly play forever. But when you step back and look at how many third string players come through the league it makes sense. It’s a completely analogous situation with live touring bands… how many bands ever make it to even 500 shows? Or 1,000? You don’t stumble into a 16 year NFL career just like you don’t stumble into a 16 year touring career with over 2,000 shows. If the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame knew anything about anything, Umphrey’s McGee would be a no-brainer first ballot selection.

But what about the actual show, man? Well, it was special. It wasn’t one of the best shows in terms of flow/segues or improv, but it’s definitely one I’ll always remember based on the environment and song selection alone. To start with, they picked an amazing place to play this show. As much as it pains me to say it, Wisconsin’s venues shit all over every venue we have in Chicago. I’ve maintained that the Riverside in Milwaukee is my favorite venue to see Umphrey’s, but now it’s got competition with the Orpheum Theatre. This place is everything I want in a venue — great sound, gorgeous design, very clean, clear sightlines, awesome beer selection/prices (mmmm Spotted Cow) and wonderfully relaxed security. If you picked this place up on a flatbed and moved it to Chicago it’d instantly be the best venue in the city. Wisconsin, you guys really know how to music venue.

There were definitely some standout moments of improv, as there is in every single show, night in and night out with this band. But this was definitely a ‘setlist show’ considering the depth of bustouts they unwrapped. The mirror image set-enders “August” and “Slacker” were almost predictable in a way — probably the two oldest regular rotation songs that are nearly universally loved. But they threw huge curveballs in both of them with a single verse uber-bustout of “The Other Side of Things” and “G-Song” in “August” and “Slacker” respectfully. Old beloved songs with even older and more rare jams, complete with absolutely flawless transitions in and out of both jams. Now that’s the business. And know what makes this even better? I don’t think that “G-Song” verse was planned at all — “TOSOT” was on the setlist, but it seemed like Bayliss conjured “G-Song” up himself, on the fly, like a boss. For a song they supposedly would never play again, that was a pretty badass way to give us most likely the last little taste anyone will ever hear.

While it’s not quite rare enough to be considered a bustout, the placement of “Kimble” was one of the true genius moves of the night. Easily one of their most underrated instrumentals, “Kimble” has the potential to be a monster when properly wound up. Since the song itself takes a minute to really get going, smooth segueing to it directly out of the hellfire of “Mulche’s Odyssey” was basically the best way to serve “Kimble.” There was no wind up time necessary, it was like a base-stealer getting the perfect jump on the pitcher’s delivery. It’s little things like this that let us know how detail-oriented this band can be; there’s no way there could be such a dedicated group of nerd-fans who geek out over for hours if the band wasn’t a little bit nerdy about the details themselves.

And how about this for a bustout? Talk about a cover song NOBODY saw coming: out of nowhere mid-first set they dropped Bob Marley’s “Walk The Proud Land,” which hadn’t been played in 12 years, a 1,465 show gap. Awesome bustout choice and and even more awesome cover. With all prog shred filth it’s easy to forget how well they can play some kicked-back reggae. And on the other side of the spectrum, mid-second set they unleashed a brand new cover, which is about as un-reggae as it gets. Not everyone recognized The Pixies’ “Where Is My Mind?” right away, but by the time the chorus washed over the entire crowd was euphoric. Talk about two entirely unpredictable cover choices.

But, at the end of the day, what will stick out to most people as the cornerstone of this monumental show was how fucking hard we got Porch’d. When it comes to over-the-top sentimental classics, it doesn’t get any more beloved than “Front Porch,” and they dropped a proper three-jam, 17-minute Porch on our asses. And thanks to the final of those three improv sections, this song was one of those ‘instant Hall of Fame’ moments. But it didn’t arrive there without some work. The first jam was one of those happy, effervescent things that felt good but didn’t really go anywhere. The second jam was significantly more developed and far more substantial — it unfolded into a rare potent piano-driven piece, with Joel pushing the whole thing while the guitars filled in with poignant wailing harmonics. First a nice jam, then a more emotional jam, it was pretty clear there was only one way to go with the third jam… off the fucking deep end.

And dead sweet lord baby jesus did they go off the deep end. Almost immediately the sound faded to black, with Jake getting ultra weird and Joel kicking in the mind-fucking reverse delay effects on his piano. In a matter of a few seconds the show went from joyous Porching to hurtling backwards through a goddamn black hole. Myers picked up the scattered pieces, brought some order to the chaos and started building. Some crafty perc work from Farag added extra weird dimension to the upswing of jam, and Stasik’s snubnose basstone was the perfect choice to accompany the altogether weirdness of the improv. It was a single ascent jam, but once they reached the summit of this thing it was this insane blues & hip-hop mutant that transitioned smooth as a newborn baby into the final composed segment of “Porch,” and stood mightily on top of the show as the unquestioned improv champion of the night. This “Front Porch” was the stuff \mm/ dreams are made of and it will no doubt garner considerable Hall of Fame 2014 consideration.

It was only fitting Umphrey’s McGee’s 2,000th show featured a gargantuan “Front Porch.” Nobody really actually tries to call a “Front Porch” these days, but after the fact, it felt like there was absolutely no other way for it to happen. It was Porch Destiny.

After 2,000 shows it’s safe to say that 3,000 shows is no longer safe. Long live Umphrey’s McGee.

Amrita and Brothers Rage Halloween at The Sex House

Everybody loves house parties. Hell, you’ve probably been to more of them than you can even remember. Some of us have even unleashed a fire extinguisher upstairs at a frat party and set off the fire alarms and ran out the back door cackling laughing with two full cups of keg beer and people yelling, “Find the guy who did this and kick his ass!!” But that’s neither here nor there. The point is we’ve all been to plenty of house parties, but this was easily one of the best house parties I’ve ever raged.

It definitely doesn’t hurt to have a light design whiz own the house (Pat Riley of Amrita) and deck out the basement with more moving lights than your average small venue show. It also didn’t hurt that it was Halloween and everyone in attendance brought their A-game. Best of all was the awesome crew of people — it was a tight group of friends and absolutely no riff raff. Well, there was a RiFF RAFF, but he sat in with Brothers Rage for a sick cover of “Love Rollercoaster.”

Both bands played fun sets for the loose crowd — not too serious, but every bit of a ‘real’ gig despite being in a basement. Brothers Rage sounded pretty damn good for a band that doesn’t play nearly enough. They were a bit sloppy around the edges — to their credit so was everyone else in the building — but they threw down enough inventive improv to keep everyone engaged. Amrita was the much sharper band, they sounded extremely well-rehearsed as they tore through a laundry list of Halloween-themed covers. Both bands played to the holiday festivities and put on a great show — both Brothers Rage and Amrita are much better than their relatively modest amount of fans would suggest. There’s definitely some badass music underneath the surface in Chicago and these two bands are two of the best.

Otter Presents: Top of the Tower SkyDeck AllStars 2.0

Otter Presents has a notorious reputation for producing events that are on another level. Top of the Tower 2.0 was my first experience at such an exclusive soiree and I must say, it was quite a novelty. Even the logistics of getting to the top of Willis Tower was a spectacle. First your name had to be on “The List” that was guarded by security on the ground floor of the building. Once your identification was verified, they gave you a ticket that allowed you access to the Skydeck. Then you had to pass through another security check point with a metal detector before even getting on the elevators. There were actually two sets of elevators you had to go up, many different hallways, and an escalator ride before you finally made it to the 99th floor at the top of Willis Tower.

What I soon came to realize was just how remarkable it is to concoct such an avant-garde event. The first and most obvious reason is the venue itself. The 99th floor of Willis Tower is square shaped with the elevators and bathrooms in the middle. Therefore, the floor to ceiling windows throughout the whole space made you feel like you were on top of the world. An occasional telescope also helped you inspect the tiny details of the city below. Being here at night presented a completely new perspective of Chicago with its twinkling street lights that grid out neighborhoods as far as the eye could see.

The preparation for this event circulates around the idea: “If you build it, they will come.” While the stage area was set up in the north east corner of the room, speakers were scattered throughout the 99th floor bringing music to every crevice within the space. Ambient blue lighting and low rise leather couches provided a classy lounge-like ambiance. Vendors set up tables throughout selling everything from posters to pins and anyone who brought 10 cans of food to donate to the Greater Chicago Food Depository received a special event poster created by TRiPPs. There was also live art by Alicia Post and Ben Laskov as well as a few art instillations to really help bring the uniqueness of the space full circle. But in all reality, this event was all about the music.

The night officially kicked off with an opening set by the Joe Marcinek Band featuring Steve Molitz on keys, Freekbass on bass, and Pete Koopmans on drums. At first I was distracted by the open bar but a Particle song pulled me away from the long drink line, calling me to the stage area like red light above a brothel.

The versatility of Marcinek is something that must be mentioned here. I have seen this musician tear it up quite a few times in the past couple months with an impressive variety of musicians that continually rotate through this band. The special mix of music presented on this particular night showcased just how well Marcinek’s ability to listen can really pull together any group of musicians. The highlight of the set came with a cover of “Fame” by David Bowie. The fact that Bowie is being celebrated at Museum of Contemporary Art just a couple miles away did not go unnoticed by the Chicago crowd and made the whole song feel that much more special. While the first half of the show focused on a dancier jam style, Joe Marcinek original “60 Degrees (in January)” provided a NOLA funk element towards the end of the set that really left it all out there. Freekbass dug into his eccentric style giving us all a taste of what he does best. While Steve Molitz was expressive on his keys, you could tell he was holding back. After all, this musician still had two more sets of music to deliver that night so I am sure he was saving some of his raw energy for the main event.

Before the SkyDeck AllStars began their set there was a rush that filled the room because we all knew a transcendent experience was about to take place. The thing about a one-off super group is that this has never happened before, nor will it ever happen again. Otter hand picked these musicians based on their exceptional talent and then gave them the opportunity to do something that has never been done before. By whipping up a special batch like this, the style and skill of each musician shines through as well as their ability to adapt to what’s in front of them.

This year’s SkyDeck AllStars 2.0 consisted of Jon “The Barber” Gutwillig from the Disco Biscuits, Marcus Rezak of Digital Tape Machine, Mike Greenfield of Lotus, David Murphy of Seven Arrows, and Steve Molitz of Particle. After warming up with a funk jam, the group busted out “Home” by LCD Soundsystem. The cover was long, drawn out, and perfectly executed. This particular choice intrigued the audience as to what would happen next, speculating if there would be any limits within this super jam. Joe Marcinek eventually joined the group and replaced Barber for a cover of “Jan Jan” originally by the great jazz composer Grant Green. By this point in the show I managed to move as close as I could to the band and it was obvious that Marcinek and Resak were trying to outdo each other in a friendly competition of seeing who can arrange a composition on the fly most effectively. It wasn’t long before the duo started creating magical moments as they carried on a dialogue of guitar licks until the song finally hit a magnificent peak of musical bliss.

Barber eventually returned to the stage, showing up full force for DJ Shadow’s “Building Steam with a Grain of Salt,” threading the musical genius of the Disco Biscuits into any structure that was laid out in front of him. It was within this space that the improvisation began to flow and you could tell these artists enjoyed exploring an unknown territory just as much as we enjoyed witnessing it. They jammed and we danced, wildly. There was no stage, so the crowd was on the same level as the band. You could tell by the look on David Murphy’s face that this was something new to him, but the setup up facilitated a connection between the band and their audience that grew stronger as the night grew long. I could subtly feel myself melting into Murph’s bass line as the he started to get loose. We saw a whole other side to this artist that night, including the obvious addition of vocals (besides his notorious “Wooo!”).

The second set of music kicked off with Talking Heads’ “Cross Eyed and Painless,” a favorite of Chicago music lovers ever since Phish wove the tune in and out of their show at UIC Pavilion back in 2011. But the dance party didn’t really hit its peak again until the super group revisited LCD Soundsystem for a cover of “Pow Pow.” Marcus Rezak’s newest side project is actually an LCD Soundsystem tribute band called North American Scum, so the addition of LCD to the setlist was not a surprise, at least not to me. But what did surprise me was the way this group flawlessly executed a dance-punk style with just enough weird to keep me guessing where they would go next. The night finally came to an end with The Grateful Dead’s “I Know You Rider” and an audience singing along to really hit home the feeling of a collective experience for everyone on the 99th floor.

To sum up Top of the Tower, I would have to say that this was a musical experience that was singular and innovative within today’s live music scene. For someone like me who loves the magic of improvised music, it was the type of event I live for. The swanky atmosphere and unique location were just a bonus to the amazing music that was created at one of the tallest buildings in the world.

This show was very special to me. Chicago, after all, is my hometown and there is a shared love for our music scene that almost makes it feel like a family. When I first started writing about live music, my goal was to try and capture the moments that evoke a feeling of awe. While over the last few years those moments have presented themselves time and time again, Top of the Tower SkyDeck AllStars 2.0 was such a special evening that needs to be shared with the world. Chicago is very fortunate to have Otter Presents bring such a special event to our city. I can’t wait to see what they hook us up with next!

Creature Carnival with Beats Antique, Shpongle and Emancipator at Riviera Theater


[Words by Adrian Gurga | Photos by Adam Taylor & Kyle Miller aka The Saucy Monster]

Halloween season was officially upon us. The fourth night of the aptly named Creature Carnival tour was now in full swing as costumed and face painted music lovers lined up outside the Riviera Theater for a two night run with a stacked lineup including Emancipator, Shpongle, and Beats Antique.

Inviting the audience to participate in the masquerade, a do-it-yourself mask-making craft station was located just inside the entrance. Attendees were given four psychedelic creature mask templates to choose from — squids, rabbits, tigers, or owls — allowing you to choose your own creature and express your creative side. Crayons and hot glue guns were present as well. A friend of mine handed me an “official” Beats Antique fortune card and explained that I must pass the card on to someone else before the end of the night.

The carnival was hosted by Lafa Taylor, an Oakland based MC and producer who started each night off with DJ sets combining a little bit of everything. He played some hiphop and some rap, overlaying 90’s hits with wompy basslines. He added his own vocals on a few songs, singing his own lyrics over Dre’s beats. He played a really funky R&B track and a trap remix of a Biggy tune back to back. “It’s all music,” he explained over the microphone.


Simon Posford of Shpongle took the stage next and electrified the audience with Dorset Perception. His black garb and feathered hat were a familiar sight, but he looked almost naked standing alone on stage without his usual projection mapping rig and DJ booth, Shpongletron. At just under 60 minutes, Simon’s set was more to the point, even a bit rushed and some of the transitions were choppy, but Simon seemed more jovial and carefree than usual, dancing back and forth on stage, puffing on an electronic cigarette, while colorful visuals folded on two large LED screens behind him. The fully packed theater gave an uproarious applause as Simon left the stage and Lafa Taylor returned to introduce Emancipator.


Emancipator took the stage and filled the room with downtempo, hiphop-inspired beats and delicate melodies. Emancipator always plays as a duet with Doug Appling controlling the beats and Ilya Goldberg playing violin and other stringed instruments. They played mostly from their two most recent albums, Dusk To Dawn and Safe In The Steep Cliffs, as well as the usual unreleased remixes of “Ready Or Not” by Fugees and “Halcyon And On And On” by Orbital. They closed their set with an unreleased new track. The crowd responded boisterously and we seemed to forget we’ve only seen the openers. The overall level of inebriation at that point of the night could only be described as “soccer game drunk”.


Beats Antique’s set began with a spotlight as bells chimed a simple melody. It was serious and creepy. Carnival tunes ensued in an explosion of light and sound. Red velvet curtains and an incandescent chandelier provided the stage an appropriately vaudeville-esque setting. Spandex clad dancers with pom poms and sequined top hats took the stage and a four person drumline formed, each drummer wearing one of the four creature masks.

As the night continued Beats cycled through a number of musical styles, using different instruments for each song and playing nearly every percussion instrument imaginable. Middle Eastern and Indian-inspired melodies were followed with heavy, glitchy, beats. One moment the music sounded like Passion Pit and the next it could have easily been Primus. Then Zoe Jakes would come out to flex her belly in a well choreographed routine with a pair of burlesque dancers that looked like they might have come out of the 1920’s. It was musical tribute night, told through the songs of Beats Antique.


Beats’ performance included a number of costumed characters and special effects, particularly inflatable art, which gave their set a theatrical feel. An giant green inflatable cyclops cat took the stage, held at the reigns and writhing like an untamed elephant. Wacky wavy inflatable arm flailing tube men were also used. Even Zoe ballooned to inhuman size in a dress with inflatable bustle, wearing antlers on her head.


They closed their set with Beauty Beats off of the 2008’s Collide and on Saturday the Riv was pretty much packed all the way to the end. Even at 12:50 the place was packed shoulder to shoulder and there was enough sweaty flesh to remind one of summer. A hippie looking chick applied face paint to a well dressed bro in a collared, button down shirt while they waited for the encore — the kind of association you’d only ever see at a concert. An overweight gentleman who sat through most of the set looking rather faced was questioned by security, “I came for Shponple,” he explained and stumbled off unassisted.

Things got especially weird at the very end, Lafa Taylor came back on stage and birthday cake was served to any and all eligible recipients while they blasted Peanut Butter Jelly Time. The self-indulgent celebration went on until a little after 1am and all were invited to Sunday’s show.

The second night was like the first but with much fewer people. A few extra bonuses were offered on Sunday including poi spinners on stilts and a dance routine provided by local talent Hijinx Productions. While the crowd on Sunday was sparse, it was certainly dedicated. Most of them seemed like out-of-towners who only came up for the shows. A couple next to me drove in from Cincinnati just to see Sunday’s show. Sunday’s crowd was also mostly too young to drink, or perhaps just too thrifty. Emancipator played before Shpongle on Sunday, which was a pleasant surprise for everyone, especially since Sunday’s sets were for the most part the same as Saturday’s but with a few exceptions — after all Chicago is basically the only two night run of the tour — but the crowd enjoyed themselves just the same.

While most elements of the shows were spot on, a few aspects fell just short. For one, the house musical selection between performances was just deplorable. Whoever was in charge of track selection played Home by Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros both nights which just sounded fucking weird between Shpongle and Emancipator. The house also played an Emancipator song immediately after Emancipator left the stage, and while I’m no sound engineer I’m pretty sure it’s a faux pas to play one of the bands between set breaks.


A few elements of the performance itself also fell short of plausible. For instance, a volunteer selected from the audience turned out to be the same guy both nights. Likewise, when Jakes took the stage in a leotard carrying a bass drum which wasn’t even mic’d, it sort of reminded you that what you were seeing may actually be closer to professional wrestling than live music — after all professional wrestling is performance art too and most EDM acts could be criticized as “just pressing play.”

That being said, now that Beats has about a half a dozen albums under their belt, they’ve got a lot more music to choose from when constructing a set. While this year’s performance had more energy, it was less about the music and more about pure showmanship compared with previous years’ performances. Saturday night also proved that the trifecta of Beats Antique combined with Emancipator and Shpongle can sell out a medium-sized venue — even on a night when Skrillex is in town — and that festi-heads will flock from far and wide to watch a voluptuous woman bang on a drum and dance with inflatable monsters.



SBTRKT at Riviera Theatre

After riding a lengthy wave of international touring and festival hopping, SBTRKT abruptly jumped off the machine near the end of 2013. At a time when he easily could have kept rolling and raking in cash with sold-out live shows, he did the complete opposite and took time off to focus on creating new material. He ended up staying pretty quiet through Summer festival season this year, only releasing a scattered couple tracks from his latest album Wonder Where We Land, which was officially released in October. This Fall he returned to touring with a completely re-worked live show, a refreshing thing to see amidst a lot of repetition this year.

In the past Aaron Jerome aka SBTRKT juggled playing drums while also running live production, while Sampha provided vocals for most songs and played a bit of percussion. But this time around, Jerome passed the drumming duties off to a focused drummer and also had a girl playing synth & percussion along with some vocal work. It felt like he was more in his element: behind a dizzying assortment of electronic music instruments as opposed to behind a drumkit. It was more like his ‘DJ set’ setup, which is still one of the most impressive displays of live electronic music production I’ve ever witnessed. With Jerome behind his cockpit of esoteric lights & dials, the show generally seemed sharper and even more complex than before. Aaron Jerome is an electronic musician, and when someone that talented is in control, there’s no question all those electronics are every bit the instrument that a guitar or saxophone is. Not to mention that he had a handful of synths up there too, for good measure. By focusing his efforts on these electronic instruments he took the SBTRKT live show to new territory.

What really set this show apart from the past was, obviously, the injection of a whole album’s worth of new material. He did a great job of mixing the new into the old, creating a strong sense of never knowing what’s coming next. The new songs sounded bolder than they do on Wonder Where We Land, which was slightly underwhelming compared to his brilliant debut album. Especially the track “NEW DORP, NEW YORK” which sounds flat on the record but completely blew up in the live setting. It was somehow even more sinister and unsettling, with expanded complexity in the low end and skeleton-rattling sub-bass at the lowest point.

Even with all that new energy & material, the best part of this show was the way the old songs were delivered. None of the old tracks came in a form we’ve heard before. They were all tweaked in some way, which is also reminiscent of how he plays other artist’s music in his DJ sets — always refracted through the SBTRKT prism. This aspect of the show really took the novelty of the performance to a new level, it was like he couldn’t replay any cards he’s ever played before. When “Pharoahs” unfruled in the middle of the set, it was almost unrecognizable save for the Roses Gabor vocals. It was a complete re-edit, basically to the point that it was a new song. The rest of the older stuff was also spun in this fashion, but “Pharoahs” was at a ridiculous level of transformation.

This show was such a breath of fresh air after seeing two other major live electronic acts (Chromeo and Disclosure) play essentially identical sets multiple times in one year. Obviously taking the time off to write & re-tool was a genius move on Aaron Jerome’s part. This is exactly the type of thing I love to see from my favorite musicians and he really couldn’t have done a more complete job of creating a brand new live music experience. SBTRKT is now the gold standard for crafting fresh experiences with a live electronic show.

Stream/Download: The Magician’s Magic Tape #47


It’s a Tuesday morning, rush hour.  I only have like a mile to go to get to work and I cannot get on a bus to save my life…nor a train. What is going on!? Something about a bus fire…WHAT!?

It’s almost as if some higher being heard my cries for help, feeling the numbness in my face from my negative windchill journey and then, POOF! All of a sudden here we have a brand spankin’ new Magic Tape from our boy Stephen Fasano, AKA The Magician. And in true form, he gives us those money tracks that just tickle your insides. How many tricks does this guy have up his sleeve? It’s simply unbelievable.

For those in Chicagoland that made his set at The MID a couple weeks ago, there obviously is no beating a live Magician performance, however this should suffice in bringing you back down to earth and get you through this brutally cold week. This mix is far too fresh to provide a tracklist for – sorry guys, I have not had time to hunt yet. What I can tell you is that Jessie Ware is in there…so do you really need anything else? Nonetheless, it is in the works, as well as a full tracklisting and stream/download link for his Escape: All Hallows Eve set & Magic Tape #46 located below. Enjoy, and stay toasty friends.

Disciples – They Don’t Know
Klaves – Oh No
The Flexican & DJ Sef – Mother’s Day
Dante Klein – Ertesuppe
Clean Bandit – Rather Be (The Magician Remix)
Mausi – My Friend Has A Swimming Pool (The Magician Remix)
Shift K3Y – I Know
Camelphat – The Act
The Magician – Sunlight
Kokiri – Retrospect
Breach ft. Kelis – The Key
ZHU – Faded (The Magician Remix)
David Zowie – House Every Weekend
Arches – Want You
Michael Calfan – Tragic Soul

Julio Bashmore feat. J’danna – Rhythm Of Auld
Klaves – Oh No
Coko – Sunshine (ID Remix)
The Writers Block – Don’t Look Any Further (Love You All Over)
Kokiri – Retrospect
Kelis – Rumble (hed Kandi Ibiza 2014 Edit) (BrEaCh Remix)
Dz – House Every Weekend
Dusky – Yoohoo [17 STEPS]
Friend Within – The Holiday [HE LOVES YOU]
Drew Hill – Talk To You (Groove Armada Remix) [DANSE CLUB]
Godford – Tragic Soul (Michael Calfan Remix)


Interview with Golf Clap

Few artists have come up faster or stronger than Golf Clap in 2014. From their nonstop releases on Soundcloud, to their ridiculously funny social media presence, to their phenomenal live performances, Golf Clap essentially knocked this year right out of the park. I recently got to sit down with them on one of their many stops in Chicago this year to pick their minds and get some insight into one of the hottest DJ groups to emerge in 2014.

You guys came out of nowhere this year, released a lot of music, and had a lot of success. When did Golf Clap officially start? And what were you guys doing before you came together as Golf Clap?

Bryan: January 16th, 2013 is the day the Soundcloud page was made. We put a DJ mix up and said, “We are now Golf Clap.” Then March of 2013 was when the first actual record came out. So it’s been less than two years.

Hugh: The main reason why was… I was running a different label, Bryan had been doing his label, which was more of that Chicago jackin’ type sound. We were making a shift music-wise, and a lot of time what ends up happening is your name gets associated with a certain style of music and if it starts popping up in other categories, people have a tendency to skip over it because they assume it was a mislabeled thing. And we really wanted to have a fresh start and a fresh image for a different style of music. So that was the whole point of scrapping everything we were doing and changing our name.

We’ve seen a lot of fads and waves in electronic music with moombahton then dubstep and then trap, now this year it’s deep house. I’m a big fan of the current trend, and you guys kinda came up right as this deep house wave was landing. Have you guys always been into deep house? Or is it something you got into more recently?

Hugh: The deep house fad thing that you’re referring to is more people trying to associate with the phrase because its popular. But we’ve both been into, not just the jackin’ Chicago stuff, but the super deep house, and the chill soulful lounge house for a long time. We’ve been playing respectively fifteen-plus years, all music like that, and I don’t think it’s a fad, personally, I just think it’s really popular right now. And it’s convenient that it’s the popular thing, you know. We’ve both been used to being involved in this same kind of music for our whole lives and having it not be the big thing. Especially myself, coming from Detroit, it’s techno city, so house DJs and house music have always been on the backburner. We identified this as the time to really push hard because it’s getting a big audience.

Bryan: I think a lot of the reason deep house is big now is because they get Gorgon City on a Huxley remix with these big bands and shit like that. They’re probably just like, “Ok, if we got a Steve Aoki remix…” That’s intolerable for most people to listen to but, with Gorgon City or something, they can still do the radio songs, especially in Europe and stuff, Pete Tong could play it or something, you know? It’s got the crossover appeal right now.

Hugh: I think deep house, by nature, is a destination thing. Where I feel like no matter what you grew up listening to, a lot of people end up at deep house. And certain parts of it, especially the more chill stuff, is just a lot more potable. One of the things about our mixes is that they’re really deep, and you talk about a DJ ‘playing the room,’ right? Play the right music for the room… Well, when you’re listening to a DJ mix, 99% of the time, that room is chillin with your friends, or sitting in your car, and listening to crazy loud and wild music isn’t really appropriate in that room. I feel like we make music that’s for the other 90% of your life that you’re not in a nightclub. So that’s why the things that you covet are the things you end up having a true appreciation for, so we make music that people can listen to during their normal, daily lives.

It’s funny that you say that because I’ve expanded and changed my listening over the years and I feel like I kinda settled into deep house too, it’s just that groove that I love. Are you finding it difficult to make a name for yourself, or to separate yourself from the pack with deep house becoming so popular this year?

Bryan: No. Absolutely the opposite. I feel like we’re in a unique position because we… do a bunch of weird shit. We have this funny name, and we dress up like golfers, and we put all these silly things on our social media — we’re a lot more active on it than other people. We play way more shows locally than anybody I know in their local city. We throw shows, we have a record label… there’s just so much about it. And also we always take the time to talk to people at the shows. Just in general we’ll both go out and talk to anybody that want’s to talk to us while we’re at the show. We like to give people personal attention, that stuff matters a lot and it’s what makes people want to keep coming to your shows.

Hugh: A lot of people are in too big of a hurry to get famous and popular and they forget that this is a people business. It’s about being a human being and making those relationships. We had a buddy, one of the Sin Label guys, come with us up to Milwaukee last night and the main thing, he was like “You guys really go out and hang out with people and don’t hide out in the green room. You go out to the after-party and show face.” I think we have a different perspective because we throw so many shows in Detroit bringing in people where people come in not just because of their music, we bring em in to and they wanna go out and have dinner, hang out, hit the after-parties with us. Not this whole, “Drop me off at the hotel, I’ll take a cab to the venue, I’ll get there at 11:59 and I’ll book back to the hotel…” That’s just not what it’s about. I don’t know how people end up at that point, but it’s like, why did you get into this business then? Just to recluse yourself out and not show love to the people that got you where you are.

Bryan: And there’s people like Huxley, who we’ve played with three times, we ask him what he wants to do and he says, “I’m going with you guys.” I don’t even need to go back to the hotel ’til the morning, let’s go to your house… What do you guys wanna do?”

Hugh: He came over and I cooked dinner and shit. He didn’t even wanna go to the hotel, he just wanted to hang. And when we book Christian Martin, he doesn’t book his flight until like 8pm the next night because he expects to go out and party with us.

Things are picking up quickly for Country Club Disco and I’m wondering what your aim for the label is… Are you going to add a bunch of people and diversify? Are you trying to keep it all in the deep house realm?

Bryan: It’s more than a label, first of all.

Hugh: It’s a lifestyle brand.

Bryan: It’s the whole branding of everything that we have anything to do with, basically. It’s gonna be music, all the shows that we’re throwing, apparel… Right now, we’re not by any means a management company, but we have young artists that we’re helping out, sort of pseudo-managing them, which could potentially build into something like that if we got more staff. A lot of things could come out of it, it’s just supposed to be whatever the lesser word for ‘empire’ would be, but not that big of a word (laughs).

Hugh: You look at some of the big brands like Dirtybird…

Bryan: That’s the number one thing in the States that we’re going for, in terms of branding, is like what Dirtybird has done. Not the music but the branding. You know how many times I’ve talked to some random 20-something girl that goes out to shows sometimes, I ask her what kind of music she listens to, and she says, “You know, Claude [Von Stroke], most of the stuff on Dirtybird.” And that’s their answer… (laughs) And it’s not because Dirtybird — I like those guys — but it’s not because they’re so much better than everybody else. It’s because that’s what’s been shoved down everybody’s throat. Same reason why everybody knows who Drake is, or whoever the fuck else they play on the radio.

Hugh: It’s what we would consider a ‘full service label.’ A lot of labels just put out music, a real proper label should put out music, and throw events, and have apparel, and do all of those things that help an artist. You can look at Soul Clap records as a good example, with them, Wolf + Lamb, Nick Monaco, and Tanner Ross and those guys, they just pack together and throw the parties and show each other love, they hook each other up with remixes and stuff like that. That’s what we’re trying to model ourselves after.

Bryan: I feel like it keeps you on your game too. If you just associate with like-minded people who you really believe in, who are really talented… There are a lot of things that come into who we actually want to work with. Like MRJ, this guy from Poland that we’re doing a lot of stuff with. He’s 20 years old…so he’s really young, he’s really good, he works really fast, he does everything we ask him to, he makes the right kind of music, he’s a nice guy… he has all these things going for him, so that’s a really specific example of the kind of people we’re trying to push more.

Are you planning to release all of Golf Clap’s music through Country Club Disco?

Hugh: Right now, kind of the rough structure we have is that the vinyl is going to be primarily Golf Clap singles with remixes that Bryan is doing the A&R on. And the digital only stuff is where MRJ and some of these other people that we’re bringing up are going to be featured.

Bryan: A lot of it depends on the future of the vinyl business too….

Seems pretty strong right now?

Hugh: Yeah but it’s a different market. We wanna do vinyl and digital because any other label out: it doesn’t matter, you have to be available on all formats. But it’s definitely an interesting and different market to crack because the vinyl DJs in general play a different style of music. So we’re trying to build our growth and awareness within that community because vinyl guys will tend to play, especially in Detroit, it’s Omar-S and Moodyman, Kyle Hall, Theo Parrish… that stuff sells like hot cakes. Andres too, which is why we went after him for a remix. That’s not necessarily our scene our or sound, but we’re just trying to put it out there, make it available, and build awareness.

So what’s up with this new Simma Black LP then? How did that come about?

Bryan: That’s Low Steppa’s label and he’s been a huge supporter of us and we’ve been a huge supported of him and he’s somebody that if either of us makes a song and wants mix-down advice, we’ll send it to each other for an opinion. It’s just somebody we’ve worked with a lot and a lot of those songs are from when we first started Golf Clap, the first six months-ish, when we only had like 1,500 or 2,000 fans on Soundcloud, and a couple of these were free downloads for a few weeks that would peak out at 2,000 plays and a couple hundred downloads, because we didn’t have that many fans yet and we just pulled it down. Not enough people had heard them and we felt like we could pull them down, remaster them, work on them a bit, and re-release them later. Which is what we did.

Hugh: Low Steppa is kind of doing the same thing that we’ve been doing. He made a huge career for himself as Will Bailey, doing this kind of electro fidget-house thing that was going on. He scrapped all of that, started over as Low Steppa, and it’s just skyrocketed for him. He showed us a lot of early support, and that’s why we work together a lot and remix stuff for each other a lot. It’s a really cool UK label to be on right now, so we did it.

This year you guys have released a mind-boggling number of live sets and mixes… Do you guys plan to keep this pace up? You guys are doing a lot more than a lot of other people…

Bryan: Yes, because we have to. A lot of it is just for us. Hugh has the 24-hour mix in his car and he just told me he’s so fucking sick of the entire 24-hour mix. I didn’t even think that was possible but he knows every song in order, he’s listened to it like 50 times through.

Hugh: I drive a lot.

Bryan: And that’s a 24-hour mix… So your typical mix is 80 minutes. It takes one to three weeks to really cultivate songs for a mix, and that’s when we’re busting ass looking for music constantly and playing three to five shows a week — that’s how long it takes to not just have 15-20 good songs, you have to have 60-70 good songs, and then bring that down to 50… instead of playing three of one guy’s songs you cut it to two, ten of the songs don’t quite sound right… things like that help cut down a big list into something more focused for a mix.

Hugh: It looks like it’s all this extra side work, but the reality is, and I feel like a lot of DJs lack in this, or they’re lazy, or they just aren’t doing what I really think the essence of being a DJ is… we’re playing 175 shows a year, a lot of those in the same cities, which means you have to really change your music up. So we’re always running through new material, usually like two to three week average where we start over with all new material, we’re DJing this weekend in Chicago with the next batch of new stuff. When you come to a city, I mean, I don’t know what other people think, but I don’t wanna have people think they heard us play the same set before. Some people don’t notice, but the heads do, and it makes a difference to us.

Bryan: I specifically always try to remember if we play something like Pete Heller “Big Love,” or like an old Daft Punk track, a random classic, then we don’t ever wanna play it again because then it’s becomes one of those things that seems random at first, but people quickly realize you’re just still playing that track in your set every time.

Hugh: And it’s different now because back in the vinyl days, when it was just vinyl only, you’d pay someone three to four thousand dollars just to hear what they had in that crate. Things were very limited, you had to really dig to find records, and trade to get records, and those records were who you were. But now everything is what’s hot for the moment, and with the digital era that’s all the reason why we’re doing so many mixes and tracks because it’s hard to get noticed unless you’re giving people constant pressure and constant music. You might have a song get on the charts, but a month or two later it’s not there anymore. So you may or may not exist in a few months. A lot of these tracks we find, if I don’t have 20 tracks from you, I don’t even know who you are. I won’t remember the name of the producer. So to be noticeable you have to be putting out tons and tons of stuff.

That’s awesome to hear because I saw Chromeo last night and they played exactly the same set that they played the last time I saw them. Same thing with Disclosure — I saw them three times in the last year and all of their sets were incredibly similar. So it’s awesome to hear you guys say that the heads know what’s up and you want to avoid repeats.

Bryan: Well, you just named two live acts, so it’s different…

Not really though, it’s the mentality as a performer to not give the same crowd the same show repeatedly. To make a conscious effort to provide a fresh show every time out. To feel like you can’t get CAUGHT playing the same thing twice because people will notice that shit…

Hugh: Sometimes we play two or three shows in the same night. I know one time this year we flew in from New York and we played five shows that night. All of our fans came to three to five of those shows and we gotta give em a different show, what are we gonna do? Play the same set? (laughs) I just think a lot of touring guys get caught up in thinking that being in a different city means people haven’t heard the same stuff. Yeah, that’s cool, maybe some of them haven’t, but if you can do better, you should do better.

Bryan: It’s more just mediocrity in general. Alright, think about the last 20 times you went to a nightclub to see a DJ… how many times were you impressed to the point where you wanted to see them again right away? Not very often. When you go out to a nightclub, more often than not you’re drinking and hearing music and you’re with your friends and it’s cool. But it’s very rare that anybody does anything extra. They always just go up there and it seems like, “I have a whole bunch of songs I just downloaded from Beatport, I haven’t even listened to them all the way through one time. I got this promo from my friend who runs this label and I play everything from his label. I’m just gonna play it, and if it sounds good tonight, I’ll keep playing it. If it doesn’t I’ll stop playing it.” You shouldn’t be testing shit. Or the only way you do is if you’re goddamn sure that it’s fine. Same as how you shouldn’t be doing live PAs if you’re not even at the level where you feel comfortable releasing a single or something yet.

From the production side of things, is it a challenge right now to create fresh sounding stuff with the market being so flooded with deep house?

Bryan: No. For me personally I’ve always had a problem sounding too different, I think. I always have to try to conform a little bit more. A good example is how Todd Edwards sounds. His records are amazing, but they don’t fit in anybody in the entire world’s regular DJ set because it’s so unique that when you’re that unique, you either get super famous and everybody tries to copy you, or everybody thinks it’s too weird to get used to so nothing ever happens.

Hugh: It’s a weird ideal because if you want your stuff to get played by headliners then you have to sound like music headliners would want to play, that’s gonna go with their stuff. So you do wanna take risks and make cool stuff, but it’s like what he’s saying — you can’t be so unique that you’re alienating yourself from the masses. It’s a really fine line sometimes. There are always trends that music goes through — for a while we were blowing out tracks with the M1 keys and we had to stop doing that. But then it comes back… and right now it’s this thing with the square basslines that’s become popular, and the garage-y stuff too. There’s always gonna be people who say that certain stuff is played out, that the pitched-down vocals thing is played out, but somebody could always make a really big jam and suddenly it’ll be back in style again. It’s a weird thing.

That’s the thing about electronic music, as soon as you’re catching onto one thing, it’s already moving onto the next thing. It all happens so quickly…

Bryan: It’s one of those things that I wish I could have told myself ten years ago… I remember saying to myself, “I don’t really need to practice DJing, I know how to fuckin DJ, I know how to pick good music and I just show up to the club and play it.” I remember the first few times reading something like a floor in DJ Mag, when I was about 18 years old, and I just remember thinking it was such a crock of shit. I thought they tried to make everything seem like such a bigger deal than it was. I felt like they were trying to amp it up and make it seem like DJing was some big art that you had to do all this stuff to accomplish, when it really wasn’t that way. The first few times you go out and play you’re just trying not to trainwreck and play horrible music and not embarrass yourself. Then after three or four times you realize you’re not going to embarrass yourself, so you need to start playing better music. Then you go and play and one or two of your songs kill it, but the other ones don’t, then the next progression is finding more of those songs. It just keeps going up and up and when you play so many shows… you get very perfectionist about it. We will walk in and Hugh will say the lights are too bright or ask questions why they have the sound setup certain ways. We get very nit picky about this stuff and it’s not being an asshole it’s just that we throw more shows than most people we play for.

Hugh: It’s about the overall experience. The reason why I do stuff like that is because we aren’t at the point yet where we have a road/touring manager to handle it. But most of all, it’s because we’re the ones standing up on stage, everything reflects on us. If the speakers sound like shit and it’s really treble-heavy or something like that, or if the lighting is bad, it affects the overall mood, which reflects on us, and maybe on the promoter too, but mostly on us.

I think most of what people from Chicago know about Detroit is Movement Festival and a whole bunch of sports teams that they hate. There seems to be a lot of conceptions about Detroit… What would you want outsiders, especially people from Chicago, to know about your city?

Hugh: It’s the biggest small town right now, for the city and the population compared to New York, LA, and Chicago. We travel all over the place and I don’t really go to many cities where there’s as much diversity and as many things going on on a nightly basis. We’ve been really spoiled, and a lot of that has been the advent of the big Live Nation/AEG/React companies coming in and bringing these huge acts in, but it’s also a scene that is unique compared to almost every other city I’ve been to — and it hasn’t always been this way but at least the last 5-8 years, where the promoters are in communication with each other, there’s a little bit more harmony there than anywhere else I go, we all talk and we don’t step on each others toes and there’s enough clubs for everybody where for the most part there’s some cohesiveness with the scene. That’s something that’s really special. I’m surprised that with a city like Chicago, there are so many legends that live out here, and for example, we brought out for Troy’s birthday we brought out Funk, Dion and Sluggo, because he loves ghetto-house night, and we’re in the car and I said something to them about how great it was to have all of them play together, and they told me that they’ve never done that before. Those guys have been in the game for 30 years and they’ve never all played together in Chicago… That blows my mind. It just doesn’t seem like people work together out here, at least right now.

Yeah… there’s some big nightclubs here and a lot of competition, so I can see what you’re saying. It’s great to hear that it’s not like that in Detroit though. So what clubs do you play in Detroit? Where’s the good shit at?

Bryan: We do our parties at Grasshopper, that’s the majority of the stuff that we do. But we pretty much play everywhere, every once in a while. We rotate at The Works, TV Bar, Electricity and like three other places, one to five times per year, depending on who decides to throw parties and calls us

Hugh: And I guess kind of a newer thing in the past few years, I guess because of the EDM boom thing, is that the college cities are really building their own little scenes, so we take residencies in Ann Arbor and Lansing and Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids and make our way across the state playing in college cities and stuff. That’s really been one of the biggest sources for new fans and friends. And these younger cats and much more active on the social media and seem to be pretty loyal fans who want to build the scene. One of the nights we do in Ann Arbor is on a Thursday night, and by 11:00 the place is at capacity and a 100-person line out the door. It’s awesome to see the kids come out and dance. That’s also a main thing for us, people will play safe sets and it’s more of a social gathering to come and hang out and talk to your friends. Not that we push this on anybody, but we prefer crowds that don’t talk to each because they’re too busy dancing.

It’s interesting that you mentioned that people play all the different venues in Detroit, because in Chicago, certain people tend to play at certain clubs every time, there isn’t a whole lot of cross-pollination here…

Bryan: Well, not everyone in Detroit does that. And to be fair we cross-pollinate a lot more than anyone else we know. We play so much that we’re bound to play every venue in Detroit at one point or another in the year. One of our friends is going to book us every where in town. Even if the venue owner thinks we’re pieces of shit and hate our music, they’re gonna rent it out to some promoter and that promoter is gonna book us anyhow.

One of my favorite things you guys released this year on Soundcloud this year was your set from Movement. What does that festival mean to you guys and to the city of Detroit?

Hugh: I mean, I’ve been a part of it and going since the very, very beginning. I think I’ve only missed one or two years since the start of DEMF. And since Paxahau has taken over, they’ve grown the festival and brought a lot more attention to it. For us to actually get to play it, it’s obviously a huge honor, but nationally, for every DJ that we’ve brought in, they always talk about wanting to play Movement becuase it’s such a tastemaker festival and they don’t really book any fluff. Deadmau5 played like 6 or 7 years ago, but that was before he was as huge as he is now.

Bryan: There might be like five out of 120 that are ‘fluff’ or mainstream stuff now. It’s all good shit. For me, I’ve only lived in Detroit for two years now, but I’ve gone at least five times when I lived four hours away, and six or seven times total. It’s not even for Paxahau or for the people playing the shops, its for the entire city to step up and show the world they can handle the spotlight for a weekend. If you wanna throw some crazy party, there’s going to be people from all over the world who weren’t even there, who will look at the Facebook page and get all butthurt about missing it. But among the people who do attend, especially repeat attendees, they always say that it’s their favorite weekend of the year. Even among the older people who don’t go out as much anymore — they go really hard for Movement. So if you can get in the head of those people, and make a really good impression on them during they’re favorite weekend — like Electric Forest too — it goes a long way towards making new fans.

See Golf Clap TOMORROW night at Mercer113 in Chicago! Tickets:

Interview with Run The Jewels


If you haven’t heard of Run the Jewels yet, get out from under that rock.  They are coming to Metro in Chicago on 11/22, and I implore you, for the sake of all that is good and twisted in the world, to go see them live. It is some aggro rap that will turn the fun house mirror back on all of us. It’s probably going to make you feel some things. Tingly, mostly.

I got the chance to sit down with Killer Mike and El-P a couple of weeks ago in Tulsa (of all places). Just to give you some context, while I was transcribing this 20 minute interview, there were 120 seconds of straight laughter. While I like their music a bunch, I am mostly stoked on these two as people. See below, and get your free download here. If you are into supporting the art, you can purchase here.

Selfie city

Emma: So, Run the Jewels has kind of exploded, it’s gotten a little crazy. I wanna know how this even happened. Did you guys have a good “meetcute” or something?

El P: Well I was lookin at my first real stretch of time. I had been in and out for some Juvie offenses, but this time it looked like I was really going away. I’m talking, 3 or 4 years.

Killer Mike: In the bing.

El P: Mike sold me his friendship.

Killer Mike: For protection…

El P: In jail. For protection.

Killer Mike: I was the head of a lesbian street gang.

El P: Turned out it was actually kind of fun.

[Mike Laughs]

El P: You know, everything was fine. The witness died of “natural causes.” These things happen. You know? I thought I was hiring muscle and ended up making a friend. Then we started rapping together. That’s really how it happened.

Emma: Oh yeah?

El P: Yeah.

Emma: You met because of a lesbian street gang?

El P: Yeah, I couldn’t get in! Then I found out they were gonna fight me….

Emma: What were your chances of winning that fight?

ELP: Oh, no chance. That’s why I was hiring Mike.

Emma: So, the lesbians in jail were going to kick your ass and that is how you met Mike……. Cool.

EL P: [laughs] We just met through music. We got in the studio and met because of a friend of ours. That’s how it all started and it was pretty quick. Pretty quickly we knew that we were making good shit. Just after a couple of sessions. That’s just where it started. No one expected it to…well no one had any expectations. I didn’t. I don’t think Mike did. We just kinda ran with it. It was about music…at first. We became friends during that process. Pretty quickly.

Emma: That friendship shows in your music, for sure. Where does the name Run the Jewels come from?

ELP: It’s just an old expression that you would hear like, in the eighties. You knew if you heard that expression..

Killer Mike: Your ass was getting robbed! It wasn’t I’m about to be robbed. It wasn’t I might get robbed.

El P: You are getting robbed.

Killer Mike: You are getting robbed. Welcome to the mother fucking rocky horror picture show.

El P: So, yeah, that wasn’t something you really wanted to hear. It kinda comes from our era, we’re the same age you know?

Emma: 26?

El P: Yep. 26 years old. It’s just from an era that we came up in. Somehow that phrase made it across to Atlanta too. Pretty much a New York origin but…

Killer Mike: In Atlanta it went more like “Run Your Shit.”

El P: It was a name that I always thought was ill. I always wanted to do something with it. I was either going to call my album Run the Jewels or something else. So when it came time to name the thing…Originally the way the project started I was going to do an EP.

Emma: Ok

El P: To do between projects. I just wanted to put some music out.  Then Mike was like, “Yo, I’ll get down on an EP.” Cool. We did one song. We did two songs. We did some more. Then we thought, “oh, this might be a group.” So then I just floated the name out. Ey, let’s fuck with this. Mike went home and chewed on it for a day or two and came back…

Killer Mike: I only took a day..

El P: and was like “Let’s do that.”

Emma: So, run the jewels one was just you guys fucking around in the studio more or less? That record? Wow.

El P: To some degree. I was going into the studio, I had music already prepped. I was gonna go in and do something with it. Maybe an EP, maybe the beginning of a record. He [Mike] was like, lemmie jump on that. So it was really like, 5 songs originally. Then a couple friends of ours that we trust, were like, “You guys are fucking crazy if you don’t make this an album.”

Emma: So, why did you decide to release it the way you did? For free, a free download. There wasn’t too much hype, what was that decision like?

Tulsa wasn't ready for Mike, maybe.
Tulsa wasn’t ready for Mike, maybe.


Killer Mike: Cut all the bullshit.

Emma: Like, label bullshit, copyrights?

El P & Killer Mike: No No.

Killer Mike: The Bullshit is this. One of my better friends is T.I. He releases a record Tuesday. I’m gonna support his record. But… how the fuck you gonna compete with that marketing dollar? As a small, independent. So stop pretending like you can, like arguing with indie stores, whichever ones are left, about shelf space, why Best Buy didn’t pick it up, etc. Why do that when you know kids are just downloading the record anyway? Let kids download the record, tell us if you like the record. I also offer it for sale if you want to support the record. Or if you just wanna jam at a show and buy a t-shirt, do that. Give kids the choice. We just thought that it would exit us from the hustle game of “how many did ya sell,” “ how they charting.” Fuck all that.

El P: We wanted to take ourselves out of that conversation and just go for peoples hearts and minds. We figured, the more people that heard the the music, the better for us.

Killer Mike: Yup.

El P: We also figured it was a cool way to cut through the bullshit and not hafta wait. We wanted to put the record out. We wanted to say thank you to the fans who were supporting us, and had supported our other records, Cancer for Cure and Rap Music well. We didn’t give that away for free. So it all just made a lot of sense. The light bulb went off like, why don’t we just give this shit away for free? We can cut through the game and get to the fans.

Emma: Well, you know what’s crazy, doing shit that way- Chance the Rappers mix tape charted on billboard……

Killer Mike & El P: Yup

Emma: Through piracy! Through bootlegs! That shit was a free download. People were bootlegging it and selling it at record stores, enough copies that it eventually billboard charted. It’s crazy. It’s the way to do it.

El P: Oh yeah, by the way. We just emerged as the number one rising artist on billboard.

Killer Mike: No, get the fuck outta here.

El P: Yeah, I heard like a week ago.

Killer Mike: What?

Emma: Congratulations (to Mike) He doesn’t tell you anything, does he?

Killer Mike: Well, you know, I be high and shit.

EL P: Shows you how much I care about that, you mention “Billboard” and it was the first time I had thought about it.

Emma: To me, that album dropped at a real interesting time. We got a Magna Carta album that was basically a Samsung commercial with Rick Rubin on screen and no Rick Rubin on the record.

El P: We were out before Magna Carta.

Emma: But around that time right?

El P: Yeah.

Emma: All I mean is that, a lot of really hyped hip hop music was coming out, and a lot of it wasn’t actually that interesting. And then you guys drop out of no where…and it was like “Oh. Fuck. There it is.”

El P: Well thank you!

Emma: So, was the response to it all, kind of a surprise, were you expecting it? How have you felt about the feedback you are getting.

El P: You know, I think quietly, we kind of thought we had a great record. But we didn’t know what was gonna happen. We definitely didn’t know what was gonna happen, especially because we were giving it away for free, we were just jumping on a tour, it was all a little bit of an experiment for us. We couldn’t have predicted that over the year, that it would go where it went. That was a cool thing too. Everywhere that we have gotten has been because of fan reaction. Has been because, they got the record. It took our shows to a bigger place, it took the whole thing to a bigger place. TO the point where we couldn’t just be like, okay, that was one weird little project. The people made us a rap group more than we made us a rap group. We were probably perfectly cool with just moving on and doing something else. WE got a lot of love when there were some high power records out, that were getting millions of dollars worth of push, we were getting right next to them, just with no money! [laughs] It was great.

Killer Mike: You know somebody somewhere was like, “What the fuck!” “What the fuck!!! Who was their fucking marketing company!”

El P: “Who is responsible for this!”

Emma: “What do you mean it just has to be good?!”

El P: [using an old man voice] “I’ve been in this business for fifty years!”

Killer Mike: How did their name get next to! “ That was the question of the day.

Emma: So, I am finding right now, that there seem to be two things in hip hop happening- Murs has this great line in an intro to a Z-Trip song where he says “If you can’t relate to this? You’re taking this shit too seriously. It’s hip hop man, it’s fucking fun.” And I believe that, truly. But on the other hand, you know, I’m talking to a lot of older heads who are talking about current hip hop as the urban news. I’m talking to Jazzy Jeff and I ask him about Meek Mills, and you know, he says it’s important to listen to that stuff, we have to listen to that stuff because it is the truth. Both are important camps. Where do you think your music falls on that scale? Is it just fun, is there something you are trying to say? Mike, I know that you are adding your voice to the political conversation, and that’s cool. Is it important to you that your music does the same?

El P: Well, it is definitely not just about having fun. Nah, we’re complicated people, but the records are wrapped up in a vibe that I think people were craving, and there is a fun element to it. But also, we’re us. So there’s gonna be shit laced within the pretty bow of a good time, but there’s gonna be elements of things we give a shit about, that weave their way into our music. I just think that we found a cool way to get that out. To do both. For me, I always felt like there shouldn’t be two sides to anything, there shouldn’t be a line in the sand. Like, a well rounded person is funny and interesting and also can have depth those things do not have to be descriptions of different personalities. They can be the same. I know for a fact that that is how me and Mike are. That’s what we like. I think that when you listen to our record there is a lot of shit in there that we’re saying. Especially in the new one, even more so, that means something to us. We put confectionery sugar all over it. It’s not like a devious thing, it’s just sort of the way we are. We sit around and we joke around and we have fun and at the same time we are serious men, who actually have ideas.

Emma: I think that’s important. Something that is sonically interesting but also has something thoughtful beyond it.

Killer Mike: Goodie Mob. That was the perfect group for me. Southerners. Like El, there’s no need to separate those things. Sometimes, the most revolutionary act sometimes, is to be happy. In spite of all. I don’t mean that to over romanticize, like “Oh, poor people so happy.” No it’s like, my grandmother used to say, “Sometimes you gotta laugh when you wanna cry.” And this shit gets so fucking absurd, if I didn’t have someone who saw the similar things, that I do? And was willing to laugh at the absurdity of the darkness sometimes, then I would probably just be a walking schizophrenic, talking to myself, because that gets lonely. I think that what you hear as the humor in our stuff is an expression of that. Kids come out and rage like they are at a punk show, and they take care of each other, and everybody goes home to their normal lives, 5 days later they come back around and they rage. That’s what I like. When I was young I used to think that we would overtake the system…. shit is fucked up.

Emma: Fucked. Up.

Killer Mike: Everyone is gonna die or aliens are gonna claim us, one or the other. Until that happens, what you have the power to do is fellowship, be kind, enjoy one another, discuss, to use your voice as an agent of revolt….and that’s what Run the Jewels does. In every way. When I said I’d shoot a poodle? It wasn’t just about poodles.

Emma: [Laughs]

Killer Mike: You know what poodles represent! You know? We got poodles in New York who live better than you!

Emma: Totally.

Killer Mike: It’s just my way of saying that I reject that bullshit. There’s a line where I’m saying I shot a police dog. In real life if you do that you’ll go to jail for life. So. It’s just an opportunity for you to vent some of that through us, and for us to come out and show. So. Absolutely it is supposed to be fun. And absolutely you are supposed to hear issues that you care about in that. You should be able to exonerate some of the angst that you have in a fun way, while not having to diminish your own intelligence.

El P: Well, it’s art. The best art is not something that’s pedantic, or lecturey. It’s gallows humor.

Emma: It’s laughing at a funeral.

El P: Me and Mike are the guys standing at the edge of a mass grave with a gun to our head laughing cos the executioner just farted.

Emma: So, when is that gonna be in a song?

El P: The song of my life.

Emma: So, you just got fully funded for Meow the Jewels.

El P: Oh yeah. Over funded.

Emma: Which is crazy. These two are re recording RTJ2, but with cats. Is that right?

Killer Mike: Yeah.

Emma: So, what is that sound booth gonna look like? Where are you gonna get the cats?

Killer Mike: That’s a lot of pussy. Probably at an Atlanta strip club.

 [I can’t even put laugh brackets anymore, there were too many instances of us all cracking up]

All different shapes and sizes.

Emma: You got tabbys, calicos….

Killer Mike: I want a tiger!

Emma: Oh, shit.

Killer Mike: Yeah, I’m going for the big cats. I want a puma, I want a tiger, I’d like a panther. Black. Yeah, I wanna go big.

El P: But your gonna get… kittens.

Emma: So, do you have a producer lined up or…

EL P: Well, originally it was gonna be me. We were gonna do the whole record like that but of course I wasn’t really gonna do it because I was *joking*.


El P: You fucks.

Emma: So now what?

El P: Well, now about 2 weeks ago I realized that it might actually happen, so I reached out and decided to invite some friends on. Just Blaze is doing a track, Alchemist is doing a track, Bauer is doing a track. Nick Hook, Gas Lamp Killer…

Emma: That’s dope.

El P: Zola Jesus, Dan the Automater, Prince Paul. I put together a list of friends that might be the greatest production album of all time…..and it’s gonna be the stupidest fucking album off all time.

Emma: If your gonna make that album, might as well be the best though. But, will there be any cats?

El P: All the music will be cat noises. Just…cat sounds.

Emma: Well, I personally can’t wait for it.

EL P: I think everyone thinks that they can’t wait for it…I don’t think everyone has thought it through enough.

Emma: But like, those folks you just listed!

El P: Oh I know, I know, it’ll be the best possible version of the worst possible album. That’s the whole thing.

Emma: So, beyond Meow the Jewels, there are options to like, “we’ll call you our friend on tour” there are all these tour packages…has anyone bought one of those?

Killer Mike: Nah, but kids are sayin they want to. After seeing Meow the Jewels happen, I’m kinda in shut the fuck up mode about it. I mean, we might fuck around and get bought by a Saudi Arabian Prince! 10 million dollars. Walk in. Perform for me!

El P: I mean, I would consider it

Killer Mike: For 10 mill? Yeah! I’d say fuck it!

Emma: I just wanna know what the lodging situation will be like at this palace.

Killer Mike: I definitely would not be able to go without my wife. Just so I could make her dress in full garb.

El P: We’ll do promotional videos for it.

Emma: Just lots of belly dancing I hope.

Killer Mike: Run the Jewels Hezbollah!

El P: Prince Niam is a glorious leader!

Killer Mike: You are given the golden A.K Killer Mike, thank you, Run the Jewels.

Emma: You guys are definitely the buddy comedy of hip hop right now. If you were the odd couple, who is Jack Lemon, who is Walter Matthau?

Killer Mike: Matthau complained more, right?

Emma: Sure.

Killer Mike: points to EL P

El P: That is…so amazing that you would even say that. It’s either “too cold” or “too hot” or he doesn’t have enough weed…or can he get a lemon. The perspective of an insane man is that everyone is insane. You know what I mean? The fact that he just said that shit just. Seals the deal. Killer Mike is out of his fucking mind.








Rubblebucket and Landlady at Metro


[Photos by Jamie Condon]

Rubblebucket. The name alone reflects something that’s been broken into pieces, gathered together, and carried across a mythical land. While contained, these pieces of debris somehow fit together perfectly, yet when separated their structure is too ragged to make any sense whatsoever. Now mix in Halloween, one of the craziest holidays of the year, and things really start to get interesting…

The night began with the all male group, Landlady, dressed as lunch ladies for this special Halloween show. Their outfits consisted of both aprons and hairnets. They covered the creepy 1950’s hit “I Put a Spell on You” while they danced with their spatulas around the small Metro stage. Landlady captures a weird industrial texture with their sound. Band leader Adam Schatz delivers each of the group’s songs with enthusiasm, curiosity, and left field vocals. His bandmates threw hairnets into the crowd as an attempt to get their audience to participate in their costume, to which we happily obliged. This band was very inclusive in their presentation, asking the audience to clap along and move closer to the stage as the set progressed. Schatz then led an “always always always” group chant with members of Rubblebucket during “Above My Ground” to help us all get on the same level. But by the time the song was over, the whole group was crouched down on stage to signal the conclusion of Landlady’s set.


Luckily, it didn’t take long for the main act to take the stage. Rubblebucket opened with a whimsical “Silly Fathers” to get the crowd back in the groove of this Halloween celebration. They then went into “Sound of Erasing” off their newest album, Survival Sounds. This catchy tune moved from silver flutes to full force horns in a matter of seconds, giving a whole new meaning to phrase “blow your mind.” This type of change-up mid composition would seem insane for anyone who has never seen this lively act perform in person before, but it was a trick I have come to both expect and respect from this Brooklyn based ensemble. The fact that they can play with such agility night after night is remarkable and stains your memory.

The band continued to bust out new material from Survival Sounds as the night chugged along. “Shake Me Around” is a bit darker and heavier than most of Rubblebucket’s catalog, demonstrating that this is an act with few limitations. The tune ended with a duet by trumpet player Alex Toth and trombonist Adam Dotson, both dressed in drag singing into the same microphone like Prince’s very own backup singers. After another “always always always” sing along, “Rewind” bounced the room into the poppier side of Rubblebucket, with enough synth to mirror “Holiday” by Madonna. They then busted out confetti guns to make it rain tiny streams of tissue paper over their audience for the song’s dance party climax.


About half of the crowd dressed up for Halloween. My favorite costume was ‘Sharknado,’ although I had no clue what it was at the time. I have since watched this ridiculous movie and have crazy respect for anyone who tries to pull off that costume. After all, the concept is completely terrifying.

The Prince vs. Spider Man dance off was definitely the comedic highlight of the night. Half the band was dressed as Spider Man while lead vocalist Kalmia Traver donned Prince’s purple suit with a curly black wig. The band announced the dance off competition several weeks in advance so many members of the audience dressed as each character. They were all invited onto the Metro stage to bust out their best dance moves while Rubblebucket jammed out to Prince’s “I Wanna Be Your Lover.” The first Prince to throw down was probably the most entertaining with his bright red suit and eccentric dance moves. He ended up tying for first place with a she-Prince with a flashy sequence jacket. They all danced together on stage while the band jammed out and Traver inconspicuously stripped out of her purple Prince suit and proudly popped up in a Spider Man costume to finish the song. Tricky. Tricky.

Once the stage cleared of all the dance off contestants, Landlady (still dressed as lunch ladies) joined Rubblebucket for “Came Out of a Lady.” This is the song this band usually pulls out all the stops for and just like clockwork, a colorful parachute began to cover the crowd, Alex Toth mounted a man dressed as a police officer, together they ran under the parachute and through the crowd while Toth erratically played his trumpet. From the stage, Kalmia encouraged the audience to put their hands up and clap along. Little did we know this was just another Halloween trick they whipped up so the lunch ladies could crowd surf off the stage, spatulas in hand. It was pure insanity but the chaos eventually calmed and Traver shared with us that this was the longest tour Rubblebucket has ever done just before jumping into a song about the monotony of life: “Carousel Ride.” The irony runs deep, but it didn’t go unnoticed, especially at this Halloween show.


By the encore it was clear that this show was full blown weird, even for Rubblebucket. Traver covered herself with a long white fringed shawl and covered her head with a bucket that had the word “RUBBLE” written across it. (see photo below) The group concluded their setlist with the electro indie song “Save Charlie” that was complemented by a balloon release over the crowd. In keeping with tradition, the show ended with Rubblebucket’s horn section hopping off the stage and parading through the audience as if it were Mardi Gras. The crowd followed them around the main room of the venue until they blew their way down the stairs to the Metro store where they signed CD’s, shook hands, and kissed giant men dressed as babies.




This Must Be The Band at Martyrs’

[Words by Matt Dusza | Photos by Ashley Marie Downing]

It’s a strange thing for your favorite band to be a cover band. It’s even stranger to think they could execute songs even better than the original artists and turn them into something special. That’s exactly what Chicago-based Talking Heads tribute band This Must Be The Band has done. Now after 7 years, hundreds of shows, and dozens of band members later, there may not be any more Heads, but there’s plenty to talk about.


I had the pleasure of taking part in the band’s final shows at Martyrs’ in mid October. Many have wondered why the final shows took place in such a small venue when the band has hit the level of local fame that they have. I mean, let’s face it, this band could have sold out a much larger venue. While TMBTB has headlined many Chicago summer street festivals and have even opened for prominent jamband mainstay Umphrey’s McGee, but Martyrs is a venue deeply seeded in the roots of TMBTB. After all, this is where the band was born. Frontman and possible illegal David Byrne clone Charles Otto and backup singer/lead female vocals Kasey Foster were both employees at the venue when they first met and started the band. Their first shows were played there as well. With so much of the history of the band belonging to the venue, it should only be fitting that this is where they bring it all home.

I attended all the three nights of the final TMBTB run and each night had a distinct vibe from both the band and the audience. It was originally billed as a two night run, but the overwhelming demand for tickets caused the Friday and Saturday shows to sell out within hours of going on sale. The band then added a third show on Thursday night for anyone unable to get tickets for the other nights. With it being a show on a weeknight that did not start until 10pm, it was noticeable around the band’s set break that a sizable portion of the crowd would have to leave soon, least they show up to their jobs Friday morning looking like the most haggard of wooks. The band acknowledged that fact by busting out the hits early and often. “Psycho Killer,” “Burning Down the House,” “Take Me to the River,” and many more of Talking Heads’ biggest hits we’re played before many even had a chance to loosen up. But it left the band with only the hardcore fans to close out the night with whatever deep cuts the crowd could shout at them, and those that remained were treated some serious ragers, along with some heartfelt words of gratitude from members of the band, many who haven’t actually played with the band in years.

That was the first noticeable difference in these weekend shows. TMBTB has had dozens upon dozens of members over the years and plenty more musicians have sat in with them from time to time. They decided to invite anyone who ever played with them in the past to join them on stage one last time. In an ironic twist where the crowd would usually scream out requests, the guest got a chance to choose which song they would like to relive with his or her old bandmates. It made for some great moments of on-stage banter and many smiles were exchanged between musicians who haven’t made music with each other in years. It was clear that these were more than just three shows before TMBTB called it quits. My personal favorite was the singing cab driver who provided the vocals for “Stay Up Late” quipping that he’s singing the only popular song in music to have the words “tiny peepee”.

On Friday night the spontaneity of this group was at its highest. The night’s opening band Genome joined TMBTB on stage to add some horns to the mix. They were also able to live out the rock and roll fantasy of crowd surfing and playing on top of tables. More and more sit ins and guest appearances kept the stage presence unique and varied all night. They even pulled the curtain back on the lives of the band members with Charlie plugging all their individual current musical projects. It’s obvious Otto has a desire to make sure the local music scene in Chicago remains active. The night brought one final magic moment in where Charlie proposed to Kasey, his longtime bandmate and girlfriend in front of their most devoted fans. As I said before, these last shows had to take place at Martyrs’ in order for them to be as special as they were.

With guests and announcements being the primary focus of Friday night, Saturday’s final show was for the fans. Before Talking Heads music started, most of TMBTB opened the night with their original band, Grood. With their spacey, ethereal sound, the early crowd got into a nice groove before the band segued into Talking Heads’ signature weird with a punch of funk. The influence that the Heads’ music has made on Grood was never more apparent than when they were playing their own original songs. During the set break, as they set up for what would be the final This Must Be the Band show, a projector screen dropped down to cover the stage showing a slideshow of personal photos taken by the band over the years from both previous performances and tour memories. All of this made it very apparent that the band really did consider their fans to be friends and part of their history.

The band returned to the inclusive “yell out a song and we’ll play it if we hear you” way of creating the night’s setlist. The frenzied crowd danced all night long, with the only sit-in of the night being Martyrs’ owner Ray Quinn playing jazz flute (with full hammy Ron Burgandy stage banter). But this was not only special moment… During “Girlfriend is Better” four different fans dressed in the iconic “Big Guy Suit” got on stage for a crowd-judged “David Byrne Dance Off” where each suit had to do their best David Byrne dance move. Both the crowd and the band definitely fed off the energy of this impromptu contest as we were all thoroughly entertained by what was happening on stage. As the night was drawing ever closer to its 2:30am curfew, it was starting to hit everyone that this was it. TMBTB waited until the final minutes to say some last words of love and gratitude to the fans. They then closed out with the song that gave them their name: “This Must Be The Place.” Already an incredibly emotional song, everyone in the building, band and crowd alike, was united in a moment of pure appreciation for what one has given to the other.

It was a fantastic weekend that I will not forget, but it was also bittersweet. An era is over for Chicago for there will no longer be a constant guarantee of a fun night with my best friends seeing our favorite band. I have often thought that if Talking Heads were to ever reunite, I would spend any amount of money to make sure I was at the reunion show. But now, after seeing This Must Be the Band for so many years, watching them grow from covering songs note for note to putting their own unique twist on the sound, I wonder if a reunion show would be able to live up to the experience I’ve seen this cover band execute so flawlessly. And it’s in that moment where I realized that TMBTB needed to end because, as Charles Otto explained, at some point the music starts to make too much sense.

Dopapod and The Coop at Double Door

[Words by Lauren Spina, Photos by Brent Greene]

On October 17th, Double Door’s stage was gifted with two genre-breaking bands. Having Dopapod and The Coop play together could not have been a better match. Both bands have such a raw, unique sound that really ends up complementing each other when they end up on the same bill. Each has a hint of every genre in their music yet they are both so perfectly different. This night of music filled the Double Door with everything a well rounded music fan could ask for and then some.

One thing I love about the Chicago music scene is if I want to see The Coop, I don’t have to wait too long to do so. These local musicians play my home territory multiple times a year as they continue to mature into a sound that is all their own. There’s something about the combination of different types of electronic music mixed with jazz, rock, and jam that keeps me in their grip. No mater what they deliver, it is always crisp. It’s like they’ve perfected their particular sound and now they’re always outdoing themselves. The Coop never fails in conducting a high energy dance party. Obviously, this set was the best way to kick off a Dopapod show, especially at the Double Door. Things got really saxy when Jared Shaw came on for a few songs which definitely got the crowd rowdy and ready for a long night of music.

The beautiful thing about seeing Dopapod live is that you never know what to expect. This improvisational, electronic yet metal, jam band is always awesome to see live and they always deliver. Their constantly changing, genre-defying sound makes their continuously growing fan base keep coming back for more. This band isn’t afraid of anything, they thrive on getting weird and exploring new soundscapes. With that approach this band never plays the same show twice and as a result, it is extremely stimulating to see them live time and time again.

Over the last couple of years Chicago has proven they are ready for what Dopapod has to offer us. While they keep adding tour dates in our city, we keep showing up. It’s almost like we just can’t get enough from this well oiled machine. Their extensive touring has put them on the map and grabbed the attention of many music fans far and wide. The band continues to dominate every stage they play on whether it be at a festival or the intimate Double Door. The key to their mojo is their ability to improvise on the spot as a group. It is not simply one musician soloing after another, it is a group effort to hit that happy place of musical bliss.

There is always a point during a Dopapod show when I notice my jaw is sitting on top of my feet. With this particular show, they covered Alanis Morisette’s “You Oughta Know“ for their encore. Okay, you can’t cover Alanis if you don’t have the voice or the raw angst that she releases into that song. Guitarist Rob Compa sang the first verse somewhat delicately so I was unsure of what was to come next. After all, this group did not start incorporating lyrics into their music until just a few years ago. But then Compa slapped the crowd in the face with enough pissed off passion needed to bring it all home. I wasn’t sure whether to keep head banging or run in the other direction. Everything about that cover was fantastic; Scotty Zwang was completely on point with drums, Chuck Jones gave the bass line a perfect amount of funk, Eli Winderman worked his magic on keys at the best times and Rob absolutely crushed it on vocals and his insane guitar solo near the end. Along with their dynamite cover, they also played three of my favorite originals; “Weird Charlie,”  “Onionhead” and “Nerds.” I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Dopapod live is a treat that everyone should gift themselves with.

Overall, the Dopapod show at the Double Door was exactly what I have come to expect from this up and coming jam machine. The fact that The Coop kicked things off that night was the perfect complement for my musical taste buds. Make sure to keep an eye out for the release of Dopapod’s fourth studio album, Never Odd or Even, on November 11th. Visit and sign up on the email list to be sent a link to download a free digital version of the album!

Interview/Review: David Nelson of New Riders of the Purple Sage


[Photos by Chris Monaghan]

This past September David Nelson, founding member of New Riders of the Purple Sage, brought his band to SPACE in Evanston. I came to the venue straight from work and almost couldn’t find this hidden gem. I was early because I had arranged an interview with Nelson before the show that night. The venue is actually a multi-use building where the front part is a busy restaurant and the back features a behind-the-scenes studio and impressive green room. Then between the studio and the restaurant there is this space: a whimsical lounge-like room with upside down umbrellas that control the room’s ambient lighting.

While the show was sold out that night, being there early gave me plenty of time get acclimated and have an intimate discussion with David Nelson before the show began. By the time I emerged from the back room, the sold out crowd had filled in all the tables that surrounded the stage and lined the walls. NRPS have been on the road for over 40 years creating music and they’ve been selling out venues like SPACE night after night across the country. This band is the real deal. While most of their contemporaries have called it quits, NRPS is still out there making magic. Guitarist Michael Falzarano has an entertaining spunk that is contagious and Buddy Cage commands his pedal steel in such a way that his talent just slides right off the strings. After all, Jerry Garcia left some pretty big shoes for Cage to fill when he left NRPS back in the early 1970’s.

The band delivered two solid hours of music that night. Overall, the progression of their well-curated setlist captured a spirit in each song that really drew me in. I asked Nelson about playing the folk classic “Peggy-O” during our interview earlier that night. He shared, “That was pitched to me by Jerry (Garcia). I went and asked him, ‘Where did you get that song?’ And he said, ‘Put’s Golden Songsters,’ because you had to go get a book to get most of these songs. Only a few people had recorded it and then, months after that, of all people, Dylan recorded it. That was a new thing to me too. I had never heard of this guy before and I was going, ‘Could that be the same song?’ You know it was such a rare song, you had to search for that one.”

NRPS exploited a deep rooted tradition with their music and started playing old folk songs long before they began creating music on their own. There is something about this type of music that is universal and very much a reason this band has been so successful over the years. Nelson is also a strong advocate for the Appalachian legacy within folk music. He explained, “To this day I still go to collect that kind of stuff. It’s still the best, really great. You can take it all the way to electric, synthesize it, you can put it in hip hop or bebop. It doesn’t matter you can take those tunes and there are some great lyrics.” These songs have endured over the years because they are timeless and still feels relevant even decades, nay centuries after they were written.



Nelson is an exceptional story teller and I couldn’t help dwell on our earlier conversation as the night progressed. One story that stood out involved the transition from using traditional folk songs to NRPS writing their own music. In fact, it wasn’t until the Beatles sensation hit America that Nelson and Garcia began entertaining the idea of creating their own lyrics. “You have to realize the first Beatles records were just pop music. They didn’t sound extraordinary or anything like that but we kind of knew this was such a huge angle, it’s going to be a big huge hit. So we better check it out. It didn’t become classic until they got relaxed in their creativity and wrote stuff from like Rubber Soul or even Beatles 65 ‘Baby’s in Black.’ That was really unusual and imaginative.” Nelson explained, “Then, and only then, did we get on board. It was just like ‘OK, I’m writing songs, I’m going to try that.'”

New Riders of the Purple Sage was birthed out of the idea that music should be timeless and now, all these years later, Nelson is still proving that point. The show at SPACE drew to a conclusion with a standing ovation from the sold out crowd. It was obvious that the songs this band showcased that night carry on a legacy that Nelson and Jerry worked so hard to capture and preserve. There is no doubt this music will be around long after the New Riders are gone.

Chromeo at Riviera Theatre

This has definitely been the year of the #FNKLRDZ. Extensive touring, a ridiculous amount of festival appearances,  a strong album (White Women) with a track (“Jealous”) that radio stations loved and DJs loved to play/remix even more… It’s safe to say that Chromeo had one hell of a 2014. And Chicago’s been lucky to be a primary recipient — they played a sold out show at Lincoln Hall in May, then a prime set at Lollapalooza, and just recently arrived to a sold out Riviera Theatre as well, which just goes to show how cool it was that they played such a small venue (for their size) earlier this year. But it’s Fall now, and sustained exposure for an entire year can either expose flaws or reveal new facets of an artist’s repertoire. So the question was: how would Chromeo’s third appearance in Chicago of 2014 compare with the others?

The answer, unfortunately, was that it compared far too similarly to the previous two shows. It’s one thing to tour in support of an album, that was understandable in Spring when White Women was hot off the presses. But it’s quite another to play essentially the same show three times in one calendar year in the same place. In a city like Chicago, we notice stuff like that. And it typically doesn’t sit well with us. There’s really no excuse to not dig a little deeper the third time around, or at the very least seriously switch up the setlist. And how the hell do they NOT play “My Girl Is Calling Me” again?!? That track is the pure, uncut heatrocks and they have to know it… why not play it? So as far as the discerning fan is concerned, this show was a bit of a disappointment.

But with that said, if this was the first time you’ve gotten to see Chromeo in 2014, you probably thought it was best shit ever. I definitely did when I saw this show in May. They sounded as sharp as you’d imagine for playing so often — they are clearly completely locked in at this point of the year. And they have one of the most engaging & electrifying light design/stage productions you will find with any touring band — their use of mirrors & reflections (that chrome guitar!) is next level, there’s nobody else doing it quite like that. But what’s most entertaining about their show is that they actually live the charisma they project with their lyrics. P Thugg is just one smooth sonofabitch — he makes being perfect look effortless. His cool energy provides balance for Dave 1 and his lascivious rock star stage presence. Can you even imagine waking up everyday being that good looking? I mean… damn. Lots of people are cocky, but few make cocky as entirely loveable as this guy. The whole package just works for Chromeo, they’re both smooth motherfuckers, but a different kind of smooth that comes together in some of the funkiest music our planet has ever heard.

Chromeo is definitely one of the best live shows you will see; they have their funkyass formula down to a fine science and they’re milking it. But how much milk is too much milk? It’s not like I’m going to stop being a huge fan of these guys, but I don’t know if I want to see a third of the same Chromeo show in a row. Then again, who knows how much Chromeo anyone will see in 2015? They’ve laid low in the past — maybe they will chill out for a spell and let the legend of the #FNKLRDZ grow once again.

Venue Spotlight: Thalia Hall


[Written by Ashley Downing + Frazier]

One of the many things Chicago is known for is our expansive music scene. This city has live music continuously pouring out of nook and cranny. There are countless factors involved in making a venue successful, none of which are simple or easy to quantify. Of course it’s important for everything to look and sound good, but the total package is much more nebulous than that.

Recently, we’ve seen wild-man Anders Osbourne and rock darlings Lake Street Dive at a new venue in the city called Thalia Hall, located a bit off the beaten-path in the Pilsen neighborhood of Chicago (1807 S. Allport). While it’s been open for a couple of months, it took us a little while to realize what we had here. This place is basically a live music oasis in a neighborhood mostly dominated by restaurants — there’s nothing else like this place in Pilsen… or the rest of Chicago for that matter. Simply put: in only two visits, we can say that Thalia Hall is already one of the very best music venues in Chicago.

The historic, three story building was recently renovated to its original grandeur, making the place perfect for social gatherings involving good food, good drinks and live music. The moment you walk in the building it’s impossible not to feel the energy of this place. The all-around vibe of this spot is welcoming, making you feel comfortable as soon as you cross the welcome mat and step inside. The newly restored property features a prohibition style ‘Punch House’ bar in the basement, a badass beer-centric restaurant (Dusek’s Board & Beer) on the main floor and, finally, Thalia Hall: a spectacular vintage ballroom on the top. Upon entering you feel mesmerized by the fact this place even exists — it’s like stepping back in time, but with the modern acumen you’d expect from the Schuba’s/Lincoln Hall family. When restorations were done in the ballroom, they left some of the rough edges around to show the age building, which was a really nice touch. In some spots, cracks were even left in the paint, letting the walls tell their own story. The place has so much character and history that it almost feels alive.


As a venue, Thalia Hall has everything set in the proper place, from the bars to bathrooms. There’s plenty of room to move and the whole places just flows well. The VIP area is upstairs with specialized seating and balcony accommodations. The bars are well-spaced and run smoothly, and the selections they offered were a great surprise — they had numerous craft beers on draft and in bottles as well as a unique selection of mixed punch cocktails, all of which were priced at less than ten dollars. We highly recommend the intriguing, tequila based “Space Juice” cocktail. All of the punch drinks they serve are wild and strong concoctions structured through the science of mixology.

Sometimes you need a break from the music and the crowd of people inside the venue and it is nice to be able to step outside and get a breath of fresh air (or or have a smoke). We never recommend leaving the show, but at times you just feel the need to get away for a moment. Many venues in Chicago refuse to allow re-entry for various reasons, which is understandable but always a bummer and a bad look as well. But Thalia Hall has it figured out. They had a great re-entry system set-up with staff checking you in and out of the venue, leading you to a special spot roped off on the sidewalk next to the building. With the staff there to make sure it went accordingly, the set-up worked astonishingly well and having that option can sometimes make your evening more enjoyable.

But at the end of the day, everything else at a venue aside from the sound quality is bonus material; if a venue sounds really damn good — we will be back no matter what. And this is where Thalia Hall shines. Not only does it have all the favored bells and whistles, it boasts the sound quality to back it all up, which instantly makes it one of our favorite spots in the city. It’s obvious this place spent the time and money on the optimal sound system for this unique space. And what’s most surprising is that the best sounding spot in the whole room in the center of the balcony, which is quite a rarity but a great thing for those of us who love the balcony.


We’re really looking forward to seeing what the future holds for Thalia Hall. This building is a gem and Chicago is lucky to have it. Although we don’t get out to Pilsen very often, there’s no doubt we will be carving out some time to visit this place and its siblings, (Dusek’s and Punch House) often.

Preview: Queen! with Gerd Janson, Derrick Carter, Garrett David, and hosts JoJo Baby & Jay Jay


Smart Bar’s infamous weekly Sunday party Queen! has a very special guest visiting this week all the way from Frankfurt, Germany. Running Back label boss Gerd Janson is constantly referred to as “a DJ’s DJ,” a title that makes more sense when you hear him showered with praise from fellow luminaries like Dixon and Todd Terje. He is as respected as they come with a deep knowledge of classic house, disco, and techno while always ready to unveil the next big underground hits months, sometimes years, before they are even released. Aside from DJing he also produces individually and alongside Philip Lauer under their Tuff City Kids alias. He will be paired with Queen! residents Derrick Carter and Garrett David. This one is easily worth calling off work on Monday for, brace yourself Chicago.

Sunday, October 26th | Smart Bar (3730 N. Clark St.)
21+ | 10pm | $7 all night