Thursday, May 28, 2009

Live Review: Moderat | Out of Sight

Moderat - Live @ Bottom Lounge Chicago

Apparat summed the night up best when he got on the mic to thank the swarm of caterwaulers at the end of the show. “We thought this would be our last show in Chicago,” he laughed before adding “thanks for proving us wrong!” I too was unsure of what I’d be stepping into at the Bottom Lounge for the debut U.S. show of German techno supergroup Moderat, comprised of Gernot Bronsert and Sebastian Szary of Modeselektor and production guru Apparat a.k.a. Sascha Ring.

While the place wasn’t overflowing with people, there was a turn out to be proud of and early arrival proved to have its benefits as well, specifically in the form of Chris Widman, host of WLUW’s Abstract Science radio show. Widman is a tireless cultivator of electronic music in all its forms and a bright light in the city when it comes to bringing acts to town that we would otherwise never have the pleasure of seeing live. Tonight Widman built the intensity perfectly, at one point he dropped this cut that sounded like Thom Yorke backed by Bugz in the Attic on PCP and I about lost my shit. A few more stunners followed, including “These Words,” one of the standouts from Martyn’s recent full length, and next thing we knew the music and lights were fading in preparation for the main event.

With all eyes focused on the stage the Moderat trio emerged and took their places behind a very Kraftwerk-ian set-up of three control station consoles in a row. Behind them, three identical partitions came to life with the drop of the first beat of “A New Error.” As the potent techno thuds hammered their way out of Bottom Lounges’ suspended stacks of speakers, two black and white hands—no body attached—air drummed appeared on the screen hitting their cues right on beat. The aural and visual onslaught that proceeded to pour forth from these masters of their craft was totally and utterly mind-blowing. The screens steadily flickered interstellar space flights, mountainous journeys through abstract shapes and general headfuckery as the outfit hit through the main points of their self-titled album. All the while the crowd jerked, popped, screamed, whistled and, in my case, stood stunned into submission by the razor sharp precision of Modeselektor’s programming and Apparat’s musicality as he held down synth melodies, guitar riffs and vocals. Many in the crowd seemed to be newcomers to all three musical entities but I can guarantee they walked out fans for life.

- Joshua P. Ferguson

BPitch Control | Moderat

Article: The Shrine | Dance-floor Worship

photo: Doug Fogelson

Nightlife vet Joe Russo opens musical Mecca in the South Loop.
By Joshua P. Ferguson
published 5/28/09 Time Out Chicago magazine

As we enter the club, Roy Ayers, Bob Marley and Erykah Badu beam at us from a backlit mural. A noteworthy late-night addition, the Shrine (2109 S Wabash Ave) perfectly complements a string of recent dining offerings on the Wabash Avenue strip in the South Loop. The collage of more than 75 seminal album covers spans not only the Shrine’s 20-foot-long entryway but also the musical influences channeled into this venture, the latest from nightlife impresario Joe Russo.

One can’t help but notice that in the mural—a musical mission statement—the palest race is conspicuously absent. That’s no oversight: The Afro-centricity is central to the club’s theme. Kente-cloth-patterned wallpaper adorns the walls, while black-and-white photos of ’70s-chic, scantily clad Nubian models hang prominently above the main bar. When Russo, a curly haired Italian-American, describes the programming, it’s like a roll call of the history of black music. “We like to think we’ll be the premier R&B, funk, soul, hip-hop, dancehall, Afrobeat, house and disco club of Chicago,” he says during our behind-the-scenes tour.

That vision has been many years in the making. Born and bred in Chicago, Russo got his start 20 years ago in men’s retail; he dressed up many of the scenesters he still considers his core clientele. “Most of my best customers at the store were restaurant owners or nightclub guys. I loved their lifestyle,” he says. His passion for fashion on the wane, Russo switched gears, becoming a manager at the Metro before setting out on his own in 1996.

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Thursday, May 21, 2009

Live Review: Madlib + J.Rocc | U.K.

Botched Invasion: Benji B's Deviation plays host to Stones Throw's Madlib & J.Rocc
by Roy Shay

wank⋅er \ wang-ker \ n Chiefly British and Australian Slang: Vulgar.

1.a contemptible person; jerk.
2.a male masturbator.

road⋅block \rohd-blok\ n obstruction placed across a road, esp. of barricades or police cars, for halting or hindering traffic, as to facilitate the capture of a pursued car or inspection for safety violations.

The gig was originally scheduled for a week ago, but Madlib got caught up in some UK immigration paper-pushing nonsense. "WE APOLOGISE FOR ANY INCONVENIENCE CAUSED BY THE RESCHEDULING OF THIS EVENT. TRUST US - WE WILL MAKE IT UP TO YOU TOMORROW!" yelled the email update. As if I, or anyone else originally planning on going, needed any more of an incentive. Benji B's Deviation hosting Stones Throw's J Rocc and Madlib at Fabric, with its internationally revered sound system? It's almost pornographic. Shame, then, that Madlib done went and cocked it up so tragically.

It started off well enough: Benji B brought his show's biggest current bangers - Dam Funk, Hudson Mohawke and the rest of them lot - out of people's iPhones for the first time and onto Fabric's ferocious monitors, the distinctive, searing basslines shaking drinks right off the bar and carrying well throughout LDN's EC1 zipcode. BPMs climbed steadily, through Floating Points' "Love Me Like This" and into Benji's rather distinctive disco-tinged sensibility, ending his set with Billy Ocean's "Nights" (tune!). The venue was rammed solid by then.

Next up was J Rocc. I had never seen him deejay before and was ever-so-pleasantly knocked off my feet by his utter awesomeness as a party starter. The party-stonkers were lined up back-to-back, some going over better than others, but generally caving the roof in. Cuts were fast, stabs were on point and the MC was all but made redundant. "I don't know about y'all" Rocc belted, "but I came here to party!" Thank Dilla someone was, as the magnitude of the impending shit-storm wasn't quite evident yet. J Rocc's set was relevant, varied and tighter than the sea of jeggings around me: Batucada, Pharcyde, Tribe, Slum, M.O.P., Sister Nancy's "Bam Bam"... The bombs fell hard and fast. "And Madlib hasn't even gone on yet!" I remember thinking. I should've seen it coming when J brought 'Lib on to do Jaylib's "Official" and he was too fucking munted to remember the lyrics to his own song. The "BRRRRRRAP!!!"s were too loud and hard for the audience to spot what was coming, but I could see it in his eyes.

Madlib came on at half-past midnight with the attitude of a spoiled, bratty, demanding, obnoxious eight year-old that snuck into his parent's liquor cabinet and topped it off with a visit to his older brother's weed stash. After dropping a thick, sick, stunner of a new Madvillain beat, he abruptly stopped it and demanded the crowd make some noise for J Rocc. When it wasn't loud enough for his liking (and it was loud, don't kid yourself), the megalomaniac woddled off the stage to a stunned audience, already bitter and skeptical after the previous cancellation of the night. After a Mayer Hawthorne lookalike (could've been him for all I know) begged the crowd to make enough noise to bring Madlib back out of hiding, the self-absorbed genius teetered back on stage and delivered a dreadfully amateur set, peppered incessantly with incomprehensible drivel that was deemed important enough to drown the music with. CDs skipped, loops butchered and stunning, never-before-heard music was generally raped to within an inch of its' life. It was like watching a four year-old stumble into a Michelin-starred kitchen and asked to make a meal from rare truffles and expensive cuts of fine meat. At two points in the night, 'Lib looped high-pitched, deafening screeches and played them for minutes on end to a puzzled, bitter crowd, plugging their ears and cringing at the thought of the impending ringing that would keep them up when it's time to go home and sleep. As a stark contrast, though, came a chilling, fantastic remix for Dilla's best track, "Won't Do".

I take my hat off to Benji B for putting on such an ambitious night and filling such a venue well into the morning on a school night. And, I'll also say that I am the worlds biggest Stones Throw fan: I wore my Madlib shirt as an undershirt that day, as an hommage to what I see as Dilla's true successor, for fuck's sake. But I won't be taken for a fool. The emperor's clothes suck.

Article: The Prodigy | Platinum Breaks

With a new album and a world tour, the Prodigy are as badass as ever.
by Joshua P. Ferguson
published 5/21/09 Time Out Chicago magazine

The Prodigy has a knack for making headlines. There was the fuss over its controversial single “Smack My Bitch Up,” which had music outlets in the U.S. refusing to sell the group’s Grammy-nominated The Fat of the Land album from 1997. There are its now-legendary performances at Moscow’s Red Square and as Lollapalooza headliners that same year. There are the album sales that make the Prodigy one of the best-selling dance acts of all time. And just last week, it landed in the news again: At the BBC’s Radio 1 festival in Swindon, England, the Prodigy blew out its mixing board after its volume hit so far into the red it set off car alarms in the parking lot.

Since bursting out of the U.K. rave scene in the mid-’90s, the Prodigy has held one priority above all others: being hardcore. “We take things by the horns,” boasts frontman Liam Howlett, 37. We reached the group’s musical mastermind in his London studio, where he was taking a mini respite from a recently wrapped European arena tour. Flanking Howlett is the motley duo of vocalist Maxim Reality and Keith Flint, the band’s most visible member, whose distinctive double Mohawk, septum piercing and rows of spiked rings were a prominent feature in the music video for “Firestarter,” the band’s first major stateside hit.

The Prodigy play Chicago's Congress Theater Saturday 5/23.

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Monday, May 18, 2009

Article: Mr. Scruff | Nice Up the Function

Mr. Scruff's musical smorgasbord is all about making feet move.
by Joshua P. Ferguson
published 5/14/09 Time Out Chicago Magazine

The Rolling Stones have their red lips and accompanying tongue. Daft Punk has its fashionable space suits. Iron Maiden has Eddie. But few artists boast an aesthetic that pervades everything they do as completely as Manchester’s Mr. Scruff, whose comical illustrations of potato-shaped characters join him in every aspect of his career. Almost all of his music videos, event flyers and album covers sport a stocky Scruff-penned stick figure deejaying, drinking tea or eating a pie.

“A gentle lightheartedness never goes amiss,” says Mr. Scruff, who spoke via phone from home before heading out for a string of dates in Europe and the U.S. “It sort of disarms people to help me get away with playing some odd, specialist music. It’s all about balance, and the humor helps balance out a lot of the bearded nerdiness that is necessary for what I do.” He’s referring not to his few days’ worth of stubble but the pseudo-scholarly musical dissertations of his DJ sets. Though nerdiness applies to him just fine: “I never spent a lot of money on clothes,” he says. “I always spent my money on records, so I was pretty untidy for quite a few years.”

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Live Preview | Mr. Scruff Exclusive Interview

Red Bull Music Academy presents:
a live interview with Mr. Scruff
Thursday 5.14.09
hosted by Joshua P. Ferguson
Time Out Chicago | Nightlife
Dialogue Incorporated

That's right cats & kittens Dialogue Inc's musical curator is hosting an invite-only, Red Bull sponsored interview + Q&A session with Ninja Tune's foremost flounder-loving music aficionado Mr. Scruff. Held to promote Scruff's friday night session in the depths of the Smart Bar and also to raise awareness for the Red Bull Music Academy -- which is a pretty amazing thing in and of itself.

Stay locked to this spot to get a recap of the interview (video feed and all we thinks), an excerpt from the live set, and some chicago-centric renderings from Scruff himself.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Live Review: Glass Candy | Digital Versicolour

photos by Oliver Thomas:

Glass Candy - Live @ Darkroom Chicago
Originally published on Time Out Chicago Blog: TOC: Glass Candy Live Review

Like the rock stars that they’ve almost become,Glass Candy’s Ida No and Johnny Jewel sauntered into a full house at darkroom just after midnight last night to headline this month’s edition of Out of Order. The colored streamers were hung just right, the disco ball had been fired up, and the crowd, ranging from mohawked youngsters to beer-swilling, plaid-wearing journalists like myself, was well amped by the time they hit the stage at quarter past midnight.

Feeding off the crowd’s energy, Glass Candy’s set was decidedly more energetic than its more slumberous, drug-induced studio recordings. Touring has had the duo on the road almost non-stop the past few months, including an off-the-charts Coachella appearance (or so Jewel told me in our recent interview), and it beamed through the entire performance. No flailed around the stage, dancing in her hippie-disco style, and hammed it up in front of a front row of adoring male fans—one even screamed out “Can I have a kiss?” to which she obliged. Meanwhile Johnny, complete with trademark tear dots under his eyes, kept things moving from his control panel of synths, effects boxes and the CDJ turntable he used to cue up beats. Although they strayed from certain, more laid-back, yet still key songs from their catalog—which left a cross-section of fans screaming for Kraftwerk’s “Computer Love” and “Rolling Down the Hills”—they nonetheless wowed everyone in attendance as they hammered out upbeat versions of “Beatific,” “Chameleon” and more before ending on an electro-meets-reggae cover of “Iko, Iko” which, as much as it left me scratching my head, was sonically very impressive. I wasn’t the only one left feeling that way either. Reluctant to dissipate, many stuck it out for photo opportunities and handshakes, as if the whole thing was more an extended reunion of old friends than a mere stop-off for their tour bus.

Article: Glass Candy | Diamonds in the Rough

Whether they like it or not, Indie Disco duo Glass Candy have a lot fans.

By Joshua P. Ferguson

Published 5/7/09 Time Out Chicago magazine

TOC: Glass Candy

“This is red, red, red, red…” chants the sprightly redhead Ida No, lead singer of “This is red, red, red, red,” chants the sprightly redhead Ida No, lead singer of Portland’s Glass Candy, on “Digital Versicolor.” The track then reels off each of the colors of the chakra spectrum, which blend together to become white light. When No delivered that opening lyric at the band’s recent Coachella performance, 50 three-foot-wide balloons, each a color of the rainbow, bounced above the 6,000-strong crowd.

“But they had these insane fans blowing on us, and the balloons kept coming back,” Johnny Jewel, 33, the band’s other member and its soft-spoken musical epicenter, says with a laugh. “It looked like those toy vacuum cleaners with all the balls bouncing around inside.”

Regardless of the inflatables’ cooperation, Glass Candy’s purposefully underpromoted Coachella performance was a success. Which is all the more notable given the group’s reluctance to participate in the first place. Fiercely protective of their sound and image, No and Jewel turned the festival down three times prior to this year. “We’re such a conceptual group that it’s important to know when things are appropriate,” Jewel says. “We don’t take the cake just because it’s on the table.

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Myspace:Glass Candy
Italians Do It Better

Album Review: Martyn | Great Lengths

Originally published in Time Out Chicago magazine: TOC: Martyn




Dubstep \ dub-step \ n + jazz \ jas \ n

Every three months or so, the DJ lexicon adopts a new subgenre. Whether ghetto-tech or bassline, these niche trends tend to burn bright and then quickly burn out. Thankfully, dubstep has persevered where others have failed. A number of artists can be credited for its resilience. Last year, it was Tempa Recordings artist Benga and the nominee for the U.K.’s Mercury Prize, Burial. This year, it’s hotly tipped, D.C.-based Dutch transplant Martyn.

As evident on his debut album, Great Lengths, Martyn has found a cozy home in dubstep’s drum ’n’ bass–informed lineage, with its half-time breaks, techno washes, dub echoes and massive bass. Many of the genre’s proponents opt for speaker-cone-rattling sub-bass, a harsh drum loop and little else; their tracks are like two-pump chumps: great one minute, unfulfilling the next. But Martyn uses dubstep’s framework to craft rich tapestries of sound, as on his single “Natural Selection,” in which warm jazz chords are offset by crackly drum shuffles, waves of bass and eerily pitched-down vocals, the combination of which makes for a much more satisfying listen.

On “These Words,” he leaves dubstep’s model almost completely behind, revealing his more elegant side with a glimmering piano line and soul-filled vocals. Two minutes into the song, a grimy bass line emerges to remind us that Martyn hasn’t gone soft.

When so many artists can regurgitate a music style’s formula ad nauseam, lining up the first nails for its coffin before it’s truly lived, the ebbs and flows of Martyn’s use of space, sound and savvy go to great lengths to ensure that he and his preferred genre are here to stay.

- Joshua P. Ferguson

Article: James Pants | One-man Welcome Wagon

James Pants comes clean on why dirty is best.
by Joshua P. Ferguson
published 4/30/08 Time Out Chicago magazine

Far from the snow-capped mountains and seas of pine trees that dominate the popular image of the Northwest sits Spokane, a midsize city on the eastern side of Washington state. Spokane has no such Kodak moments. Driving down Interstate 90, heading east into downtown, you’ll first notice Mickey D’s golden arches and the red bubble-letter sign of Burger King sandwiched between Whopper buns. While the gray streets and generic strip malls would seem to offer little inspiration to aspiring musicians, some, like Stones Throw artist James Pants, call the drab burg home.

“It’s hard sometimes,” says Pants, the gruff-voiced, 26-year-old drummer and record-digging enthusiast who’s known to his family as James Singleton. “I just listen to records to get inspired and then try to re-create what I hear. Badly. The key is finding ways to entertain yourself.”

The self-professed band nerd’s attempts to stave off boredom have molded his musical mentality. Spokane’s lack of cultural activity provided Pants countless hours to noodle around with a thrift store’s worth of used instruments, putting a lo-fi, gritty spin on his favorite records, regardless of what kind they are. As a result, Pants’s style defies easy categorization. “I do stuff I think would be funny, to me at least,” he says with a laugh over the phone from his home studio. “I’m not trying to be like Frank Zappa or anything. I just really like to do whatever sounds fun.” In fact, he’ll readily tell you his music isn’t great: “I’m not that skilled, and I don’t have a lot of the right equipment.”