A Sidenote: Forgive Me For My Absence

It’s not like my readership here is strong yet, but I do apologize for neglecting this music blog for those that care. Life got in the way, and I’m also my worst critic when it comes to anything I do, so I hinder myself often (working hard on that currently). If it makes you feel better, I have written eight drafts since November. Those will see the light of day, especially since some of the artists have newer releases since then! So here’s to new posts coming within the next week.

I leave you with a song, not by an Illinoisan, but by a lovely Midwestern lady who should be in all of your music catalogs.

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Saskrotch and the World of Chiptune

When I first got into chiptune/chipbreak/8bit music around 2007, most artists I knew were from the UK or other parts of Europe. It wasn’t until this past summer that I discovered a Chicagoan was in the mix the entire time- Saskrotch.

Saskrotch, stage name of Nigel Shields, caught my attention with his remix of Sabrepulse’s “We Are Hi-Speed”. This resulted in downloading the I’ll Have You Naked By the End of This Rom EP in 2009. What I especially like about his music is that he often utilizes hip hop samples and/or elements that helped him stand out a bit in this genre, but now many other artists are using these same elements as chiptune evolves and blends more with EDM.

But what is chiptune anyway? What is this underrated genre of music? The first time most people hear a chiptune song, they think “this is Game Boy or Super Mario music!” Cue the nostalgia. Ultimately, a ton of folks can’t really get into listening to this genre for extended periods of time if it’s not accompanying a video game. If you listen to various artists long enough though, you can sometimes discern them from one another (and the newcomers who tend to create generic tunes, aka are you sure this didn’t come directly from a Super Mario game?).

Many of these artists go on to compose soundtracks for 8-bit video games because it’s hard to make a living solely creating chiptune as a standalone product. This is why many artists have crossed over into the EDM world- it’s popular, and the kids will eat it up. In an era where many have moved past chiptune (or never knew it existed), chiptune artists who want to make music for a living must evolve. It’s not selling out but rather incorporating new elements to reach a wider audience.

Bit Bash, Chicago’s first indie games festival, was held September 6th at Threadless HQ. Saskrotch performed, along with a few other Midwestern electronic musicians. I can’t say much about the event since I wasn’t there, BUT I heard that the turnout was good, people had a nice time, and hopefully this will become an annual event.

Check out Saskrotch on bandcamp, Twitter, and Facebook.

To discover more artists in this ever-evolving genre, visit 8bitpeoples.

“Hollow” by Eryn Allen Kane

Raised  in Detroit, Chicago-based singer-songwriter Eryn Allen Kane released her first original tune last November. What’s unique about this song is that Kane strictly uses her voice — there are no instruments involved (yes, yes, your voice is an instrument, but ya know). Using layers of varying vocal ranges and sounds to create one song kind of blows my mind because how many musicians are doing that currently? She also pulls a few lines from “Feeling Good”, a tune made popular by Nina Simone and Michael Bublé.

Austin Vesely, probably my favorite director from Chicago at the moment, took inspiration from Alexa Meade and Sheila Vand’s MILK: what will you make of me? collaboration when shooting Kane’s video. Not only were people captivated by the song, but now they had a video that made it more interesting. A few days following the video’s release, Prince tweeted about it. Yes, the one and only Prince (who’d only had a Twitter account for three months at that point) discovered her video. And a few days after that, he shared a remix by Jack Rayner because he could not get enough of this song. And after a few weeks, Kane and Vesely were contacted by Meade and Vand to remove the video from YouTube for copyright infringement basically. If I recall, Vesely mentioned the women as the inspiration in the video’s description, but that was not enough. I could go into a long post about the difference between inspiration and plagiarism of artists’ work, but I’ll save that for another post (possibly on another blog).  Anyway, Vesely removed the video, uploaded it to Vimeo, and it made its way back to YouTube again some time later.

See, publicity worked for Kane the way many up and coming musicians wish — upload your songs online and hope it catches the eye of some musician or  music industry rep. The only issue for her was that, well, she didn’t release any solo songs after that. She’s collaborated and featured on songs with Saba and Moody Good, provided backing vocals for Chance’s set at Lollapalooza this past summer, and has worked with countless others (especially Chicago folks).

Good news though! Ms. Kane just finished her debut EP, and I’m pumped because her talent is obvious and more people need to be enlightened. You can visit her website, Facebook, or Twitter.

Pet Lions

pet lions

Pet Lions has been on my radar since senior year of high school when a friend’s boyfriend posted about their Soft Right EP. Since then, Pet Lions’ songs have been featured on television shows and most recently the instant hit Watch Dogs, a video game set in Chicago that features tunes from many notable locals.

Early July, I was finally able to catch the four-piece perform live at the Taste of Chicago. They don’t appear to play shows too often, but this is most likely due to the fact that these guys have “day jobs” and families. While there wasn’t a large crowd sitting on the sunbeam benches in front of the stage, plenty of people were tapping their toes and bobbing their heads to jams like “Dianna”, “Fifteen”, “Roman History”, and “When I Grow Old” to name a few. Even the drunk moms (you know who I’m talking about) were dancing in the aisle and pulling bystanders into their party. I opted to sit under the charging station tent to avoid peer pressure, and it was a smart move.

There’s something about Pet Lions that almost anyone can get into them. They’re not aggressive, but they’re not too soft to have you snoozin’. They have you dancing often. Certain songs even allow minor headbanging, or sharper and tighter movements (if that even makes sense; I can picture it at least). Their songs could be the soundtrack to your life (or your favorite show/film). No upcoming shows in sight, the guys will be heading back to the studio in a few weeks to hopefully bring the anxious another full-length (it’s been three years since their debut Houses).

Stalk the lions on their website where you can also find links to social media sites and music.

“Juice” by Chance the Rapper

Juice, y’all, juice. Chicago native Chance the Rapper (stage name of Chancelor Bennett) took over the streets of New York City with good friend and videographer/director Austin Vesely over a year ago to make this video. This was possibly the first official video for a single from his second mixtape Acid Rap, released in May 2013. As I wrote a few weeks ago in my post on Vic Mensa’s “Down on my Luck”, Chance’s career blew up after releasing this mixtape. In just a few short months, Chance would be touring nationwide, overseas, and collaborating more frequently with Childish Gambino. Not even six months after Acid Rap‘s release, he would make the big move to Los Angeles at the age of twenty to further his career.

The average twenty-year-old doesn’t get the opportunity to pack up and move across the country to a brand new city to follow their dreams. Others who aspire to be like Chance or at least reach his level of success thus far have to wait for the right cards to fall in place or just take a risk and make the big move too. Taking a risk doesn’t look too shabby if I do say so myself.

Anyway, visit chanceraps.com and grab a free download of Acid Rap as well as 10 Day, his first mixtape. Enjoy!

“Down on My Luck” by Vic Mensa

Ex-Kids These Days frontman Vic Mensa released a new single that won’t let me sit still. The Chicago native is definitely turning heads- whether for the catchiness of this new tune or the sudden shift in genre. Vic is a rapper, and this song features him rap-singing? I’m not sure what to call it, but it’s not his typical sound to the dismay of a number of fans. He’s growing in popularity, following in the steps of his friend and frequent collaborator Chance the Rapper who originally seemed to be following the steps of Vic (Kids These Days era). Both Chicago kids (they’re 21 now, but ya know) were chosen for hip-hop magazine XXL‘s 2014 “freshmen class”, which is usually a big deal in the hip-hop world because most (if not all) of the “freshmen” blow up fast thereafter. Fame, whatever it is these days, is just around the corner.

While you’re waiting for the July 27th release of his debut EP Street Lights, be sure to download his mixtape INNANETAPE for free in the meantime.

If you prefer to watch the video as well, here it is!

“Ride the Rodeo” by Crucial Conflict

This is a throwback. I’d completely forgotten about this Chicago group, this song, and their more popular hit “Hay”. Nineties hip-hop just had that sound that was great for dancing and rhyming. Just look at the dancing, the outfits, the visuals. This was a prime time to be alive, but I was too young to actually participate in parties like this. The old men playing cards, most likely spades, totally reminds me of family parties. I’d like to think that the smashing of watermelons at the end is a smashing of stereotypes. Am I looking too deeply into the meaning of this video? Quite possibly.

 

“Cinematographic” by The Junior Varsity

The Junior Varsity was one of my favorite bands to come out of Central Illinois. Signed to Victory Records, they were active during an important time for Illinois bands, including June, Spitalfield, The Forecast, The Audition, and others who I’ll talk about later. “Cinematographic” is the title track from their third and final album, released in 2007 (the same year they broke up). The saxophone at the start of the song just makes me swoon. Every time.

Change as you find that change is good for you
Be what you will be
Not for me, not for anyone but
You are what you are
As you are, just for you

In the Beginning, There Was Music

As a ’90s baby and only child, I was raised in the house of a music junkie and former DJ. In high school when I mentioned that my father was a DJ during a music discussion, someone said, “Wasn’t that like everyone’s dad?” No, not at all. I wasn’t trying to brag about my father at all because he wasn’t this renown Chicago disc jockey that performed at the hottest clubs in the city, but most people’s fathers were not DJs. My dad spun and mixed records at various events- simply put, he was a DJ.

My formative years were spent playing in our basement as my father played music. Surrounded by crates of records, I never understood how my dad found anything. He’d literally be digging in the crates to pick 12-, 10-, or 7-inch records to mix the best songs, mostly from the 70’s and 80’s. These are the years I discovered Michael Jackson, Queen, Blondie, KC & the Sunshine Band, Phil Collins, Tears for Fears, Earth Wind & Fire, Depeche Mode, Elton John, Kool and the Gang, and other artist 2-3 times my age.

Many of my friends are shocked when I know so many older songs, but I remind them of my upbringing. Entering the school system introduced me to a new world of music- pop, mainly in the form of boy bands and other ex-Mickey Mouse Club members. For the next seven years or so, I’d be mainly concerned with staying “current” with the latest Top 40 songs because that’s part of fitting in with the other kids surrounding me.

Seventh and eighth grade saw a departure from purely radio tunes- I needed more, so I sought it out. Enter the internet era with sites like myspace and purevolume. Through myspace, I discovered so many new musicians in various genres, as well as musicians “discovering” me. These websites provided me with the opportunity to connect with local musicians and other music lovers in my area- some I’d go on to attend high school with.  Post-myspace and purevolume, friends introduced me to new artists through mix CDs and posts on our Tumblr blogs. I also continued the ever easy connections route by listening to artists that musicians tour with, collaborate with, or simply recommend. In the instance of bands breaking up, I try to keep up with members when they go on to do other things, whether that be solo or in another group. For example, after Test Icicles broke up, Dev was the most visible member still making music, so I started listening to Lightspeed Champion (now on an indefinite hiatus), and now his current project Blood Orange (which he’s most known for at this point).

Maybe I feel this loyalty to continue supporting musicians when one endeavor ends and another begins. Maybe they are really talented, and I shouldn’t just give up on them because their original incarnation has ended and become closed-minded to change. Really, I just like music too much to turn off the stereo when something unfamiliar floats through the speakers.

Where was this post heading? I’m not too sure anymore, but I just wanted to write something to semi-introduce this blog.

Stick around for the music!