A Big Top for Indie Rock: Looking Ahead to Brilliant Corners - Chicago

Michael Ritchie

It's being billed as a Vaudeville experience for the 21st century. Comprised of part music festival, part community gathering and part circus performance to be held September 16 – 18 at Chicago's Eckhart Park.

Brilliant Corners of Popular Amusement

It's being billed as a Vaudeville experience for the 21st century. Comprised of part music festival, part community gathering and part circus performance. It's kept a relatively low profile as it approaches and may not be fully understood by those whom have heard of its ramblings. So what is Brilliant Corners of Popular Amusement and what all will be taking place under the "big top" of Eckhart Park here in Chicago this coming September weekend?

What most will notice first about Brilliant Corners is its global list of bands and musicians. Partly to due with it’s conjunction with the World Music Festival but also because Brilliant Corners has a derived eclectic nature about it in general. Ranging from Hawk and A Hacksaw's eastern European folk sounds to the Latin dance rock of Columbia's Bomba Estereo and all the back home to Chicago's own pysch-trancers Cave. It's a line-up any listener will get more and more excited about as they explore the range of acts that have been assembled. But hopefully attendees won't stop their. Brilliant Corners is also offering some of the best in off-beat circus style performances to boot. Groups like The Bindlestiff Family Cirkus (replacing RICOCHET) and Chicago's own El Circo Cheapo bring contemporary circus out of the cities loft spaces and back into the big top tent where these acts once originated. It's a combination that has yet to be proven, at least in Chicago, but should perk the interest of any fan of the live arts.

The major factor Brilliant Corners has going for it in its inaugural year is in its creator and curator, Mike Reed. It's a name that has been a part of many of your Chicago music experiences even if it doesn't jump out at you at first. But consider this, if you enjoyed an early summer Monday evening at the Jay Pritkzer Pavilion or shared a blanket and some wine at the Chicago Jazz Festival you've been under the musical care of Mr. Reed. Oh, and not to forget him and his company, At Pluto, LTD, have put on Pitchfork for the last seven years here in Chicago. That alone, should make any live music connoisseur glance up from a blog and it may also be the reason there is quite a confidence in Brilliant Corners lack of over promotion in a city with an overflowing summer music scene.

Reed says that BC came together as a merging "of experiences that I've had and heard about. Little bits of ideas all collected and spit out as an event". After first seeing the usefulness of large circus tents to factor out the weather at festivals, he later started thinking about the idea of non-music events after the praise and sell out performances of the El Circo Cheapo shows.

"I've always been more interested in creating unique situations big or small," says Reed. "In this regard the idea is really about bringing together as many ways to be entertained under one umbrella -- this is basically an old Vaudeville idea. This goes further in that we can recognize and build communities of art and information by assembling in this unique way".

And in order to distance itself for being tagged as just another music festival, Reed and company have added many community focused events such as a Farmers Market and a scaled down Renegade Craft Fair in the hopes of attracting a wider audience and allowing the surrounding neighborhood to enjoy much of the event free of charge.

"If someone wants to just walk around they don't have to pay for the ability to do so. In that time they can see free music on the outdoor stage, have a beer, buy some cheese, watch some sword swallowing -- it's as much or little as they want. If they want more they can be more invested by buying tickets to the featured tent shows".

It's a concept Reed hopes he can extend well beyond this initial weekend. "I hope that people will be talking about something they've never seen before or a band that they got to see in a different setting. After that I want people to be asking when and how is it going to happen again."

And I have to say, I'm already hoping this will be the case.

* * *

From official press release:

Featuring Music and Circus Performances by:


Carnival Games, Rides, Day Stage, Farmers Market, Renegade Craft Fair, And More!

The inaugural Brilliant Corners of Popular Amusements will run three days, September 16-18, 2011, and transform Chicago’s Eckhart Park (Chicago Ave. & Noble St.) into a playground for adults and children, alike.

The ability to let oneself go and be enthralled by a Brilliant moment of entertainment and spectacle is at the heart of human experience. At every Corner of the globe people come together to enjoy both the most Popular and also obscure ways of human Amusements. Some might say that Brilliant Corners of Popular Amusements hopes to reinvent the traditions of Vaudeville for a 21st century audience – a live mash up of art forms and entertainment under one umbrella. Brilliant Corners of Popular Amusement’s ultimate goal is to create a distinct environment that allows a wide audience to be entertained with the most creative ideas and performers regardless of genre. As a production, the event has no stylistic boundaries, it can incorporate circus artists, music, comedians, short film, carnival rides, games and hopefully more. Additionally it is not wedded to a festival, time or place. It may pop up in your neighborhood park, at a nearby theater for one night, or just parading down your block.

Access to the event grounds will be free and open to the public, where patrons can enjoy carnival games, rides, an outdoor music stage and sideshows. The renowned Renegade Craft Fair and a hand selected farmers’ market will also be part of the affair. For select ticketed shows, two large big top circus tents will feature performances from a variety of musical acts, circus performers and audiovisual experimentation.

Brilliant Corners of Popular Amusements is the brainchild of musician/presenter Mike Reed who has been an integral part of the programming for the Umbrella Music Collective, The Chicago Jazz Festival and New Music Mondays: Downtown Sound at Millennium Park. His company, At Pluto LTD, also produces the Pitchfork Music Festival. For more information, visit

* * *

Schedule for ticketed performances:


Criss/Cross Tent ($20 ticket for night, doors at 5 PM)

Bill Callahan

Sidi Touré

Bomba Esteréo


Magic City Tent ($15 for each separate performer, tent is cleared after each set)

El Circo Cheapo – 8:30 PM

The Bindlestiff Family Cirkus – 7:00 PM

George Orange – 5:30 PM


Criss/Cross Tent ($20 ticket for night, doors at 5 PM)

School of Seven Bells

A Hawk and a Hacksaw

Charles Bradley

Dark Dark Dark

Magic City Tent ($15 for each separate performer, tent is cleared after each set)

El Circo Cheapo – 8:30 PM

The Richochet Project – 7:00 PM

George Orange – 5:30 PM


Criss/Cross Tent ($20 ticket for night, doors at 5 PM)


A Lull

Dan Deacon

Fool’s Gold

Magic City Tent ($15 for each separate performer, tent is cleared after each set)

El Circo Cheapo – 8:30 PM

The Richochet Project – 7:00 PM

George Orange – 5:30 PM

For more information, please visit the Brilliant Corners of Popular Amusement website.

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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