Reviews

Hideout Block Party

Rory O'Connor
Photos: Rory O'Connor

After the singer crowd surfed in a garbage can and the band relocated the drum set several times, the show culminated with the drummer hoisted up on his kick drum. It would be the standout performance amongst several bizarre performances of the weekend

Hideout Block Party

Hideout Block Party

City: Chicago, IL
Venue: The Hideout
Date: 2008-09-20

The Hideout has long been considered a Chicago institution of the highest order. The first time I encountered the venue/bar I had the same approximate epiphany as the first time I stepped into Wrigley Field: “This is how it is supposed to be.” Whether you are attending your annual concert or if you are a daily drinker is of little consequence as it greets you with the same warm tone, one of familiarity. So it really comes as no surprise that their yearly festival exudes that same inviting atmosphere for people of all ages. Considering some of the more high profile festivals that passed through Chicago this summer, the Hideout Block Party is refreshingly relaxed and easy to manage. This particular year the 12th annual Hideout Block Party teamed with the World Music Festival, resulting in the most eclectic lineup to come to the city this festival season.

Day One - Saturday
Giant Sand was the first band of the weekend for me and it was a good starting point in many ways. Giant Sand serves as the musical vehicle for Tucson based singer-songwriter Howe Gelb. The backing musicians have changed often over the years and at one time included two that went on to form the band Calexico. Of all the music that would pervade the festival grounds over the next two days, Giant Sand’s sound was probably the closest to the normal Hideout aesthetic, with Gelb’s slightly skewed take on dusty, desert country. It was a shame that the set occurred so early in the day when most of the festival crowd had yet to arrive.
Hailing from Budapest, Hungary Little Cow gave the crowd their first taste of the World Music Festival inclusion and a slightly dubious intro it was. Their music was sprinkled with hints of the band’s origin but, by and large, they came across like a fairly bland American rock band. They provided ample energy to grab on to, but it ended up feeling like some glorified bar band and left me wondering just where they fit in to the Budapest music scene.
The highlight, in terms of crowd banter, was supplied by England's Dan le Sac vs Scroobius Pip, which features the collaboration between rapper Scroobius Pip and producer Dan le Sac. A recent 0.2 album rating doled out by a Chicago based music website provided ample fuel for Scroobius Pip to rail against. The first half of their set was interspersed with excerpts of other reviews by the critic responsible for the duo’s scathing review. The crowd was then asked to guess which band the critic was reviewing by the quotes provided. While a 0.2 seems incredibly exaggerated, I had a little difficulty finding a sincere interest in anything past the comedic element of the band. While there is much to be said and respected about the existence of Prague’s The Plastic People of the Universe (some of which includes years of government persecution under Soviet rule that resulted in jail time for a couple of members) their performance failed to hold my attention and I slowly made my way out of the area.
Monotonix was to play, but they had no intention of allowing us to determine their stage. Monotonix is a three piece from Israel, consisting of drums, guitar, and vocal, and from the moment they started pandemonium struck the entire festival lot. They not only blurred the lines between band and audience, they trampled it into submission. The music almost became an afterthought to the pure spectacle; in fact, thinking back, I can hardly recall the music at all. The audience became a battle zone, as one had no idea what direction the show would be taken next. After the singer crowd surfed in a garbage can and the band relocated the drum set several times, the show culminated with the drummer hoisted up on his kick drum to perform a crude solo in a crowd surfing fashion. It would be the standout performance amongst several bizarre performances of the weekend.
The tone of the day changed along with the sun, which began to recede and cast a red hue across the stage. The imagery that might be evoked from Black Mountain's name actually serves as a suitable primer for what this Canadian group delivers. Their songs are steeped in dark, heavy riffs that can be equally atmospheric as they can be aggressive. No matter what the tone, though, the music has a way of lulling you into its brooding presence. While this music thrives best in dark cavernous spaces, it was an interesting contrast to see and hear it placed out in open air with daylight still lingering.
While repression seemed to be ingrained in the history of many of the world music musicians featured over the course of the two days, none of it hit quite as close to home as it did for African musician, Vieux Farka Toure. Vieux, the son of African great Ali Farka Toure, was actually forbidden by his father to become a musician himself. Not until after the insistence of other musicians to allow his son to play did it fully come to fruition. Vieux plays guitar with an ease and smoothness that seems to come from an innate understanding of the craft.
The first night closed with a homecoming of sorts as Neko Case, the reigning queen of alt-country, took to the stage for her first of two weekend performances (she was also set to perform with the New Pornographers on the following day). Not only was Case a one-time resident of the city but she also spent time slinging drinks behind the Hideout bar. With a voice that is capable of being angelic or dark, elegiac or uplifting, it never fails to captivate and leave its mark. Her voice always seems to soar and fill whatever space it is given and she had a lot of space to fill as the festival crowd swelled to close out day one. Day Two - Sunday
Oklahoma’s The Uglysuit kicked off my day on Sunday, and their well-polished songs came as a complete surprise. With the help of three guitars, the band casts a rather large, anthemic sound that seems above their stature as a band and ready-made for stadiums.
I am not quite sure where to begin in describing Tim Fite. Hailing from New York, he combines absurd hip-hop lyrics, often comical but sometimes just absurd, with found music samples, all the while looking like some early 20th century Southern salesman selling tonic. While the show can be entertaining -- it is hard not to crack a smile -- it slowly starts to feel like pure novelty and begins to lose its appeal with each successive song.
It really wouldn’t be the Hideout Block Party without Chicago’s Mucca Pazza making an appearance. A self proclaimed circus punk marching band, they can be found gracing the Hideout stage at regular intervals throughout the year. About 20 or so members strong, the show began in the audience as little pockets of the group could be seen and heard throughout the festival grounds. They eventually all made their way to the stage to perform what could best be described as choreographed chaos. Like Tim Fite before them, they are a bit of a novelty item themselves, but the sheer magnitude of the group and choreographed routine is more than enough to hold an audience for a full set.
Similar in tone to Black Mountain the day before, but a bit more sprawling and ramshackle, Dark Meat took the stage following Mucca Pazza. With the members all donning face paint they played a set of intensely trippy rock. After a set by Robbie Fulks, which turned out to be some peculiar Michael Jackson tribute that I wish I had not subjected myself to (although the collection of zombies decked out in full costume for the “Thriller: performance did make me wish I was up closer to witness the mayhem for that song), the The New Pornographers took to the stage. Surely the most successful band in the lineup, at least commercially, I am not entirely clear why they were not in the final slot for the day. Their positioning was of little importance once they began, though. The lineup included Neko Case in her second performance of the weekend, but was without Dan Bejar, which left me with no regrets on the matter. The collective’s seasoned sound really stood out among the days acts and it is impossible to not be pulled into their hook laden songs.
Closing the weekend out for me was New York’s Ratatat, a guitar and bass duo that combine electronic music with hard rock riffs to create a serious groove. Their live show consisted largely of both musicians cloaked in darkness while playing in front of a huge screen projecting video images. Flitting from feeling like a DJ set one moment and an‘80s metal show the next, the band’s musical mix provided the perfect kind of closure to a summer of varied outdoor festivals that brought an abundance of different musical styles to Chicago.

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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Music

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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