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Local artists get time in the spotlight

Wed, Jul 23, 2014

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Are the Lollapalooza performances of hip-hop artists Chance the Rapper and Vic Mensa putting Chicago on the map as a rap-centric city?
Lolla, which will be in Grant Park Aug 1-3, features local artists representing a variety of genres such as Electronic Dance Music, Indie Rock, Emo and Singer-songwriters.

Chicago is a “music city in hiding,” according to a 2005 study for the Chicago Music Commission by the Cultural Policy Center at the University of Chicago. Historically, Chicago is known for blues, gospel and jazz— which many consider the precursor to hip-hop.

Today, Chicago ranks in the top three cities nationally (along with New York and Los Angeles) for numbers of people employed by the music industry. These jobs include not only musicians but also employees of record labels and music venues. Chicagoans are more likely than New Yorkers, Los Angelenos or even residents of Nashville to be able to secure seats in small venues to hear their favorite performers.
Considering that last year’s Lolla drew a record 300,000 people, performers can consider Lolla a major career boost.

Vic Menza

Vic Menza

Vic Mensa is a 21-year-old Chicago native who attended Whitney Young Magnet High School and who played in the band Kids These Days – an amalgam of jazz, rock and rap – as a student in the Jazz Institute of Chicago’s Jazz Links program, which provides monthly meetings, master classes and workshops with professional Chicago jazz musicians.

“I think they’ve done an excellent job of blending jazz into a form that incorporates the music of their time. It’s not really jazz but the jazz part is so firmly rooted it makes it work. It’s an example of how kids ground themselves first,” Jazz Institute of Chicago Executive Director Lauren Deutsch told StreetWise before Kids These Days’ performance on the Young Lions Stage of the Chicago Jazz Festival in 2011. The group had already performed at South by Southwest in Austin, Milwaukee’s Summerfest and Lolla that year. Mensa is playing Lolla’s BMI Stage at 6:50 p.m. Saturday.

Chance the Rapper, whose given name is Chancellor Bennett, has worked with Mensa but got his start as the opening act for Childish Gambino’s 2012 concert tour. Gambino was a writer for 30 Rock and starred in NBC’s Community as college student Troy Barnes.

Chance the Rapper

Chance the Rapper

Chance attended Jones College Prep High School, a Chicago public school in the South Loop. Following a 10-day suspension for marijuana use during his senior year in 2011, he recorded a mixtape entitled “#10Day,” which he has said was a homage to Kanye West’s “College in Dropout.” Chance will play Lolla Sunday at 8:30 p.m. on the Perry Stage.

Local Chicago bands are well represented in the electronic division of Lollapalooza’s lineup this year, showcasing the diversity of the relatively new, technology-based genre. They include Krewella, a trio of Glenbrook North High School alums whose style draws on dub step music; DJ duo Flosstradamus, known for incorporating hip-hop into their work, and the North Side bred “indie electronica” group Gemini Club.

At first glance, Krewella might seem more like a punk rock band than an EDM group. Sister front women Jahan and Yasmine Yousaf sport grungy hair and ripped, black clothing. However, the duo along with producer/DJ Kris Trindi, have churned out a number of Electronic Dance Music (EDM) hits. Their 2013 singles “Live For the Night” and “Alive” both peaked in the top 100 on the charts and their EP “Get Wet” topped the U.S Dance chart. They’ve performed at some of the country’s pre-eminent EDM events, including Ultra Music Festival and Electric Daisy Carnival. Furthermore, the band has collaborated with other heavy-hitters in the music industry such as Skrillex, Tiesto, and Fall Out Boy.

Flosstradamus

Flosstradamus

Though they now call L.A home, their Chicago connection is undeniable. Much of their now hit music was conceived in their Near West Side loft. They will perform Saturday at 8:30 p.m. at Lolla’s Perry Stage.
Flosstradamus, comprised of Josh “J2K” Young and Curt “Autobot” Cameruci, rose to fame playing their unique hip-hop/EDM mixes at bars in the largely gay neighborhood of Lake View. Their unconventional sound has been received with both praise and indifference; the pair told the Chicago Reader about a show they played in Denver where 10 people showed up at a 1,000-occupancy venue. The duo seems to be on the upswing though; they played at South by Southwest in Austin earlier this year and released a single with Waka Flocka Flame entitled “TTU (Too Turnt Up).” They’ll be at Lolla’s Perry stage from 5:30- 6:30 p.m. on Sunday, August 3.

Gemini Club is an Electronica group that seems to be on the verge of a breakthrough. Its singles “Ghost” and “Sparklers” were well received but not widely circulated in the mainstream. The band is known for its improvisational work. According to its bio, they have a “specially designed rig that allows for on-the-fly remixing of their own songs, meaning each Gemini Club show is different from the last.” They’ve opened for Chromeo, performed at North Coast, and have been “hand-picked” by the energy drink company Red Bull as one of their Sound Select Artists. Gemini Club performs at 1 p.m. Sunday at the Grove Stage.

Wicker Park, Humboldt and Logan Square are all Chicago neighborhoods and titles of some of the most popular singles by local “Emo” band Into it. Over It., which was started by Evan Thomas Weiss in 2007.

“Emo rock” is a derivative of rock and punk started in the 1990s that peaked in the early 2000s. The website stereogum.com said there are 12 “bands to know” in the current emo revival and after narrowing it down further to a top five, stereogum.com picked Into It. Over It. as its favorite to break into the mainstream. “Weiss has a natural, everyman charisma and is currently the scene’s most visible figure.”

Evan Thomas Weiss

Evan Thomas Weiss

A New Jersey native, Weiss moved to Chicago a few years ago. In an interview with the Chicago Reader, Weiss said he wanted to move to the city “no matter what.”

Chicago has a vibrant emo rock and punk scene. Cailey Scharrer, a 17-year-old from the northwest suburbs, has been to an Into It. Over It. performance. An active concert-goer, she estimates that she’s been to over 20 emo rock and punk shows over the past few months in the Chicagoland area. She communicates with bands and members of different fan bases directly over Twitter, and is active in the community.

“Chicago is definitely known for its punk scene and how supportive we are of DIY musicians,” Scharrer said. “If a band is on tour, it’s pretty certain that they’ll have a date here. We have basement-type venues typical for punk/emo bands to play. Those venues also make shows here much more intimate as opposed to other cities. Compared to when I’ve gone to shows in other states or friends I’ve talked to that have, Chicago is much more energetic and respectful. Almost every band I’ve talked to says that Chicago is one of their favorite places to play.”

Singer-songwriter Charlie Hirsch also referred to the community spirit of the Chicago club scene as one of its strengths.

“All of the musicians I’ve met really seem to be rooting for one another. And the bands I’ve met that come in from out of town always talk about how much they love the energy and passion of the fans in Chicago,” Hirsch said.

In 2010, after bit parts in TV shows and commercials in his native LA, Hirsch also came to Chicago in seeking a change.

“That move changed everything for me,” Hirsch said. “I didn’t know it at the time, but it would end up leading me to a career in music.”
Since his move, he has written the end song for the indie movie, Least Among Saints, about a former Marine suffering from PTSD who mentors the fatherless preteen boy next door.

How does Lollapalooza impact his career and the Chicago music scene as a whole?

“Lollapalooza is obviously a major opportunity for me to share my music with a wide variety of people,” Hirsch said in an email interview with StreetWise. “There are so many people who come from all over the country to not only catch their favorite bands but also to discover some “unknowns” like myself. Plus, as a local, Lollapalooza is always a weekend that puts the city of Chicago front and center in the music world and gives people the chance to experience just how great of a city this is.”

By StreetWise Interns Emma Peters, Frani O’Toole, Justin Jia and Mariah Woelfel

Suzanne Hanney contributing
Editor’s Note: Please see the StreetWise website for more interviews with Lolla performers and producers.

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