Category Archives: Chicago

Northern Soul: An influential British musical moment in electronic music culture

“The northern soul scene, to me, was like an eighth wonder of the world. You’re looking at the depressed north of England, where there wasn’t a great deal there apart from steelworks and coalmines. You had people doing this boring repetitive work during the week; and hard work, too. And when they went out on a weekend, they really wanted to go out. Going out until 11 o’clock to the local pub just wasn’t going to be good enough.

When the whole rave thing went ballistic it felt like northern soul twenty years on. Lots of people getting off their heads, dancing to fast music and this love attitude. House is this generation’s version of northern soul…” - Ian Dewhirst, northern soul DJ ~1999 [From Last Night a DJ Saved My Life: The History of the Disc Jockey]

Here's some of the classics to listen to while you read

Northern Soul was a musical movement and underground lifestyle that emerged in the late sixties and thrived into the mid to late seventies. It was born out of the mod scene and focused on the beat-heavy, faster Motown soul sound of American artists, and was particularly defined by the purist, obsessive vinyl-fetishism of its DJs.

While the mods moved onto more fashionable crossover music, with go-go dancers and gimmicks, epitomized by the British tv Show Ready Steady Go!,  the Motown purists split into their own branch that would become Northern Soul, focusing on  authentic, finite set of records released in America in the mid to late sixties. Since there were no new recordings, the scene had a particular momentum unto itself, quite distant from commercial music of the time, and sustained by crate digging for overlooked singles from American acts who aped the Motown sound but failed to achieve any commercial success.


Early Northern Soulies were a musically-conservative offshoot of the Mods

However, while in the leading video “Northern Soul: Keeping the Faith” host Paul Mason thinks the acrobatic spins and drops were from seventies Kung Fu movies, they were mostly likely inspired from visiting American R&B musicians like Jackie Wilson.

Specifically, in this video you can see his back drop, in another his kick and spins. That splits maneuver was probably from himself or one of his contemporaries at live performances–and you have to remember that television broadcasts had to be extremely toned down for their at-home audiences new to the music.

So, Northern Soul adopted these American R&B “cool” dance styles as their own. In this fantastic academic study of the subculture, Birmingham University professor Tim Wall describes the quintessential dance style:

… [T]he dancer ‘glides from side to side’ and ‘predict almost every beat and soul clap’ (1982, 38). The predominant ‘glide’ style is achieved through some core characteristics of posture and movement: rigid upper torso, eyes up and looking forward; weight back and pushing down through the hips on to the heels; moving mostly with feet, with fairly straight legs, to propel oneself across the floor (almost always sideways); arms and hands tend to follow the shifting weight of the dancer, or push against it for expressive counter-point. It is this core competency that signals you as an insider, and not a dance tourist. - “Dancing, Northern Soul Style”

For me, this is one of the mind-blowing moments for me as someone who was a eager participant in late-nineties Chicago warehouse electronic music culture. The little “rave shuffle” was in full effect, albeit often quite bouncier and influenced by hip hop culture, as is reflected in today’s house dancing. And Northern Soul’s “Keep the Faith” rallying cry (appropriated from the black power movement and its upraised fist) was on par with nineties rave-slogan, “PLUR: Peach Love Unity Respect.” Interviews at the start of this dance short convey this similar theme:

Northern Industrial England & Northern Midwest US Cities Parallels (Chicago and Detroit)

Like Northern England, Detroit and Chicago were centers of industry, but where England was white and working class, the Northern US’s cities fascination with soul came from a black perspective. “Nowhere to Run” was filmed in a Detroit Mustang factory, weirdly, and perhaps unintentially saying that people who lived in Detroit were stuck with factory jobs but building machines for freedom for those who could afford them. The Chicago House documentary “Pump up the Volume” provides a fairly thorough early history, and “High Tech Soul” focuses on Detroit techno with an emphasis on direct influencers of the contemporary movement in the city.

Scooters were the vehicle for the Mods, who eyed the Italians as emulate-able because of their fashion discernment, and extended that to American R&B. However, it meant that when the Motown sound became unfashionable, they moved on from it, into the British rock or glam scenes emerging at the time. But the scooter also represented personal freedom in a way that was paralleled by American muscle cars, like the Ford Mustang, with enthusiasts spending time and energy not only working to attain capital to own own, but also personally modify it to represent it as an extension of their personality.

The Mod's obsession with American Soul permeated both north and south England...
...but as the seventies progressed, south England embraced funk while the North stayed conservatively focused on a particular sound rooted in the past

Although the metaphor stretches precipitously thin here, the US and UK both had geographically-related music scenes with their own momentum. It’s hard for a contemporary mind to grasp, but pre-Internet, one’s culture and norms were spread by physical interaction, or by the far slower moving distribution rhythms of print publications.

As Fred Perry’s Soul Boys mini-doc points out, Northern soul dancing remained tied to a faster tempo around 140 BPM, with the emphasis on the 1s and 3s, which you can hear in Northern Soul’s most popular song and later Soft Cell cover in the 80s which you probably have heard: “Tainted Love”

The Northern dance style is faster, comparably stiffer, and a bit more regimented, with flourishes reserved for the breakdowns, and with moves choreographed to the dancer’s memorization of the song. Here’s a playlist I’ve collected with Northern Soul dance moves. It starts with some examples and then I threw in some tutorials for specific moves:

While the soul of the south, influenced by immigrants from the Caribbean islands took on and adopted sounds from its reggae heritage. In “Soul Boys” there’s a more thorough investigation, but the southern soul slows down considerably, with off-beat or snare emphasis with moves, or as mentioned in the documentary, it’s dancing between the beats.

The Fashion of Northern Soul

While it was born out of the Mod scene, the style wavered between long-term athletic comfort, baggy pants, community association, and seventies youth culture with varying degrees of sartorial success. I’ve made a Pinterest board with some of my favorite looks, but with some search engine poking you’ll find quite a few more examples that–while may have been widely adopted–are pretty cringe-worthy. That being said, here are my picks:

Follow Liz McLean Knight’s board Northern Soul Style on Pinterest.

Northern Soul Fashion - Women
Northern Soul Fashion - Men
Northern Soul Dancers - Circle Skirt
Northern Soul Dancers - Men - Seventies

Soul Togetherness: Northern Soul Weekender in Chicago 2014

soultogetherness2014

If you’re curious and Chicago-local, you’ve got a chance to experience the contemporary movement IRL tomorrow. Soul Togetherness 2014 is a rare soul weekender in Chicago with a bunch of events to check out. It runs Friday March 28 – Sunday March 20.

SOUL TOGETHERNESS USA is proud to present our 2nd annual event, featuring an international cast of DJs for a weekend of rare and original vinyl. This year we feature 4 days of events, including 2 nights at The Globe with 2 rooms of music.

Friday & Saturday, March 28 & 29
Rare Soul ‘Nighters
The Globe, 1934 W Irving Park Rd.

Rare Soul DJs in the main room both nights, plus in the second room:

“The Soul of Jamaica Room” featuring rare reggae, rocksteady, ska and Caribbean soul hosted by JAMAICAN OLDIES PRODUCTIONS. 3/28

and

“The Soul of Latin America Room” featuring rare latin soul, boogaloo and tropical sounds hosted by Chicago favorites SONORAMA. 3/29

Saturday March, 29 (AM)
Empty Bottle-1035 N Western Ave
We will feature our first RECORD FAIR, in collaboration with traveling record show “Beat Swap Meet” -www.beatswapmeet.com

https://www.facebook.com/events/474519065987292/

Entrance is Free w/ Canned Good. Canned goods are donated to local homeless shelters.

Soul Togetherness Facebook
Soul Togetherness Twitter
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[Sat. March 1, 2014] Chiditarod: Checkpoint Shenanigans

Chiditarod is an annual human dogsled shopping cart race/food and donation drive/bar crawl. Over one hundred teams of 5 people each will be gussying up a shopping cart, dressing up in crazy costumes, collecting canned good and money donations (that’s where you come in), and racing around the city like maniacs. The Secret Gentlemen team and I are working with Chiditarod Chicago to raise money to fight hunger in Chicago and have a hell of a lot of fun in the process.

This Saturday morning and afternoon—March 1—a team of ten Secret Gentlemen will be racing, and a team of another 25 will be running one of the race’s checkpoints: Club Foot (1824 W Augusta Blvd, Chicago, IL 60622). I will be DJing from 12:30 – 4:30, and if you stop by and have a drink, the bar will donate a portion of your tab to the cause.

Maybe come by? Good times and shenanigans are a given.

When all is said and done, it’s the year’s biggest one-day donation of food to The Greater Chicago Food Depository, it’s a boon to hungry people throughout Chicago, and it’s a hell of a lot of fun.

Help out with a donation, won’t you? Here’s a link.

Chicago’s Chess Records & Record Row, tastemakers of early pop, rock , soul & R&B

While recovering from a seasonal cold, I found some interesting documentaries on Chess Records and the competing labels at the same time on the near South side of Chicago. Chess Records was responsible for launching hits by Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Etta James, along with bringing blues by Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf into commercial awareness. The movies Cadillac Records (2008) and Who Do You Love (2008) are Hollywood’s version of the history, with Beyonce as Etta James in the former.

Interestingly, Chess was the last name of a Polish immigrant entrepreneur, Leonard, who catered to the immigrant Southern black population and found a common outsider perspective with his clientele.

More on Chess Records and the competing labels within walking distance along South Michigan Avenue is in another documentary aired on PBS in 1997 called Record Row:

I had no idea there was any sort of rivalry between Motown Records and Chicago until I started digging a bit.

New art site! Also, you can support pit bull rescue by buying an art print

charlottemarker-web

I’ve finally gotten together my visual art portfolio site (lizmcleanknight.com) and figured it would be great to launch it with a campaign that supports Pit Bull Awareness Month (October).

Buy an art print and support pit bull rescue!
This marker drawing is of Charlotte, an insanely sweet pit bull terrier whom I adopted from Chicagoland Bully Breed Rescue in 2011.

From now until the end of 2013, I will donate 10% of the proceeds from sales of the archival art prints of Charlotte through Society6 to Chicagoland Bully Breed Rescue. [Read More]

{Buy an art print from Society6}

The smallest size (8″ x 10″) starts at just $19, and you can choose from larger sizes as well. We’re getting close to the gifty season, and it would be nice to support an animal welfare group as well as give a fellow animal lover a meaningful gift.

I also make interesting visual art, as it turns out
I realize I’m more well known as a Chicago electronic musician and the impetus behind the online geek-chic boutique, Fractalspin, but I also am a visual artist who formally studied art history. At California Institute of the Arts, I got to refine my work from within a contemporary fine arts perspective, and that’s been a part of what I do ever since. Check it out:

Well, feel free to explore, and you can start a public converstation with me on Google+ Twitter, or Facebook, and if you just want to send a personal message, here’s an easy way to do just that.
 

 

Pitchfork (*cough* Chicago), I love you, but you’re bringing me down

1 Kelly Merch 1rkellypictfork2013-crap

“The very mundanity of Kelly’s performance leads to my second, sadder conclusion about his presence at Pitchfork: That the formerly Chicago-now Brooklyn-based brains and businessmen behind the festival and the Webzine, … just don’t think that the music we embrace means anything at all in the real world.

It’s just a cool, digitally stored backing track for your oh-so-hip and groovy lifestyle at home, and every bit the ideal tool in concert for marketing and money-making that we see at the festival’s larger corporate cousin, Lollapalooza.”

Here’s Jim Derogatis’ insightful review of the Pitchfork fest in Chicago, and a critique of the mainstream music industry as well with the whole “irony thing” going on.

Although irony can elicit personal and cultural emotions, it’s a double-edged sword. On some level these ironic musicians and promoters must have some appreciation for the genre–albeit a guilty one–or they would not have spent so much time and energy making it happen.

What’s problematic is that this “irony booking” has a captive audience in a festival like this. But the patrons didn’t buy tickets because they wanted to see R.Kelly–they shelled out the cash to see independent, niche-oriented, genuine musicians on stage in a park, in summer, in Chicago (and because we have actual seasons here, nice weather propels people into doing as much as possible in those few short months).

Inserting R.Kelly as an ironic gesture (complete with off-color buttons for sale, that latently approve of his “misfit” behavior) can become increasingly less ironic over time, as the focus trends towards profit on the highest level instead of showcasing new, innovative music.

Remember the adage “Any PR is good PR?” That’s because the person in question is still getting attention from lots of eyeballs, even if it’s a critical gaze, just by talking about it constantly is giving it a reason to exist (before you cut me off, yes, I am doing this right now, but it’s to prove a point by showing the opposite).

So what’s troublesome is that these grassroots, niche-music communities that started out as genuine artistic and cultural endeavors are targets to be co-opted by corporate / profit-minded interests who are just looking at figures on a spreadsheet and doing some crowd psychology work to get the highest ROI (return on investment–your interest rate, or how much you will make by investing) in an emerging market (meaning low acquisition cost and high future cash returns). Singularly-profit-minded investors who study numbers will swoop in on a potentially profitable situation, no matter what the long-term outcome is on the culture–and therein lies the problem.

We’re facing a similar situation in Chicago, where profit over people and communities are being pushed aside in favor of big business chains who want a piece of the tourist and local market, and forcing cultural attractions into places just to raise property values.

City government ideally should exist as a crowdsourced way of making the city a better place–but chains and outside interests just suck up resources and give them to their shareholders, only tossing a bone here and there to their local communities. I think the miscommunication here is that zoning people, aldermen, and the mayor seem to have it in their head that their constituents will be so much happier with a suburban-model, chain-dominated city.

It couldn’t be further from the truth.

Why do people live in cities? Why do they travel? In both cases it’s because they enjoy a sense of community and uniqueness that you just can’t find anywhere else. Why go on vacation far away from home when you’ll only get the exact same chains serving the exact same burgers, efficiently delivered to all stores to ensure each experience is a clone of any other. “There is no there there,” as Gertrude Stein put it.

“Buy locally,” sustainability, and energy conservation are all on a roll now, and this mentality can also tie into music curation at festivals. Why travel to a far off city when you’re just going to see the same performers in any other city on their tour map?

Perhaps it’s just the nature of the Old Country Buffet smorgasbord model that as a festival becomes increasingly successful, well-established, and ever more commercialized, the ethos upon which it was founded becomes increasingly obscure. The greater meaning, if ever there was one, slips further and further away. Any role that the fest had in both reflecting and stimulating a musical community inevitably erodes. And everything is reduced to mere entertainment.

ALSO: Read another of Jim Derogatis’ pieces on how Mayor Rahm Emmanuel wants to create a “music district” in Uptown… it still hasn’t happened, but it looks like he appears to want to make Chicago into a Disneyland of tourist attractions. Not loving it.

Here is Kermit the Frog’s cover of LCD Soundsystem’s “New York I Love You” which is highly relevant.

“New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down”

New York, I Love You
But you’re bringing me down

New York, I Love You
But you’re bringing me down

Like a rat in a cage
Pulling minimum wage

New York, I Love You
But you’re bringing me down

New York, you’re safer
And you’re wasting my time

Our records all show
You are filthy but fine

But they shuttered your stores
When you opened the doors
To the cops who were bored
Once they’d run out of crime

New York, you’re perfect
Don’t please don’t change a thing

Your mild billionaire mayor’s
Now convinced he’s a king

So the boring collect
I mean all disrespect

In the neighborhood bars
I’d once dreamt I would drink

New York, I Love You
But you’re freaking me out

There’s a ton of the twist
But we’re fresh out of shout

Like a death in the hall
That you hear through your wall

New York, I Love You
But you’re freaking me out

New York, I Love You
But you’re bringing me down

New York, I Love You
But you’re bringing me down

Like a death of the heart
Jesus, where do I start?

But you’re still the one pool
Where I’d happily drown

And oh.. Take me off your mailing list
For kids that think it still exists
Yes, for those who think it still exists

Maybe I’m wrong
And maybe you’re right
Maybe I’m wrong
And myabe you’re right

Maybe you’re right
Maybe I’m wrong
And just maybe you’re right

And Oh..
Maybe mother told you true
And they’re always be something there for you
And you’ll never be alone

But maybe she’s wrong
And maybe I’m right
And just maybe she’s wrong

Maybe she’s wrong
And maybe I’m right
And if so, is there?



SIDENOTE:
Despite having been offered a scholarship to the Joffrey Ballet and majoring in Dance at Sarah Lawrence college, Rahm sure does dance like an awkward white boy, even if he did take his tie off.

Some fascinating documentaries on life as a trucker

I love documentaries that focus on other people’s interesting daily lives. I was curious as to what those sleeper trucks looked like on the inside, and since I’ve done many road trips, I did a bit of internet investigation and found these two documentaries to be interesting and worth sharing.

To my European friends, these videos will answer a lot of your questions on highway culture.

“Building the Victorian City: Splendour and Squalour,” a lecture by Professor Simon Thurley [56:09]

I like architecture and urban planning, so you can see why I am intrigued by this lecture delivered from Gresham College (who has been all about talks open to the public since 1597 [!]) by Proffesor Thurley. This is totally one of those things you can put on and then walk away from, since there are only a few slides, and mostly a bunch of talking.

It traces the history of worker housing in Victorian Britain that sprung from the industrial revolution, but you will notice there are quite a few U.S. parallels, especially their take on light wells in the slums–the deleterious absence of which (amongst a gigantic amount of other basic things) was so famously documented in New York City by Jacob Riis in How the Other Half Lives (free and clickable, btw, through the Bartelby Project).

Here’s a video slideshow of some of Riis’ photos from New York City tenements (yeah, could not quickly find an online gallery with clickable thumbnails for those of us from the ADD generation *shrug*).

But what’s interesting about Britain’s approach is that when their cities’ populations exploded, they went straight to low-rise duplexes with communal privies and bake houses, along with a shared interior courtyard. This echos the contemporary cohousing movement whose principles are sneaking their way into the minds of progressive city urbanites, through labor-sharing initiatives like TaskRabbit (where you can sell your skills by the hour, to bidders that need random things), and urban farmers’ markets.

The second half–the “Splendor” bit– is about how London’s Italianesque architecture is a visual callback to the Renaissance Medici family, who so famously were both merchants and art patrons and basically shaped the architecture of Italy in doing so. Interestingly, London’s first futures markets rallied in pubs, which were razed to make way for London’s monuments to capitalistic wealth games and its financial center-ness.

[Sa. May 4, 2013] Pumping Station One Hackerspace Birthday Party

PsOneTardisRoof

Chicago’s coolest hackerspace, Pumping Station:One is having a 4-year birthday party / open house thingie on Saturday.

In case you’re not familiar, hackerspaces are, well–pretty self explanatory. You sign up for a membership, like a gym, and then you get to play with all the neat toys–oscilloscopes, 3D printers, drill presses, sewing machines, and a scanning electron microscope (duh!). It’s $40-$70 per month for a membership, for all that access to awesome future-creation. Also, they really do have a Tardis on the roof, just like that photo up there shows–not shopped.

7PM – Demos and reception
10PM – Live music
@ Pumping Station: One, 3519 N. Elston, Chicago IL (near Addison and Kedzie)

They also have a THUNDER SLINKY (I don’t know what that is, but it sounds awesome):

  • Souped-up Power Wheels Racers
  • DIY Quadcopter
  • Check out our new scanning electron microscope
  • Brain-based Jacob’s Ladder
  • WindowFarm
  • THUNDER SLINKY!
  • Other cool things!

Also, interactivity is completely smiled upon and encouraged:

  • Make art with lasers!
  • Silkscreen your own art poster!
  • Learn to solder and walk away with your very own blinkie badge!
  • Print your first object using one of our 3D printers

Liquid and light snacks will be on hand, as will music and an  LED birthday cake.

There’s a $10 donation for non-members, which will go towards building a new kitchen.RSVP here.

Lovely video on the hackerspace concept:

ps1map