As a kid, nothing cheered me up after a hard day at school like coming home and dancing. I didn’t care what — my mom’s smooth and groovy Motown albums, the edgy pop of my sister’s Phil Collins or Peter Cetera records, and nowadays my beloved Phantogram. I can listen to the same song for hours, lost in the melody or the hook of the chorus. It is transformative, transcendent, a gateway to another world.
They reach into your room, oh oh oh, Just feel their gentle touch…Elton John, ‘Sad Songs (Say So Much)’
When all hope is gone, Sad songs say so much.
As the home of House music, the Blues (and the Blues Brothers), we Chicagoans turn to music in good times and bad. One of our own recently led the way in a citywide Window Sing A Long, an idea that spread so quickly even Jon Bon Jovi himself joined in. Along with the Virtual Events that support local businesses, our local DJs and musicians are here for us, in spirit, if not in person. I looked around social media and discovered six local artists that are worth a listen.
Fess Grandiose has a short setlist, but great things come in small packages. Fess creates thoughtful, innervision grooves with banging beats, great for keeping you stimulated and focused while working at your computer, or even while doing a bit of Pilates or yoga. Or at least it makes me want to do yoga.
When asked about the method of creating his soft, metaphysical style, Grandiose said, “I can’t truly define how the theme came about, other than that I’m a pretty chill person who doesn’t care for hard extremes in any form or direction.
“So, naturally, I try to put that feeling in my music all while trying to keep the listener engaged… The challenge is balancing that soft tone with the sounds that make people want to dance and nod their head. So it is really gratifying when someone digs my music and they too get that feeling.”
A busy man, Grandiose hosted Kimball House Rock, a DIY Hip-Hop festival held in his backyard from 2009-2014, and until recently he was the host of a DJ open mic night called Open Beats at Cafe Moustache, where select DJs perform “feature sets”.
The Open Beats sessions, held on the third Friday of every month, has been growing in acclaim since its launch in January 2016. I for one can’t wait to hear more from this Afro-futuristic disc jockey.
DJ Lugo Rosado, a Logan Square resident, has been spinning Salsa, R&B and House music for 43 years. DJ Lugo Rosado’s “Vive en Forma” Census 2020 Salsa & House Set has Latin ballroom hits that make you want to clear the living room furniture, put on your dancing shoes and twirl your partner.
“My sets are brought together with lot of feeling and soul,” Rosado said. “Most people love to dance to these rhythmic sounds and [the music] was what I grew up listening to as a child.”
Lugo, a longtime Logan Square resident, is a great storyteller, a treasure trove of Chicago history, music history, and House music history, full of stories about the beginnings of Latino House music emerging from the ashes of Disco in 1977. Lugo started his musical career playing gigs called “Rectory parties”, spinning records for Catholic school kids in church basements.
“Coming from a single-parent household, my mother didn’t have money to get me a turntable, so I took apart her giant, wood-paneled BSR record console and made turntables out of them,” he said.
From his humble beginnings, he was eventually noticed by music producer Jesse Jones, who enlisted to join the first diverse Chicago House group: Master C&J, featuring writer, producer, and vocalist Liz Torres, aka “The Queen of House”.
“I still have my Battle Mixer and my old Cerwin Vega speakers,” Lugo boasted. “The exact same kind they used on that Netflix show ‘The Get Down‘. Back then you didn’t have a playlist — you just had a milk crate full of records, your equipment, and your crew.”
Check out DJ Lugado Rosado here:
Record Label: 51ststreetmusic.com
Live on Twitch: twitch.tv/djlugorosado
Music Production & Band Site: http://www.mastercandj.com
Heady_Lovell, a Logan Square rapper, producer, and DJ, can be heard on the Spoons app, spinning hardcore rap from 11 a.m. to noon Monday through Friday. He spins that NSFW street shiz by Eminem and Kendrick Lamar, with some rapid-fire-rap lyrics from Futuristic, Tech N9ne, Run The Jewels, and Megan Thee Stallion.
A self-defined “New wave hipster vibe with trap accents, punk overtones, and gospel roots,” Lovell sounds like he’s one of those brothers that can wax philosophical about life and current events but will get ignorant on you real quick if you step to him wrong.
“I also like to mix my sound up quite a bit, so that definition is as fluid as they come,” Lovell said. “I really like being lyrical and thought-provoking, while also showing off how dope I am off the mic; the dichotomy of wokeness and openness.”
I asked him what’s keeping him sane during the stay-at-home order. “Music, just like in every other difficult time in my life, has been a godsend and I try to partake in the creation of it on a daily basis,” he said. “I am a full-time musician regardless of the stay home ordinances, but it has given new life to my drive and commitment to a routine (mostly as to not drive my fiance crazy — or vice versa). Also, tending to my (legal) cannabis garden as well as doing a lot of online shopping has kept me sane.”
AirGo, a Northside/Southside radio show podcast collaboration, is a refreshing discovery. Many in-depth discussions with locals concerning race, politics art and music with people from all walks of life. You can listen to Airgo podcasts on their website, or listen to the podcast on SoundCloud or iTunes.
AirGo is the brainchild of Damon Williams (pictured left), a South Sider and Daniel Kisslinger (pictured right), a Logan Square resident The two met each other at Grinnell College. Traveling in the same stream of local artists, activists, and organizers, Williams and Kisslinger started to create a place where people could hear the sounds of the street in a real and meaningful way.
“We wanted to document their voices and perspectives in an accessible, equitable, and meaningful way,” Kisslinger said. “We wanted to serve three audiences: One, members of the social movement and creative communities here in Chicago. Two, listeners both in Chicago and elsewhere who are attuned to structural inequity and want to understand it in the context of daily life in Chicago; and three, future listeners, researchers, and organizers who will use AirGo as a primary source document to study this historical moment in the city and country.”
AirGo has a great and informative “On the Line” podcast series with local activists and AirGo’s COVID-19 Coverage & Stimulus Redistribution Plan, connecting privileged recipients of the Stimulus check with methods to redistribute that money directly to people excluded from governmental support.
Listen to AirGo here:
DJ Ethan Andrew, a 20-year-old Logan Square resident and certified graduate of the Scratch DJ Academy (935 N. Ashland Ave.), has been making his bones playing local bars and clubs for years (off-hours, of course), including the Hairpin Arts Center (2810 N. Milwaukee Ave.). Andrew is part of the Dance From Home: Digital DJ Festival happening from 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. on selective days on Twitch, asking people to donate to the DFH COVID Direct Relief page.
As a Gen Y artist, DJ Andrew is just as thoughtful about his brand as he is with his House music beats, with a range from deep house to synthpop to funk, spinning mixes with nods to Slick Rick, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and Chromeo. “I’ve always loved Daft Punk,” Andrew said, listing his influences.
“To me, they are electronic dance Pioneers and they are so ahead of their time with every album from Homework to Random Access Memories. Another would have to be Disclosure,” he said. “Not only do I love House music but after I saw them live, I realized how I could take my knowledge to the next level and learn how to produce my own music while being a DJ.”
Andrew’s Instagram account is full of photos of him and his parents at music concerts — he and his mother are often mistaken for brother and sister. “My first ever festival was Lollapalooza 2012,” he recalled. “I was a 12-year-old walking around Grant Park with my parents, cousins, and uncle. I really wanted to see Calvin Harris and my parents thought, ‘Why not take our son to the biggest festival in Chicago to see his favorite artists?’ Our most recent event (together) was Riot Fest 2019. We went all three days and I had a blast seeing The B-52’s.”
Soulphonetics, AKA The International Rude Boys, are Logan Square native Christian Vera and born-and-raised-South-Sider Caswell James, another duo of Chicago DJs. Soulphonetics creates a playlist of Latin grooves and Hip Hop beats on their three-track podcast that transports you to a salón de baile on a hot summer night, a lively street festival, or a warm day at the beach with your lover. The kind of beats that have you tapping your feet and bouncing in your chair swing in your chair while being productive at work. And when work is over, it’s time to break out the tequila.
Speaking of work, I asked both Vera and James what they’ve been up to during the lockdown.
“I’m staying positive by working on music and art,” James said. “This is something that requires some solidarity so this is not much different than my everyday life. I listen to some chill music like Moses Sumney, Bjork, Thom Yorke, and Nosaj Thing to name a few.”
Vera is also on the creation train. “I have kept (my) head in order and semi-sane throughout all this by keeping busy creating and designing new works for upcoming SOULPHONETICS projects: new apparel & merchandise, also a new podcast that I will be hosting with Caswell co-producing, dealing with DJing, nightlife & music production and such,” Vera said. “It will feature many local Chicago and international artists both unknown and famous. Stay tuned.”
Soulphonetics are a Logan Square favorite, hosting their ¡Sazón Sessions! and Soulful Sundays live at Estereo (2450 N. Milwaukee Ave.).
Follow Soulphonetics here:
Hopefully, this list will be a start for your tour of local DJs, as it was for me. I definitely plan to take advantage of their live and in-person sets, when the time is right. If there any local DJs that I missed, let us know in the comments.
I hope you all find some sort of solace and relief in these dire circumstances… As we find ways to support our local artists and businesses, make sure that you’re taking care of yourselves. Look for resources and support systems when you’re feeling stressed or alone.
Featured photo: Heady Lovell