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Midwestern Defensiveness

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Deep-fried Twinkies don't belong in your grocer's freezer aisle

Posted By on 08.17.16 at 06:36 PM

Deep-fried Twinkie - T.J. SALSMAN/AP
  • T.J. Salsman/AP
  • Deep-fried Twinkie

I journeyed to Springfield for the Illinois State Fair last weekend on a quest to eat the holy grail of decadent fair foods: the deep-fried Twinkie. Hostess's recent decision to launch a supermarket version of the treat usually only found at fairgrounds felt like a minor act of blasphemy, and I sought redemption for the snack cake's spongy soul. 

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Monday, April 11, 2016

CIMMFest opening night: The Smart Studios Story revisits the Madison recording studio that helped birth indie rock

Posted By on 04.11.16 at 02:00 PM

Steve Marker and Butch Vig - COURTESY OF CIMMFEST
  • Courtesy of CIMMFest
  • Steve Marker and Butch Vig

The Smart Studios Story
, which opens the Chicago International Movies & Music Festival this Wednesday, lists its two subjects—record producers Steve Marker and Butch Vig—as executive producers, so the movie is more of a vanity project than a documentary. But if you're curious about the midwestern indie-rock explosion of the 80s and early 90s, it's pretty entertaining. Multitrack recording is an exercise in vanity anyway, an opportunity to perform with yourself, and the indie underground was nurtured by the home-recording boom of the 80s, spurred by the introduction of compact four-track cassette recorders. I couldn't guess whether this is a honest account of the rise and fall of Smart Studios, which Marker and Vig launched in Madison, Wisconsin, in the early 80s and which produced records by everyone from Killdozer to Nirvana to Smashing Pumpkins to the Dead Milkmen. But it's an honest account of what the studio meant to the owners and the people who recorded there: in a word, home.

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Monday, February 15, 2016

The mythical idea of the American heartland shouldn't define the midwest

Posted By on 02.15.16 at 03:00 PM

Why should the Great Plains be synonymous with the midwest? Where are the skyscrapers and nonwhite people? - WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
  • Why should the Great Plains be synonymous with the midwest? Where are the skyscrapers and nonwhite people?

"You know what the midwest is?" Kanye West asked in 2004's "Jesus Walks."

Last month, Vox answered: "South Dakota and Kansas."

Claiming his bona fides as a native of the warmer Dakota, Todd VanDerWerff argued that the entire Great Plains region—the Dakotas, Kansas, and Nebraska included—ought to be understood as prototypically midwestern. With the obvious caveat that there's no objectively correct answer to the question, I'm going to say that VanDerWerff is completely wrong—and in ways that go to the very core not only of how we understand ourselves as midwesterners, but how Americans understand their country as a whole. 

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Monday, November 9, 2015

Boiler Room celebrates Chicago and Detroit's electronic legacy

Posted By on 11.09.15 at 02:00 PM

The full lineup for Boiler Room's "Chicago vs. Detroit" party. - BOILER ROOM
  • Boiler Room
  • The full lineup for Boiler Room's "Chicago vs. Detroit" party.

International pop-up party Boiler Room has enlisted some of the best producers and DJs to play RSVP-only parties in intimate spaces; the performances are then broadcast around the world. If you haven't made it out to one of Boiler Room's shows just yet you can get a sneak peek of the hubbub and easily lose several hours by scrolling through archival footage of past performances from heavy hitters such as Frankie Knuckles and Teklife masters DJ Rashad, DJ Spinn, RP Boo, and Manny. Boiler Room celebrates its five-year anniversary Wednesday with five parties spanning the globe . . . but none of those gatherings are in Chicago. Fortunately our city hasn't entirely been forgotten. Tomorrow night Boiler Room launches "Chicago vs. Detroit," a small flurry of shows descending upon our city and, yes, Detroit.

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Thursday, October 8, 2015

The great Chicago Reader potato-chip-eating challenge, 2015 edition

Posted By on 10.08.15 at 12:30 PM

  • Brianna Wellen

If art is all about subverting the expected, then the people at Lay's are some of our most popular and profitable contemporary artists. Forget Jeff Koons: you can find Lay's experimental flavors in every goddamned grocery and convenience store in our fair nation. Every year, they give us the opportunity to appreciate their genius even more when they turn over new-potato-chip-flavor-devising duties to their loyal customers. Coming up with a new potato chip flavor isn't easy, y'all! If you have any doubts, just try it yourself.

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Thursday, September 10, 2015

Joe Meno finds Marvel and a Wonder in an old-school midwestern white man

Posted By on 09.10.15 at 12:30 PM


Marvel and a Wonder
 (Akashic) is not the first novel I've read that is either directly or indirectly about American masculinity in crisis, nor will it be the last, but it's the only one I've genuinely enjoyed. It's a notable accomplishment: a melancholy, symbol-laden meditation on the dying American heartland that I stayed up into the small hours to finish.

This is the fifth novel by Joe Meno, a Chicago writer and professor in the creative writing department at Columbia, and by far his most ambitious. It centers on 71-year-old Jim Falls, a widower, Korean War veteran, and farmer in rural Indiana who struggles to connect with his 16-year-old grandson Quentin after the boy’s mother disappears.

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Thursday, August 27, 2015

Chicago Singles Club continues to unite the city's vast music community

Posted By on 08.27.15 at 08:00 AM


A couple years ago Vaya front man Jeff Kelley and baritone guitarist Kevin Claxton were talking about the unrecognized players and pockets of Chicago's ever-changing, nebulous music scene when they came up with an idea. "We were trying to think about, 'How could we—and I know this is a huge buzzword, but, like, curate bands for people to listen to where they wouldn't know what they're gonna get, but they will know it's gonna be rad,'" Kelley says. That conversation helped start Chicago Singles Club, a site designed to champion local musicians through an in-depth documentation—part of which includes newly recorded singles, which the CSC team handle in-house. CSC officially debuted in April 2013 with a profile of pop songwriter and singer KSRA, and the site's been steadily expanding with one feature on a new act each month. The site passes a new milestone Friday night at the Whistler with the listening party for Volume 2: 2014-2015, a compilation of recordings from its second year; ShowYouSuck, Me Jane, Glass Lux, Moritat, Radar Eyes, Meat Wave, and Absolutely Not are among the acts who've contributed tracks to the compilation.

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Friday, April 17, 2015

Arts expo Lake FX opens with a question: What's the 'lake effect'?

Posted By on 04.17.15 at 12:36 PM

Tanya Saracho, Alex Kotlowitz, and Laura Schwartz

The keynote discussion for Lake FX, the city's free four-day summit and expo for "artists, creative professionals and entrepreneurs," drew an audience that looked sparse in the Harris Theater's 1,500-seat auditorium Thursday afternoon.

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Monday, February 16, 2015

Psych-rock group Santah makes complicated songwriting run smoothly on new song 'Sunkeeper'

Posted By on 02.16.15 at 03:30 PM

  • Courtesy of Santah's Facebook page
  • Santah

Santah's new, currently untitled second LP is now available for preorder, but not in the way you'd expect. You can put down ten bucks toward a digital download if you like, or you can shell out $25 for the vinyl edition. Or you can purchase a slot in a fermentation class taught by Vivian McConnell, who sings and plays guitar in the psych-rock band alongside her brother, Stanton. The members of Santah are doing it all themselves this time around: via a PledgeMusic campaign, they've already funded the production of the record, which arrives in May. They're also donating 5 percent of all proceeds to CeaseFire, a nonprofit geared at ending gun violence in Chicago.

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Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Listen to the Pretenders' rust-belt-disco jam 'My City Was Gone'

Posted By on 11.11.14 at 12:00 PM

My City Was Gone is off of 1984s Learning to Crawl
  • "My City Was Gone" is off of 1984's Learning to Crawl

A couple months ago I was driving around and listening to the Sirius XM station 1st Wave when a song came on that I hadn't heard before: the Pretenders' "My City Was Gone." The track had a drum sound straight out of Talking Heads' version of "Take Me to the River" and an equally killer bass line, except that unlike most other rock-gone-disco cuts this one had bluesy guitar licks that never verged on the cutting rhythmic funk that most disco guitars adopt. Within 30 seconds I loved it; adding to my enjoyment were the lyrics, in which front woman Chrissie Hynde sings about going back to her hometown in Ohio only to find how much has changed since her childhood, with asphalt and shopping malls replacing forests and farms. I could never think of a show hook for the song, but I have one for today: Hynde plays Chicago Theatre tomorrow night, and the concert's still not sold out. If you've never heard today's 12 O'Clock Track, "My City Was Gone," definitely give it a listen below.

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