Thanks for helping us raise $25,000! You make all the difference! →
Thanks for helping us raise $25,000! You make all the difference! →
In a matter of days, I went from hipster-platinum to waeguk-nobody. In the beginning of May 2009, I packed up my crates of LPs, stepped down as Music Director of the burgeoning Chicago Independent Radio Project, quit my job at Reckless Records, handed over the helms of Plustapes/Addenda Records to my co-founder, canceled all my DJ gigs around Chicago’s west side (Whistler, Burlington, Danny’s, etc.), handed my cat over to my little brother, and left the city. Days later, I stepped off an airplane at Incheon Airport and took a late night bus to Daejeon, a city located in the heart of South Korea. I slept that night on a single-sized mattress, the only piece of furniture in my allotted studio apartment. Moments before I fell into a deep sleep after my 24-hour journey, I heartily questioned my decision.
I had no idea what to expect coming to South Korea; I had little time to prepare. On a whim, I inquired about a teaching job and not three weeks later reluctantly accepted one. It happened fast and with little premeditation. All I knew was that Chicago was feeling stuffy and redundant after four years. I needed adventure and a setting where I could effloresce into adulthood without too many outside influences. “Individuality” was the word of the moment, and nothing was more foreign to me than South Korea.
Innately, Korea is very different. But superficially, it’s rather westernized. Besides the Hangul script and the copious amount of dragonflies in late spring, Daejeon didn’t seem that far out. The kids dress rather stylishly, the technology is modern (if not slightly ahead of the U.S.) and commerce bustles. Daejeon is certainly a city, but it’s no Chicago. It’s about the size of Portland, OR actually. With the rather uneventful cultural touchstones and nightlife though, it’s much more akin to the Charlotte, NC’s of the world. It’s a city built around a particular business ethos (technological innovation in this case), not around the arts. The opportunities and communities that I gravitated toward in Chicago were obsolete.
Everything, and I mean everything, in Korea is animated. Nearly every store on every corner is blasting music out its doors. Or, at the least, there are dedicated and luminous neon lights for décor. My senses were saturated, and that I was thankful for. But where my sight, taste, smell and touch were satisfied, my hearing was left dumbfounded. Throughout the country, Korean pop is ubiquitous. And not just in placement, it’s loved in the hearts of the people as well. I have yet to meet a person who does not like the sugar-loaded, bubblegum techno, pop-rap, pseudo-soul of K-pop. Even after years of careful music listening, I have a tough time differentiating the groups, even after 7 months. But I have nary a student who can’t list every song on the current pop charts from memory (along with a quick rendition of each song’s chorus).
The song-of-the-moment – and moment in K-pop terms is about 6-8 weeks of chart dominance – when I arrived was Big Bang and 2NE1’s “Bubblegum.” Big Bang, a substantial veteran of the scene for being around for three years already, is a hit-making machine. Every female student of mine has a pencil cased covered in stickers of the five members’ smudge-free images. The production company behind them, YG Entertainment, is dominant and sly. They had just finished fastening the female equivalent of the Big Bang mold, 2NE1, and paired them together for a promotion song for a cell phone by LG Cyon. It is a popular strategy by promotion companies at the moment: crossover jingles. The song was a smash, two Big Bang members would go on to release lucrative solo albums in the fall, and 2NE1 would win numerous awards and accolades during the many year end award shows.
I, on the other hand, needed refuge. The culture I enjoyed, the music industry I loathed. That would change (somewhat). But for the moment, I needed escape. I turned to Miles Davis, an artist that I respect but don’t really get up in arms about. In fact, besides Sketches of Spain, Get Up With It is my only real focus in the vast discography of the archetypal jazz trumpeter. Its inch-thick haze of electric-organ-derived ambience was the perfect opposite of the crystalline K-pop. Composed of a series of session ranging from 1970-74, it also helped that the album was 2 hours-plus of music. Whenever the three-minute onslaught of hook-hook-hook would wear me down, I’d hole myself up in my apartment and lose myself in the endless funky grooves of Reggie Lucas’s static electric guitar and Michael Henderson’s loping bass lines. The tectonic shifts of atonality and seemingly structure-less jam sessions became just the rabbit hole I needed on those special occasions. It’s no wonder this record was so influential on Eno. Even without drugs, it easily trips you out.
Chicago has such a rich musical history and one of the greatest talents to come out of our fair city was Sam Cooke. He bridged gospel roots with an urban sensibility — it’s like he found the midpoint between Ray Charles and Nat King Cole, capable of being as smooth as silk or gritty and down home. On top of that, he was a ridiculously talented songwriter, penning hit after hit and influencing so many of the great soul singers who followed him. What a wonderful world this would be if you would get your iPod/MP3 player, hit shuffle and share the first 10 tunes that come up! (NOTE: the 11th tune on my shuffle this morning was Cooke’s “Sugar Dumpling”).
CHIRP Radio has launched, we celebrated at the Empty Bottle the night before, and now you’re surely listening to the stream as you’re reading this. You may be thinking, “What more could CHIRP have in store for me from this past weekend?” Well, thanks to our friends over at High Frequency Media we’ve got video of the festivities from Saturday night for you. Enjoy the following, from The Yolks set at our CHIRP Radio launch party.
The Yolks – “Jane” at The Empty Bottle – CHIRP Radio Event – 1.16.10 from High Frequency Media on Vimeo.
After two-and-a-half years of work, CHIRP has launched its new radio station online at CHIRPradio.org!
CHIRPradio.org is up and running!
The station streams live from our North Center studios every day of the year. CHIRP hosts play a mix of independent, local, lesser-known, and underappreciated music from an array of genres and eras. We’re also in the process of developing some locally-focused news and talk programming.
You can interact with DJs via phone and IM, and you can offer feedback on individual songs, or on the station in general, on the front page of CHIRPradio.org.
We’re so grateful to all of the people who have worked so hard to make CHIRP Radio a reality! Thanks to the bands who have sent us their music, the supporters who have made donations, lent us their venues, or purchased CHIRP gear, and the volunteers who have built the station from the ground up. It’s been an amazing ride, and it’s only beginning!
Can one birthday wish be enough for the man originally known as David Robert Jones, who changed his name to David Bowie so as not to be confused with Davy Jones of The Monkees? Or does one have to wish a Happy Birthday to The Thin White Duke, The Earthling, The Man Who Fell To Earth, Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, and so on and so on? Perhaps the best way to celebrate the birthday of a man whose career was premised on versatility and change is to show him your musical diversity. So give David a special birthday wish in his golden years by grabbing your iPod or MP3 player, hitting shuffle, and sharing the first 10 songs that come up.