Music » In Rotation

In Rotation: The Reader's Tal Rosenberg on the only house musician in the Harper's Letters section

Plus: DJs and producers Ross Kelly and Samantha Roberts on the exact same collection of Patrick Cowley gay-porn disco


  • Piper Ferguson
  • Ariel Pink

Tal Rosenberg, Reader digital content editor

Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti, House Arrest This is the album I've listened to the most in the past three months. Originally released in 2002 and reissued in 2006 by Paw Tracks, it's not as revelatory or bracing as The Doldrums, which introduced Pink's sound, but it might be the better album. It's catchier, more colorful, and includes fragments of lyrical genius such as "Pop music is free / For you and me / Pop music's your wife / Have it for life." It also features a scolding voice mail from Pink's father, the generational anthem "Gettin' High in the Morning," and "Alisa," a fascinating goth-disco song that's just begging to be covered. If you've never heard an Ariel Pink album before, you might want to start here.

DJ Sprinkles "DJ Sprinkles" is the house-music alias of sound artist Terre Thaemlitz, the only house musician I've ever seen published in the Letters section of Harper's. I caught a bit of her set at Smart Bar last month, and I've been way into two of her 2013 releases: Where Dancefloors Stand Still, a mix CD of old and new house, and Queerifications & Ruins, a double-disc collection of remix work.

John Martyn All the albums this British guitarist and songwriter released from the late 60s up till 1980's Grace and Danger are worth your time. He's like Nick Drake without the feyness, and not nearly as despairing. His best album is probably 1973's Solid Air, but I'm particularly fond of 1977's One World, which showcases electronics, Steve Winwood, and a song with Lee Perry called "Big Muff" (guess what it's about).

Tal is curious what's in the rotation of . . .

Screen shot from a promo video for the Novation Bass Station II - COURTESY NOVATION
  • Courtesy Novation
  • Screen shot from a promo video for the Novation Bass Station II

Ross Kelly, DJ, producer, co-owner of Kokorokoko Vintage

Dollar-bin records I'm always on the hunt for music for my DJ sets. I love buying the latest 12-inch singles, but I often find the best gems by hunting through the dollar bins at record stores and taking a chance on a few interesting-looking cuts. I love getting a big stack of mystery tracks home and giving them a listen. Occasionally I find something I've heard on a DJ mix or at a club and didn't know the title or artist of—always a bonus.

Patrick Cowley, School Daze I consider Patrick Cowley one of my biggest influences. He was a key figure in San Francisco's disco scene of the late 70s and early 80s. His work with disco star Sylvester produced some of the best dance-music tracks of the early 80s. Over the years I've managed to collect most of his releases. This compilation brings together earlier work that was never released till now (though some was used in vintage gay-porn films). For someone like myself, who has exhausted all of Cowley's official catalog, this treasure trove provides great insight.

Live electronic-music performances Lately I've been seeing more and more electronic-­music sets that don't involve the stereotypical "guy with a laptop" but instead are played live with drum machines and synthesizers. In a way this style of performing is a throwback to precomputer days, which makes for a much more interesting and exciting show. Chicago has been a hotbed of this trend, with artists such as Beau Wanzer, the Voice of Saturn, and Windbreaker bringing a much-needed influx of "live" to their live sets.

Ross is curious what's in the rotation of . . .

Patrick Cowley, School Daze
  • Patrick Cowley, School Daze

Samantha Roberts, DJ, producer, and creator of Changes Chicago (aka Samone)

Patrick Cowley, School Daze I've been obsessed with Patrick Cowley since the early 80s. I recall hearing Sylvester's "Do Ya Wanna Funk"—one of Cowley's iconic disco productions—in the car with my mom when I was four. I thought I was familiar with his entire oeuvre until the Dark Entries label (in collaboration with Honey Soundsystem) released School Daze, a collection of instrumentals recorded between 1973 and 1981 for gay-porn production house Fox Studios. This historically important release contains some of Cowley's most avant-garde work, some of which can only be described as dark, experimental proto-techno.

Novation Bass Station II Novation's Bass Station II is an upgrade of the classic Bass Station from 1994. Lightweight and able to store patches, it's one of the best analog mono synths in its price range. The BSII has an arpeggiator with user-programmable patterns, plus a multimode filter that allows it to mimic many classic synth sounds. It's a great synth to take on the road.

Smart Bar An institution since 1982, Smart Bar is like a second home to many Chicagoans involved in dance music. New booker Marea Stamper (aka the Black Madonna) is the first woman to hold such an influential position there, and she's moving it in an exciting direction. The primitivistic vinyl-only Hugo Ball is every third Saturday of the month with selectors Justin Long, Nathan Drew Larsen, Sevron, Marlon Montez, and (full disclosure) me. My party Changes will launch at Smart Bar in January; it's another vinyl-centric event that blurs genre lines.

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