The North Coast Music Festival, held in Union Park from Friday, September 3, through Sunday, September 5, launches this year fully formed as a credible competitor to Pitchfork and Lollapalooza. The newcomer stands apart from those fests by virtue of a relatively strict curatorial strategy. Rather than offer a dizzyingly huge range of genres, North Coast has booked artists who almost all fall solidly into one of three categories: dance music, hip-hop, or jam band. This approach narrows the fest's potential audience, of course, but it also promises to eliminate the jarring stylistic collisions that can make a broader-minded festival feel like listening to a shitty bar DJ who can't put together a segue or work a crowd—on the last day of Lollapalooza, for instance, even before Erykah Badu finished her set, Wolfmother cranked up on the nearest stage, and it was not a good vibe.
A few Reader critics, myself included, have written up our favorite festival artists—coincidentally all on the dancier side—but among the 62 acts there are many more worth paying attention to. Jay Electronica makes expansive, soulful hip-hop beats and tops them with raps that are alternately confessional and cryptic. De La Soul not only helped draw up the blueprints for hip-hop's 90s golden age but also remain open to new influences, as they proved by collaborating recently with Chicago DJs and producers Flosstradamus. Locals Umphrey's McGee are at the forefront of jam music's post-Phish third wave, and their mastery of improvisation is enough make jazz fans sit up and take notice. Curtis Jones, another local, would be a house-music legend even if he'd never recorded anything after "The Percolator" (released under the name Cajmere), but he's produced many more burners credited to his electro-funky persona Green Velvet. And Nas and Damian "Jr. Gong" Marley find common ground between gruff NYC hip-hop and equally gritty 70s roots reggae, accentuating the revolutionary streak the genres often share.
Nonmusic attractions include photo booths, art installations, and something the organizers are calling a "Relaxatorium bounce room." There will be food and drink from more than a dozen local vendors, among them Wishbone, Smoke Daddy, Veerasway, Soul Vegetarian, and Chicago Soydairy, plus a bazaar selling clothes, jewelry, art, and more from the likes of Palmer Square Studios, Strainge Clothing, Squasht by Les, and On the Rocks. The Reader hosts a Living Gallery with live art from local graffiti artists Revise CMW, Czr Prz, Tews 1, and Demon SB, tribal-psychedelic illustrator Pablo Ramos, body painter David Hilborn, and many more; the public can get in on the action by creatively reimagining the Reader R logo for a chance at prizes (and a spot in the paper). The North Coast festival is also throwing afterparties throughout the weekend, some of them quite large; see the sidebar for details. —MR
Paul Kalkbrenner In the past year Paul Kalkbrenner has gone from a consistent also-ran in the BPitch Control/Berliner techno scene to autographs-in-the-supermarket famous in Europe, where techno is the lingua franca of the young. Kalkbrenner's starring role in Hannes Stöhr's 2008 film Berlin Calling—as a celebrity DJ whose coke bender lands him in rehab—made him a name beyond the clubs, but his original soundtrack is what really put him over; his single "Sky and Sand" charted in Europe. Accessible, meditative but not too austere, and a few glossy steps beyond what you'd reasonably call minimal techno, it consciously moves toward pop while remaining dissonant and mature. As a DJ, Kalkbrenner is a tasteful crowd-pleaser, but I wouldn't expect him to go as pop here as he has in his recent recorded work. His appearance at the North Coast Music Festival is one of three dates in the States. Fri 9/3, 5:30 PM, What's a Music? Stage. —JH
Chemical Brothers After getting burned by Goldie's Saturnz Return in 1998, I decided that a good time to give up on dance producers would be after they start collaborating with Noel Gallagher. I still stand by it as a rule of thumb, but it backfired when I stopped paying attention to the Chemical Brothers following their Gallagherized 1999 album, Surrender. When I checked back in with the group on 2007's We Are the Night, I found that Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons were still as willing to push stylistic boundaries and take house and techno into weird, druggy turf as they had been on their first record—not the rote makers of big-beat I had expected them to become—and I subsequently learned that I'd missed a few jams on their previous couple albums. This summer's Further (Parlophone) is a blended eight-song collection that goes far out on excursions into Krautrock and whatever you call TV on the Radio, but its centerpiece, "Horse Power," is a psychedelic house floor-filler with squelchy synths that hark back to Dig Your Own Hole—which suddenly seems like something I need to hear again. Fri 9/3, 8:30 PM, North Stage. —MR
Benga Benga's 2008 album, Diary of an Afro Warrior, rounded off dubstep's often rough edges and introduced an element of humanity that at times recalled similarly organic producers like J Dilla, Roni Size, and King Tubby. So far it's one of the handful of classic dubstep full-lengths. But like any good dance producer, Benga is better judged by his singles. The best two exemplify opposite ends of the genre's spectrum: "Buzzin'" b/w "One Million," from 2009, drifts lazily into washes of tape delay like a vintage Studio One dub, while the newer "Stop Watching" b/w "Little Bits" (Digital Soundboy) shows the influence of the microgenre dubbed "purple," which fits dubstep beats into tight patterns while plastic-sounding analog synths splash Prince-ly funk into the proceedings. Sat 9/4, 5 PM, Coast Stage. —MR
Moby Following Moby can be frustrating—after years of hearing his songs in TV ads and dealing with his vegan fair-trade piety and public opinions on sociopolitical issues, it's sometimes hard to remember that he's responsible for several of dance music's all-time greatest bangers, including the epic "Go." This DJ gig would be an excellent opportunity for him to dig into his formidable crates and pull some cuts that remind us of his ability to make a dance floor absolutely explode. Sat 9/4, 9 PM, Coast Stage. —MR
Flying Lotus LA's Flying Lotus (aka Steven Ellison) stepped up his game in a big way with this year's Cosmogramma (Warp), a mind-melting post-hip-hop electronic record that smartly integrates live instrumentation into its bumpy, restless landscape. Ellison is concerned with his own slippery sound more than with evoking any specific musical past, but there's a deep connection to the early 70s spiritual jazz of his great-aunt Alice Coltrane—in particular her 1972 orchestral album Lord of Lords. Sampled strings, live harp played by Rebekah Raff, and a couple of grainy tenor-saxophone lines courtesy of Alice's son and Ellis's cousin Ravi Coltrane reinforce that vibe. Radiohead's Thom Yorke lends his voice to ". . . And the World Laughs With You," but it appears as an instrumental element rather than a pop-style cameo. FlyLo's amped, twitchy beats may summon comparisons to dubstep, but their intricacy, deliberately jarring rhythmic shifts, and effortless liquidity achieve something much grander. While there are loads of wildly prolific electronic dance musicians, few have anything like FlyLo's range, quality control, and sense of forward development. A new EP, Pattern + Grid, is due September 21. Sun 9/5, 6:30 PM, North Stage. —PM
To buy tickets to these shows (with the exception of the one at Schubas), you must have already bought an equal or greater number of North Coast tickets—you'll be asked to provide either proof of purchase, like a stub or wristband, or your username and password from the festival's ticketing service, Clubtix.net.
Disco Biscuits, Jay Electronica, Orchard Lounge
Fri 9/3, 10 PM, Congress Theater, 2135 N. Milwaukee, 773-276-1235 or 773-598-0852, $25, 17+.
Loyal Divide, Flavor Savers, A Lull, New Diet
Fri 9/3, 10 PM, Bottom Lounge, 1375 W. Lake, 312-666-6775 or 773-598-0852, $5, 17+.
California Wives (see Sharp Darts), Panda Riot, Color Radio, Gemini Club
Fri 9/3, 10 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport, 773-525-2508, $5 or free with North Coast wristband or stub, 18+.
Omega Moos, Wyllys, DJ Thibault
Sat 9/4, midnight, Metro, 3730 N. Clark, 773-549-0203, $22, 18+.Boys Noize, Auto Body, Kissy Sell Out (main stage); Midnight Conspiracy, Demchuk, Disco Death Threat, I.V. Glow, Space Cadet (second floor); Mettle (DJ set), Orvtronixxx, Wolf Pack, Wyatt Agard (lobby stage)
Sat 9/4, 10 PM, Bottom Lounge, 1375 W. Lake, 312-666-6775 or 773-598-0852, $20, 17+.
New Mastersounds, Family Groove Company
Sat 9/4, 10 PM, Double Door, 1572 N. Milwaukee, 773-489-3160 or 773-598-0852, $15, 21+.
Two Fresh, Bookworm, Jables
Sat 9/4, 11:30 PM, Kinetic Playground, 1113 W. Lawrence, 773-769-5483 or 773-598-0852, $20, $17 in advance, 21+.
Brendan Bayliss & Joel Cummins, Van Ghost, Wyllys
Sun 9/5, 10 PM, Bottom Lounge, 1375 W. Lake, 312-666-6775 or 773-598-0852, $18, 17+.
Green Velvet (DJ set), Claude VonStroke
Sun 9/5, 10 PM, Transit Nightclub, 1431 W. Lake, 312-491-8600 or 773-598-0852, $12, 21+.
Hours Fri 9/3, 4-10 PM, Sat-Sun 9/4-9/5, noon-10 PM
Location Union Park, Ashland and Lake
West gate on Ashland south of Lake
East gate on Ogden south of Randolph
What's a Music? Stage North near Lake
North Stage Northeast near Randolph
Local Stage East near Randolph and Ogden
Coast Stage (Sat-Sun only) South near Ashland
Tickets Three-day passes sold out
Single-day tickets $50, $42.50 in advance at northcoastfestival.com, will call, and Gramophone Records, 2843 N. Clark
All-ages, children under ten admitted free
No reentry except holders of three-day passes
Will Call Bottom Lounge, 1375 W. Lake
Wed-Thu 9/1-9/2, 5-10 PM, Fri-Sun 9/3- 9/5, 11 AM-9 PM
Pick up wristbands for three-day passes and tickets bought online within ten days of the festival, buy same-day tickets
More information northcoastfestival.com