Reader track premiere: An electronic-music tribute to Smart Bar bouncer Karl Stein | Bleader

Reader track premiere: An electronic-music tribute to Smart Bar bouncer Karl Stein

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Olin & Savile
  • Courtesy of Argot
  • Savile & Olin
If you're a Smart Bar regular you'd probably recognize Karl Stein. You can't miss him if you drop by the club on Saturday—that's the night Stein, who is just a few inches taller than six feet, works as a bouncer. He's been working at Smart Bar for close to five years, and had been a longtime regular before that. "Smart Bar is unlike any other club in the city—it's truly, in my opinion, the only club I've been to in Chicago that's strictly about the music," Stein says. "You can go there in your pajamas and flip-flops."

Stein's feelings for the club extend beyond the music and to the other regulars as well. "The people that go there are all family," he says. The feeling is mutual, at least for Smart Bar resident Olin (aka Jason Garden) and junior resident Savile (aka Gianpaolo Dieli). Next month Argot, the local electronic label founded by Little White Earbuds editor in chief Steve Mizek, will release a 12-inch single from the pair called Thanks, Karl. If the title's reference isn't entirely clear to those who know (or know of) Stein, then the record's B side label should clue them in—it includes a drawing of the beefy, bearded bouncer by Minneapolis artist Jamie Kinroy.

Garden and Dieli collaborated on the title track, a playful house cut that will only appear on vinyl. Each producer remixed the tune, and today the Reader premieres Dieli's solo version of "Thanks, Karl," which you can stream below.

Dieli says he and Garden began work on the demos for Thanks, Karl in the spring. "We had been working on this record during a time that was, and still is, really bright for house music in Chicago—we were feeling a lot of energy and electricity in the air," Dieli says. "In that regard we wanted to make a record that kind of encapsulated that in a certain capacity." With its sumptuous melody, inviting guitars, and punched-up drums "Thanks, Karl" radiates even when it segues into a minimal-percussion pattern.

The track didn't have a name till the end of the summer. Mizek, riffing off the song's ebb and flow, provided Garden and Dieli with the seed for the idea. "Steve came over one day and said, 'Hey, why don't we call it "The Bouncer?"'," Dieli says. The pair decided to name it after Stein, whom Dieli describes as a "magnanimous, soft, cuddly, wonderful person." Stein's well aware of his own reputation. "I give people the benefit of the doubt all the time," he says. "The way I describe it is I'm an extremely nice and kind person unless you give me a reason not to be."

Dieli's solo version of "Thanks, Karl" draws from dub and is noticeably gentle. The producer drew inspiration from the sounds of Berlin nightclub Panorama Bar—he'd been listening to Ryan Elliott and Levon Vincent, a couple producers linked to the club, when he made his "Thanks, Karl" remix. "I was trying to imagine something that was sustaining and was somewhat driving percussive-wise and had a rolling feeling to it that carried very softly," Dieli says. "My tracks generally tend to be a little bit warmer and a little bit more melodic."

Stein's only heard snippets of the record, but he's quite taken by the fact that Garden and Dieli put his name on their single. "I'm extremely flattered and humbled that they would consider doing that," he says. For Dieli this record isn't just a tribute to Stein—whom he considers a gatekeeper at Smart Bar—it's also an homage to the club's talent buyer Marea Stamper (aka Black Madonna), Steve Mizek, and the rest of the community. "It really encapsulated the kind of feelings we were having about Smart Bar, the scene, and our friends," Dieli says. "This record is as much a time capsule as it is anything else."

Garden and Dieli celebrate the release of Thanks, Karl at Gramaphone Records on Thursday, February 12. Garden, Dieli, and Mizek will DJ the event, which is free and also includes free pizza; all Argot records will be 10 percent off and used LPs will be 50 percent off.

The Thanks, Karl B side
  • Courtesy of Argot
  • The Thanks, Karl B side

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