In case you’d forgotten, here’s your reminder: that pandemic? Still happening. Which means Bandcamp Fridays are also still happening, and one’s coming up at the end of the week. I know, I know, there are so many places to put your money at the moment, right? Consider this:
Chicago has been slower to reopen than many cities, but every day I’m seeing people walk around maskless like they have no accountability to Black, Brown, and low-income people — you know, folks who’ve been disproportionately impacted by the virus. The less masks I see, the further live music feels, too. Our mayor has permitted select venues to reopen with strict guidelines like no vocals or wind instruments. But many musicians and would-be patrons see this as a rush. Why are we being encouraged to risk our physical health for the financial health of beloved entertainment spots and the people who play them? Why is it one or the other?
In small ways, our city is lucky. Having modest local support of the arts means the city and state have provided some relief grants to musicians. And thanks to legislation shoehorned by Senator Bernie Sanders, self-employed and contract workers throughout the country have received unemployment relief, which has also covered some musicians. Unfortunately, many occupy an employment grey area that can be difficult to parse for grant or unemployment applications – and the end date for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance looms at the end of July.
As Wax Idols founder Hether Fortune explained during a phone call last month: “I’ve never made a consistent living off of my music. Writing, day jobs, shows, selling stuff online, Bandcamp — those things combined are how I’ve made a living. Now that the pandemic hit, some of that stuff is more difficult. It’s not like you can get a quick server job for a few months or whatever. I can’t do readings or solo performances. Another one of my side hustles has always been thrifting and reselling clothes, and I can’t do that.” For Fortune, who’s been weathering COVID-19 from Chicago, Bandcamp Days have been the difference between making rent and not.
Right now in America, we’re in this weird state where consumption feels like a moral imperative. Every GoFundMe is a reminder it’s on us as individuals to financially mitigate situations that are clearly expressions of larger systemic failures. This, at a time when many of us don’t have as much money in our pockets. And yet Bandcamp Fridays remind me of a popular sentiment often credited to Emma Goldman: “If I can’t dance, I don’t want your revolution!”
She didn’t actually say those exact words – it’s a popular paraphrase of something she wrote in Living My Life when a man chided her for dancing. He basically said respectable organizers should not be seen having fun. But Goldman emphasized: There is no freedom without freedom of joy and expression. These are both equally necessary for change.
With so much happening in the world, some of us really need to dance out our demons — or at least, find a temporary escape. So if you can, why not do it on the day that helps musicians the most? Here are some Chicago sounds to consider dropping money on.
NNAMDÏ – Brat
NNAMDÏ announced via Twitter that he’d drop another album on Friday, but it’s worth scooping this quarantine release (especially as a luscious gatefold LP). BRAT is an introspective blend of jazz, hip hop, and math rock that resists easy comparisons. Across twelve tracks, NNAMDÏ wrestles demons, struggling to distinguish the personal ones from those shared. Complicated, playful, insistent — everything that makes the best brats exciting.
Carlos Niño and Miguel Atwood-Ferguson – Chicago Waves
In the winter, Los Angeles natives Carlos Niño and Miguel Atwood-Ferguson performed an improvised set of spiritual jazz at the South Shore Cultural Center in Chicago, which was released by Chicago label International Anthem. If staring into Lake Michigan in sub-zero temps was an album, it would be Chicago Waves. When the air is hot, we’re free to romanticize winter: recalling somersaulting snowflakes, breath tracing patterns in the air, and undulating ice as lake temperatures rise.
Pixel Grip – Heavy Handed
I’ve heard Pixel Grip referred to as “goth disco,” and whoever said it is not wrong. The trio draws on Chicago house and Hi-NRG beats — both of which owe to disco — then puts them in a dark package. Imagine a much queerer, less sexed-up Goldfrapp. That’s Pixel Grip.
KeiyaA – Forever, Ya Girl
Technically, KeiyaA has relocated to New York, but her sound is homegrown Chicago, a city where women with synths are thriving and she was raised on Afrofuturism. KeiyaA uses a microKORG synthesizer to layer sounds and samples, building complex interior worlds where she runs with desire, explores her loneliness, and affirms her worth. Whether it’s craving needlessly specific things like pineapple-pear juice (“I Want My Things”), using weed to lighten her mental load (“FWU”), or honoring the double-edged sword of her own strength (“Keep It Real”), she brings depth and originality to familiar themes. It’s an extremely compelling debut.
DEHD – Flower of Devotion
Flower of Devotion is only available for pre-order; the full album — DEHD’s third studio release —doesn’t drop until July 17. But its two teaser tracks beg an investment now. DEHD is a trio that sounds like Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes meets Cocteau Twins. Their song “Loner” is for dancing in your underwear when you’re sad but still energized. Emily Kempf sounds triumphant as she wails, “Yeah, you’re running-running-running from your cuts.” Right now, many of us are still limiting contact with the outside world, and certain ideas feel wildly popular and yet not popular enough. In that sense, it’s never felt more necessary to celebrate loner status.