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Chicago Symphony Orchestra Mead Composer in Residence Mason Bates, a.k.a. DJ Masonic

“Mercury Soul” at Metro | Classical preview

The salon series fuses electronic sets with chamber works in da club. Mason Bates walks us through his record crate and the classical pieces he’ll mix with.


The dance-music invasion is not limited to LMFAO, Lollapalooza and pop radio. The touring Mercury Soul salon series, launched in San Francisco in 2008, fuses electronica and classical in more rock & roll spaces—nightclubs, warehouses, etc. For the Chicago installment, CSO musicians will scatter about the venue, performing pieces between DJ sets.

The series is co-curated by Mason Bates, a.k.a. DJ Masonic, a key figure bridging the two musical worlds. He’s both Mead composer-in-residence at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and a working DJ. He gave us insight on three favorite records he’ll spin on the decks at Metro Friday 15, and three contemporary classical compositions that will mix right in.

Afro-Mystik Future Tropic
“I stumbled on this record at an old vinyl shop in San Francisco. Putting it on the turntable, I was immediately transfixed by its fusion of hip-hop, Brazilian percussion and jazz harmonies. Great down-tempo tracks, but some deep house ones, too. This record will turn up early in the night.”

Inland Knights “Kept Secret”
“Excellent English funky-house track. I often find myself looking for soulful house tracks that are free of the vocal stylings that devalue a groove, and the Inland Knights always strike the right balance. It can move a set from Latin mid-tempo to house or techno, since it nurses all of those influences without screaming any of them.” 

Stéphane Pompougnac “Green Tree”
“It’s just a drum groove, but its beat so beautifully creates expectation that I find many uses for it. Sometimes it simply bridges two hip-hop tracks; sometimes it becomes an opportunity for extended improvisation from the upright bassist or jazz trumpeter who often join me. Sometimes, in short, less is more—and this little gem outshines some of the flashiest tracks.”

Iannis Xenakis “Ohko”
“One of the 20th century’s modernist heavyweights, Xenakis sounds best when he writes for percussion. African-infused rhythms are put through the prism of this idiosyncratic Frenchman, and out comes a visceral, hypnotic piece that engages both mind and body. At Mercury Soul, watch the amazing Cynthia Yeh, principle percussionist of the CSO, combine fierce precision with captivating musicality, bringing this piece to life.”

Magnus Lindberg “Corrente”
“How can 11 instruments sound like a full orchestra? Every time I hear the morphing, virtuosic figuration of this piece, I am stunned by his sonic economy. Each instrument’s quicksilver riffs whip by each other independently but coherently—like a flock of many birds creating wild geometries above your head.”

Anna Clyne “Fits & Starts”
“My fellow composer here at the Chicago Symphony, Anna Clyne is blessed with skills on both the acoustic and electronic fronts. This piece features phat electronic attacks paired with beautiful writing for the cello, her native instrument. If you haven’t yet encountered the wonderful music of this Chicagoan, now’s the time.”

Mercury Soul comes to Metro Friday 15.

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