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Photograph: David Marques

Chicago music communities take the spotlight at Red Bull’s fest

A queer hip-hop collective and Chicago's improvised jazz scene get some love at Red Bull Music Festival

Zach Long
Written by
Zach Long

When Red Bull Music Festival decided to return to Chicago with a month's worth of live music, organizers turned their attention to performers who call the city home. "We wanted to do a festival that featured almost exclusively the artists from Chicago, to tell their city’s history in sound," Red Bull Music's head of programming Adam Shore told us, making note of the Chicago's fertile hip-hop, jazz and house music scenes.

Over the past two weeks, Red Bull Music Festival has hosted a warehouse concert featuring experimental noisemakers like Fire Toolz and ONO, an afternoon showcase of local Latinx performers (including Tatiana Hazel and Dos Santos) and an album release celebration for Chicago rapper Cupcakke. Before the end of the month, you can catch performances from the cofounder of a queer hip-hop collective as well as a prominent figure in the city's improvised music community. We caught up with both acts to learn about what they have in store.

  • Music
  • Rap, hip-hop and R&B

When Chicago native Erik Wallace, who goes by the stage name Mister Wallace, started making hip-hop music with producer aCeb00mbaP, the duo had dreams of being signed to a label. But after after a few conversations with music-industry executives, Wallace began to temper his expectations. “I felt like as a queer artist that likes to be super provocative, [I] probably would not get picked up by a major label,” Wallace says.

Instead of compromising his creative vision, Wallace founded FutureHood, which he describes as “a fully realized label and media platform that supports artists from Chicago and beyond who want to make music that speaks to their identities.” One of FutureHood’s first releases was Wallace’s FAGGOT EP, a quintet of kinetic tracks that explores the artist’s sexuality and the labels that have been applied to it.

At Red Bull Music Festival, FutureHood's Black Friday showcase will demonstrate the scope of the collective's lineup, including performances from Mister Wallace, transgender rapper KC Ortiz and librarian emcee Roy Kinsey. Adopting a forward-looking theme, the concert will take place in an environment inspired by one of Wallace’s favorite TV movies: Zenon: Girl of the 21st Century. The FutureHood team plans on transforming Subterranean into a space station, where guests will encounter performers and DJs that power the vessel’s journey. “When you come to this show you will feel like you’re a part of a community,” Wallace says.

  • Music
  • Jazz
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Since the release of his 2015 album In the Moment, local jazz drummer and producer Makaya McCraven has become known for crafting hip-hop–inflected compositions from improvised music. Chopping up recordings, McCraven rearranges beats and melodies to form grooves that channel the spontaneity of their origins. “It’s something that, in contemporary jazz, is not as 'acceptable' because the performance is [considered] sacred and shouldn’t be altered,” McCraven says, explaining why his process is sometimes viewed as unconventional.

When he set out to compile material for his latest record, Universal Beings, McCraven looked beyond Chicago, contacting musicians he’d met while touring. “This greater music community is small when it gets to the national and international level,” McCraven says. The compositions were formed from four improvised sessions that McCraven recorded in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and London, giving him hours of material to sift through and recontextualize.

When McCraven and nine of his collaborators from the Universal Beings sessions (including Tortoise guitarist Jeff Parker and London saxophonist Nubya Garcia) bring the album to life during the Red Bull Music Festival, the material will be modified once again. When transcribing the music for live performances of Universal Beings, McCraven often reassigns parts from his tracks, allowing opportunities for players to reinterpret the material.

The Universal Beings performance will take place in the South Shore Cultural Center, a venue that once stood in for the exterior of the fictional Palace Hotel Ballroom in The Blues Brothers. “I like doing performances in non-traditional venues that might be welcoming to different types of audiences,” McCraven says, encouraging his fans to join him for an evening in a beautiful South Side space that should be filled with surprises.

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