Chicagoist Mix #6: Chris Widman
By Jake Guidry in Arts & Entertainment on Dec 10, 2010 7:30PM
[Photo by Bill Guerriero]
When Chris Widman came to us about contributing a mix, we were more than just excited. Widman's a long-time DJ for a type of music we've really yet to represent for Chicagoist Mix Series. Though many might just call it dubstep, Widman is a man who plays what he calls "future music": a blend of dubstep, funky, house, bass, etc. What's more is that he is not just a sprout-up; Widman has been DJing since the mid-'90s, everywhere from University of Missouri's radio station (ahem, my alma mater), to Loyola University's, to Smartbar, Sonotheque, and the list goes on. As part of the Abstract Science crew, he's put on the Thursday Smartbar event Subfix, a dubstep-centric night that's always hopping. He's got a deep, intimate knowledge of music and shows it in the upcoming interview. You can hear the knowledge first hand when he DJs the next Subfix Massive all building event Saturday, December 18 at Metro/Smartbar with Eskmo, Martyn + Liquid Stranger.
Check below to get a deeper sense of Chris Widman and, of course, his massive mix.
Chicagoist: You're part of the long-running Abstract Science DJ crew. Can you give us a little background?
Widman: Abstract Science is a "future music" radio show that broadcasts Thursdays, 10pm-2am, on WLUW 88.7 fm and is archived at abstractscience.net. Future music is a term we use to describe a wide selection of innovative electronic music; the roots of that music is in funk, jazz, disco, dub, and so on; and bands informed by electronic sounds. The format is part traditional radio programming, DJ mixes and live recordings. I started the program in 1997 with schoolmate Henry Self at KCOU, the University of Missouri college station. We came from DJing and throwing raves in Kansas City and didn't feel there was a proper broadcast outlet for DJ/electronic music on college radio. The rest of the crew--co-host Luke Stokes, manager Kim Schlechter & programmer Colin Harris--came on board one-by-one in Columbia, Missouri. We moved the show to WLUW 88.7 fm and ourselves to Chicago around 2000. The radio program has always been an integral part of sponsoring live events and DJ nights: by showcasing artists we champion on air, we market the radio show to their fans on the ground. We soon started doing Monday nights at Smartbar (2001-2003) and went on to do residencies at Sonotheque and many one-off shows at the Empty Bottle, Abbey Pub, Metro and Smartbar. I am very proud of the series of 10th anniversary shows we either co-sponsored or put together ourselves: Plaid, Amon Tobin, Monolake, Cinematic Orchestra, and Unkle. I am also very happy with the success of the Subfix night at Smartbar and the potential new listeners. We couldn't do it without all the collaborative effort.
C: You're closely tied with the dubstep scene in Chicago. How's it been to see the genre rise out of obscurity and explode the way it has?
W: It's really interesting to see dubstep evolve. Back in 2002-2005, there was a handful of people in Chicago, including myself, who DJed UK garage, dubstep and broken beat, but the sound never really took off. Abstract Science focused more on promoting/DJing techno, downtempo and experimental electronic shows. But as dubstep started to take off in 2008, Phaded aka Victor Holloway--another old friend from Columbia, Missouri--asked me to DJ a show with FSTZ at the Morseland. Later, when a few techno shows fell through, I worked with Victor to fill the night with a dubstep line-up and amazingly, lots of people showed up. We started doing nights there more frequently and drew more people. Smartbar started to get involved directly and the scene has just grown and grown. I was watching Emalkay last night--he killed it by the way--and I recalled the moment when I realized how big dubstep was getting: Bassment Jaxx starting their set at Congress with "When I Think of You". Caspa has gone from playing for 100 people at Bass Goes Boom to Lollapalooza. The downside is, with an influx of new fans, DJs and producers, you lose that feeling of an intimate community and a deep familiarity with the history of the sound. Instead of connoisseurs, you get everything that comes along with people who are new to the music and going out in general. People using dubstep as a blanket word for all bass-heavy electronic music, like the old record store "techno" section stocked with Prodigy and Massive Attack. That said, it's been since I saw Roni Size/Reprazent's live show at the Metro in 97/98 since I've seen such a combination of dancing, jumping around and hands-in-the-air good times. The really heavy side of dubstep is cathartic for some, and I think it resonates with the spirit of the times. The kids love it; I have to say, they make a fun crowd for a DJ.
C: What have you been listening to lately?
W: A lot of music for this mix. Lots of vinyl from Gramaphone. I started off with the intention of showcasing a peak-time dubstep dancefloor set, but instead of getting really heavy, the selection skewed more towards weird and then into techno territory. The mix is kind of funky and off-kilter part of what I'd play in the club and part for the radio show. After all the dubstep and electronic music, I've been listening to Sleep's "Jerusalem". I love stoner metal.
C: Best album of 2010?
W: Brian Eno's inscrutable and lively "Small Craft On A Milk Sea" (especially the parts that sound like a Surgeon record) and King Cannibal's "Way of the Ninja" 256 track mashup mix of the Ninja Tune catalogue that takes Double-D-and-Steinskism to a new level. Both records are brilliant and have eclipsed everything else. My favorite dubstep album of the year is either Jack Sparrow's on Tectonic or Guido's on Punch Drunk. Can't decide.
C: Where do you think Chicago's club scene is headed in 2011?
W: Well, there certainly are a lot of new clubs opening, but we'll see if they end up catering more towards music or bottle service. So I'm not sure about the club scene, but I think this latest rise in the popularity of electronic music is more of a sustainable grassroots nature than the major label push of the 90s. Bassnectar is selling out the Aragon and he's not being pushed by a big label.
C: Any New Year's resolutions?
W: Contact my loved ones more often: it's easy to get absorbed in the music world. I also produce music with Colin Harris as Quadratic and we need to finish an EP, album and live release ASAP. We've been playing our songs out live like a band and now we need to record like one. We have a new remix coming out on Droidsong recordings on December 21 (the Automata EP), that is our heaviest tune to date, but have a diverse assortment of dance floor oddities we need to unleash on the public. There is a new QUADRATIC demo at the very end of the mix which is a bizarre hybrid of half-step drum ‘n bass, Kraftwerk, juke and Steve Reich. Stay tuned.