Sunday, July 19, 2009


Ray Metzker's Chicago photos,taken during the mid-20th Century, capture a grey, dusty city, haunting in its geometry. Metzker's Chicago is place of secret loneliness, dreary urbanity and action. His black and white images are odes to post-war Chicago, before the city got fancy.

See Ray Metzker's work at the Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago.

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These tracks are a slice of Chicago house music from 1980-1995. House music was born in Chicago and these early tracks by artists like Larry Heard, Ron Trent, Fast Eddie, and Farley "Jack Master Funk" gave birth to a music phenomenon that took the world by storm. These early tracks are raw, experimental, and funky. Check the way artists combine the James Brown sample-crazy breaks of late 80s hip hop with the beats of house music to create something called 'hip house'. Hip house was the life-blood of Chicago house parties and school dances in the late 80s and early 90s. House music was also a staple of Chicago top 40 radio, and every night the music's jacking rhythm could be heard pouring out of apartment windows and car stereos. This music is the foundation for all modern dance music, and like it or hate it, it all began in Chicago.

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Food in Chicago is specific - There is a correct way to eat a hot dog, a special kind of dough for deep dish pizza, and hundreds of ethnic food traditions that slam into each other like an elegant wrestling match. Food in Chicago is a crazy quilt, a hodge-podge of style and substance. And in some cases, Chicago food offers up ideas so radical in their awkwardness, so unique in their flavors that they must be illuminated.

It’s time to discuss the Southside pickle phenomenon.

Chicago is the most segregated city in the country. Unlike New York City and LA where cultures seem to jump into a blender and coagulate, Chicago is tribal in the purest sense of the word. Immigrants have been migrating to the Midwestern hub for a few hundred years. Dozens of ethnic groups from Europe, South America, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, have all carved out little hamlets within the city walls. Before the 1960s, Chicago was essentially a black and white city with a strong working class immigrant aesthetic. Most middle class immigrants sought work in Chicago’s stockyards or hundreds of factories that created everything from cookies to football helmets. Chicago now contains immigrants from every country on the planet, and this diversity is what makes Chicago so interesting. That being said, Chicago is still segregated on racial lines, with the Northside remaining a bastion of whiteness and the Southside an enclave of blackness. These lines, while invisible, are very real when talking about culture, lifestyle and snack food.

Enter the pickle and its friends Kool-Aid, Now and Later, Jolly Rancher, and peppermint stick. The pickle, while nothing more than a small cucumber soaked in vinegar brine, has achieved legendary status within the invisible boundary of Chicago’s Southside African American community.In Chicago, a pickle is not just something eaten with a pastrami sandwich; it is a briny vehicle for youthful experimentation and hilarious creativity. For decades young people on Chicago’s Southside have been combining pickles with candy, Kool-Aid, and other snack foods to create tastes and flavors that are uniquely Chicago. This pickle experimentation can be traced to the great migration of southern black workers in the middle of the 20th Century. Pickling in the South has long been an easy and delicious way to preserve perishable food items. People in the Southern United States pickle everything from peaches to pigs-feet. What differentiates Chicago pickle enthusiasts from their southern brethren is the youthful insanity of the flavor combinations.

One such combination is the peppermint-pickle. One of the longest standing pickle experiments, this delicacy has its roots in Chicago, and continues to be a popular treat for kids and adults on Chicago’s Southside.The peppermint pickle is made by removing the top off of a large kosher dill pickle and inserting a candy-cane sized peppermint stick into the pickle's cavity. The result is a salty, sweet, mint flavored, crunchy treat that is both funky and delicious. The acid from the vinegar in the pickle brine melts the peppermint stick, and allows the astringent peppermint flavor to soak deep into the pickle.There are variations of this treat that include placing a Jolly Rancher hard candy, or Now and Later taffy within a large pickle. These candy pickles reached fever pitch during the mid-1990s when Kool-Aid pickles began making the scene on Chicago’s Southside. These pickles, again having roots in the deep-south, combine kosher dill pickles with packets of strawberry, cherry, or fruit punch Kool-Aid. The pickles are placed in a large jar filled with extra sweet Kool-Aid and left to soak for up to a week. The candied pickles were invented by African American school kids in southern states like Georgia and Mississippi, and as their popularity grew, they made their way to Chicago. In Chicago, these candy colored, sweet-tart pickles can be found in candy houses, corner stores and neighborhood shops all over the Southside. This childhood delicacy has now become so popular that Kool-Aid pickles have been used in gourmet BBQ joints from Los Angeles to New York City, and were even featured in the food section of the New York Times.

Chicago is still a town where childhood experimentation and cultural gastronomy can slow dance together and concoct something as wonderfully tasty as the candy pickle.

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Thursday, July 9, 2009



On August 27-29, 2009, get a taste of the future at the Festival of Latin Electronic Music in Chicago. The festival will feature live music, DJ sets, workshops and speakers focused on the Latin electronic music scene. The three day event celebrates a diverse range of electronic music and showcases modern Latin culture in all of its eccentric glory.

Artists from Mexico’s Static Discos label will be featured at this annual Chicago music fest. Static Discos is a contemporary Mexican music label committed to melting headphones and minds with its wide spectrum of electronic music. When discussing electronic music and its multitude of sub-genres, Mexico rarely comes up in conversation. Contrary to popular belief, Mexico is not just awash in chicken dances, cowboy suit Norteno and nostalgic Mariachi. Mexico has long been an exporter of progressive pop and indie-music, and it should be no surprise that Static Discos’ catalog is deep with sonically adventurous concoctions. The music on the label ranges from improvisational electronic jazz, glitch pop, minimal Detroit style techno, and deep house. The artists on the Static Discos label have a deep understanding of music history, and they are brazen in their desire to take Latin music into the 21st Century.

The Festival of Latin Electronic Music will be a wonderful opportunity to hear what Latin musicians think the future will sound like. Judging from the work on Static Discos, the future will be delicious, like an elotes plugged into a modular synth.

For more information on Static Discos or the Festival of Latin Electronic Music, visit

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Sunday, July 5, 2009


Here are some tasty Chicago jazz flavored breaks from a time when music still had soul.

Chicago soul-jazz, recorded in the 1960s and 1970s, sounds undeniably Midwestern, but it also has a global perspective where its rhythm and feel are concerned. The musicians who were laying down these tracks respected Chicago's blue collar, blues roots, but they also aspired towards the melting pot of the great metropolis.

These are the sounds of the city.

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Saturday, July 4, 2009


CODY HUDSON& Struggle Inc.

In the early 1990s, every teenager in Chicago was skateboarding and writing graffiti. High schools all across the stinking onion were filled with young hearts of every economic strata and race, all scrawling color and pushing boards across the gray city streets. Urban culture connected kids to their environment, and for these Chicago dwellers, graffiti and skating was a way of celebrating the city. Curbs, run down parks, and parking garages were skateboard arenas, and old rusted milk trucks and subway tunnel walls were galleries to be painted. The skateboarding graffiti kids were not destroyers of the city, they were some of its greatest advocates.

Chicago's urban culture figures prominently in the work of artist and designer Cody Hudson. For years Hudson has created groundbreaking post modern designs for companies such as Burton, Chocolate Industries, Gravis, and Stussy. His design work combines his love for graffiti and skate aesthetics, with a ravenous understanding of late 20th Century pop culture ephemera. Hudson also celebrates Chicago in his work, with architectural iconography and Midwest themes cropping up in many of his pieces. As owner and art director for Struggle IncHudson continues to develop a design language of unquestionable originality and style. Cody Hudson’s work is a tasteful eyegasm.

Flipping through the Struggle Inc. design website is the graphic equivalent of shaking candy out of a Christmas stocking. The work flows, postures, and shimmers on both the screen and the page. Hudson’s typography is narrative, his palate is mack truck bold, and his text is filled with in-jokes and obtuse humor. He comes from the post modern school of design, where irony fondles earnestness, and mixtape graphics are as aesthetically relevant as Bauhaus design principles. In Hudson's world, skateboard decks are meant to hang on gallery walls, and paintings are things to be displayed on city street corners.

When not working on pieces for worldwide solo exhibitions, group shows, clothing graphics, or print design, the artist can be found enjoying the occasional can of Old Style. By no means a recluse, Hudson is an avid collaborator, and has worked with like minded artists such as Juan Angel Chavez, Evan Hecox , and Mike Genovese.

Chicago is not a town famous for its graphic design, or its graffiti, but artists like Cody Hudson, with Old Style in hand, are helping to change perceptions.

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Friday, July 3, 2009



Jazz in Chicago was at one time a life blood, a force of unrepentant innovation and creative spirit. Louis Armstrong cut Chicagoan’s domes in half with blazing solos, Miles Davis plugged the nickel with post bop madness, and Maurice White slapped the tubs in the Ramsey Louis Trio before going on to form Earth Wind and Fire. Chicago is a town of improvisation. One has to improvise in a city so diverse, yet so culturally segregated. In 2009, there is a new breed of young lions firmly placing Chicago jazz on the map.

Jeff Parker, a Berkley School of Music graduate, and one time record store clerk, has been slugging through the Chicago jazz and improvised music scene for well over a decade. The guitarist has worked as a sideman in countless jazz groups, and in the late 90s he helped introduced a generation of indie-rockers to jazz via his tenure in the super-group Tortoise. Parker is a guitarist of incredible tone, skill and feel. He sites A Tribe Called Quest, Charlie Parker, Harold Land, Sun-Ra, Sonny Clark, and Hank Williams as some of his favorite artists. Parker’s guitar playing is not filled with the pompous solos, or smooth jazz goo found in many jazz guitarist’s play books. To watch Jeff Parker solo is to watch a process of organic self discovery. Each note is new, exciting, frightening and unexpected. Parker remains one of the least virtuosic virtuosos in Chicago jazz. Chicago's Thrill Jockey Records has released a handful of Parker's recordings, including The Relatives and Like Coping. When not playing jazz or improvising, Parker often experiments with beat making and instrumental hip hop. His beats are playful, jazzy and childlike in their funkiness. There is a definite nod to modern beat masters like Madlib and J-Dilla in his unique instrumental pastiche.

Parker continues to perform with artists such as Scott Amendola, Charlie Hunter, Chad Taylor, Rob Mazurek, and Tortoise. Those unfamiliar with Parker's playing will have the opportunity to see him at the Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago, where he will join Tortoise for a rare live performance. Parker and Tortoise perform at the Pitchfork Music Festival on July 17 at 8pm.

For information on Jeff Parker and his music, visit

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Thursday, July 2, 2009


Ronny's Bar

Chicago has its share of music venues. Some are grand, palatial theaters, with sconces and chandeliers, and some are back alley dives with Pabst Blue Ribbon and sweaty walls. The rock and punk scene in Chicago is as vibrant and colorful as ever, with a host of young, angry, punk rockers ready to blow you right out of your stove-pipe Levis. These youngsters, looking for venues to showcase their latent hormonal compunctions, thrive in the underworld of house parties, art school lofts, and seedy dive joints.

One such dive joint is Ronny’s Bar on California Ave. in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood. For a few years now, Ronny’s Bar has been hosting local talent in its backroom, which is really nothing more than a transmogrified garage with drywall and a concrete floor. If you find yourself engaging in a little pre-show inebriation, Ronny’s Bar is easy to miss. If it wasn’t for the handful of young gents with Conan the Barbarian haircuts smoking outside, Ronny’s would be completely hidden among the weeds and car repair shops that line the dank street.

Upon entering Ronny’s you're struck with the sense that something is terribly wrong. The local patrons, if not fixated by the blurry TV screen or a deadly game of pool, will often give the rock and roll punks a good once over upon entering. The dim, yellow-green lighting gives everyone in the bar a sickly glow, reminiscent of a George A. Romero film. There is also the pungent odor of cigarette smoke, whisky, and hot dogs that permeates everything in the bar. That being said, the bar at Ronny’s is merely a gauntlet to the backroom’s musical delights. Ronny’s ‘music room’ consists of drywall, a carpet, a recycled tiki-bar, a few stools, a card table and a junior high school PA system. The room has a real Lost Highway meets the Olsen Twins vibe that some music lovers might find appealing. There is no sound system at Ronny’s. All the bands play through their amps and vocals are played through the PA system. The crowd is a mixed bag of hipster kids, frightening locals, drunken suburban girls, and a smattering of music lovers. The men’s room is reminiscent of Satan’s arm pit, and the walls of the cramped room are lined with urine stains and flattened Pabst cans. The men's room has very little running water and there is often a roach floating in the sink, as if it had killed itself rather than listen to another handkerchief sporting gutter punk band blather on about ‘corporate America’. The bar tenders are of the bastard variety, and even though they post adorable pictures of their moon faced kids behind the bar, they would just as soon shank you and leave you bleeding in the alley as they would serve you a Heineken.

If angst filled punk, roaches, maladjusted bartenders, and pissing on the floor are what you crave, maybe it's time to visit the musical Hieronymus Bosch painting that is Ronny’s Bar and Center for the Performing Arts.

Welcome to Hell.

Ronny's Bar
2101 N. California Ave

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Wednesday, July 1, 2009

CHICAGO SUBURBAN : Park Ridge, Illinois

City dwellers hate the suburbs. It’s in the DNA of the city dweller to look down upon the sprawling subdivisions, ranch homes, and materialistic gluttony that is much of suburbia. Thanks to real-estate developers with no aesthetic design sense, and multi-national corporations with homogenizing malls, most of America’s suburbs look and act the same. Chicago suburbs might as well be Houston suburbs, or Baltimore suburbs-the people might have different accents, but the song remains the same.

In the post war years of the early 1950s, suburbs were a place where young service men and women could afford homes and raise young families. Many of these home owners were the sons and daughters of immigrant families, and grew up in a rural agrarian environment or in the tenements of the major American cities. The suburbs represented a new America, an America based around upward mobility, conservative values, safety, and economic prosperity. It’s doubtful that these veterans of the great war would recognize the alienation and mass-consumerism that has engulfed much of suburban America. The City of Chicago is surrounded by suburbs on the north, south, and west sides of the city. The only thing preventing suburban sprawl to the east of the city of big shoulders is Lake Michigan. The Chicago suburbs, some of which were founded in the 1860s, represent the struggle of the suburban identity. It’s the struggle between segregation, history, intimacy, and corporate homogenization. One suburb that is reclaiming its identity is Park Ridge, Illinois.The small town, 15 miles north of Chicago, is a unique hamlet that is fighting for the ability to remain independent in the face of ever encroaching big-business influence. The town is meticulously cared for, and while not culturally diverse, it remains true to its history and small business aesthetic.

The town is intimate without being corny, and friendly while maintaining a fair amount of Chicago cynicism and paranoia. The suburb is only about a 20 minute drive from the heart of Chicago, and it is also easily accessible by train via the Northwest Metra line. The train drops visitors off in the heart of sleepy small town America, and the streets and people couldn’t be any more different from the hustle of Chicago. In the summer, the town is overrun with teenagers and families with sun soaked smiles, covered in ice cream. Everyone walks in Park Ridge. The town center is an easy stroll from any of the residential areas, and people take advantage of the local shops and restaurants. The focus on local business is evident, and some local shops even place signs in their windows encouraging sustainable commerce.

The breadth and history of local businesses in the town is staggering. Family run butcher shops, men’s clothing stores dating back to the 1960s, Card shops, bakeries, and a grand theater still thrive in this town. The Pickwick Theater and Restaurant has been entertaining movie goers and patrons in Park Ridge since its debut in 1928. The theater was recently given historical monument status and it is not hard to see why this bold, art deco masterpiece is considered a local treasure. The Theater’s fa├žade remains a symbol of roaring twenties era-America, and on a dusky evening, you can picture a sea of fedoras and mink stoles waiting to get in to the grand movie house. The Pickwick Restaurant also continues to serve breakfast, lunch and dinner to regulars and new comers. The Pickwick offers a no-nonsense diner-style menu that is perfect for an evening bite or a cup of coffee on a cold night.

Park Ridge is also host to a crop of new businesses. These businesses are owned by people with a love of the American culture and the desire to keep mom and pop on main street. On Fairview Ave., across from the town train station, there is an interesting bundle of shops. The Shaker Furniture Store has been on Fairview since 1991, and sells its handcrafted, traditional furniture to collectors and those wanting a unique piece for their home. The shop makes traditional Shaker reproductions as well as custom design pieces. The shop uses reclaimed, old growth forest timer, when it is available, and the shop's owners believe strongly in sustainable craftsmanship.

The street also is home to Tea Lula, a charming tea based shop, with outdoor seating and a tea sampling bar inside. The owner, Shelia Duda, is a tea fanatic and is more than happy to help with any tea related questions. The shop also stocks tea books, pots, cups and other brewing accessories.

On Main Street resides All on the Road Catering. This gourmet food shop serves up some of the best sandwiches and salads in the area, and its expansive to-go menu has made it a favorite with locals in the town. Some fairly insane sandwiches come out of this vintage store front shop. On any given day, customers order up selections like, London Broil with Crab and Avocado, Crab Cake with Corn Relish, Poached Salmon with Wasabi Orange Mustard, or Portobello Mushroom Wrap with Goat Cheese and Roasted Red Peppers. The shop also has an extensive catering menu and bakery, and the owners always try and use locally grown, fresh ingredients in every dish they make.

Suburbs get a bad rap most of the time, and some of the time the rap is justified. Nobody living in a major city like Chicago needs to drive 20 minutes to get a burrito, or a pair of trainers, or take their bed and bath to the great beyond. Chicago is a metropolis of possibilities, but sometimes it's nice to venture into the suburbs and support businesses that continue the traditions of mom and pop shopping. Park Ridge, with its shop local aesthetic, is on the right path towards economic sustainability. In the era of corporate malfeasance, it's good to know mom and pop are still making it happen in middle America.

There are more than a few national chain stores in Park Ridge, with thier bright lights, big deals, and huge parking lots - but in this suburb, with such a vibrant local economy, they are easy to ignore.