About a month ago, rapper Serengeti completed his Kenny Dennis saga, comprised of eight releases and “Dennehy,” the infamous song that started it all. Serengeti first rapped as Kenny back in 2006, creating a light-hearted single song about a simple guy who enjoys kicking back, watching some Chicago sports, and eating brats. But Serengeti’s inventive personality and own life began shaping this Chicagoan stereotype even more and more, and there are many points in all the releases where it’s clear Kenny isn’t just a character. He is more than that—a way for Serengeti to get through his own life, Dennis 6e being particularly connected to its creator.
After an enjoyable conversation with Serengeti (who’s a down-to-earth, genuine dude named Dave Cohen), it was clear that the depth of Kenny goes beyond speculation. While he may have started as a fun, humorous character, he grew beyond that, a self-prescribed therapy of sorts. Serengeti has done other cathartic music, but it was Kenny that he found to be distinctly freeing.
“I do all these records to get myself out of it,”
referring to his sadness. While he makes the art for everyone to hear, it is first and foremost for him. With Kenny, Cohen shared, he can distance himself from the situations and emotions and make breakthroughs. But as much as he separates his life from Kenny’s, the two never fail to mesh together, informing each other more and more.
In the case of the final album, the intertwined lives both have closure. When I asked Cohen about how he feels now that the last chapter has been told, his response was of contentedness and acceptance:
“Now I see the whole thing for what it is.”
He’s happy with what he created in all its intricate, detail-oriented, emotionally-driven, funny glory—and more than that, its creation seems to have had a lasting effect on his well being.
So what’s next for Serengeti? He may be retiring Kenny Dennis but he’s certainly not slowing down—it’s not in his nature (he’s released nearly thirty albums and over ten EPs since 2003, damn). But he is approaching music in a different way than he has during his productive career, focusing more on short, physical releases. He’s also completed a full-length script for a Kenny Dennis movie, telling the stories the music did in a more literal way and filling in the gaps. He explained to me the desire of making the movie came from the distinction of what each means of storytelling does—the music told it in an impressionistic way, but he wants the movie to be more literal—
“really clear and really funny and also sort of sad.”
Serengeti will be performing at The Empty Bottle on October 11, in support of Air Credits and Sims. You can follow his many endeavors on his Instagram and Twitter under the handle of @serengetidave.
“Shit is fuckin’ weird right now. Be nice to people you know, be nice to people you don’t know…Lance that boil, pop that zit. Here’s another song.”
Lead vocalist Tunde Adebimpe expressed these sentiments and similar ones through his quips between songs and overall performance, and the rest of the band backed him up throughout their set that closed out the first day of Goose Island’s 312 Block Party. The show had a perfect balance of being about the turmoil going on right now and simply dancing away that negativity, the music cathartic and enjoyable in nature.
Photo by Danny O'Donnell, @Do312
What makes TV On The Radio special is their extreme eclecticism—they’re primarily a rock band, yes, but they pull from many sub-genres (including but not limited to punk and synth) as well as a multitude of other styles and traditions. And they do this with an energy that boils and melts it all together into a fine hodge-podge of sounds, in the studio—and as exemplified by their September 21 show—on the stage.
In all honesty, I was a bit nervous to hear how they would sound live—their records are so well-produced, countless layers interacting but never getting in the way of each other, pristine vocal tracks and their harmonies shining. Throughout the concert, there were great moments where each musician’s zeal was supremely prominent—a trombone and guitar rhythmically spitting back and forth, subtly and minimally used vocal effects resulting in controlled feedback atop everything else before being buried, unrelenting drums holding it all together.
Photo by Danny O'Donnell, @Do312
A high point in the show came after the aforementioned quote, with the moving chorus of “Trouble,” from 2014’s Seeds. Adebimpe—and the many fans singing along—belted out “‘Everything’s gonna be okay’ / Oh, I keep telling myself / ‘Don’t worry, be happy’ / Oh, you keep telling yourself” and following its introduction, the song that preceded recent events had a new meaning, one that evoked both a longing acceptance and bitter sarcasm, depending on how you heard and processed it. In a time when it seems every artist has to acknowledge the current climate, TV On The Radio navigated that well, not disregarding the immense power music has to deal with heavy subjects in abstract ways, nor the ability it has to—at the very least—help masses put their worries somewhere else and just dance and sing.
*A review by Izzy Yellen
It’s not often you get to see a well-programmed concert at a cemetery on the Fall Equinox. And under the Harvest Moon. But Empty Bottle Presents’ Beyond The Gate was exactly that.
Photo by Danny O'Donnell, @312
Right off the bat, the setting was beautiful—blue lights illuminating the building behind, branches and handmade lit-up orbs adorning the stage, blankets and chairs packed into the lawn with bundled up fans.
> Photo by Danny O'Donnell, @312
Once the crowd and the sun’s light settled, Hilary Woods began, twangy guitar accompanying her wispy but resonant voice. The atmosphere she created, especially in the cemetery, was reminiscent of Angelo Badalamenti’s music for Twin Peaks—thick, muddy voicings on a keyboard and 50s-sounding guitar (she switched between the two) created structured songs that still allowed there to be an atmospheric, open quality.
Photo by Danny O'Donnell, @312
Mute Duo is Sam Wagster on pedal steel and Skyler Rowe on drums/percussion, but for this special concert, they were the Mute Duo Ensemble, joined by six others. An instrumental group (aside from wordless vocals from Bottle staple Bruce “Hesh” Lamont, who also played tenor sax), the collection of musicians played without breaks, going from unified drones to solos to prickly durations of time that had the many voices peeking out of the combined voice with their idiosyncrasies.
Photo by Danny O'Donnell, @312
Grouper was—in terms of the whole bill—a synthesis of her openers, bringing together chaos and stark songwriting. The fact that it was just a sole musician (Liz Harris) didn’t stop there from being layers and layers of sound enveloping the audience. Grouper’s outside music surrounded and comforted me, the powerful moments—emotionally and sonically—making the near silent moments even more silent, and the silent moments making the powerful even more powerful. The dynamic and emotional range of her performance was flooring, and this was only accentuated by its setting.
While the space and her interaction with it was an instrument itself, it would not have functioned as such without the sources—her elaborate but well-controlled setup of piano, guitar, affected vocals, and samples, all through a mixer she intently controlled. Melting and shifting together, these different instruments often took on similar forms in context of her larger work.
Hilary Woods, Mute Duo Ensemble, and Grouper evoked an unsettling creepiness at their concert space without forcing it at all, their music finding a home at Bohemian National Cemetery and, ultimately, being more moving thanks to the environment. I’m already excited to hear more bands find a home for their music at the cemetery next year.
*A review by Izzy Yellen
Neither the fact that it was a Monday night or the start to the Jewish High Holidays deferred fans from a show with experimental rockers Gang Gang Dance and Deakin (of Animal Collective). GGD and AnCo have known each other since the early 2000s, renting a practice space together and sharing a bill at the Empty Bottle in their wee beginnings, and their reunion at this venue was something special—both bands spoke highly of each other and their host, showing this gratitude and energy through their music as well.
Justindemus opened things up with his dark beats and singing, fitting right into the bill of music that both grooved and warranted somber contemplation. Deakin followed him, armed with two guitars, a keyboard, a mic, an OP-1, and a whole lot of pedals. (Between two of his songs, he said with tongue in cheek, “Thanks for your patience…while pushing all these buttons.”) Despite the significant number of instruments, Deakin approached all the music with an intense concentration and consideration, subtly layering and melding drones, rhythms and more together. The meticulous control of the instrumentals was the perfect counterpart to his vocals—cryptic in lyricism (and often effects too), the voice was the instrument he really let loose with, going from collected lower register drawls to unbridled yells and back again. His voice wove in and out of his other sounds, peeking above frequently. It’s not uncommon to compare thickly layered music to a blanket, but Deakin’s live set wasn’t quite that, instead, a sheet providing warmth and protection (with the feet and shins sticking out for contact with cool air).
The overall feeling of his live music was similar to his 2016 album Sleep Cycle, but only one song of the setlist was a track from his sole release—the album opener “Golden Chords,” which closed the set. Other songs were solo reworkings of two AnCo songs—“Wide Eyed” from 2012’s Centipede Hz and “DownDownDownDown” from their site-specific live show earlier this year—and a cover of a Tinariwen song with elements from his remix. In addition to this variety of songwriting sources, Deakin debuted several “sketches” of songs he’s working on, but had he not described them as such, we would most likely never have known. Performed with confidence and intention, these new tunes had the same grounded substance heard in Sleep Cycle. It’s clear he’s aware of all the sounds going on and what his lyrics mean to him, and even though I was transported into this world of creative sounds I hadn’t heard before and lyrics I didn’t have the meanings of, I felt—in one of those inexplicable, experiential ways—home.
While Deakin ushered in feelings of introspection and home, GGD ushered in cosmic and bigger-picture reflection. Tight grooves that slipped and slid from improvisation to intense composition pulled listeners in, getting many to dance, but unsettling harmonies and ambiguity of who was making what sound really gave the audience something to chew on. GGD’s live set was both carefree and thoughtful, occupying both ends of the spectrum and challenging what dance music is and what it can be. You could dance the night, mull over their musical choices, or both at the same time—hell, I know I switched back and forth through all of those.
At times, it was overwhelming, as if the physicality of the music and all its many components were grabbing you, yet I enjoyed this aspect of it. One of their more popular songs—“Vacuum” from 2008’s Saint Dymphna—was as encompassing and intoxicating live as it was with headphones, if not more so. And that’s a chiller song of theirs. Other moments had three percussionists going full throttle, a guitar acting like a synth, a synth acting like a few synths, and one of the fullest basses I’ve ever heard—with Lizzi Bougatsos’ ethereal shrieks and organic oscillations atop, of course.
With all the controlled chaos throughout the set, their closer was even more expansive. Introducing the song as one about “the future of the universe,” the band launched into a soundscape-oriented rather than groove-oriented jam, with flowing swells from guitars and synth, rustling drums out of time, and breathy, spoken lyrics—all musicians leaving lots of space for each other to settle, expand, and continue the cycle. It ended the night with a misty, thoughtful energy, bodies tired from dancing and minds tired from thinking, both ready for rest.
I wish I could have been there in those early aughts to see how GGD and Deakin have evolved in a live setting, but who knows, maybe they’ll both be back a decade or so from now. And if they are, you can bet I’ll be there.
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1/10 | Impossible Colors ‘Down in the Trumps’: A Benefit for the Chicago Community Bond Fund: We kicked this streak off on 1/10, when Impossible Colors rolled through with a benefit for the Chicago Community Bond Fun. Civil rights lawyer and musician, Adele Nicholas, collaborated with artist Kriss Stress to compile a 14 track mixtape to protest against the ideology of where our political system is heading in the upcoming weeks. All proceeds of the mixtape were donated to the Chicago Community Bond Fund while ticket sales from the 1/10 show went towards helping Planned Parenthood.
1/24 | A Very Tall Pat Records Showcase: FRIENDS! FRIENDS! FRIENDS! We have a very special night planned for you on Tuesday, January 24th, courtesy of Tall Pat Records. Comm To Black is back to attack, headlining the evening, with support by local psychedelic headbangers HAIR and songwriting extraordinaire, Joey Rubbish’s newest outfit GIANTOLOGY. DJing for the night is Tall Pat’s DAD, and we all know that dads rock the hardest out of anyone so...
1/25 | Pretty All Right Night: Come through January 25 for a night of DJing, drum machines and dancing! We’re excited to host a celebration of Pretty Alright Records, Tom Owens’s decade-old label dedicated to eccentric experimental electronic music. Owens himself will spin his favorite tunes as DJ Potions to kick off the night before leading into performances by fellow locals WINSTON LASKER, SPA MOANS, and BLU SHAM.
1/29 | FPE Presents: Everyone Has A Voice: Come on, come all - literally EVERYONE is invited to FPE Record’s night, “Everyone Has A Voice”. Turning 5 years old this year, local label, FPE has released a diverse pallet of music thus far including half bro/sis duo ZIGTEBRA and c lassically trained songbird SYNA SO PRO. Since 2010, ZIGTEBRA has been writing positive catchy pop numbers that would compliment any Wes Anderson film. And is there anything that SYNA SO PRO can’t do? We are very pleased to host this One Woman Musical Enigma, loop artist and multi-instrumentalist on our stage.
Glitter CreepsAlong with being at the helm of Glitter Creeps, Donnie and Madison Moore make up two thirds of local glam punk outfit ABSOLUTELY NOT. With Donnie on vox and guitar, Madison on keys and backup vox and Santiago Guerrero on drums, ABSOLUTELY NOT has carved out their own unabashedly queer and tenacious space in the Chicago music scene with multiple performances at The Bottle. Where did the idea for Glitter Creeps come from and how did it end up at the bottle? Donnie: Most of my young adult life I searched for cool rock or punk related LGBTQIA events, but the options were extremely limited. After living in Chicago for a couple of years, I found out about things like Fed Up Fest, Homocore, and Queer Social Club (QSC) night at Archie's. After attending and guest DJing a few QSC events I became good friends with Pete, who was the organizer at the time). He asked Madison and I if we wanted to take over QSC, and refresh it with a new name and style. My dreams had come true! I was now a part of organizing a night geared toward the LGBTQIA+ community with the style of music and culture that I identify with. I was was excited to provide such an event for like-minded people that had very little options. After successfully doing many Glitter Creeps at Archies, Madison and I just couldn't shake the nagging feeling of wanting to go even bigger where we could have live bands performing at our events. One day I walked my silly ass into the Empty Bottle, and had a very long, nice talk with Christen Thomas who was the talent buyer at the time, and she was 100% into the idea of Glitter Creeps. Three months later, on November 19th 2014, we launched Glitter Creeps at Empty Bottle with THE CELL PHONES, PAPER MICE, and SPACE BLOOD. What does making an LGBTQIA+ inclusive space mean to you? Donnie: Glitter Creeps is an event where everyone should feel comfortable. Gay, Straight, Black, White, Male, Female, Transgender, Genderqueer, etc, literally ANYONE with an open mind and an open heart are welcome. Obviously, the event is heavily geared toward the LGBTQIA+ community, but we're not trying to be one of those events that say they are only there for one part of the community. In my dream world, there would be something for everyone in every establishment. Unfortunately, the world isn't like that, so that's why events like Glitter Creeps are extremely necessary. It's a place where the entire LGBTQIA community are safe to express themselves fully, and feel very comfortable doing so! That same offer goes out to open minded heterosexual males and females as well! If you are supportive of all races, and all sexual preferences and identities, you are welcome at Glitter Creeps! Any memorable Glitter Creeps moments from the past two years that stick out? Donnie: Honestly, I have a favorite memory from each show. Every single band that has played Glitter Creeps so far has really given us spectacular performances. It really makes me happy beyond words to see bands going balls to the wall because they know there will be no judgement at Glitter Creeps. That's literally what I live for. I love when music is truly genuine, and performers are bringing their highest levels of expression. GET WEIRD! GET REAL! You only live once, so BE TRUE TO WHO YOU REALLY ARE! Madison: I couldn't agree more with Donnie. However, if I had to choose, I'd probably have to go with the show where, along with SODDY DAISY, our band got to open for GOGGS (Ty Segall’s latest project). Such an awesome night. Donnie: Oh yeah, duh. [laughs]. What do you hope to continue/change/explore with another year of Glitter Creeps? Donnie: Honestly, we just want to keep having great bands and amazing shows. We are trying not to repeat any bands for as long as humanly possible, so wish us luck with that! What does the 2 year anniversary mean to you? Donnie: It means growth, and it means happiness. We've definitely experienced personal growth from running Glitter Creeps for two years, and hope we've helped encourage further growth in the happiness and comfort levels in punk/rock side of the LGBTQIA community as well. With bands like NOBUNNY, Micachu and The Shapes, Royal Headache, and GOGGS playing and showing mega love for the event, that light at the end of the tunnel is getting brighter and brighter for the community. Any news about your band Absolutely Not? Donnie & Madison: Yes! We are working on finishing the new LP, and we just released the first single/music video from it recently!
Interview with NOBUNNYJustin Champlin crashed onto the scene in 2001 with his explosively lovable punk/rock n’ roll persona NOBUNNY. With gloriously crusty glam stage antics filled with costumes, nudity and a very special bunny mask, NOBUNNY has captured the hearts of cuties all over. How long have you known about Glitter Creeps and what does it mean to you to be a part of the two year anniversary? Nobunny: I met Donnie and Madison right when they started doing Glitter Creeps two years ago. I'm stoked they invited me! Any favorite Empty Bottle memories? Nobunny: Setting up an interview with a band when I was 19 and Bruce letting me in, as long as I stood on the radiator by the front door. Taking acid for free jazz improv nights. My grandmother attending a Nobunny show and commenting on how dirty the bathroom was. How integral is your live performance when writing new material? Nobunny: I don't generally think about performing live when writing. I suppose sometimes though, I think "this is gonna sound killer live"or, "this will never work live". One song at a time! Can we touch base on the Elvis impersonation time in your life? Nobunny: Elvis impersonation is a decent way to pay the bills, but Nobunny is more creatively fulfilling.