Funk documentary focused on London in the 1970s & 1980s that happens to have a hobbit keen on forty-fives

Here’s a documentary on the funk scene in Britain, a tale told through many talking heads, and one of them happens to be Martin Freeman, of Sherlock and The Hobbit fame. You might miss him, since it was apparently before he employed a stylist and committed to a workout routine, but he’s in there as a fanboy / collector / DJ of funk / rare groove.

I was sent this next video, Martin Freeman Goes to Motown, from Marc of Meiotic Chicago featuring a star-struck Martin wandering around Detroit meeting people who were artists and studio musicians on Motown Records (city councilwoman Martha Reeves, former lead singer of Martha and the Vandellas; Duke Fakir, the last surviving member of the Four Tops; the Funk Brothers jamming out at their local bar…) interspersed with the quintessential footage of that burnt-and-abandoned Detroit that makes for such interesting TV, but overall it maintained a certain reverence for the original movement that caused such a stir over in Great Britain.

Chicago’s Chess Records & Record Row, tastemakers of early pop, rock , soul & R&B

While recovering from a seasonal cold, I found some interesting documentaries on Chess Records and the competing labels at the same time on the near South side of Chicago. Chess Records was responsible for launching hits by Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Etta James, along with bringing blues by Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf into commercial awareness. The movies Cadillac Records (2008) and Who Do You Love (2008) are Hollywood’s version of the history, with Beyonce as Etta James in the former.

Interestingly, Chess was the last name of a Polish immigrant entrepreneur, Leonard, who catered to the immigrant Southern black population and found a common outsider perspective with his clientele.

More on Chess Records and the competing labels within walking distance along South Michigan Avenue is in another documentary aired on PBS in 1997 called Record Row:

I had no idea there was any sort of rivalry between Motown Records and Chicago until I started digging a bit.

Free Circuit Board Gift Tags!

So my store Fractalspin has been carrying these cool Circuit Board Ornaments for a while, and there’s now a quantity discount if you buy 10 or more.

We learned from some of our customers that they were using them as gift tags for presents, and we were buying quite a few at a time, but unfortunately last year we ran out of stock to get them out by Christmas. This year we’re starting the promotion early enough for larger quantity orders in time for holiday madness.

I also designed some free gift tag templates you can print out and attach to gifts, right away, for free!


[Download Stars Gift Tags PDF]
[Download Dreidels Gift Tags PDF]

If you want smaller tags for smaller gifts, just print them out at 50% or whatever size, instead.

Hope you find them useful!

New art site! Also, you can support pit bull rescue by buying an art print


I’ve finally gotten together my visual art portfolio site ( and figured it would be great to launch it with a campaign that supports Pit Bull Awareness Month (October).

Buy an art print and support pit bull rescue!
This marker drawing is of Charlotte, an insanely sweet pit bull terrier whom I adopted from Chicagoland Bully Breed Rescue in 2011.

From now until the end of 2013, I will donate 10% of the proceeds from sales of the archival art prints of Charlotte through Society6 to Chicagoland Bully Breed Rescue. [Read More]

{Buy an art print from Society6}

The smallest size (8″ x 10″) starts at just $19, and you can choose from larger sizes as well. We’re getting close to the gifty season, and it would be nice to support an animal welfare group as well as give a fellow animal lover a meaningful gift.

I also make interesting visual art, as it turns out
I realize I’m more well known as a Chicago electronic musician and the impetus behind the online geek-chic boutique, Fractalspin, but I also am a visual artist who formally studied art history. At California Institute of the Arts, I got to refine my work from within a contemporary fine arts perspective, and that’s been a part of what I do ever since. Check it out:

Well, feel free to explore, and you can start a public converstation with me on Google+ Twitter, or Facebook, and if you just want to send a personal message, here’s an easy way to do just that.


Spelling out why the WWII “Enigma” machines were considered to be unbreakable… presented by an awkwarldy adorable mathematician

While working on technical things at the ‘puter or offline-within-speaker-range, I like to throw on some audio stories about random subjects that are interesting. It makes me feel like I have a chatty knowledgeable companion in the room who doesn’t mind that I don’t add to the conversation because I’m just so engrossed in work, and they’re totally OK with that.

In a Youtube-lecture-suggested-clickfest, I found a neat one on cryptography that I found particularly creatively explained. Mathematician (and, um, unfortunately employed by the NSA at vid-post time) David Perry explains some of the history and the mathematics behind the Enigma’s cryptology approach, all while awkwardly holding his tie clip to his mouth (and all the technical cringes in effect) but he still manages to keep the crowd at ease and engaged [nerd-alert-aside: this is why we soundcheck!].

Despite these technicalities, he spells out the basic concepts, and lets his audience throw their thoughts his way while he cruises though his points, even admitting that many popular puzzles presented to the public are just not funny and jokes that he uses them as punishment for not paying attention in class (sounds like a tall tale, but yeah, we get it– the puns become easier because of repetition and lazy cryptography, which he does circle back around towards).

It’s light stuff, but I like his conversational and approachable style. He also dug up some interesting rotor diagrams for the Enigma, which are worth a look, especially if you are in wayfinding, design, or engineering–lots of overlaps there.

If you loved this lecture, what are some other online lectures you’ve found that are particularly well done in terms of approachability? Or, are there some neat ones on cryptography worth sharing?

Morrissey retiring from health issues; here is a cover of “There is a Light that Never Goes Out” Schneider TM & Kptmichigan

“The Light 3000” Smiths cover by Schneider TM & Kptmichigan is my favorite glitchy electronic one and does the original justice in its own, haunting way. From his interview with Mexico City radio station Reactor 105.7 (transcript and audio in English):

I never cringe if anybody sings or covers a song, I find it very moving even though it might be quite bad, I still find it very moving that somebody would be bothered or interested to do it. Some of them really do affect me emotionally. But I find it extraordinary that every single day, that I hear new cover versions of songs, somebody is covering a Smiths song, every day, which I find incredible. Because British radio would never play the Smiths and they’ve (the Smiths) proven to be one of the most influential bands ever, despite everything. Despite many obstacles and they were never helped, they were never helped. So it’s interesting how, if you do have something important or special or meaningful that it will seep through eventually and nobody can stop it.”

He also goes on to explain his compromised immune system-related health issues, and appreciates his fan base and dismisses “reunion tours” as being completely commercial in nature.

Here’s another (translated) interview from Chilean news magazine La Tercera where although he said he’d rather die on stage “than a couch covered in breadcrumbs,” it looks like he is retiring.

Amanda Palmer, who’s recently gained media attention for her alternative music funding endeavors, has written an open letter urging him to crowdsource his album, but I don’t think Moz needs the cash.

Pitchfork (*cough* Chicago), I love you, but you’re bringing me down

1 Kelly Merch 1rkellypictfork2013-crap

“The very mundanity of Kelly’s performance leads to my second, sadder conclusion about his presence at Pitchfork: That the formerly Chicago-now Brooklyn-based brains and businessmen behind the festival and the Webzine, … just don’t think that the music we embrace means anything at all in the real world.

It’s just a cool, digitally stored backing track for your oh-so-hip and groovy lifestyle at home, and every bit the ideal tool in concert for marketing and money-making that we see at the festival’s larger corporate cousin, Lollapalooza.”

Here’s Jim Derogatis’ insightful review of the Pitchfork fest in Chicago, and a critique of the mainstream music industry as well with the whole “irony thing” going on.

Although irony can elicit personal and cultural emotions, it’s a double-edged sword. On some level these ironic musicians and promoters must have some appreciation for the genre–albeit a guilty one–or they would not have spent so much time and energy making it happen.

What’s problematic is that this “irony booking” has a captive audience in a festival like this. But the patrons didn’t buy tickets because they wanted to see R.Kelly–they shelled out the cash to see independent, niche-oriented, genuine musicians on stage in a park, in summer, in Chicago (and because we have actual seasons here, nice weather propels people into doing as much as possible in those few short months).

Inserting R.Kelly as an ironic gesture (complete with off-color buttons for sale, that latently approve of his “misfit” behavior) can become increasingly less ironic over time, as the focus trends towards profit on the highest level instead of showcasing new, innovative music.

Remember the adage “Any PR is good PR?” That’s because the person in question is still getting attention from lots of eyeballs, even if it’s a critical gaze, just by talking about it constantly is giving it a reason to exist (before you cut me off, yes, I am doing this right now, but it’s to prove a point by showing the opposite).

So what’s troublesome is that these grassroots, niche-music communities that started out as genuine artistic and cultural endeavors are targets to be co-opted by corporate / profit-minded interests who are just looking at figures on a spreadsheet and doing some crowd psychology work to get the highest ROI (return on investment–your interest rate, or how much you will make by investing) in an emerging market (meaning low acquisition cost and high future cash returns). Singularly-profit-minded investors who study numbers will swoop in on a potentially profitable situation, no matter what the long-term outcome is on the culture–and therein lies the problem.

We’re facing a similar situation in Chicago, where profit over people and communities are being pushed aside in favor of big business chains who want a piece of the tourist and local market, and forcing cultural attractions into places just to raise property values.

City government ideally should exist as a crowdsourced way of making the city a better place–but chains and outside interests just suck up resources and give them to their shareholders, only tossing a bone here and there to their local communities. I think the miscommunication here is that zoning people, aldermen, and the mayor seem to have it in their head that their constituents will be so much happier with a suburban-model, chain-dominated city.

It couldn’t be further from the truth.

Why do people live in cities? Why do they travel? In both cases it’s because they enjoy a sense of community and uniqueness that you just can’t find anywhere else. Why go on vacation far away from home when you’ll only get the exact same chains serving the exact same burgers, efficiently delivered to all stores to ensure each experience is a clone of any other. “There is no there there,” as Gertrude Stein put it.

“Buy locally,” sustainability, and energy conservation are all on a roll now, and this mentality can also tie into music curation at festivals. Why travel to a far off city when you’re just going to see the same performers in any other city on their tour map?

Perhaps it’s just the nature of the Old Country Buffet smorgasbord model that as a festival becomes increasingly successful, well-established, and ever more commercialized, the ethos upon which it was founded becomes increasingly obscure. The greater meaning, if ever there was one, slips further and further away. Any role that the fest had in both reflecting and stimulating a musical community inevitably erodes. And everything is reduced to mere entertainment.

ALSO: Read another of Jim Derogatis’ pieces on how Mayor Rahm Emmanuel wants to create a “music district” in Uptown… it still hasn’t happened, but it looks like he appears to want to make Chicago into a Disneyland of tourist attractions. Not loving it.

Here is Kermit the Frog’s cover of LCD Soundsystem’s “New York I Love You” which is highly relevant.

“New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down”

New York, I Love You
But you’re bringing me down

New York, I Love You
But you’re bringing me down

Like a rat in a cage
Pulling minimum wage

New York, I Love You
But you’re bringing me down

New York, you’re safer
And you’re wasting my time

Our records all show
You are filthy but fine

But they shuttered your stores
When you opened the doors
To the cops who were bored
Once they’d run out of crime

New York, you’re perfect
Don’t please don’t change a thing

Your mild billionaire mayor’s
Now convinced he’s a king

So the boring collect
I mean all disrespect

In the neighborhood bars
I’d once dreamt I would drink

New York, I Love You
But you’re freaking me out

There’s a ton of the twist
But we’re fresh out of shout

Like a death in the hall
That you hear through your wall

New York, I Love You
But you’re freaking me out

New York, I Love You
But you’re bringing me down

New York, I Love You
But you’re bringing me down

Like a death of the heart
Jesus, where do I start?

But you’re still the one pool
Where I’d happily drown

And oh.. Take me off your mailing list
For kids that think it still exists
Yes, for those who think it still exists

Maybe I’m wrong
And maybe you’re right
Maybe I’m wrong
And myabe you’re right

Maybe you’re right
Maybe I’m wrong
And just maybe you’re right

And Oh..
Maybe mother told you true
And they’re always be something there for you
And you’ll never be alone

But maybe she’s wrong
And maybe I’m right
And just maybe she’s wrong

Maybe she’s wrong
And maybe I’m right
And if so, is there?

Despite having been offered a scholarship to the Joffrey Ballet and majoring in Dance at Sarah Lawrence college, Rahm sure does dance like an awkward white boy, even if he did take his tie off.