Equalizer Chicago Gets on the Soul Train


by Ali Weiss

This Friday night, 9/25, at darkroom bar, KEXP’s monthly Equalizer Chicago showcase packs soul bands, hip-hop artists and local DJs into an overall dance party line-up. Here’s a look at the players.

Mayer Hawthorne

L.A.-based headliners Mayer Hawthorne & The County blend retro Motown with a modern, hip hop influence. Hawthorne hails from Ann Arbor, MI, and got his start in hip hop before writing a few soul songs on the side; he didn’t take them seriously until Stones Throw label founder Peanut Butter Wolf heard the music and asked for a whole album. Hawthorne describes the sound as “equal parts J Dilla and Smokey Robinson,” and recent live covers include M.I.A.’s “Paper Planes.” Here’s a video for “Just Ain’t Gonna Work Out,” a heart-shaped 7″ off the Strange Arrangements album:


Appearing as Hawthorne’s special guests are fellow Michigan natives and A-Side Worldwide artists Buff1 and 14KT, both veterans of the Ann Arbor-based hip hop collective the Athletic Mic League (AML). Buff1, who joined Hawthorne on URB Magazine’s “Next 100″ list this year, will take the mic, as 14KT DJs. URB praised Buff 1’s second and latest solo album, There’s Only One, as “silky soul,” and compared the rapper’s delivery to Nas with a “subtle Andre 3000-esque tint.” Okayplayer called producer 14KT’s debut solo album, The Golden Hour, “the sort of striking project that can singlehandedly create an artist’s following.” The Here’s a look at Buff 1’s “Beat the Speakers Up,” the first single off the There’s Only One:

JC Brooks

Like Hawthorne’s outfit, Chicago indie band JC Brooks and the Uptown Sound infuses classic soul with a contemporary twist. But in this case, that updated flavor leans toward post-punk — they’ve compared themselves to “Otis Redding fronting the Stooges.” An example of this mix is “Baltimore is the New Brooklyn,” which blends current, hipster-analogy lyrics with a classic sound straight from the 60’s. Given Brooks’s incredible vocals, the band’s garage-to-Motown versatility and the growing local fan base, it’s no wonder the Chicago Tribune has hailed JC Brooks and the Uptown Sound as “the real deal.” Here’s an ever-so-Chicago cover the band performed at the Do Division Festival in May:

And on top of all that, Chicago DJ’s Trew and Risk spin between sets, leaving absolutely no reason to sit down or stand still during the evening, ever. If you’re anywhere near Chi, this is your must-see event for Friday night. If not, stay tuned for our wrap-up here and clips at the KEXP Chicago Posse’s Youtube channel.

KEXP Equalizer Chicago
darkroom bar
2210 W Chicago Ave (Leavitt)
Friday 9/25
Doors @ 9 / 21+
Mayer Hawthorne & The County
Buff 1 & 14kt
JC Brooks and The Uptown Sound
DJ’s Trew and Risk
$10 advance / 12 door (tix @ www.darkroombar.com)
312 beer specials
Sponsored by KEXP and 312unes

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