Growing up in Shelter Bay, Michigan, a tiny village of 35 people on the Upper Peninsula, gave Marlon Magas nightmares. “I was terrified of ghosts as a child,” he says. “I thought that they were all around me. There was a trail deep in the woods, a few miles from my house, where there were three graves with three small wooden markers: the Trudell sisters.” His elementary school, Deerton, was in the middle of some woods near a swamp, where Magas played during recess. The bus home passed an old cemetery.
On his eponymous LP, Magas devotes the song “Deerton School” to his haunted childhood, but the series of mechanical chirps swaddled in loads of bass sounds more like bats escaping a belfry than scampering schoolchildren. Onstage he coerces effervescent beats out of a Roland MC-505 while commanding a bunch of sweaty weirdos to shake their booties. The electroevangelist has been known to whip off his denim jacket, hop around like an insane aerobics instructor, and shout things like, “Let’s go!” and “Feel it!” Watching him dance and clap off-beat, you can’t help but wonder if he’s pulling a highly entertaining, well-executed joke. But the record is a serious matter, weighted with hefty bass, tweaked-out, piercing melodies, and mind-numbing rhythmic patterns.
After leaving his spooky hamlet, Magas lived in Texas for a while, moved back to Michigan, and ended up in Ann Arbor–where he sang in Couch, an unintelligibly spasmodic no-wave band that produced numerous confusing one-note wonders–before settling in Chicago in ’95. After two years as the singer for no-wave supergroup Lake of Dracula, he went into musical exile until last year, when his love for Italian and Hindi movie sound tracks, Korean-style karaoke, and the evil, window-rattling bass that booms from low-rider cars resulted in his solo project.
Playing alone, Magas says, means he gets to make all the decisions, but he admits there are possible pitfalls: “Guys who spend too much time in the studio by themselves tend to produce shitty, overproduced music. It doesn’t matter if you’re playing a guitar or a sequencer–if your personality is that of a limp noodle, it’ll probably be reflected in your musical output. But so far, I think my instincts have been pretty good. My lack of proper ‘talent’ prevents me from doing something too overblown.”
Magas and his wife, Bridgette Wilson, are applying this free and independent style to their new venture, a small shop in Wicker Park called Weekend, where they sell experimental electronic records. “It seems like people are getting bored with indie rock and are curious about other things, but don’t know where to start,” he says. “I think that there’s more innovation in electronic music than in guitar-based music right now. Or maybe the innovation in rock just isn’t as striking to the ear, because you’re dealing with the same basic sounds that have been kicking around for 30 or 40 years. Ground is continually being broken in electronic music, and that’s exciting to me–when I get a European record in a disco sleeve, I figure there’s a fifty-fifty chance my mind could be blown.” Since DJ culture and music can seem impenetrable to outsiders, they want Weekend to be friendly and approachable.
But it isn’t just a record shop–they’re also selling Wilson’s all-natural, handmade soap, a hobby of hers for the last couple years. “It’s like an addiction,” she says, “I have to get my soap fix. I have so many ideas for new ‘flavors’ I can’t imagine that it will ever stop.” She uses only essential oils for aroma; the colors come from powdered herbs. Wilson doesn’t claim that her soaps are necessarily therapeutic, however: “I just blend scents that I think smell good.”
Wilson says she eventually wants to expand and do a whole line of skin-care products, including bubble bath. What does soap have to do with music? Nothing, except that Wilson named her line Sparx, after Sparks, an unnervingly smarmy, histrionic rock band that had a small amount of success in the late 70s and early 80s.
“She really wanted to open a store, which coincided with my dormant dream of owning a record shop,” says Magas. Though they like to keep their weekday lives secret, they say they have day jobs they enjoy. Which is why, Magas says, “We’re starting small, open only on weekends, and doing it any which way we can.”
Lascivious rapper Peaches will perform at the store Thursday, September 28, starting at noon. Weekend, 1919 W. Division, is open Saturdays from 11 to 8, Sundays from 11 to 6, and “some weeknights by appointment.” They’ll have a grand opening party next Saturday, September 30. Call 773-342-5768.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Suzy Poling.