A couple years ago Vaya front man Jeff Kelley and baritone guitarist Kevin Claxton were talking about the unrecognized players and pockets of Chicago’s ever-changing, nebulous music scene when they came up with an idea. “We were trying to think about, ‘How could we—and I know this is a huge buzzword, but, like, curate bands for people to listen to where they wouldn’t know what they’re gonna get, but they will know it’s gonna be rad,'” Kelley says. That conversation helped start Chicago Singles Club, a site designed to champion local musicians through an in-depth documentation—part of which includes newly recorded singles, which the CSC team handle in-house. CSC officially debuted in April 2013 with a profile of pop songwriter and singer KSRA, and the site’s been steadily expanding with one feature on a new act each month. The site passes a new milestone Friday night at the Whistler with the listening party for Volume 2: 2014-2015, a compilation of recordings from its second year; ShowYouSuck, Me Jane, Glass Lux, Moritat, Radar Eyes, Meat Wave, and Absolutely Not are among the acts who’ve contributed tracks to the compilation.
Volume 2 is only one part of the work CSC does within the local scene. Beyond operating the site CSC also hosts shows at Cole’s on the fourth Friday of every month; photographer Kerri Hacker coordinates those shows, just one of many duties she performs as part of the team. Hacker, Kelley, and Claxton are three of five people involved in making CSC work; Iris Lin and Kelsie Hardison are the remaining core, and they tackle the site’s video production (designer Jordan Morrell helped shape CSC’s graphic presentation but is less involved in the minutia of the operation). They all make sure CSC uploads a new profile on an act every month, complete with Hacker’s detailed photos, Lin and Hardison’s in-depth video profiles, and fresh recordings of a couple tracks.
It’s a lot of work. “The majority of it we do on the day of the session,” Kelley says. “We get b-roll of the band playing the songs. Obviously we record them, do the photos, do the interview. The only other part that we do outside of the main session day is Iris and Kelsie—or one of the two of them—will go out to a band’s upcoming show so they can get live footage.” Finding the right time to pull all that off can be a challenge. “We’ve got five members and the bands usually have, like, three to four members, so we’re trying to coordinate a schedule between nine people is pretty difficult,” Hacker says. “And then we have to find a location that will be appropriate for video—that’s including, like, not being loud or underneath a train or in a park where there’s a lot of wind. There’s a lot of communication that goes into that.”
The CSC team also has to come to a consensus when they figure out which bands to approach for future profiles. They try and cast a wide net when brainstorming who to reach out to—they’ve got their own ideas, listen to bands that friends have recommended, comb through submissions, and keep an ear peeled at local shows. “What I’m really focusing on is getting a diverse representation—getting away from, like, all white dudes in bands,” Hacker says. Both Hacker and Kelley are keen on including a broad range of genres—hip-hop, electronic pop, experimental rock—and voices. “I’m proud that we’ve had a lot of bands that include women,” Kelley says. “I would say it’s at least 50 percent, probably more.”
CSC has helped Hacker and Kelley get more involved in the local music scene as participants, and it’s changed their perspective too. “I’ve gained an appreciation for the breadth of the scene,” Kelley says. “Before we started Chicago Singles Club a lot of the bands that we knew were through playing shows, and since we have a specific sound we’d be paired with bands with that specific sound.” By making an effort to approach bands that don’t fit within a specific genre the CSC team have also forged a community among the acts they’ve profiled.
It helps that CSC also throws shows with the bands they’ve worked with (or wants to work with in the future) and can see the connections in person—like at a showcase the site hosted at a DIY space this past weekend. “Meat Wave and ShowYouSuck had never heard each other but they were tweetin’ back and forth, like, ‘You guys are awesome, we gotta play another show together,'” Kelley says. “That kind of cross-pollination is a really, really awesome outcome from our point of view. It’s something we really hope happens more often.”
There’s a chance that some CSC alumni who haven’t met before might form a bond at Friday’s listening party. The CSC team will have cassette copies of Volume 2 on hand. The site released its first compilation on vinyl, but went with tape this year, in part because the personal costs of releasing an LP were a little too high.
“Doing cassette this year is more cost-effective for us, and it’s like a lower barrier of entry for people that want to check [it] out,” Kelley says. “I’m assuming most people that buy this cassette are gonna know one or two bands out of the 12, and $10, $12 is a lot of money for some people to spend on ten bands they don’t know. Whereas a cassette we can just put it out for a couple bucks and people are more likely to listen to it.” Getting people to listen can be a real battle, but Chicago Singles Club is finding a meaningful way of encouraging locals to tune in to the music around them.