It's difficult to photograph a streaming service, but Catalytic Sound helpfully provided this image. Credit: Fede Peñalva

In 2011, a group of friends who are also heavyweights in free jazz and improvised music—including Paal Nilsen-Love, Mats Gustafsson, and Ken Vandermark—formed Chicago-based cooperative and clearinghouse Catalytic Sound to give fans a way to buy music directly from the artists. Catalytic Sound originally addressed the problem of physical recordings with limited distribution—many of its members’ releases were on tiny overseas labels—but as the cooperative has grown, it’s expanded aggressively into the digital realm. Its roster is now 30 artists strong, including the likes of Paul Lytton, Ikue Mori, Joe McPhee, Claire Rousay, and Brandon Lopez as well as several current or former Chicagoans, among them Damon Locks, Tomeka Reid, and Dave Rempis. On Saturday, January 2, the cooperative launched its own streaming service, Catalytic Soundstream, which also includes a “Label Radio” playlist featuring Astral Spirits, Relative Pitch, Corbett vs. Dempsey, and others. In what’s intended as a counterexample to the stinginess of Spotify (which pays on average less than half a penny per stream), Catalytic Soundstream passes on two-thirds of its revenue, minus platform and transaction fees, directly to artists. (For now the labels are participating gratis.) That’s actually not a hugely bigger share than Spotify passes on, but because Catalytic has no free tier—and because its pool of artists is comparatively tiny—each collective member was already earning $7.60 per month (the equivalent of around 2,500 Spotify streams) when the service had only 34 subscribers just days after launch. You can sign up yourself via Patreon: a Soundstream subscription costs $10 per month and includes access to a rotating selection of more than 90 streaming albums; an Artifacts subscription is $25 per month and gets you digital album downloads, exclusive recordings on CD, a quarterly print journal, and more; and for $30 per month you can combine the two tiers.

Earlier this month, Chicago rapper-producer Rashid Hadee and veteran hip-hop group the Primeridian dropped a collaborative album called Prime Diesel, and it immediately became one of this wolf’s favorite full-lengths of the new year. Hadee spreads a buffet of feel-good soul samples atop crisp, uplifting beats, and the combo perfectly complements the Primeridian’s refined swagger. The collaborators recruited several other ace locals to contribute, including Neak, Pugs Atomz, Slot-A, and Philmore Greene (who recently dropped the album The Survival Scroll). Specialty hip-hop label Culture Power45 plans to release a vinyl version of Prime Diesel at the end of January.

In the fall, Chicagoland zine Jugo & Rada launched a record label with The Over/Under EP by local rapper AMS the Nerd King, which also inaugurated the label’s Square Series—the physical edition consisted of 75 square-cut seven-inches. Earlier this month, Jugo & Rada dropped its second Square Series seven-inch: The Notes, a loose and joyful instrumental hip-hop EP from the duo 7Cicadae, aka Sev Seveer and Cicada. The first Square Series release sold out in a week, so don’t sit on your hands if you want this one!  v

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