Chicago doesn’t just have a vibrant, busy music scene—it’s also full of busy music writers. This year some of the city’s best talents were at the top of their game, helping drive big, important conversations and refining their distinctive styles. It’s surely just a coincidence that several of them have also contributed to the Reader. (For the record, Reader staffers were excluded from consideration for this list.)
For much of 2015, Jessica Hopper ran Pitchfork’s print magazine, The Pitchfork Review, and its online vertical the Pitch, which specializes in long-form criticism. Under her leadership, The Pitchfork Review blossomed and the Pitch became known as a destination for work by today’s best and brightest. She recruited a diverse array of talent, including three writers on this list (Sasha Geffen, Britt Julious, and Jes Skolnik), and sought out work by women, LGBT people, writers of color, and the disabled. Hopper started an international phenomenon when she took to Twitter to ask women in the music industry to recall a time they were made to feel like they “didn’t count.” Women told stories of being belittled, marginalized, harassed, and even sexually assaulted while performing shows or covering a story—fueling a badly needed discussion that had never been so public before. And of course in May she also published a successful book: The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic, whose essays (many first published in the Reader) span more than 15 years of her career. She recently announced that her next position will be as editorial director of music at MTV.
This year Josh Terry started at the RedEye as a music reporter, interviewing bands and keeping commuters up to date with show announcements and track reviews. The best thing about Terry’s writing is his witty, engaging voice, and his sense of humor really shines in a November piece about a planned BDSM club—it practically groans under the weight of all his double entendres, beginning with the headline “River North residents concerned bondage-themed club will spank neighborhood into submission.”
A freelance writer as well as an editor at Consequence of Sound, Sasha Geffen has a gift for transforming interviews with real people into narrative pieces that make you feel like you’re reading imagined stories about characters you wish you knew, with intimate quotes and brilliant use of setting. Geffen’s October interview with Nicole Dollanganger is particularly lovely, highlighting the artist’s obession with antique dolls.
Britt Julious takes Hemingway’s advice to “write clear and hard about what hurts.” Though she covers the city’s emerging bands in her pieces for the Tribune (in October, for instance, she interviewed New Canyons), she also engages directly with struggles and suffering that are bigger than music. Written after the release of the Laquan McDonald video, her beautiful piece for Esquire about Chicago’s systematic police brutality focuses attention on the human cost of hypersegregation.
Jes Skolnik had a tremendous 2015, contributing album reviews and criticism to Pitchfork and joining the editorial staff at Impose. Skolnik’s writing focuses on the struggles of women and nonbinary folks in DIY scenes and doesn’t shy away from discussing violence or misogyny. For Flavorwire, Skolnik produced an excellent series called the Forgotten Women of Punk to highlight the contributions of women such as Selecter vocalist Pauline Black and Spitboy drummer Michelle Cruz Gonzales.