RADIO: The WZRD DJ lockout grinds on

On June 29 administrators at Northeastern Illinois University dissolved the student club that runs the school’s radio station, WZRD 88.3 FM, and barred its members from the facility. WZRD remains on the air, but it’s staffed by an administration-approved skeleton crew and mostly broadcasts an automated stream of music that the locked-out DJs (who call themselves “Wizards”) put together to play during personnel shortfalls.

DJ Peter Enger says there’s long been at least mild antagonism between the administration and WZRD staff. By his account the current trouble started in 2009, when Tasha Neumeister—NEIU’s new student media coordinator—crippled the station by forcing it to get rid of alumni DJs who helped fill time slots students couldn’t. “You only have 15 or 20 DJs when you really need 30 or 40,” Enger says. (No one from the administration returned requests for comment by press time.)

Student Leadership Development director Sharron Evans called an impromptu June 29 meeting with the DJs, presenting a memo listing WZRD’s alleged violations of the school’s student-government bylaws. Since then NEIU has abandoned some of those allegations (including a charge that WZRD was missing years of FCC documents reporting its community-service programming), but several remain, among them misuse of funds and problems with the selection process for new members. Evans’s memo also mentions that the school was fined $7,000 in 2007 because the station’s FCC license wasn’t renewed on time (the renewal process is now under way again, and should end by December).

Enger says all the accusations are baseless, and WZRD staff and advocates had till mid-­September to present testimony to NEIU’s Charter Rules & Regulations Committee, which oversees student organizations. The committee will produce a recommendation for interim Student Leadership Development director Veronica Rodriguez by November 2. In the meantime, Enger and other exiled Wizards are collecting signatures for an online petition and trying to rally support—they may also seek out a civil rights lawyer. (See Deanna Isaacs’s A Side story on NEIU’s free-speech issues.) A meeting with the school’s board of trustees on September 20 was disappointingly brief, so that the DJs had to simply hand over printouts of speeches they’d meant to deliver.

Founded in 1974, WZRD is a rare surviving example of a free-form station. It has almost no genre-focused programming or specialty shows; DJs can play almost anything they want, and they’re encouraged to explore the greatest possible variety of nonmainstream music. Enger is passionate about getting the DJs back on the air, not least because of his love for the format. “We feel like we’re defending free-form as an art form,” Enger says. “It’s dying in this country.”

Leor Galil

Next: Twangy, three-stringed Moroccan music makes Joshua Abrams’ new album


JAZZ: Joshua Abrams goes full guimbri on the new Natural Information Society album

Bassist Joshua Abrams has just released Re­presencing (Eremite), the second album by his Natural Information Society. He’s the sole constant member, and as he did on its 2010 debut, Natural Information, he references ritual trance music: most of the pieces churn hypnotically on a single chord. For the new album Abrams sticks to the twangy, three-stringed Moroccan guimbri, establishing his most explicit link yet to the spiritual music of that country’s Gnawa people. “I feel sensitive about the connection to the Gnawa because of the guimbri, but I try to approach its spirit with sincerity,” he says. “I surround it with different instruments so that it reads different.”

The instrumentation varies from track to track, and includes contributions from reedists David Boykin and Jason Stein, guitarists Emmett Kelly and Jeff Parker, flutist Nicole Mitchell, and percussionists Chad Taylor, Michael Zerang, and Mikel Avery. Live performances rarely use the same lineup twice. “I wanted to make music where I could bring in many people, to have it be musically open, yet still have compositions and be focused,” Abrams says. Represencing was recorded in Abrams’s home studio during summer 2011 (in contrast to the group’s debut, cut in four locations over a couple years), and despite its richer variety of tones and textures it feels more cohesive. The music no longer sounds like it’s from a particular place—Abrams may have Gnawa traditions in his head, but they come out transformed.

Abrams will be joined by Kelly, autoharp player Ben Boye, keyboardist Jim Baker, harmonium player Lisa Alvarado, and drummer Frank Rosaly at the Empty Bottle on Thu 10/4 (part of Adventures in Modern Music), and that same lineup plus Boykin will play a record-release show at the Hideout on Wed 10/10.

Peter Margasak

Next: New amp heads from Emperor Music

METAL: Emperor finally introduce their amp heads

Founded in 2006 by Kris Milkent, Dylan Patterson, Craig Thompson, and Sean Patton, Chicago gear company Emperor Music specializes in handmade hardwood guitar and bass cabinets, drum kits, and instrument cases, all designed with the needs of the underground metal scene in mind. Every cab is road tested to make sure it can withstand bowel-­loosening low end, endurance-testing drones, and screeching electronic noise—and the drums are built to be played so hard there’s a risk they’ll inch off the stage midset.

Emperor has been promising (or threatening) to roll out a line of amp heads for close to three years, and Patton—the noise maker in Indian by night—was pretty stoked to talk to me about it, the day before he left for Wisconsin to deliver one to King Buzzo for Melvins testing. He says a few prototypes have been in circulation for a while: Duane Denison of Tomahawk has one, as do Scott Shriner of Weezer and Mike Sullivan of Russian Circles. An initial run of heads will go on sale at the end of October, and the company will begin taking custom orders in the new year. 

Monica Kendrick