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May 22, 2012

Variety of bands play at WHPK

It was heard, not seen. Tucked into a corner of the quad amid food stands, moon bounces, and (not necessarily sober) Summer Breeze revelers, Saturday’s WHPK show had a single puny stage. The alternative concert hosted five bands and covered almost every genre in the independent music spectrum, from costume-clad girl bands to Southern punk-rock acts.

WHPK, UChicago’s radio station, has put on a live concert during Summer Breeze for over 15 years. Since the station specializes in independent music, it deliberately chooses bands that frequent its own on-air roster. For example, Wiccans, a punk-rock band from Denton, Texas, was chosen as the group ranked first on the station’s charts throughout 2011. According to former station manager fourth year Sophia Posnock, “We book the bands based on what our DJs play and what makes our charts, and what bands we personally would like to see play.” Most of the crowd around WHPK’s Saturday stage was peripatetic, using the bands’ music as a soundtrack for casual carnival-browsing instead of dedicated audience membership, though some sidled in for a closer listen when particularly lively bands played.

Wiccans was one of the show’s more intense acts. Rapid percussion aided frantic guitars and mostly-tuneless vocals, typical of the “hardcore punk” sound the band tries to embody on its website. Presumably playing music from its new EP, Teenage Cults, Wiccans’s muddy sound quickly clashed with the surrounding laid-back atmosphere. While some stayed to hear the band out, repetitive drum kit iterations failed to ingratiate the group to most of the Summer Breeze throng.

Fortunately, the girl-fronted Californian band The Sandwitches provided a welcome contrast to Wiccans’s stringent sound. The trio played summery songs, mixing clever, folksy guitar with breezy lyrics and lazy percussion; all were appropriate for the 80-degree weather and festival attitude of the carnival. While Wiccans was chosen for its popularity, Posnock said The Sandwitches was chosen for its members’ gender: “Since I play mostly girl bands on my [WHPK] show, I refused to book a show without at least one girl band,” she said.

Though the bands at the show didn’t share the same sounds, they sometimes, strangely, shared members. Video, for example, includes musicians from, among other bands,Wiccans, and also hails from Texas. Video’s sound was more laid back than Wiccans’s, as traditional rock instrumentals joined more restrained singing.

Two local bands were booked to join the show as well. Chicago’s own Brain Idea is already a WHPK favorite, the band having released albums on Chicago-based label Permanent Records. Brain Idea played mostly dreamy pop-rock songs; while most couldn’t manage to overcome the surrounding noise of the carnival, the atmospheric vocals at least provided respite for those gathering around the stage. The Man, the other local act, includes three WHPK alumni. According to Posnock, two of the members had their own shows while at the University, and one was the station’s librarian.

While the WHPK show may not have completely overshadowed the other Summer Breeze activities, it did at least highlight five independent bands along a quirky spectrum of relative fame. In particularly good taste was the choice of two local bands; seeing as the day’s larger concert featured all out-of-state acts, it was interesting, and encouraging for U of C musicians, to hear two homegrown bands. As Posnock said, “We like to support the good bands in Chicago.”

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