WSUM's annual bash goes heavy on experimental rock. Info
WSUM's annual music bash has had a varied history, ranging from the end-of-school Party In The Park that brought Andrew W.K. and the White Stripes to James Madison Park in the early oughts, to the current welcome-to-school fests usually held at one of the two student unions, or at the now-shuttered downtown club The Frequency. (Full disclosure: This writer was involved with WSUM for several years, including a stint as station manager.) Though there have been times where the lineups truly cater to many genres, usually the focus is on indie-rock, as you would expect to be the case from a college radio station.
This year's welcome-back-to-school fest puts an emphasis on Chicago noise-rock, with headlining sets from Melkbelly and Wei Zhongle. Melkbelly comes out of the Chicago DIY rock scene, and the band's 2017 album Nothing Valley pivots from vocalist Miranda Winters' channeling straight-up Breeders-like melodies on "Cawthra" and "Greedy Gull" to angular instrumentation akin to Boredoms or Lightning Bolt on "Twin Lookin' Motherfucker."
Wei Zhongle's dreamy, bizarre avant-pop builds on intricate grooves, with Rob Jacobs' croon complemented by John McCowen's electric clarinet loops. The ensemble shines in the interplay among members who are well-versed in collaboration: bassist Pat Keen plays with pop musician Ryan Power and art punkers Guerilla Toss; Phil Sudderberg plays in celebrated jazz reedist Ken Vandermark's project Marker and performs with Jacobs in the noisy duo Barn Duet; McCowen is a composer with his own releases on Sudderberg's label Gilded Records.
Don't expect all Chicago-based rock, though. Minneapolis-based The Florists make fun, danceable punk that alternates between tight riffs, deadpan vocals, and a couple of nice guitar freak-out sessions. And Madison-based Joey Bee, co-founder of a burgeoning nightlife organization for queer folks, will spin tracks as DJ Boyfrrriend. —Chali Pittman