Chris Widman runs the frankly outstanding Abstract Science radio show (airing on WLUW-Chicago) which has been one of Chicago’s finest radio shows for the last 15 years. His knowledge and passion for local and international music has made him one of the city’s finest exports, so naturally it’s an honour to be able to premier his latest mixtape as part of our podcast series.
This tape is taken from the astonishing warm-up set he performed ahead of SBTRKT’s headlining spot in November last year at Bottom Lounge. Tying together the latest afro-electronic, footwork and bass music hybrids with 90s jungle and house, Chris Widman is a walking encyclopedia of modern electronic music.
And when he’s not educating the city of Chicago he is a mainstay of the legendary underground Smart Bar as well as one half of Quadratic along with Colin Harris. We caught up with the man himself using the futuristic powers afforded to us by the internet. Here’s what he had to say:
1. For those of us not familiar with Abstract Science, tell us a bit about your mission statement.
Abstract Science is a long-running weekly radio show on WLUW-Chicago, along with the accompanying web presence, supportive crew. “Future music” is a term we’ve used over the years to describe both our content and mission, but, on a practical level, breaks down into our tagline: “a weekly explorations of innovative electronic music and its roots.” Music nerds sharing records they love.
We all started out in the early ’90s midwest US rave scene, where you’d find funky dance music on main systems and weirdness in the chill-out room. It was a wonderful mess of sounds and influences: homegrown house, techno, hip hop (and industrial even), right alongside jungle, ambient, idm and acid jazz imports. Add 15 years of broadcasting on college/indie rock radio stations and the end result is a constantly evolving dialogue about what’s going on currently in Chicago clubs, European scenes, the US indie rock circuit, UK pop, Norwegian jazz, Jamaican dancehall, post-industrial ambient, dubstep, etc.; the music’s roots in avante-garde, jazz, funk, rock, dub and disco; and how it all intertwines and influences each other. You’re just as likely to hear a mix of neo-footwork tracks, the new Amon Tobin or MC Zulu, as a Tangerine Dream record from 1974 followed by a David Axelrod tune that DJ Shadow sampled.
Electronic music–and dance music in particular–has a short memory and long history. By sharing our own process of discovery (“wow, the original recording is even better than the track that samples it”) and personal experience (“this new Bok Bok track reminds me of a wicked old Relief record”) we hope to help fill in the gaps for the listening public. “Future music” then becomes this continuous process where the new techniques, technology and ideas of yesterday, inform the musicians of today and predict sounds to come.
We also act as independent promoters for live shows and club nights, collaborating with other crews, the city of chicago and venues like Smartbar/Metro.
2. How did you find yourself helming a radio show?
Radio was incredibly important to us. It’s important to remember the internet as we know it (the world wide web), was only invented in 1992. Widespread use of internet audio and mp3s didn’t follow until ’98-’99. Until then, the resources for discovering electronic and other underground music in the USA were limited. Unless you lived in one of the biggest cities, you were lucky to have a small number of venues, record stores and radio stations. Growing up in Kanasas City, Missouri, my schoolmate (the other founder of Abstract Science) Henry Self, and I were just barely that lucky. The venues were irregular–veteren’s halls, warehouses and coffee shops–but there was a great record store (7th Heaven) and two radio stations (KKFI and KLZR) with interesting music programs at night. The most important was a Sunday night program called “Nocturnal Transmissions”, hosted by Ray Velasquez (who now DJs in NYC). Velasquez started in the early ’80s and his sense of history and programming greatly influenced those who listened in the region, including, a frequent 14 year old caller, Chrissy Murderbot.
Henry and I were DJing and throwing raves by the time we went to the nearby university and where we immediately applied to the college radio station KCOU. It took a year or so of hard work combating militant indie rock snobbery, but Abstract Science finally debuted in January 1997, and we haven’t missed a week since. Another KCOU DJ, Luke Stokes, moved to Chicago to work for Martin Atkin’s lnvisible Records and secured us a spot on WLUW (a community/college station broadcasting from Loyola University on Chicago’s north side), where we’ve been since 2000.
3. So often when projects like blogs and radio programs start, they change and grow with the musical landscape. How has AS evolved over the years?
Even though the musical landscape has changed dramatically, Abstract Science is very much the same. We’ve improved our skills over the years and seen many genres evolve, but the program is still a mixture of tradional radio programming, dj mixes, live sets and interviews, showcasing new and important music. Our main audience is still chicagoans driving around in cars.
We used to be religious about archiving the program for streaming, but the explosion of online audio–plus radio station construction and my 3.5 year stint helming the dubstep nights at smartbar–forced us to take a break with the archives. Instead, we are developing a more produced/condensed version of the show intended for a worldwide audience.
4. How did you get started? What inspired you to get involved with music?
I have to credit my older brother Mike with inspiring a love of records. I inherited his tape collection–including every Led Zepplin album–and it imparted a sense of music as something precious. Around the same time I started playing drums in the school orchestra. Then, I remember running into Henry on the playground, and we bonded over some metal band (probably Poison or Metallica, it was still the 80s). Eventually he convinced me to sign up for a record club and we traded music all the time. Henry tried to sell me on “techno, but I hated it, preferring punk, ska and hip hop until my senior year of high school.
It was 1995, and I had just finished up an intense 4 years leading my school’s marching band drum line. We went to an afterhours DJ party in the basement of a clothing shop, where I heard jungle for the first time. The frenetic drum programming just grabbed me right away. The next day I bought Shy Fx and UK Apachi’s “Original Nuttah” 12″ and a Speed Limit 140 BPM+ compilation on vinyl. A few weeks later Henry, myself and two other friends bought turntables and a sound system off a retiring hip hop DJ. Learning how to beat match with old school jungle proved difficult, so I bought two house records (on Cajual) and mixed them back and forth until learned how to control the turntables.
5. What are your plans for the future?
We have ambitious plans for our 15th year: a new website, syndication and more video/audio pieces. Our press/web manager, Kim Schlechter, has shot and edited several artist profile videos and we are looking forward to shooting more at Mutek 2012. We’ve added another co-host to help out with weekly programming, Joshua P Ferguson (also nightlife editor for Time Out Chicago). I try to DJ at Chicago venues at least once a month, under my own name or with the others as Abstract Science DJs. We’ve had a good year so far: opened for Tycho in January, The Flashbulb in March, Modeselektor in April and upcoming Apparat @ Lincoln Hall in May and in June, US dubstep don Joe Nice @ Smartbar. Hoping to put together a special anniversary event or two for the summer and fall.
Last but not least, I produce music and perform live with Colin Harris (absci webmaster) as Quadratic and we should have a couple more releases and remixes coming out in 2012.
6. Tell us a bit about your work outside the radio show.
I work for a student publishing company at Northwestern University. I’m schooled as a graphic designer, but I end up being a jack of all trades: running IT, training students and other things less fun. My favorite part of the job is designing posters and train ads for NU’s Block Museum of Art and Block Cinema; have been able to work with so many amazing images.
01. Leviticus – The Burial (Chronic 3-Philly blunt)
02. Quadratic – Ringing (Dubplate)
03. Brenmar – Done (Don’t Luv Me No More) (Hum And Buxx)
04. Kubo – Twisup (Crunchtime)
05. Buraka Som Sistema – Vem Cutir (Komba-Enchufada)
06. Africa Hitech – Out In The Streets (93 Million Miles-Warp)
07. Reso – Her Eyes (Civil)
08. A1 Bassline – Falsehood (Dirtybird)
09. Thomas Bangalter – What To Do (Trax On Da Rocks-Roule)
10. Dubble Dutch – B Leave (Unknown To Unknown)
11. F – Slow Down (7even)
12. Anstam – In The Bull Run (Dispel Dances)
13. Telefon Tel Aviv – Sound In A Dark Room (Hefty)
Here is Quadratic’s remix of ‘The Vibe Is So Right’ by Chrissy Murderbot and MC Zulu.