The Chicago shoegaze and dreampop scene goes back decades and continues to thrive with a loyal following of fans and bands. With staple bands like Airiel and Astrobrite still hitting the airwaves on the fan groups on social media, and bands still playing on the stages of the city, especially newer bands (like Lightfoils and Panda Riot) carrying the torch into the new millennium, there is no sign that the scene is fading.
On one particular night, two DJs light up the auditory senses of fans in the Chicago area. DJ Scary Lady Sarah and DJ Philly Peroxide host “Shimmer“, a night of shoegaze, dreampop and ethereal music that celebrates the scene that celebrates itself. “Shimmer” has been around for ten years now, and it has become THE meet up for Chicago area band and fan bases. Even gazers from nearby Indiana show up to catch up with friends they would otherwise only see at the occasional show by touring friends. (It is also worth noting that DJ Philly Peroxide and DJ Scary Lady Sarah often grace our ears at music venues while we eagerly await bands to get on stage.)
DJ Scary Lady Sarah recently won Auxiliary Magazine‘s Best DJ of 2016, and DJ Philly Peroxide also hosts “Bittersweet,” a monthly DJ set of goth, new wave, synthpop, cold wave and shoegaze at Berlin Night Club. Together, the supersonic duo also have a band, The Bellwether Syndicate. The band includes William Faith (of Faith and The Muse), Spencer Kiss (former drummer of Airiel), and Paul Sin. Their sound is self-described as “coloring outside of prescribed genre lines, choosing here to push the boundaries of style and substance into something relevant and vital.” It is hard to imagine that such well-versed DJs would confine their sound to a genre, when they could champion it all.
The DJs were asked five questions:
1. How do you compile your set lists? Is there a theme?
Phil: As far as what I play, generally, I don’t think about it beforehand. If anything, there may be a couple of songs that I want to play at some point, but I try to play newer songs a bit more and then go from there.
Sarah: I like to play, if I can, minimum, 70 percent new or current bands. Even though the 80s and 90s of shoegaze was fantastic and great and the foundation for shoegaze now, I like to have a forum and an outlet for bands that can use support now. If there is an old band that I love I will play it. You can hear retro nights for any other genre anywhere, it is much harder for newer bands to get exposure that way.
2. How did you become a DJ? Do you have any favorite memories?
Phil: I probably would not have tried DJing if it weren’t for Sarah. Before I started DJing, I was a regular at [club] NEO and one of the DJs there asked me if I wanted to guest DJ, so I did and then got my own night from there, and the rest is history. A lot of my favorite memories are from DJing for concerts. I always like to be able to open and spin between favorite bands. I have always enjoyed DJing for people that I love. Sarah started Shimmer in 2004, and she was doing it annually and she did that for a couple of years, and in 2010, I was looking into doing something monthly thing with her and we made Shimmer into a monthly night.
Sarah: I started DJing in 1988, so I have been doing this for a very long time. I started DJing at a college radio station at Northeastern Illinois University WZRD when I was in high school. Because I was a bothersome kid, I would call the station and ask to play songs and then one of them asked me to come hang out and see the station and I did ad kind of weaseled my way in, asking questions like, “How does this work?” I started DJing at Club NEO in 1988. My old friend Tom and I were big fans of goth and ethereal music and dedicated a night to doing that and it is called Nocturna and we do it at Metro. I have been a music fan since I can remember. I used to go to sleep with a transistor radio when I was, like 9, so music was a always a big part of who I am.
I lived in Berlin for a while and I would fly in to Chicago every 4-6 weeks to DJ. I did not find much of a shoegaze scene in Berlin, so it was difficult to break in new bands there. I like smaller moments when someone comes up to me and asks what I played, and I find that I turned someone onto something that night. I also like when I play stuff people don’t think you can dance to and I see at least one person dancing. That’s the kind of thing that makes me happy. When people come out, I am happy, and when they don’t, well, I am not retiring from this any time soon so there’s always tomorrow.
3. What/Who are you looking forward to listening to in 2017?
Phil: Right now I am really excited about the bands that are on Saint Marie Records, so I really love the new Whimsical album. I am also really looking forward to the new Seasurfer album, too. One of my favorite albums of last year was Pale Dian’s.
Sarah: Definitely a full length Slowdive album because that single they put out is fantastic. And sometimes bands come back and it’s a little bittersweet, because you really liked that band in the past and it doesn’t hold up, or maybe they are passed themselves, but their single was great. The Whimsical album is great, I just got a copy of that. I love Krissy’s voice. I think it’s angelic. I always keep looking for absolutely nothing the Liz Fraser sings on. My favorite band is Cocteau Twins, so anything that she is singing on I always look for. It’s better than not enough stuff
4. Where do you see the scene in five years? Ten years? Would the scene becoming “mainstream” be a bad thing?
Phil: I have to say that I really do see it growing and thriving. Even since Sarah and I have started “Shimmer” together in 2010, it has changed a lot. It has grown a lot. It’s kind of cool because I see a lot of younger kids getting into it, and they obviously weren’t around the first round, so I just think it is going to get bigger and bigger. It is almost hard to keep up. There is a lot of new music out there. There are bands that I would never categorize as mainstream, but are more popular like Joy Formidable and Dum Dum Girls that kind of have a shoegaze sound. I think it is a good thing.
Sarah: I started doing “Shimmer” as an annual event, and then at the Old Bottom Lounge monthly, and there was a lull in the scene. I picked up Phil in 2010 and in the last seven years it has picked up. Within the last three years it has picked up. It’s hard to get people to come to a club and it is easier to get them to come to a show. But I like getting people to come out. It makes is easier to expose new music to people.
5. Do you have a message for our readers, or the newer generation?
Phil: The biggest thing I always appreciate as someone who goes out and does these things, I say come out and support bands, and events like “Shimmer“. We try to expose people to local bands. Also, look up new music and find new music instead of hanging on to stuff from the 90s. I mean, it is good as a starting point, but try to seek out new music and support new bands.
Sarah: I just hope with all my heart that young people do not get discouraged. Look to love and not hate. Music is a binding medium, so people within a scene will hopefully be able to share their views and keep an open mind.
Phil and Sarah graciously answered our interview questions, and are beyond worthy of the recognition and appreciation they get online and in person. It is their affinity for the scene that keeps something like a music scene glued together as a community. The same goes to the frequent online DJs that grace our social media feeds, and this last kiss is for all of you:
Yogi Shoegazer Duncan; Greg Wilson; Paul Lopez; Matt Catling; Dean Shoegaze Bromley; Chris Tressler; Amber Crain; DJ Heretic; Darren Selector; Erik Void; Luis Rodriguez; Matthew Bedford; DJ Ariel ; Mikkel Borbjerg Jakobsen; Estella Rosa; Ben Marks; Mark Dooley…and the rest of you fanatic DJs. You keep the gaze a-swoon.