During a short (and rare) visit to the US, UK hotshots Joy Orbison and Ben UFO will head to Chicago this Friday to headline Abstract Science's 15th anniversary at Smart Bar.
Abstract Science is a four-hour program that airs every Thursday night on WLUW 88.7 FM (and at WLUW.org). Along with its core group of host DJs, the show has featured hundreds of guest performers, such as Four Tet, Luke Vibert and DJ Krush. Outside WLUW, the Abstract Science crew has been involved in local events and residencies for over a decade, helping to bring to town artists like Monolake, Amon Tobin and Kode9.
RA recently caught up with Chris Widman, one of the minds behind Abstract Science, to discuss the show's history, its many connections to the Windy City scene, "future music" and more:
Tell us about the beginning of Abstract Science. Can you recall the first track you played on the air?
Henry Self and I started Abstract Science on the University of Missouri college station KCOU in 1997, when we were schoolmates in Kansas City, Missouri. By 2000, friend and former KCOU DJ Luke Stokes secured Abstract Science a slot on our current Chicago home, WLUW 88.7FM, the community/college station broadcasting from Loyola University.
The first record we played on air was either "Rez" from Underworld (preceded by the Willy Wonka sample "We are the music makers and we are the dreamers of the dreams..."), or the Wagon Christ remix of 2 Player's "Extreme Possibilities."
How has the radio show changed over the last decade and a half?
Abstract Science's format has changed very little over 775 episodes. New genres have emerged then disappeared, and we've added new co-hosts, but the program is still a combination of traditional radio programming, DJ mixes, live performances and interviews, hosted by hardcore music nerds on a mission to share their favorite records. I'm sure we're also a lot better DJs and announcers now.
We use "future music" as both a mission and descriptor. Our place in the world—an electronic program at a non-commercial indie rock station—gives us the freedom to explore how DJ culture, avant-garde, pop and rock music influence and interact with culture in North America and abroad.
Can you recall some of your favorite parties from over the years?
We helped bring Monolake for his second Chicago appearance at a packed Sonotheque in 2005. Almost everyone there was a huge Monolake fan and typically heavy Chicago drinker. We were lucky to also have a slew of great 10th anniversary shows in 2007 with Amon Tobin, Monolake, Nightmares on Wax and Plaid. A recent personal favorite of mine was the 2011 Surefire Sound tour at Smart Bar, with Africa Hitech (and Mark Pritchard) and Lazer Sword.
You have Joy Orbison and Ben UFO headlining this weekend's anniversary event at Smart Bar. What can a newcomer to Abstract Science expect that night?
We are excited to celebrate our 15th anniversary with two relatively young UK artists making their highly anticipated Chicago debuts. Joy Orbison and Ben UFO mesh well with our own tendency to blur genre lines, and I would expect dancefloor-friendly music at the intersection of UK bass, Detroit techno and Chicago house. When Abstract Science DJs perform live, we usually split up the time and program the music based on the context of the show, which can vary wildly. This night, Luke Stokes, Josh Ferguson and myself will spin.
The staff and management at Smart Bar/Metro have been incredibly supportive over the years. We like their attitude, rooted in punk rock ethos, and dedication to quality music. Going there feels like coming home.
Joy Orbison and Ben UFO (who, it bears mentioning, placed #19 and #21 in this year's Top DJs poll) have two more co-headlining gigs in Washington DC and Miami later this week, and next weekend Ben UFO will also hit Boston, San Francisco and NYC.