News Column

Digging deep into North Coast lineup

August 23, 2013


My first glance at the North Coast Music Festival lineup left me unimpressed. There were headliners whose names I recognized, but only a few I really knew well enough to go see.

Sure, Passion Pit puts on a good show, and Capital Cities has that one song on my workout playlist. But I haven't consciously listened to anything by the Wu-Tang Clan since my college roommate moved out senior year. And I know Nas and Purity Ring, but I couldn't name a song by either.

Out of all the music festivals the Chicago area has put together this summer, I was thinking maybe I had found one that wasn't really for me.

But then I started noticing names I had heard before; artists making appearances on other festival lineups or on show posters. Maybe the headliners were the draw, but these supporting players were really the highlights.

That's when JC Brooks and the Uptown Sound skipped across my Spotify playlist. Born in 2007 when lead vocalist JC Brooks answered a Craigslist ad by guitarist Billy Bungeroth, the band gathered Andy Rosenstein on keyboards, Vernon Hills native Kevin Marks on drums and Ben Taylor on bass to create a sound that's unique but at the same time familiar.

Steeped in funk but trained post-punk, these guys know how to bring the rhythms and the energy. They dabble in harmonies, but the jams aren't slowed down by them, as evidenced on the bluesy cover of Wilco's "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart." They punctuate the song but still keep it upbeat, like a dance-party for the left-behind. You feel the loss and the anger, but you still want to swing to the up-tempo beats. You feel the passion in the oh-so-personal lyrics, but it's always tempered by a Jackson Five bounciness, like on "Rouse Yourself," off their recent album "Howl."

I can only imagine the punch they pack for a stage show.

On the other end of the spectrum, Kings of Class are climbing to the top of the electronic dance music pyramid. Wheaton natives Bobby De Maria and Erik Johnson (DJ Tsunami) have been working the turntables since 2007 independently, but after sharing the stage on numerous outings, they found a camaraderie and a shared love of house music.

While the guys are young and still learning all there is to know about their chosen craft, they have emerged as quite a draw on the club scene and have been invited across the country to play in hot spots in Miami, New Orleans and San Francisco.

Their combined knowledge of catchy hooks and how to get a crowd moving is what's putting them at a top spot leading into the headlining set Friday night.

And as festgoers know, that's a good place to be.

North Coast Music Festival runs Friday through Sunday, Aug. 30- Sept. 1, at Union Park, 1501 W. Randolph St., Chicago. Three-day passes are sold out, but some two- and single-day passes are still available. See

* Brian Shamie is a Daily Herald copy editor who is starting to venture outside of his musical predispositions. He writes about the summer music scene every Friday.

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