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Feature Thu Dec 13 2007

A Quinceanera in Pilsen: Thrill Jockey Turns 15

Fifteen years ago, for those keeping track, is an impossibly large amount of time in music. Fifteen years ago was also a rough time for music. Garth Brooks had another #1 album. A judge in Chicago approved a plan to give unlucky Milli Vanilli customers a three-dollar refund for their album purchase due to the lip-synching controversy. Whitney Houston topped the Billboard charts and forever soundtracked any moment where one person carries another. John Cage died, and Hanna Montana was born.

Yet the year saw the beginning of many good things — Billboard had just switched from phone surveys of record stores (who probably never got free tickets, CDs, or other schwag payola to influence their reports) to the current SoundScan system. One year into the change, Nirvana exploded onto radio and sales charts. Dr Dre dropped his solo debut and sparked the beginning of G-Funk, and Rage Against The Machine made a pretty good effort to convince us music was having a revolution.

Meanwhile in New York, Atlantic Records employee Bettina Richards was getting fed up with the way bands she dealt with were being shuffled around. She quit, formed her own label, and ran it from her apartment. A few years later she made the even more exciting decision to move herself and the label to Chicago.

Feature 12/12

The story of the label's rise has been told before — Tortoise and The Sea & Cake led the label as it became the brand name for post-rock, and then got another heap of accolades for the introduction of Mouse on Mars and other electronica/IDM pioneers. Just as quickly as labels could be applied, artists of every other stripe appeared to grab another niche of fans. Bettina's taste made a label of exceptional quality and with little else in common between its roster artists.

On the eve of its quindecennial, Thrill Jockey has done anything but sit on its laurels. They've started an online music store called Fina (Spanish for "fine") that is being utilized by sixty-some independent labels, including Bloodshot, Tigerbeat 6, Ba Da Bing! Fat Cat and Hometapes. They've also wooed some heavy hitters into the catalog, with The Fiery Furnaces dropping Widow City earlier this year, and with David Brewis of Field Music contributing a new title come February. And as a capstone for the anniversary, they've released a box set of TJ artists covering TJ artists entitled Plum. After a very successful London concert in November, Friday and Saturday will feature dual-stage concerts in Logan Square Auditorium with a dream team of Thrill Jockey favorites, some announced and some kept secret as "surprises" (details below).

Feature 12/12


Tortoise

In honor of a label that's been releasing quality products while some of us were still in grade school, we've collected a handful of memories from Chicago music-peoples to provide a more complete people's history of Thrill Jockey Records.


"In '93 just as Thrill Jockey was starting Bettina let me stay at her NYC apartment (tiny) for a month while I was recording an album. This was unbelievably generous, but apparently not enough of an intrusion for her. At various times over the course of that month I shared the floor with Royal Trux, Gaunt, The Jesus Lizard, and Dan Koretsky of Drag City Records, many times simultaneously. That's when I knew it would be a good label. She likes music too much."

-Doug McCombs
Tortoise


"It's a not so well kept secret that Thrill Jockey world headquarters sits within blocks of Nuevo Leon, maybe the best Mexican restaurant in the history of both Mexico and restaurants. Clearly the succulence of Thrill Jockey as a recording idea is a direct result of their proximity to delicious, reasonably priced queso panela-filled flautitas. And also, Archer Prewitt."

-Paul Thompson
Lead reporter
Pitchforkmedia.com


"When I was 21, my boyfriend at the time bought me a record player for Xmas. The first records i bought for myself were New Plastic Ideas by Unwound, Sonic Youth's Confusion Is Sex, and The Biz from The Sea and Cake. I was all over the map. (an entirely different TJ release! -DM)"

-Mary Nisi
president, Toast and Jam DJs


Feature 12/12

"It was the first time I saw Tortoise, and a dude I didn't know named Nobukazu Takemura (above) opened. He put on an improvised set with four - maybe five - laptops on stage, playing far more energetic stuff than he's known for on record. I saw both from the front row; it was one of the most amazing shows I've ever seen. Since then I've gotten heavily into Nobukazu, bought several of his records, played them on WNUR, and seen Tortoise six more times."

-Nick Disabato
Former producer, Street Beat
WNUR


"I remember getting into the Thrill Jockey Barbeque at Rainbo Club as a plus one. They had the backyard open, and Bobby Conn's little kids were running around - he picked up one of them by their overall straps and it was pretty cute."

-DJ Magic Unicorn
WLUW


"For a time, the office would get into pretty fierce music wars. There's no official order to who gets to put on the next album for everyone to listen to, and occasionally someone would put on something utterly ridiculous. This led up to one week where Howard (Greynolds, now president of Overcoat Records) and Jason would put on musical after musical in an attempt to one-up the other — The Sound of Music, West Side Story, Mary Poppins. It got ugly."

-"The Mook"
Former TJ Intern


"What I mostly associate and remember Thrill Jockey for (and what I admired them for at the time) was for some of the more daring stuff they put out in the mid-‘90s; especially the post-rock and experimental electronic stuff. I remember it really polemicized some people. I was working at a record store when a lot of those records came out, and some of my co-workers were practically indignant in some sort of emperor's-new-clothes sort of way. I'd put Oval's Systemisch on to try it out, and one colleague got pissed. "What's supposed to be so great about this?" he yelled, "All that guy's doing is making CDs skip!" But I thought Systemisch and the first Microstoria albums were incredibly beautiful releases, right down to the packaging — little hermetic sonic universes to sink into. And I still do."

-Graham Sanford
Transmission writer


Thrill Jockey will celebrate its quinceanera with two special shows in Chicago (as well as a November show in London). The lineup for Friday, Dec. 14th's show at the Logan Square Auditorium includes Arbouretum, Brokeback, Bobby Conn, The Fiery Furnaces, Archer Prewitt, School of Language, The Sea and Cake and Thalia Zedek. Saturday, Dec. 15th's show includes ADULT., Fred Anderson Trio, Califone, Eleventh Dream Day, Frequency, Pit er Pat, Trans Am and The Zincs. Both shows will have performances by special guests and concert goers have been warned to "expect the unexpected". Tickets are $25 per day, or if you buy a 2-day pass for $50, you get a complementary copy of a special Super Epic Thrill Jockey Mega Massive Mix CD compiled by Gregg Gillis of Girl Talk and Frank Mussarra of Hearts of Darknesses.

 
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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

Our Final Transmission Days

By The Gapers Block Transmission Staff

Transmission staffers share their most cherished memories and moments while writing for Gapers Block.

Read this feature »

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