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Interview Thu Sep 19 2013

A Strange Victory: Derek Becker on Life Lessons, the Hideout, and the Best Rock Band in Chicago

Derek Becker is behind some of Chicago's best and most unique bands. He's not a musician, nor a producer, nor some wealthy benefactor of local music. He's an agent, and through the Strange Victory Touring Company, the agency he cofounded in 2011, Becker is responsible for getting great and strange music to the populace: Crime and the City Solution, Daniel Knox, Silver Jews, M.A.K.U. Soundsystem, Mucca Pazza, and dozens more artists from around the world.

Hideout Block Party_9705164992_l.jpg

The Hideout is the beloved "home base" of the Strange Victory Touring Company and the venue of SVT 2.0, its weekend-long anniversary party Thursday through Saturday. Photo: Joshua Mellin

Now, after ten years, Becker is retiring from the industry, just as Strange Victory celebrates its two-year anniversary with a weekend full of shows, branded SVT 2.0, at the Hideout. I'm fortunate to call Becker a friend, and we met at Bang Bang Pie & Biscuits in Logan Square to talk about the lessons he's learned, the artists he's loved, and what you should check out this weekend.

How did you choose the Hideout for your anniversary party?

The Hideout is a special place to me because it's an incubator for the art scene in Chicago. Most of the people who work there play or write music themselves. Some of the first people I started working with as an agent ten years ago worked there, and the second anniversary party of my first company was at the Hideout. It's kind of like home base for me. Out of happenstance, I realized that I was going to be at the Hideout most of the week seeing artists I represent, so I just decided to make it our party and invite my friends to come celebrate the music that I was excited about. It's a way for me to be an evangelist for these bands.

If you had to tell people to come to one of the shows, which would it be?

The Dustin Wong and CAVE show. It's Dustin's first show back in the States after moving to Japan — well that's not entirely true, there was one in Austin — but it's his record release show. Both CAVE and Dustin are artists you have to see live. They both deliver mind-altering performances. I should also add that I think CAVE is hands-down the best rock band in Chicago.

And Saturday there's both a show and an after party?

Yeah, the after party I'm really excited about. Both of the artists playing represent kind of what my focus has been in the last chapter of my career, which is working with artists that aren't from the United States but live here and don't play traditional world music. So that'll be a big dance party.

You have a lot to celebrate with SVT. What prompted you to leave?

It's been a fun ten years. I feel like I found my niche as an outlier. Agenting is a sales position, and I've never really been comfortable with that element of it. I'm not trying to change anything — I'm just at a point in my life where I care less than I ever did about what will sell. The whole point, from the beginning, was to do things from a place of authenticity. But there's a niche to be filled, and I'm really excited about Luke [Knee] and Nicole [Yalaz] — my partners at Strange Victory — their energy, and what they're gonna do for their clients.

What have you learned being a booking agent that you'll bring to your next project?

The things I learned I learned from the artists I worked with--how they approached their craft and followed their own intuition. And flexibility. Night after night, you have to accept the situation you've walked into, regardless of how much choice you've had in it. You can choose to make the best of it, or you can get mad and burnt out.

Do you recall any artists you fought really hard to represent?

Khaira Arby. She's a singer from Timbuktu, Mali, and I saw her play a little African bar in Montréal during POP Montréal. I think she played a two-hour set that night, and from start to finish, it was mind-blowing. She was probably in her 40s at that point, and she had the pipes of Aretha Franklin. Her manager was Chris Nolan, who's responsible for Caravan for Peace [who played Millennium Park last Saturday], and he was pretty protective of Khaira and pretty cynical about the music industry and culture of music consumption in North America, as was I--as am I. So it took a while to earn his trust. In fact, I was watching her with Erika Elliott, who programs SummerStage in New York, and we were both talking to Chris afterwards. I asked him for a CD, and he wouldn't give me one, but he gave her one unsolicited (laughs). It took me a couple of months to wear him down and convince him to let me take a chance.

Have you ever thought about opening up a music venue?

For a minute, Bobby Conn and Brian Berkowitz and I were pipe-dreaming about buying this place on Fullerton and Pulaski called the Levee. It could easily be turned into a small music room. But that was short-lived. If I were to ever to do it, it would not look like a typical venue. I wouldn't do seven nights a week. The goal would be to keep music rare and not have something happening every night, where you need to have a band to play just to have them play because that's what the room does. From my perspective, the room is supposed to support the art, not the art support the room.

SVT 2.0 Anniversary Party
Thursday Tyvek and B L A C K I E, 9pm
Friday Dustin Wong and CAVE, 10pm (record release)
Saturday Scout Niblett and Dope Body, 9pm
After Party M.A.K.U. Soundsystem and a surprise guest, doors at 10pm

All shows are at the Hideout, 1354 W Wabansia Ave., $10, and 21+ except for the after party, which is at the Burlington, 3425 W Fullerton Ave., and $8 (with free PBR at midnight).

 
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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.

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