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Feature Thu Sep 27 2007

Rococo Records: Every Day is Valentine's Day

Rococo Records is a mash-note to the vinyl lover in you. Their discography presents a range of records, often quite cute and appealing in appearance, yet full of coarse audio molestations — frightful noise to hateful metal, flustery pop to whiskey'd garage gospel. The music often belies the package's cuteness, yet sometimes swallows it down. For example, the KK Rampage 7-inch tempers its hate with hand-drawn hearts. The Panicsville/Prurient collaborative 8-inch record (not a typo, it's 8 inches around!) allows some sexually-charged gallows humor to seep onto its black-on-black chipboard artwork. Records that might hurt the ears of the more frail can also soothe the eyes with their appealing designs: witness the stolid typeface and deeply satisfying silver ink on navy blue paper cover for the My Cat Is an Alien LP There's a Flame...Sometimes, looking for all the world like a wholly esoteric, long-lost CIA document about extraterrestrial felines. This week, a Transmission biathalon! Two halves of a feature spotlight the all-vinyl, all variety Chicago label Rococo Records. First, my thoughts on four of their locally-flavored records, and then Rococo co-founder Nicole Blaje's thoughts on the whole shebang.


The Music: Four Chicago bands on Rococo Records

Velcro Lewis and His 100-Proof Band: Ruin Everything LP.

Velcro LP

When the band lets out the throttle, they can pummel like prime Fear. Ease back a bit, and they groove with all the hard-fought braggadocio of Seger's early band, the Last Heard. But what really turns the band from 100-proof to "blue blazer" are the vocals of Velcro (Andy Slater) himself, his barrel-chested roar pumping out an air density comparable to any Gary Floyd or John Brannon recording you care to think of. Maybe that's overstating the audaciousness a bit, but not the approach — dude's got a roar for miles and miles. For all that, though, this is a party record (the boys are seen reading old Playboys on the back covers, after all, not Barely Legals), so the micro-groove cutting technology that must've been utilized makes this feel like a three-sided LP on two sides. Buy this from the label, and you'll get it for a ridiculously low $5 ppd! Plus, there are still some copies of the canary-yellow vinyl edition. Ka-booby!

IS: Ostentatiously White 1-sided LP.


Noise newcomer Bryan Tholl takes his 20 minutes to heart and his equipment to task. A drop of the needle brings fearfully tense high-end wailing, instant paranoia waves that grow and grow until... a quick silence. Then some rocks 'n' leaves scrabbling, crunching and crackling down a long Kubrickian hallway until we come to a room where TVs and shortwave radios flick to life in aggressive, nauseous patterns. The harsh noise grows more mid-range and thick as we close the track, the speed and variance of the tones providing a feeling of motion, even if you're passively listening in a chair. 1-sided LPs are becoming kind of a common practice these days, but it's not so common to see someone think out their 20 minutes this fully. "Ostentatiously White" feels like a discreet composition, not a bunch of assorted bits, and definitely not like an uninterrupted jam session, which is why you can listen to it twice in a row, and it still feels like a whole LP worth of content. Available from the label in limited quantities.

Panicsville/Prurient (collaboration): "The Rubber Baron" 8-inch EP.

PanicsvillePrurient 8-inch

There's a lot to like about this record. First, it is an 8-inch record, and you just plain don't come upon that very often. Also, it's on red vinyl — rarer still. But what really puts this one over the top is that it just sounds revolting and wrong at both speeds. I've tried it both ways, and I honestly can't tell which setting is "correct." At 33 RPM, the record drags just a little too lethargically, like a giant with fibromyalgia; 45 RPM turns the vocals into the cries of a chipmunk weeping for lack of winter chestnuts. The electronics work in that always-welcome late '70s/early '80s wheedle that evokes live Throbbing Gristle, pre-Sotos Whitehouse, or really really barren Kraut-synth LPs that only the truly devoted have ever even heard of, let alone heard. Both sides ooze atmosphere (emphasis on ooze), while one side burns with unrestrained vocal horror — the liner notes are all swagger, but the anguished voice tells another story when it's back home after the bar. This is only half Chicago (since Prurient is from NYC), but it warrants a mention and then some. Out of print from label — if you live in Chicago, Reckless Records still has a few, and for you online vagabonds, check RRR or Fusetron, or other places like that. Put in the effort — it's worth it.

KK Rampage: "Sides E & F" 7-inch.

KKRampage 7-inch

For every city, there's at least one local beef, and in this city's case, I don't mean Vienna Beef. KK Rampage gives you two beefs — one per side. Side A (or, rather, side E) is dedicated to the Reader's Liz Armstrong, with some less than delicate titles that indicate, shall we say, a mild disdain. Side B (or, rather, side F) goes out to John Ziemba (ex- The Coughs), and similarly suggests that KK Rampage will not be sharing half of a two-stick Popsicle with John any time soon. The music is fast and spazzy, with a grotty guitar tone that makes everything that much seedier, like overloaded mic stuffed into a $20 stompbox. I don't think it's quite virtuostic in that Brutal Prog way, but its speed and insistence make it cut much deeper than it might seem at first. Plus, like the MC5's "Lookin' At You" single, the heaviness is tempered by true soul. Apparently everybody who reviews things hates this — I find it charming and would invite it into my house any day of the week, even if it reeked of its own jism and Old Granddad. Mucky gray vinyl. Hand-colored insert. Limited quantities available from the label.

Also, check the Rococo website for plenty more hot bands not from Chicago, including Italian drone legends-in-the-making My Cat Is an Alien, metal hammer-horrors Today is the Day, indie tushmuffins Les Savy Fav, and mo-mo-mo-more!

The Words: co-founder Nicole Blaje on Rococo Records

Rococo label heads - Joe and Nicole (and penguin)

Gapers Block: According to your Myspace site, Rococo is run by four people — Joe, Nicole, Tom, and Russ. Who does what? Do all release ideas have to go through the Rococo committee with no vetoes, or do each of you have "pet" bands on the roster?

Nicole Blaje: Rococo Records started off in the summer of '04, when Joe and I lived in California. We were both such rabid collectors of vinyl and failed musicians (Joe as short-lived drummer for 88 Fingers Louie and myself in a terrible high school Riot Grrrl band) that we came up with Rococo as a vehicle for our love of music.

Rococo's birth was between Joe and I, but like all fledgling businesses, we needed another backer, which is where Tom (Joe's cousin) came in. Our roles in the label are naturally structured with our strengths... Joe handles mainly the "business" side of Rococo (dealing with distros, vinyl and printing companies, cost, invoices $$$$) as well as hunting for new acts. My forte is in the "public relations" side, which involves communication/development of nearly all bands on Rococo, updating and maintaining our dumb Myspace profile, keeping the real website filled with gossip, and recently being a novice show promoter for our babies that play in Chicago. Tom was an initial investor and remains as a consultant, while Russ's role is website design/upkeep and a much-trusted opinion for new bands that Rococo should flirt with.

In the beginning, there was definitely a roundtable (literally, usually at a 'za joint) mentality for deciding which bands and releases, but the decision comes down to Joe and I since it is our baby. There were a couple really funny vetoes; one specifically that I can remember is Russ and I arguing about potentially releasing the Coughs first EP at a 24-hour diner. I said NOnoNO and the other three said yesYESyes, but I still believe in the dictatorship of the I won.

One of the tenets that Rococo wanted to practice was trying to have a REAL friendship/relationship with all of our bands/babies instead of just having boring internet interaction and shipping off records. We've been très lucky with every band, except Today is the Day, but that was more of our mistake for dealing with a major label [n.b. Today is the Day allowed Rococo to release the vinyl version of their "Kiss the Pig" album; CD version was on Relapse Records]... we did NOT have the "backstage pass", so to speak, with that band... super "business only" release, and we learned that we didn't want to have that kind of lack of interaction again.

Run-down for our super-nepotism la la love bands would be Joe: Supernova; Nicole: KK Rampage; Tom: Casiotone for the Painfully Alone; Russ: VideoHippos. Rococo wants to be people pleasers...our saying is, "we would spill torrents of blood to give you rivers of diamonds," so each band gets 500% from us.

GB: How has living in Chicago influenced the operations of Rococo Records? Has it affected the makeup of the label roster at all? Do you see any upcoming local bands (or even bands from elsewhere) that you're dying to vinylize?

NB: Everyone in Rococo grew up in Chicago/land area, so when Joe and I moved back after our 3 year sabbatical, it felt like such a homecoming for the record label as well. I've always associated record labels as being very city-centric, and I think Rococo compliments that theory. Chicago is such a diverse city and has a certain sensibility and toughness associated with it. We all wanted Rococo to represent our love of many different types of genres... we NEVER wanted to be a "noise" or "garage" label because that's not indicative of everything that the four of us listen to. Chicago is a lovely representation of that concept because of all the different non-trend oriented scenes that are alive and well here. We also didn't want to pigeonhole ourselves as just a "Chicago" label, not when there's bone-crushing bands outside of our zip codes. Our Valentine to this City/area is our intention to do a MIDWEST 10 x seven-inch box set of the ten bands in the Midwest RIGHT NOW that make us bat our eyelashes. One of the bands that we were super impressed by recently was TV Ghost, who is from Indiana, I think, really young baby donuts (real young, like 19-20) who have that F.Y.P. spirit without sounding like F.Y.P. at all. Another band that made me shake and slide are Drums Like Machine Guns out of Philly...but Badmaster Records got to them first! Seeing them play live made me get out of my head like Fiona Apple, and I haven't had that kind of reaction since I was quoting Whitman in college quads... beautiful band.

GB: What was the original idea behind the "Me Gusta, Me Gusta" 1-sided record series? Was this originally sold only by subscription? Could you tell us what records were in that series? There's one more yet to be released, right? Will there ever be a second series in the future?

NB: "Me Gusta, Me Gusta" was an idea I had while at a sushi restaurant in NYC with Joe and Tom, and on a base level it was our translation of "I LIKE, I LIKE." Unfortunately, it was ill-fated and super cursed, but came from the place of wanting to HIP people to what we liked as a record label; little tapas teasers, y'know? By making each record one-sided, limited to 150 or 200 copies, and a series, Rococo wanted to make yr heart skip a beat every other month. That was the intention, but of course it turned out like a Japanese ghost story...originally the set of 8 was sold as a subscription for $100 postpaid, and once the first two LPs sold out the subscription was discontinued.

The series consisted of:
* Graveyards Night in a Graveyard part 1
* Graveyards Night in a Graveyard Part 2
* John Olson and Spencer Yeh Live at Kathy's Birthday
* Wether Stones and Light
* IS Ostentatiously White
* VideoHippos dolphin
* KK Rampage Without Feelings, and
* Andy Ortmann + John Wiese O+W (which is being released in October 2007)

Right now, there are so many other releases planned that I can't see conceptualizing another series in the near future, but I really like what Rampage Recordings is doing, which is having a ton of split releases where the A-side is the same band...that's like, the best anaconda in the swamp kind of idea. Of course, the "house band" is KK Rampage!

GB: Do you feel bad that many of your releases are out of print, or is the limited-edition nature part of the process? Which out of print record has received the most number of write-ins from people desperate to find a copy? Which of your out of print record should people hunt down first?

NB: One of the Rococo commandments was that we didn't ever want to release anything in an edition of more than 1000 copies, so YES, it's very much a statement of purpose that we want there to be a sense of urgency and appreciation of the records and the artists. It's the same excitement that we have for people that still have record players and are loyal like a lobster to that format... we wanted everything to be personal like a present, which is why I write letters to everybody that orders from us. I wanted it to be 1994 and have sense of a community instead of a vast modernity.

Rococo letters

The one record that sold-out in a week and is probably the most difficult to find is Dead Machines/John Wiese Failing Lights LP, limited to 500. Making dreams come true, Rococo is releasing a follow-up collaboration early 2008 of Dead Machines/John Wiese via a double LP in a gatefold sleeve. No tears! The other record that people spazzed out over was the Prurient/Panicsville Rubber Baron collaboration 8-inch... yes, 8-inch... that vanished in about a week as well.

GB: Tell us about your upcoming releases — I know you've got some really interesting special-format releases coming up. Speculative release dates for any of these?

NB: The best way to keep up to date of all of the gossip and rumors is the Myspace page, which is where I make all of the apologies if a release is running late or there's a hostage situation with a band or if you need creepy pictures of the Rococo crew. The next couple releases are real showstoppers:

* The Feeling of LOVE, "hand clap girl +2" 7-inch (pre-order), which is a one man minstrel no-wave garage band from the French version of Seattle who is obsessed with K. Cobain and M. Jordan

* Bruce Russell, 21st Century Field Hollers and Prison Songs LP (pre-order) and it is a tribute to the spirit of the blues, viewed through a prism of 21st century cultural criticism... dude spells MAN M-A-N, just like we do!

* LES SAVY FAV, "snakes & plagues" picture disc 7-inch (October '07) which is a companion to their "accidental deaths" 7-inch that we's less tragic and more pirate love, oh, and our first picture disc!

* Panicsville super secret 13-inch record... oh no, it's so big! 13 inches! We plan on starting that one as soon as the pressing plant finishes testing out the press!

* The most ambitious release is for BLOODYMINDED, which will be a triple 7-inch box set with silkscreened lunar cycles encased in an embossed LEATHER pouch. The release for the box set will definitely be by the end of the year, we just have to secure my Daddy's leather connection in Mexico...BLOODYMINDED stole our hearts, and I'd like to think that I'm their #4 fan, which is why we're going BALLS OUT for that release. More releases before the end of the year are: LAKE OF DRACULA Skeletal Remains LP, Child Abuse s/t LP, The Cherry Point/ IS split 7-inch, Vertonen/Torturing Nurse split 7-inch, and Factums LP (second full-length).

GB: Many Rococo releases have black vinyl editions and optional colored vinyl editions. Is there any significance to the choices of vinyl colors chosen, apart from looking good with the record jacket? I ask because some of the vinyl colors don't necessarily seem to be the most intuitive choices to go with the record sleeves. That leaves me to believe that some of the colors have been chosen more to reflect the taste or tone of the music in the grooves. Any truth to this?

NB: I adore colored vinyl, especially since the person that makes our records mixes the colors by hand, so you end up with these stunning transitional colors that are cloudy and mysterious. The Rococo philosophy has been "whatever baby wants, baby gets" as far as the artists are concerned, so all of the colored vinyl is decided by the babies on the Rococo roster. Offhand, most of the vinyl colors make sense because of the cover artwork, e.g. My Cat is an Alien sapphire vinyl goes compliments the navy covers...Die Princess Die "s/t" on hot pink is representative of the hot pink moustache cover... ummmm...the KK Rampage "Sides E & F" 7" was a really muddy vinyl from being assorted, which is what the band wanted. Of course, one could wax on that it's visually distorted much like their music, but in reality when yr sitting in Paris with The Feeling of Love, and you ask, "babydoll, what color vinyl do you want for yr 7-inch?" and baby says, "Je veux le vinyle rouge!", that's how the dream comes true.

Web: (includes sound samples)

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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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