While American football fans were busy prepping snacks and pregaming for the largest advertising night of the fiscal year, Joshua Wentz, Cinchel, and Prokharchin – a node of Chicago’s experimental music scene, and ardent Blast Radio broadcasters – congregated at Tone Deaf Records for a trio of live, in-store performances that were simultaneously beamed out onto the Blast Radio airwaves.
Located in the Portage Park neighborhood of Chicago’s NW side, Tone Deaf Records specializes in an array of mainstay and niche genres for vinyl heads and audiophiles, and since 2019 has been giving local musicians a platform to perform for dedicated fans and casual browsers alike. With the gradual decline of community transmission across Cook County, Tone Deaf has been cautiously allowing artists back in to perform, with Joshua Wentz, Cinchel, and Prokharchin among the first to do so in 2022.
Broken up across three sets that all clocked in at under a half hour, each artist was able to reach audiences beyond just those present at Tone Deaf’s brick and mortar location by also broadcasting their performances in real time to their Blast Radio followers.
Tasked with setting the mood for the afternoon, modular synth technician, drummer, and ambient tinkerer Prokharchin kicked off the bill by instantly departing to the celestial plane, taking listeners and audience members on a voyage across an expanse of falling tones and delicate piano notes. Windswept and eerily haunting in character, Prokharchin’s set ebbed between the slow glow of childlike curiosity, and the chaos and destabilizing effects of life’s errant realities. Meandering somewhere between subspace and our collective subconscious, Prokharchin's ability to build and release tension kept audiences rapt throughout.
Channeling a similar ethos to those of midwest ambient/shoegaze greats His Name Is Alive and Lovesliescrushing, Chicago’s Cinchel was up next, using guitar loops and effects to produce dense walls of layered sound that churned under the weight of melodic and emotive forces. By combining complimenting and dissonant voices, Cinchel summoned new tones and choruses to emerge primordially as each subsequent component was added to and adjusted in the mix. As he closed his set with an ominous snippet from a political speech, the performance took on a certain ritualistic aspect.
“Tone Deaf Records was the last place Josh and I played before it all went to shit,” Cinchel shared via an Instagram post in the days leading up to the show. “Looking to reverse the fates.” In the wake of the performance, Cinchel’s set can be inferred as a gesture towards a new beginning.
Tapping into a similar wavelength, Joshua Wentz also returned to that last, pre-COVID performance with Cinchel by playing a few cuts off his apocalyptically-themed previous album Lifted, Into The Depths, which he’d debuted that day back in March 2020. “My album was all about different versions of the end of the world,“ Wentz said, after wrapping up a sequence of spaced-out, autotuned jams landing somewhere between 808s and Heartbreaks and Francis and the Lights. “None of them were about a contagion – mostly sci-fi stuff like, ‘What if we all became digital?’ or, ‘What if the rapture happened?’ So I’m trying not to be so nihilistic and dark with my new project.”
Inspired by the feeling and recollection of experiencing French architecture earlier in life, the back half of Wentz’s set was dedicated to work from his current project, Ronchamp, comprised of expansive and reverb-drenched arrangements that mimicked the dizzying heights and sonorous tricks built into old cathedrals to impart a sense of divine awe and wonder. But these moments of swirling celestial energy were temporary, often giving way to specific piano and synth lines that would punch through suddenly, like a vivid memory in the mundane, before receding back below the surface. Brighter in tone, and seeming to reach rather than recoil, the new material felt like a hopeful departure, with Wentz’s vocals much clearer this time too: less muddled, and more human.
With live music once again trying to find its footing, it’s easy to get wistful for a time before the angst and anxiety of gathering indoors. But if Sunday’s performances denote anything, it’s that artists and audiences will always find a way to connect, no matter the circumstances. While it’s tempting to believe we’re moving towards a world that once again allows for carefree show-going, the luxury of tuning in from home is a game changer for music fans who remain a little less certain.
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