CUSP Magazine: Winter Issue 2014

Cusp2013

CUSP Magazine is a Chicago based publication focused on helping up and coming creatives gain exposure for their brand and products. Our company is a collective of highly motivated individuals who work together to bring a new voice to the creative community.

SHOP FOR UNIQUE GIFTS IN OUR 2014 HOLIDAY GIFT GUIDE

CUSP

MAGAZINE

WINTER ISSUE 2014

+

// WHITE MYSTERY//

//THREADLESS//

//ALE SYNDICATE//

//PILSEN ART DISTRICT//

//FEW SPIRITS//

//ROCK HOUSE//

//BEERMISCUOUS//

//UPTON’S NATURALS//

//IGNITE GAMING LOUNGE//

//NUNCA DUERMA//

//THE LEMONS//

//ELEE X//

//HURT EVERYBODY//

//DR. AMARA ENYIA//

//SEEDKICKS//

//CURB NINJA//

//STILL SANE//

cuspmagazine.com


CUSP

MAGAZINE

PUBLISHERS

SHAWN GOBURN

JOSEPH WENSELL

ART DIRECTOR & PRODUCTION

JOSEPH WENSELL

EDITOR-IN-CHIEF

ALLISON MATYUS

CONTRIBUTING WRITERS

CHLOE AIELLO, CHLOE DOHERTY, KRISTINE CIRSENIS, SEAN LAWRENCE,

STEPHANIE HERNANDEZ, TIFFANY DILLON, TJ DEVOE, ZACH MILLER,

LIZ PETERSON, TYLER QUICK, SHAWN GEE, ALLISON MATYUS,

DANIELLE MASTERSON

CONTRIBUTING PHOTOGRAPHERS & VIDEOGRAPHERS

AARON DOLAN, BRENDA HERNANDEZ, DANIELLE JONES,

FELICIA SAADE, JIHOON WOO, KARIN HASLINGER, MATTHEW MZROZINSKI,

MATTHEW THOMPSON, RYAN KLUMP, TYLER QUICK

ADVERTISING SALES

advertising@cuspmagazine.com

Find us at

f M w

ESTABLISHED 2014


INSIDE

WINTER 2014 ISSUE

22

OUR COVER STORY

Tyler Quick sits down with the creators of Honey Buttered

Fried Chicken for a conversation on this Chicago hot spot.

COVER, INSIDE & DEPARTMENTS PHOTOGRAPHY BY MATTHEW THOMPSON


DEPART

MENTS

8 ON THE RADAR

Few Spirits, Upton’s Naturals, Beermiscuous

14 TECHNOLOGY SPOTLIGHT

CurbNinja, Seedkicks

18 ENTREPRENEURSHIP

Elee X

30 BREWERY FEATURE

Ale Syndicate

38 BUSINESS SPOTLIGHT

Rock House, Ignite Gaming Lounge

44 BUSINESS FEATURE

Threadless

52 POLITICS

Dr. Amara Enyia

56 MUSIC

New Releases, The Lemons,

Nunca Duerma, Hurt Everybody,

White Mystery

72 ART

Pilsen Art District, Still Sane

84 HOLIDAY GIFT GUIDE


PUBLISHER’S NOTE

For our Winter 2014 Issue Cover Story we sat down with the creators of Chicago’s

Honey Buttered Fried Chicken to talk about where they started and where they

aspire to go in the future. It’s a fun and informative read on their take of Fried

Chicken, history and staff.

Debuting in this issue is a department we call “On The Radar,” which gives

insight to companies in Chicago that you should be aware of. Few Distellery,

Beermsiscuous, Upton’s Naturals, Curb Ninja, and Seedkicks kick it off.

Other features include the entrepreneur, musician, artist, and community activist

Elee X, Dr. Amara Enyia who is truely an inspiration, Chicago’s craft beer maker

Ale Syndicate, and the ultra cool T-shirt maker Threadless.

Are you a gamer? We put a spotlight on Ignite Gaming Lounge— an awesome

spot worth checking out.

Music, music, and more music. We start off with new releases coming out this winter,

a piece on Chicago’s latest darling band— The Lemons, Hurt Everybody—a

Hip-hop act poised to breakout, Rock House and their unique take on Music

Education, Nunca Duerma, and a full feature article on the brother-sister rock

band White Mystery.

Pilsen’s Art District is now the “go to” destination to see cutting edge visual art

in Chicago. We feature the neighborhood, the artists, and galleries that will make

you want to check out what’s happening in this exciting scene.

Still Sane? Well, we have an article on this subject featuring fashion, art, and

music that will make you want to be a part of this movement.

In closing out the issue, we provide you with a Holiday Gift Guide featuring some

unique gift ideas.

On behalf of the CUSP Magazine staff, we extend our very best wishes to our

readers for a happy holiday season and a prosperous 2015 and thank you for

reading.

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CUSP MAGAZINE WINTER ’14 ISSUE


MUSICDEALERS

MUSIC LICENSING

for the independent artist

License Your Music for TV, film, commercials and more.

Write Custom Songs for Specific Projects and Campaigns.

License your Official Music Videos.

Put Your Music to Work.

musicdealers.com


ON THE RADAR//FEW SPIRITS

8

FEW SPIRITS

WHISKEY BUSINESS

CUSP MAGAZINE WINTER ’14 ISSUE

Written by Danielle Masterson

Photography by Brenda Hernandez

Situated in a clandestine back alley, patrons who enter FEW Spirits get the sense

they are walking into a speakeasy; however, the obscure establishment is anything

but. Those who are able to locate the craft distillery may be surprised to find that the

spirits produced in this humble warehouse have an international presence -- a far cry

from most first impressions.

Creating gin and whiskey using locally-sourced grains, FEW opened its doors in

Evanston in 2011. Evanston, the home to prohibition, makes for an unlikely place for

a distillery, given it was an infamously a dry city until 1972. But for founder/distiller

Paul Hletko, it feels like home (maybe because he lives two blocks away).

Another thing close to home? The brewing business. Hletko’s Jewish grandfather

ran a brewery in Czechoslovakia until the Nazi’s took over during World War II. So

when his grandfather passed in away in 2008,

Hletko decided to hang up his lawyer suit, put on an apron and continue the

family business. But instead of beer, Hletko settled on gin and whiskey.

The idea did not take long to catch on. FEW Spirits are available in bars as

close as The Publican in Chicago and as far away as Australia. They can be found

in about fifteen states, as well as several European countries, Hong Kong, Thailand

and Japan, to name a few.

One of FEW’s staples is its Rye Whiskey. Once cracked open, there is an instant

hint of citrus. It offers a well-balanced combination of fruity and woodsy (think

bubbled-over apple crème brulee) that leaves a warm finish. Long story short, there’s

a reason it’s the winner of Whiskey Advocates Craft Whiskey of the Year Award for

2013.

FEW’s other handiwork includes gin, white whiskey, and aged bourbon, with

small batches of limited-editions tossed in. Like the namesake, Hletko concentrates

on a few different spirits, with a focus on quality.

For $10, visitors can tour the facility, often led by Hletko himself, see the grainto-glass

production process and sample spirits that are arguably as rich as FEW

Spirit’s history.


CUSP MAGAZINE WINTER ’14 ISSUE

9


ON THE RADAR//UPTON’S NATURALS

10

UPTON’S NATURALS

CUSP MAGAZINE WINTER ’14 ISSUE

ALL AMERICAN VEGAN

Written by Danielle Masterson

Photography by Matthew Thompson

I’m your typical, cheeseburger loving American. I grew up in Michigan and wasn’t

exposed to a lot of exotic food choices. Family dinners consisted of a rotating menu of

chicken, spaghetti, and meatloaf. It wasn’t until I moved to Chicago that I tried my first

piece of sushi or enjoyed a jiberito. But Chicago has a way of taking a fodder-sheltered girl

and making her an open-minded, adventurous eating woman.

I sat down with Upton’s Naturals’ Nicole Sopko, a dedicated vegan since the age

of sixteen. Unlike what some may picture a vegan to be like, Sopko is a lot like any other

Chicagoan. She enjoys walking her dog, practicing yoga, and eating good food. And as it

turns out, Sopko and I have a lot in common. After talking with her I learned we grew up

in the same metro Detroit city and attended the same university. Who knew vegans were

just like you and me?

Vegan life got off to a rough start for Sopko. When she first began her journey in

veganism in Michigan, there were not as many options available and she really wanted

to change that. Today, she is the Vice President of Upton’s Naturals, a company that

manufactures a vegan meat alternative called Seitan (pronounced say-tan). For the last

eight years, Sopko and her partner Dan Staackmann have been making and distributing

Seitan, a process that involves rinsing the starch away from wheat and retaining the protein.

The duo thought it would be even more rewarding to have a restaurant and have

customers experience eating their recipes firsthand, so they opened Upton’s Breakroom

in West Town. It’s a vegan eatery that left me pleasantly surprised by how normal and

American the menu is. I happily sampled customer favorites like the Fried Bacon Mac

(bacon Seitan), the Italian Sanwich (Italian Seitan served Chicago style), and let’s not

forget the chocolate shake, sure to bring any boy (vegan or not) to the yard.

My favorite was the Korean Tacos, made with homemade kimchi, Seitan marinated

in Korean BBQ sauce, crowned with avocado and cilantro atop a tortilla. They are packed

with flavor, contain just the right amount of zest and the tangy sauce is perfection. For

$6.00, you get three.

Upton’s Breakroom has managed to take an unfamiliar idea and have it not only fit

right in, but stand out because it’s that good. It’s a place for vegans, vegetarians and even

carnivores who enjoy the occasional Meatless Monday. It’s a café for people who like good

food, started by two normal people who dreamt of more vegan options. It’s the American

Dream, served up vegan style.


CUSP MAGAZINE WINTER ’14 ISSUE

11


ON THE RADAR//BEERMISCUOUS

BEERMISCUOUS

CHICAGO’S LOVE AFFAIR WITH CRAFT BEERS

Written by Danielle Masterson

Photography by Matthew Thompson

Beer /bir/ noun: an alchoholic beverage made by brewing and fermentation from

cereals, usually malted barley, and flavored with hops and the like for a slightly bitter taste.

Promiscuous/pruh-mis-kyoo-uhs/adjective: demonstrating or implying an

undiscriminating or unselective approach; indiscriminate or casual.

Beermiscuous: the idea of being open to exploring new beers; not being married to just

one specific beer.

12

The concept is simple, there are too many beers in the sea, why be faithful to just

one? Paul Leamon, owner of Beermiscuous, said he noticed the lack of loyality to beer and

ran with idea.

As an entrepreneur , Leamon wanted to start a business he was passionate about and

what he thought was much needed: Good beer, sans the the loud music and rowdy crowd,

with a coffee house like setting: à la beer café.

With 375 beer bottles on the wall and 12 on tap, it’s easy to have a wondering

eye. But if you need a matchmaker, Beermiscuous has several beeristas on hand, as well

as a handy chart that helps you narrow down your type, based on your color preference

(amber, brown, etc.) and type (IPA, Porter, Stout, and so on).

The color code in the beer coolers, simplifying the search. It’s not eHarmony, but

it’s pretty damn close. There are plenty of fish in the sea at Beermiscuous, hailing primarily

from the Midwest.

The beer café proudly touts the fact that they have the largest selection of local craft

beers in the bar industry. From popular breweries like Lagunitas and Revolution, to up and

coming brands like Only Child and Une Année, the selection can be overwhelming, but in a

good way.

If beer isn’t a good enough excuse to stop by, then consider the fact that it’s BYOF:

Bring your own food. Customers can grab a pizza from across the street or bring in mom’s

lasagna. The beer café also receives a fair amount of food deliveries.

Beers are available for consumption on premise or patrons can take their selection

to go. So whether you have a seat with a Backwoods Bastard or take home a Raging Bitch, the

choice is up to you.

CUSP MAGAZINE WINTER ’14 ISSUE


CUSP MAGAZINE WINTER ’14 ISSUE

13


TECH SPOTLIGHT//CURB NINJA

Photography courtesy of Curb Ninja

CURBNINJA

IT’S EASY RIDING FOR URBAN MOTORCYCLISTS WITH LAUNCH OF NEW APP

Written by Chloe Aiello

14

Meet Fred Lebed and Tim Hines: two tech-savvy motorcycle enthusiasts who are

revolutionizing the parking experience for motorcycle and scooter riders in Chicago and across

America. What with knockdowns, towing, and ticketing, parking in any major city can pose

quite the threat to those who choose to commute on two wheels. With the launch of their clever

new app, CurbNinja, Fred and Tim hope to provide users access to safe and reliable parking

anywhere in the city. CurbNinja launched in April 2014 and remains the first app of its kind to

benefit the growing audience of urban motorcycle and scooter riders. Compatible with Android

and iPhone (and free to download), the Chicago-based app has been well received in the city

and its suburbs, which are home to a particularly loyal and diverse motorcycle community.

CUSP MAGAZINE WINTER ’14 ISSUE


“Countless clubs and organizations hold

events on a weekly basis and also host some of

the largest rallies in the country,” Fred said. The

integrity of the community depends, in part, on

ease of parking; people living and riding just

outside of the city can feel somewhat isolated.

“We didn’t think that something like

parking should be a deterrent for riding in

the city and [engaging with] the motorbike

community.” CurbNinja works with the GPS

in your smart phone to provide localized,

interactive maps of user-tested and confirmed

parking spots. “Anyone forced to park their

motorbike in an urban area has to be aware

of the hidden gems that most people would

overlook...these are the spaces either too small

for automobiles or just too confusing with local

laws,” Fred continued. Once a user finds a spot,

he or she is encouraged to tag it on the map and

include a photograph and description. Relying

on crowdsourcing alone can be ruinous to a

startup, but Fred and Tim sought to circumvent

the problem by unleashing a team of stealthy

“spot ninjas” into the streets to supplement the

growing pool of user-identified parking. “We

loved the idea of being stealthy enough to find

these spaces and take advantage of them—this

is how the “ninja” mentality was born.”

Fred and Tim met at the University

of Illinois where they studied very different

majors but found that their varied strengths

and mutual love of motorcycling made them a

fearsome team for the development and launch

of CurbNinja. Fred, a 2003 Ducati Monster

rider, acts as “Chief Operations Ninja” and

handles operations and strategic planning while

Tim, proud owner of a 1986 Yamaha Maxim,

handles marketing and advertising as “Chief

Marketing Ninja”.

The road to CurbNinja’s development

has not been without speed bumps, as the

concept is still innovative in the mobile

application marketplace. According to Fred, the

most daunting challenges come in the form of

technical development and target advertising.

Success, too, can be difficult to quantify.

“We look at not only the amount of users but

also [at] the feedback we get from the motorbike

clubs and organizations that we engage.”

Having already expanded to San Francisco

since launching in spring, 2015 promises

more exciting developments for CurbNinja.

Ultimately, Fred and Tim would like to see

CurbNinja expand to every major city where

urban riders struggle with parking. Until then,

users can look forward to next year’s update,

which will include a Windows-compatible

version of the app and a new revenue model,

offering premium features in exchange for a

small fee.

CUSP MAGAZINE WINTER ’14 ISSUE

15


Photography courtesy of Seedkicks

TECH SPOTLIGHT//SEEDKICKS

16

CUSP MAGAZINE WINTER ’14 ISSUE


SEEDKICKS

WEBSITE PLANTS SEEDS FOR FUTURE BUSINESSES

Written by Allison Matyus

Everyone knows about crowdfunding websites that help raise money for start-ups or ideas,

but what about those websites themselves? Seedkicks is one such funding site that takes the idea of

helping campaigns to the next level.

The Seedkicks team works with clients throughout the entire campaign process, acting as

both a resource and giving guidance on best strategies for start-ups.

“The problem we saw was that crowdfunders tend to be underprepared and lack a solid

plan leading to failed campaigns,” said CEO Emily Collins. “Successful crowdfunding campaigns

require a solid plan, ample preparation, dedication from start to finish, and fully leveraging your

network. That’s where we come in.”Seedkicks helps with the design of the campaign, financial

approaches, marketing plans, and brainstorming to make for a unique and more hands-on

crowdfunding site.

Although based in California, Seedkicks helps blossoming Chicago businesses, such as Curb

Ninja, a motorcycle parking app. Collins said most of the companies that come through Seedkicks

are product based, which in general are the most successful.

“Crowdfunding is sometimes synonymous with tech gadgets, but it can also be a great tool

for small businesses. Seedkicks has worked with various fashion companies, food trucks, and many

other startups,” she said.

As an entrepreneur herself, Collins is all too familiar with starting a business. With only four

people on the Seedkicks team, they get a lot of work done for the amount of campaigns that come

in.

“We pride ourselves on great customer service and working with our clients throughout

the entire process. We are currently working on ways to scale that model due to high demand,”

Collins explained.

She said the crowdfunding industry has helped realize her own goals. After working in the

corporate world, she started learning about crowdfunding and wanted to be a part of it.

“I knew I wanted to have my own business ‘someday’, but I always thought you had to save

your money and gain experience before starting your own company,” Collins said. “I wanted to

be at the forefront of a booming industry.”

Her boyfriend, a fellow entrepreneur himself, gave her the courage to go ahead with her

idea of Seedkicks and, as it goes, “the rest is history.”

CUSP MAGAZINE WINTER ’14 ISSUE

17


Elee

XThe

Photography by Matthew Mzrozinski

Art

Written by Shawn Gee

of

HU$TLING


ENTREPRENEUR FEATURE/ELEE X

In this day and age, it’s very important to create your own world.

You must go after what you want and have the courage to take risks

and be creative with them. Elee X is doing just that, with his brand,

business, and message. Elee X, a 24-year-old originally from Harvey,

IL, takes the meaning of an entrepreneur to the next level. His journey

thus far has given him the tools needed to not only succeed in business,

but become a leader in the Chicago art community and beyond.

I first met Elee in 2009 as one of the founders of the hip-hop

collective, Impolite Society. Impolite was a rebellious group of young

rhymers that spoke of parties and drinking, as well as life responsibilities

and their view on the world as a whole. Their dynamic is what drew me

to them, not only as musicians, but as individuals. Though the group is

on a slight hiatus, Elee continued to push the core message of the group

forward single-handedly.

While working as both artist and Manager with Impolite Society,

Elee curated events, handled budgets and bookings, and organized

members of the group to ensure success. That mixed in with his work

with community organizations, such as Albany Park Neighborhood

Council, Howard Area Community Centers as the Gang Intervention-

Prevention Specialist and Educator, and currently, as a mentor with

Centers for New Horizons in Bronzeville. It’s no wonder that he has a

lot of experience, knowledge and drive to help not only himself, but the

people around him be better at what they are striving to achieve.

20

CUSP MAGAZINE WINTER ’14 ISSUE


Then in April of 2014, Elee opened elee.mosynary gallery. The

gallery is located on 645 W 18th St. in Pilsen, and is so much more than

just another gallery. The name “Mosynary”, which means “charity”

or “to give”, explains what is happening within the spot. The location

merges art, photo/video work, a music studio, and acts as a meeting

ground and a creative space for those who are aspiring to express

themselves in a peaceful atmosphere. The gallery has thrown over 25

events ranging from art exhibits such as Still Sane, to music events like

Alive and Well, and panel discussions.

With the lack of a solid location for the urban creative community

to work on their projects and ideas, Elee’s gallery serves as a collaborative

location for creative people to get together and work on projects or

show the world their art. The gallery stands as a refreshing addition

to the Pilsen Art Walk on Second Friday’s every month. The energy

that the gallery has built, along with it’s diverse events is something that

chicago has needed for a while.

Elee sees himself as a leader in the art community as well as the

city itself. He has plans that include helping the fashion and hip-hop

communities, opening a vegan cafe, and organizing various programs

designed to help Chicago youth realize and accomplish their goals

through art and creativity. With all these goals, look to see Elee X as a

name associated with Chicago’s Creative Community for a long time

to come.

CUSP MAGAZINE WINTER ’14 ISSUE

21


FRIED

for the

Written by Tyler Quick

Photography by Matthew Thompson


CHICKEN

SOUL


COVER FEATURE//HBFC

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If anyone is worried that the

increasing power of the organic and

sustainable food movement is going

to impinge on their fried chicken

habits, Honey Butter Fried Chicken in

Avondale should dispel any concerns.

When I walked in the doors a

little bit before 3:00 p.m. on a Saturday,

the whole place was packed. I barely

could find a place to sit. Young parents

and roving bands of hipsters were

weaving in and out of line, ordering

more appetizers and snacks while

their friends and children licked honey

butter off of their fingers.

HBFC, located at 3361 N.

Elston Avenue, is the project of

veteran Chicago food gurus Christine

Cikowski and Joshua Kulp. They

opened their doors in September of

2013 and quickly gained respect in

culinary circles for responsible eats

that still taste great.Even before HBFC

came to be, its co-founders were well

established in the Chicago culinary

scene, most well known for their

Sunday Dinner Club.

Since 2005, they’ve managed a

secretive dinner venue that feels less

like a restaurant and more like a family

meal.

“We wanted to be a part of the

[dining] experience,” Christine said.

“We would cook, serve, clear the plates,

making connection with the diners.”

After having worked in other

places in the restaurant industry, the

duo realized that there was a lot of

space for more community focused

dining options. Customers and owners

alike were looking for a restaurant

model that felt less like a food factory

and more like a community. The

Dinner Club allowed them to combine

fresh, local, and healthy ingredients, a

more intimate experience between

CUSP MAGAZINE WINTER ’14 ISSUE


CUSP MAGAZINE WINTER ’14 ISSUE

25


COVER FEATURE//HBFC

diners and staff, and an aesthetic and atmosphere that was less consumption-driven and more about

community. Word of mouth helped the Dinner Club grow quickly. Now, nine years later, foodies across

the city covet an invitation to dinner with Josh and Christine. Although the Dinner Club is still inviteonly,

its lists of diners have grown exponentially over the past decade and events are held monthly

for broke but determined food loving hipsters, families, corporate groups, and just about anyone who

can manage to get an invitation. The Dinner Club was where the concept for Honey Butter began.

As they tell the story, one summer night when they were serving fried chicken with cornbread cakes,

they accidentally spilled the honey butter meant for the cornbread on the chicken, but decided to eat it

anyways. When they discovered how delicious it was, Christine said she ran back into the dining room,

frantically advising her guests that they had to try the chicken with the honey butter on top.

I have to agree with their assessment. The chicken is an amalgam of many flavors that complement

and contrast one another perfectly. I was seduced into eating five pieces and a chicken sandwich. The

chicken coated in a heavily seasoned and spiced flour mix that reacts really well with the sweet, salty

butter. It isn’t the only contrastive flavor combination on the menu. Wisconsin cheddar cheese, spicy

pepper, and “garlicky crumbs” are mixed into one of the best macaroni and cheese combinations I have

ever tried. They also have a cream corn that is mixed with a little bit of Thai coconut green curry that

would be perfect to slurp when you get a cold, brownies infused with spicy paprika, a lemony coleslaw

variation they call “kale-slaw,” and of course, lots of innovative iterations of fried chicken.

“We were consciously seeking

restaurant. “We wanted to crea

holistically fulfilling for us and

26

I am pretty partial to the Honey Buffalo Chicken Sandwich, their take on the classic buffalo chicken

sandwich. But, you can’t go wrong with The Original Fried Chicken Sandwich either. It’s covered in

candied jalapeño mayonnaise and served on a warm buttery bun. There are vegan and vegetarian

options on the menu as well, including the Fried Onion String Sandwich.

Even non-vegan eco-freaks can rest easy that they are not screwing up the world with their

consumer choices. The produce at HBFC is environmentally sustainable and locally sourced as much

as possible (as Josh reminded me that there are no pomegranates in Illinois). They buy their chickens

whole from Miller Amish Farms in Indiana and butcher them in house. The chickens are humanely

raised, antibiotic free, and raised in the kind of socialist utopia environment that I wish that I lived in.

They fry it in non-GMO, trans fat-free canola oil, so it’s healthy, or at least as healthy as fried chicken

can be. The rest of the chicken is put to use too, with the bones being put into chicken stock that they

use to make their gravy and soups. They even sell the oil they cook the chicken in to be used as biofuel.

“We were consciously seeking an alternative to the normal restaurant,” Christine said. “We wanted

to create a restaurant that was more holistically fulfilling for us and the people who work for us.” The

feeling of community pervading the atmosphere at HBFC go beyond their commitment to sustainable

food. I was impressed by service at Honey Butter as I was asked multiple times if I needed anything by a

nice young bartender with the most luxuriant mustache I have ever seen. I was tempted to ask for more

chicken or a second Chocolate Toffee Cocoa Nib Cookie, but I had probably already consumed more

calories than I would burn off in a week

CUSP MAGAZINE WINTER ’14 ISSUE


an alternative to the normal

te a restaurant that was more

the people who work for us.”

that day, and it is boyfriend-hunting season after all.

Instead, I sipped on an Avondale Ginger Mule,

a sweet and limey gin-based take on the Moscow

Mule, and a Smoky Derby, which is Rebel Yell

Bourbon mixed with smoky paprika syrup and

grapefruit. The cocktails run about $8.00 on

average, so they’re cheaper than drinks you could

get of a similar caliber at most bars. HBFC takes

whiskey seriously, offering several regional brands,

including Chicago’s favorite bourbons like Few

Spirits and Bulleit. There are also wine and beer

options available for those who aren’t trying to get

too turnt while they eat their fried chicken. The

bar space is cordoned off from the main area by

a thin hallway. The mood is noticeably different

between the two spaces as well. The lighting is a

little dimmer in the back and a bar wraps around

the walls. Young adults seemed to flock to this part

CUSP MAGAZINE WINTER ’14 ISSUE

27


COVER FEATURE//HBFC

of the restaurant, while families and teenagers make up more of the population near the front. Honey

Butter is not only a good business plan. It’s also a manifesto and a social betterment project for everyone

involved. The commitment to social justice extends beyond their ideology about food. Christine and Josh

assured me that they are “pretty progressive business owners.” They give their employees a good wage,

health benefits, and livable working hours.

They also try to do what they can to develop their staff’s leadership potential. Not only should the

food be sustainable, in their view, but the business as a whole needs to be something that can last and that

means having others who can take charge, develop ideas, and lead when they aren’t around. Although

the original chicken recipe is still 95% the same as it was when they started, they encourage their staff to

be creative with food and drink ideas. “We want [our employees] to have good careers, good lives, and

we want to spark their creativity,” Christine said. “Our focus has shifted to day to day,” Josh added in.

28

CUSP MAGAZINE WINTER ’14 ISSUE


“We are still focused on our

food, but they cook the food the way

we all decided it should be cooked.

We’ve all collectively decided on how

it should taste.” They both played coy

when asked if they planned to expand

in the near future, so for now we will

have to assume that the only location

you can get HBFC is at its location

in Avondale. However, after years

of acclaim in the Chicago culinary

realm, we can assume that Christine

and Josh are going to continue to be

examples for other aspiring restaurant

entrepreneurs of how to combine

community building and sustainable

cooking into a successful business

model. In training their staff to be

creative and community focused, we

can be sure that whether or not they

expand HBFC or the Dinner Club, that

they will have a big impact on future

leaders in the restaurant industry. One

can’t help but wonder if that might be

one of their underlying goals as well.

“Christine and I would like to

think that we are spiritual advisors—

culinary spiritual advisors,” Josh told

me.

“Culinary priests!” Christine

exclaimed.

“Culinary rabbis,” Josh shot

back.

It’s clear that these two are

passionate about their restaurant. They

are not only the purveyors of delicious

fried chicken, but also community

leaders committed to making Chicago

a more socially just place. Honey

Butter offers not only an innovative

take on one of the city’s favorite dishes,

but also a social betterment project for

their customers, staff, and community.

For more information, and

to order online, visit http://www.

honeybutter.com/.

CUSP MAGAZINE WINTER ’14 ISSUE

29


CHICAGO’S

New Classic Brewery

ALE SYNDICATE

Makes Craft Beer Better

Written by Chloe Aiello

Photography by Brenda Hernandez


BREWEREY FEATURE//ALE SYNDICATE

Walking west on Diversey Avenue toward the Green

Exchange, it is difficult not to notice the sleek new building, standing

out conspicuously among other industrial constructs on the corridor.

Entering through the front door is forbidden. Access requires a

detour to the side of the facility, which is marked with glossy insignia.

Once inside, a rudimentary outfit contrasts starkly with the polished

exterior. Well-circulated air reeks with the must of fermentation and

white noise from engines powering five massive fermenters belays

the ears—without even a fully functional bathroom, it’s incredibly

minimal, but a more practiced eye could imagine the tasty fruits

born of such industrial labor. This is the new home of Ale Syndicate.

Opening a brewery in Illinois, a state renowned for its over 83

craft breweries, is ambitious work, but brothers Jesse Edwin Evans

and Samuel Evans are up to the challenge and making their mark

in Chicago’s craft brewing community. The Evans brothers pride

themselves on producing fresh, original takes on traditional beers,

with a homespun Chicago feel.

As their beer very much reflects, Jesse and Samuel are

Chicagoans to the core, but they got their unlikely start in brewing in

another of America’s beer meccas, California. Chasing his dreams

out west, Jesse, then 23, landed in Sonoma where he got involved

with the wine industry. Jesse readily admits he initially aspired to

make wine, “Winemakers that I started befriending when I got out

there really made me feel like I wanted to be a winemaker when I

grew up, but they were the ones who introduced me to craft beer.” In

a region that lives and bleeds wine, the locals need a little something

extra to help them kick off their shoes at the end of the day. “When

they get off work, they’re popping open west coast double IPAs.

Craft beer is the thing that they relax with.” After their

introduction to craft beer, it was love at first sip for the Evans brothers

and their obsession took swift hold. They began volunteering at local

breweries and seeking out mentorship in the creative, technical and

business aspects of the beer industry. Their hard work paid off in

2006 with the launch of Lucky Hand Brewing, a backyard brewing

operation-turned contract company. Born out of a partnership with

colleagues they met in the wine industry, Lucky Hand produced

regionally and historically authentic beers, particularly lagers. “We

were making an unfiltered, unpasteurized beer [in California] that

was very much what would have been drunk in the saloons if you

had been around there prospecting for gold,” Jesse said. The Cali

Common lager to which Jesse referred, was a steam beer that went

on to win the prestigious bronze medal in the 2012 American Beer

Cup. Bolstered by success and fueled by proceeds from the buyout

of Lucky Hand, Jesse and Sam then headed home to pursue their

dream of opening a bigger, more successful brewery with a distinct

Chicago feel.

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BREWEREY FEATURE//ALE SYNDICATE

34

“We were always separated from Chicago… the [California] lifestyle was really fun but we missed

this city,” they said.

Operating under the provisional name, New Chicago Beer Company, they set up shop in “The

Plant”, a zero waste, indoor vertical farm located in Chicago’s Back of Yards. They had hoped to be

operational by March of 2012 and set the lofty goal of producing 12,000 barrels of beer within their first

year. However, due to high starting costs and complications with the building’s constant redevelopment

and shifting brand ideology, April 2012 saw them moving their operation out of the plant with no product

to show for all of their troubles. When asked about the company’s current stance on sustainability, Jesse

now says, “Its incredibly important to us. We want to make sure that we make beer, really excellent beer,

and we want to make sure we do right by the environment and right by the people. But its not who we

want to be known as and that’s what happened. We got known as the eco-brewer.” Their current outfit,

as of 2013, a slightly smaller 10,000 square foot facility in Logan Square, is much more suited to their

current needs and is, of course, operational.

By the time Jesse and Sam began renovating the Diversey building, another of the grueling

challenges they faced when getting started, their two-man operation had grown. “We wanted to create an

identity that was as true as we are,” and that meant representing the team that had helped them get so far.

Of their last and most recent name-change Jesse said “Ale Syndicate is the group of people that

make this happen, that are all passionate about beer.” After acquiring the building at the Green Exchange,

brewing was not possible right away, so even then the nascent Ale Syndicate had to rely on other friendly

brewers to kick-start their operation. The first few batches of beer required offsite brewing at the Chicago

Big Brewing Company’s facility in Zion, IL and that of Galena Brewing Company in Galena, IL.

CUSP MAGAZINE WINTER ’14 ISSUE


March 18, 2013 marked the triumphant release of

Richie Imperial Porter. Powerful, smooth and complex,

Richie was named Beer of the Week by the Chicagoist

just days after its debut—a sweet success for the rough and

tumble brewery. Boasting notes of cherry and chocolate, but

drinking less like a meal than your typical 8.0% ABV draft

porter, Richie was a hit and rightfully so. The seasonal beer

went over so well that, by popular demand, Ale Syndicate

celebrated the re-release this past November with a party

at Miss Murphy’s Bistro in Irving Park. On draft at the

event was a firkin of Richie Imperial Porter steeped with

Metropolis coffee beans. When combined with Richie’s

cherry-chocolate boldness, the deep, nutty notes of the

coffee sent tasters into a toasty nostalgia, reminiscent

of fall days in Chicago past. Another of Ale Syndicate’s

ingenious peculiarities is their penchant for creating tiny

batches of incredibly unique blends, frequently born out

of collaborations with other local Chicago companies.

Once the firkin at Miss Murphy’s runs dry, there will

be no more coffee bean-soaked Richie in all of Chicago.

Needless to say, Richie’s release set an admirable

precedent for what was to become their current “portfolio.”

A few months after their inaugural release, Ale

Syndicate, which had by then grown to a five-person

operation, announced two additional beers: Municipal

IPA in Spring 2013 and Sunday Session for summer.

Municipal IPA is another of what Sam calls a

“traditional style with a twist” and outsells their second

most popular beer, Sunday Session. A single hop beer,

Municipal packs that distinctively hoppy, IPA punch while

maintaining a pleasant, drinkable balance of flavors.

Initially, it was brewed using a hop variety called

Cascade. After Cascade became scarce, shortly after the

first few batches of Municipal were made, the brothers

shifted their tactic, still retaining their dedication to single

hop brews, but on a rotating three-month cycle. The

hops variety selected for the current batch of Municipal

is aromatic and mildly spicy with floral notes. Despite

constantly shifting hop varieties, the Evans brothers hope

that maintaining consistency in all other elements of

brewing will reinforce quality and brand recognition while

also educating their audience about beer.

The appropriately named Sunday Session is

another of Ale Syndicate’s permanent collection. Falling

slightly higher on the spectrum of alcohol content than a

traditional session beer. The appropriately named Sunday

Session is another of Ale Syndicate’s permanent collection.

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BREWEREY FEATURE//ALE SYNDICATE

Falling slightly higher on the spectrum of alcohol content than a traditional session beer.

Sunday Session weighs in at 4.8% ABV, making it the lightest beer in the collection. Sunday Session

is sweet though not overtly complex-a wheat beer and pale ale hybrid reminiscent of peach juice.

“It is the beer we would like to be drinking ourselves,” Jesse said, sharing an apparently popular

sentiment. Sunday Session was so well-liked after its release in Summer 2013 that one of the first

bars to serve it requested it stay year-round.

Alongside Richie Imperial Porter, Municipal IPA and Sunday Session, Ale Syndicate currently

serves Petrillo Pale Ale and Van de Velde Belgo-Pale Ale, as well as boasting an arsenal of specialty

beers that rotate seasonally.

Even after initially struggling to establish their brand in Chicago, it still wasn’t always rainbows

and hops for Ale Syndicate. “With our previous brewery we did all self-distribution. We knew when

we started [Ale Syndicate] we wanted to make a lot more beer, but we had to find a distributor,” Jesse

said.

Legislation after prohibition illegalized the common practice of brewers selling directly to

consumers, resulting in a three-tier system that causes a lot of headaches for small craft breweries.

Ale Syndicate luckily has a flexible arrangement enabling them to maintain ownership and control

over their product and choice of retailer.

Dedication to community building is another of Ale Syndicate’s priorities, as is demonstrated

by their unique relationship with the effortlessly trendy Arcade Brewery. Arcade Brewery operates

out of the same building as Ale Syndicate, legally sharing the space through what is called a rotating

proprietorship.

Ale Syndicate Brewery is the one of the first in the state to have a legal designation and a

license for this unique provision that enables them to host tenant brewers. “When [the tenants]

are making beer, they are legally responsible as if they owned the whole place,” Jesse said. Arcade

brewery produced their first bottled six-pack this past October, three years and six months since

Ale Syndicate and Arcade Brewery struck up their partnership. “For the first year they are getting

themselves set up as a brewery and then someone else can come in here and do that. We are building

more of a community that way.”

The foreseeable future looks bright for Ale Syndicate. In Spring 2015, they will open their

doors to the public with a fully functional taproom. To source the menu, they will work with local

chefs and food establishments. Further expansion, however, is not part of their plans. “I would love

to be one of the main beers in Chicago,” Jesse said, “But I’m not trying to take over the world.” Ale

Syndicate’s dedication to unfiltered, unprocessed and incredibly high quality beer effectively limits

distribution to local retailers and enforces a slim shelf life to stay true to the quality over quantity.

Beyond that, they are fiercely loyal to their hometown and hope to contribute to Chicago’s

culture and appeal as a destination for extraordinary food and drink. With an in-the-works

taproom, partnerships with start-up breweries, a constantly shifting roster of locally-sourced creative

collaborations and a headstrong dedication to making only premier quality beer, Ale Syndicate has

already set the bar incredibly high for themselves. But if anyone can succeed, it is this ambitious,

seasoned group that is carving out their presence in the Chicago craft beer industry.

When asked about motivation for the none-too-easy road ahead, Jesse referenced the quote

posted on the doorway of his makeshift office and employee lounge: “Make no little plans; they have

no magic to stir men’s blood.” Drawing inspiration from the historic Daniel Burnham, city planner

for Chicago, Ale Syndicate looks fearlessly toward a bright and tasty future.

For more info, go to http://alesyndicate.com/.

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CUSP MAGAZINE WINTER ’14 ISSUE


BUSINESS SPOTLIGHT//ROCK HOUSE

ROCK HOUSE

NEW CONCEPT IN MUSIC EDUCATION SERVES FRESH INSPIRATION DAILY

Written by Chloe Aiello

Photography by Matthew Thompson

38

If you are the type of Chicagoan who enjoys your latte with a side of rockabilly and pairs your black

coffee with black metal, you’ll find Chicago’s best music venue and café hybrid isn’t in Chicago at all. Part

coffee shop and part music school, the Rock House in Wilmette, IL shakes off the stuffy conventionalism

of traditional music education to turn its young students into the music industry’s next generation of

fearless rock-stars. This neighborhood fixture, founded by band mates and co-owners, Rob Mueller and

Chris Karabas, offers house roasted coffee, an array of music classes, and live and impromptu shows that

bring out the whole community in celebration of all things rock n’ roll.

CUSP MAGAZINE WINTER ’14 ISSUE


Illinois natives, Rob Mueller and Chris Karabas

grew up deeply entrenched in American rock music

culture. Chris always had a penchant for country and

tried his luck as a singer-songwriter in Nashville before

returning home to the Windy City. It was there he met

Rob. “Chris and I started a band about 12 years ago, here

in Chicago,” Rob said. “[That’s how] we came into the

idea of the Rock House and said, you know, ‘lets open a

music school’.” The Lucky Jackson Band, to which Rob

referred, in true Americana roots rock style, writes and

produces all original material and frequents prestigious

venues across Chicago including, of course, the Rock

House. “It’s two of the owners getting up on stage. We

like to play with our band and with the kids.”

At Rock House, however, the spotlight belongs not

to the bands that come to perform, but to the musical

philosophy that has fueled the school since its inception

in 2007. Through the unique curriculum, Rob and Chris

aim to impart upon students a different approach to

music education, one that places primary emphasis on

fun.Traditional music programs too often alienate their

students by emphasizing repetition and technique as the

basis for development.

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BUSINESS SPOTLIGHT//ROCK HOUSE

“We have taken the idea of the school of

rock to the next level...we wanted to make

it more of a hangout for everybody.”

40

Traditional music programs too often alienate their students by emphasizing repetition and

technique as the basis for development. At Rock House, students are taught to enjoy music. “We start

by hooking them. Then when we’ve got them, we can really fine-tune them, “ Rob explained. To that

end, they view their talented faculty as producers and their students, who consist primarily of Wilmette

children and their parents, as artists. They aim to have their students performing on-stage and recording

in-studio as soon as they are ready. “Seeing the progress of the kids and having the community come out

for them, especially in Wilmette, really is the best litmus test for success, ” Rob said.

Aside from an innovative approach to education, the branding and aesthetic of Rock House also

contribute largely to its uniqueness. Album art lines the staircase leading up to the music school and

instruments litter the walls, while the glow of opulent chandeliers enhances the warm, eclectic ambiance.

A full-service cafe occupies the first floor, which also serves as a performance space seating for 30-40 fans.

In the back of the café, patrons can purchase Rock House branded merchandise for sale alongside

house-roasted coffee blends, cleverly named after different genres of music, such as the Rockabilly Blend,

Classic Rock Blend, and Unplugged, the decaffeinated offering. “We have taken the idea of the school of

rock to the next level...we wanted to make it more of a hangout for everybody,” Rob said.

CUSP MAGAZINE WINTER ’14 ISSUE


The live music that drifts out of the storefront

and all the way down Central Avenue, certainly does

contribute an urban vibe to the suburban town.

In the next 5-10 years, Rob and Chris hope to

see Rock House expand to several more locations,

including one in downtown Chicago. Already this

past October, Rock House took over the Wilmette

Metra station with its tasty offerings. A new, larger

facility is also in the works in Glenview. “We

would like our coffee brand and experience to be

marketable. We would like many different locations

but always [operating] in the same vein and spirit

as the original, never corporate,” Rob said. If their

business plan is nearly as successful as their teaching

methods, they will soon see their dreams for Rock

House realized.

When in the suburbs, this funky little fixture

is not to be missed. Stop by and catch one of the

family friendly shows they book every Friday and

Saturday night or take the plunge and sign up for a

class. Rock House currently offers Soccer Mom to

Rocker Mom, a 4-week evening class for cool moms,

Intro to Music, a 6-week multi-instrumental course

for 5 to 8 year olds, and private and semi-private

lessons.

For more info and to check out classes, go to http://

therockhouseinc.com/.

CUSP MAGAZINE WINTER ’14 ISSUE

41


BUSINESS SPOTLIGHT//IGNITE GAMING LOUNGE

IGNITE

GAMING

LOUNGE

Written by

Shawn Gee

Photography by

Brenda Hernandez

42

CUSP MAGAZINE WINTER ’14 ISSUE


Since 2002, Ignite Gaming

Lounge has been the go-to place

in Chicago for as a “social gaming

experience” as described by a coowner

Sam Oanta.

Ignite is a place for game

enthusiasts to come together and share

a space where they can be passionate

about their hobbies and meet others

who share those same passions. Ignite

also offers private Rock Band studios

for those who might not be interested

in first-person shooting games, but

want to share a fun experience with

friends. It’s easy to spend the day at

the lounge, especially considering

their snack bar which has options

from paninis to milkshakes.

The lounge considers itself

to be welcoming of the modern day

gamer, while other similar businesses

style themselves as more of an oldtime

arcade with pinball machines

and other games rich with nostalgia.

Oanta explains Ignite’s support

for niche markets such as Dota 2,

League of Legends, Call of Duty,

and fighting games for Nintendo,

Playstation, and Xbox consoles.

Ignite hosts local tournaments

and qualifiers for national tournaments

which are recorded live on the website

Twitch, which allows users to watch

the screen that the gamer is using

along with their commentary of what

they see on the screen. Twitch is a

streaming service which was bought

by Amazon in September and has

over 60 million viewers each month

according to their website.

ignitegl.com

CUSP MAGAZINE WINTER ’14 ISSUE

43


Threadless: Make

Written by Allison Matyus


Great Together

Photography by Matthew Thompson


BUSINESS FEATURE//THREADLESS

At first glance, the headquarters of Threadless, located on 1260 W. Madison St.,

looks like an urban art gallery rather than a booming business. Colorful graffiti line the

outside walls and tall windows give a tiny peek into the growing company. Once inside,

the flamboyant colorful array of art takes a second to fully grasp. Hundreds of Threadless

t-shirts hang from the ceiling, and huge installations of robots and cats stand guard. There

is a ping pong and foosball table, as well as a photo shoot set up, where all photos for the

website are taken. More graffiti and art cover the otherwise white walls as a receptionist

greets you.Welcome to Threadless HQ, a unique business headquarters that mixes business

with pleasure and is artistic in everything they do. They are best known for their artistic

t-shirt designs and are growing in numbers. With over tens of thousands of visitors to the

website daily, and 1,000-3,000 pieces of art submitted each week, Threadless has made a

name for itself in the Chicago tech, art and fashion sphere. I was able to chat with Marketing

Coordinator, Kyler Geib, along with founder and CEO, Jake Nickell, about the success

story of this booming business. “Our motto is ‘make great together’ because it’s really a

combined collaboration between the artists and ourselves,” Kyle explains as he walks me

through the vast warehouse, full of thousands of t-shirts in all colors and sizes. I was able to

chat with Marketing Coordinator, Kyler Geib, along with founder and CEO, Jake Nickell,

about the success story of this booming business.

“Our motto is ‘make great together’ because it’s really a combined collaboration between the

artists and ourselves,” Kyle explains as he walks me through the vast warehouse, full of thousands of

t-shirts in all colors and sizes. I was able to chat with Marketing Coordinator, Kyler Geib, along with

founder and CEO, Jake Nickell, about the success story of this booming business. “Our motto is ‘make

great together’ because it’s really a combined collaboration between the artists and ourselves,” Kyle

explains as he walks me through the vast warehouse, full of thousands of t-shirts in all colors and sizes.

The headquarters also operates as a retail store from 9-5; patrons use computers near the front desk,

order from the website, and someone brings the order out from the warehouse.

46

CUSP MAGAZINE WINTER ’14 ISSUE


Couches and comfy seating are spread out everywhere on the first floor, as a creative thinking

space for Threadless employees. This is where we sat to talk about the multi-faceted business model

that is Threadless. “I really like this,” I said, holding up a soft pillow with a rainbow design and a

cheery, smiling rain cloud. “That’s actually one of our t-shirts,” Kyle said. “Mostly everything around

here is art that has been designed by Threadless artists in one way or another.” I felt like I was in a hip

gallery instead of the lucrative headquarters for a creative business, but that’s the great aesthetic that

Threadless emanates. The story behind the business and the creative collaboration on all levels is what

makes Threadless on the cusp.

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BUSINESS FEATURE//THREADLESS

A: So in your own words, what is the main idea behind Threadless and its model?

K: The main purpose of Threadless is to be the best place for independent artists from across the world

to make money from their artwork and we do that through the website and our platform. The way it

works is artists from all over the world can submit their work to Threadless and then their artwork goes

up for scoring in the scoring section. We have just about 3.4 million users on the website that are scoring

designs and picking the stuff that they like. We take the highest scoring stuff and we print it on t-shirts,

iPhone cases, wall art, and other canvases like that but true to form, the t-shirts sell the most. We have

always been known for our t-shirts since we started in 2000 and we have expanded the product line

through the years with t-shirts always being the foundation of that.

A: Why choose t-shirts in the beginning?

K: The way this all came to be was that Jake was participating on a website called dreamless.org. It was

a place for people that were interested in coding and websites as well as people that were interested in

art to hold discussions, so kind of like a forum. What happened was, Jake decided that through that,

he wanted to host a design challenge on dreamless as a fun way for everybody to participate and come

up with a cool t-shirt for dreamless. He hosted what would technically be the first Threadless design

challenge right there on dreamless. A few people submitted t-shirt designs and everybody voted on the

ones they liked the best. He then printed them on t-shirts and everybody that participated got one. From

there, that was kind of the spark that went on to be Threadless.com. So essentially Threadless is a blown

out, more intricate version of this idea. At the time, Jake was in art school, but he ended up leaving once

Threadless took off and ended up taking his time. He ran threadless out of his apartment for the longest

time too.

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A: Did you always want to own your own company? How does one even begin to get into the entrepreneur

business, especially in the fashion/art industry?

J: I always wanted to do my own thing but I wasn’t interested in entrepreneurship or becoming a “businessman”

... I went to art school, not business school. I’ve always had a multitude of side projects going

on through high school and college. Threadless started as a hobby, another side project. Then when

people slowly started to participate, uploading designs, buying shirts, etc, it turned into a business! My

background was more in web design and development and I was doing a bunch of freelance work for

companies building them websites and such. Threadless served as proof that I knew how to build an

E-commerce website. I think the best way to get in on this sort of thing is to just have personal projects

that you spend time on outside of work or school.

A: Between 2004-2006, the company revenue went from 1.5 to 6.5 million. What do you think played a

major role in that?

K: A lot of what drove Threadless’ success in the beginning was word of mouth and the way that this was

happening was that artists were speaking to other artists or promoting their own work. We have really

incredible artists on the website that make t-shirt designs that sell really well. We get artists that submit

from Asia, Australia, and domestically here in the U.S., all from varying backgrounds. We have artists that

don’t have any art background professionally, but they like graphic design and they do it as a hobby on

the side and Threadless is kind of their outlet to get that out into the world. Then we also have artists that

submit to Threadless and get printed that work other jobs as creative types in ad firms. There is a huge

spectrum of backgrounds for artists.

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BUSINESS FEATURE//THREADLESS

50

CUSP MAGAZINE WINTER ’14 ISSUE


A: When WIRED Magazine coined the term “crowdsourcing”, they associated it with Threadless.

How do you think Threadless incorporates crowdsourcing and how has it helped the business?

J: One of the nice things about our model is we’re asking potential customers up front the stuff

that they’d like to buy. Before it is even available for purchase, you can go on the website and look

at the artwork that is available for scoring. We have a scoring model of one to five, with five being

the best. Recently this year, we enabled another way to participate through funding, so you can

actually fund designs that are up for scoring. I think that reaching out initially and having this

outlet for people to tell us what they are liking before we’re printing makes the model inherently

successful. The products available on our website are curated by our customers who will in turn

buy them.

A: What has been some of the company’s greatest accomplishments throughout the journey?

K: Just watching the community grow and new artists come through, as well as seeing

the improvements of artists who have been with us for a long time. The fact that artists can

communicate and critique on the forum throughout the process has been a really great thing to

see as far as success. We have also gotten interest from other intellectual properties like Disney,

Marvel, and Nickelodeon. These companies see what we are doing and how the art community is

so involved, and they in turn become involved with Threadless. We have a Spiderman collection,

we just released a collection of Disney Pixar tees, and we are currently holding a design challenge

for Big Hero 6. Bigger brands with intellectual property have approached us, and I think that’s a

great testament to the community itself and what we do here.

A: What are some strategic challenges for the company, or owning your own small business in

general?

J: I struggle with the “people” side a bit. I’m a total introvert and it can be hard to keep up the

communication with my team and the community as a whole. As for strategic challenges, as a

web-based company that’s been around for 14 years, that’s a lifetime! Technology has changed

so much, and online communities have moved from forums to social networks to mobile. Even

the product-creation side of technology has changed from limited screen printing to on demand

printing. We are constantly upgrading the Threadless platform and adding new features to it and

doing it as independently as we can. We also unrolled something this year called artist tips which

you can throw a couple extra dollars in the checkout cart to the artist whose t-shirt you are buying.

They receive 100% of that money on top of the royalties. We are always trying to innovate here

and trying to stay on top of and be the leader of places for artists to meet and participate online.

A: What are the benefits of being in Chicago?

K: There is a ton of art inspiration going on here in Chicago. We see street art on the side of

the road every day and we are fortunate enough to have access to art galleries and some of the

best art museums in the world. Chicago is a really down to earth, creative place. For a company

like ours, where we are so surrounded by art all day, it is a comfortable feeling. We really try to

embrace the local art scene in Chicago here at Threadless. We have brought in some local street

artists into the space to paint murals on the wall, to do our garages outside of the building. Bands

and musicians come into the office to perform for the employees and we open that up to the

public. It is about embracing art and art culture in every way possible.*

Check out the amazing products by Threadless artists at https://www.threadless.com/.

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51


Written by Tyler Quick

Dr.Photography by Matthew Thompson

AMARA

ENYIA

An Inspiration for a New Era

The biggest lesson coming out of the 2014-midterm elections

for those who are concerned with youth politics is that young people

are tuning out. When Barack Obama isn’t on the ballot, youth

turnout is very low. Considering that past participation in municipal

politics has traditionally been even lower than the midterms, it’s safe

to assume that it will take a special candidate to get young people

to turn out to vote in the upcoming Chicago mayoral election.


POLITICS//DR. AMARA ENYIA

54

Young people across the city were titillated

by the candidacy of Dr. Amara Enyia, which only

ended last week. Amara, the 31-year-old daughter

of Nigerian immigrants, had the qualities necessary

to motivate young people to come out and vote.

It remains to be seen who will take her place now,

but she had some recommendations for those who

might like to try. “It’s about service. Everything that

we have is supposed to be used to advance the cause

of humanity,” she responded when asked about why

she was running.

Recent polls show that Chicago Mayor Rahm

Emanuel could be in trouble. Half of the city doesn’t

approve of his performance and some early forecasts

have shown him barely pulling in a third of the vote

both before and after potential run-off elections. The

mayor has received most of his criticism from the

Left and members of his own party. He has come

under criticism for his education policies and

CUSP MAGAZINE WINTER ’14 ISSUE

attitude toward the city budget, as well as a general

perception of him being too conservative. Amara

sees things a little differently. If her strengths are

that she understands what life is like for most

Chicagoans, Rahm’s weakness is that very lack of

understanding and his lack of “curiosity” about

what most Chicagoans go through on a day-today

basis. “I just don’t think he gets it,” she said.

Amara stood out among the other challengers

to the mayor in that she is younger than most of

the current candidates by more than a decade,

African-American, and a woman. In an era in

which the financial and political connections that

often disadvantage young candidates, especially

those from underrepresented communities can

dictate who wins public office, Amara might seem

like an underdog, but she has a lot of historical

examples to look up to in this city. “I went to the

funeral of Jane Byrne last week, the first and

only woman to be mayor of the city. I ran into

many individuals [there] who worked on Harold

Washington’s campaign, the first of two African

American mayors. I think that in 2015 we are ready

for a different kind of leadership—I mean that in

terms of policies, ideas, and experiences. There

are those who are quick to discredit me because I

am black, because I am young, because I live on

the West Side, because I am a woman, but we’ve

not had enough people like me. If we’re not talking

to people like me, then who are we talking to? We

should be embracing characteristics of people

like me.” Amara’s vision for Chicago begins with

the reestablishment of a commitment to public

goods in the face of the increasing privatization

of public assets. While some of this privatization

has happened on Mayor Emanuel’s watch, other

privatization efforts occurred in the past. During

former Mayor Richard Daley’s tenure, parking was

privatized in Chicago and now the city is known

for its scant and ridiculously priced parking.

Amara is passionate about reversing the

wave of privatization. Although her ideas, such as

her call for a public bank might seem radical to

some, she sees such measures as vital if the city is

to keep struggling neighborhoods afloat.


She believes that small-scale community

driven development is necessary to renovate our

economically disadvantaged city.

Unlike others who take a hard line against

gentrification, Amara has a more nuanced

approach. “I believe that you can change the

community and keep the people there,” she told

us. “One of the biggest things that I talk about

is community-driven development as opposed to

developer-driven. Right now, a developer comes

in, talks to alderman, signs a contract, cuts a deal

and afterward holds a community meeting and

tells them what happens.”

She believes that community members need

to be given more say when development is planned

for a neighborhood. What to do about education,

affordable housing, and even the aesthetic of an

area should all be collective decision of the city,

the developers, and the people who already live

there.

Public safety campaigns modeled on privatized

police forces and increased policing have Amara

worried as well, especially the expansion of red

light and speeding cameras that replace officers

on the ground. These may seem like petty issues,

but Amara sees it all as being intrinsically linked

to decreased investment in public goods. “You

address violence through investments.

Conditions of poverty create conditions

where violence is allowed to thrive,” she remarked.

To get to the root cause of violence, Amara

believes that we need to focus on investing in

Chicago’s neighborhoods. According to her, “The

first step is to put our education system back into

the hands of education professionals.

We need a moratorium on charter schools,

our public neighborhood schools need to be fully

and adequately funded. This issue of testing, the

fact that we overtest our kids is bad policy.” It’s a

message that polls well, but that has been hard to

implement for progressives all across the country.

Coming off the tales of another catastrophic

midterm loss, progressives are desperate for a

win. While the Mayor of Chicago may consider

himself to be in their camp, his defeat would send

a strong message to corporate America that the

progressive movement still has teeth. Polling shows

it’s possible, but only a candidate that can galvanize

a young and diverse audience to compete with the

Mayor’s entrenched advantages will be able to pull

it off. Perhaps Amara’s candidacy is a roadmap for

doing just that.

Writer’s note: When this article was originally

written, it was done so under the assumption

that Dr. Amara Enyia would be a candidate for

Chicago Mayor in the 2015 municipal election.

Upon her regrettable departure from the race,

we decided to edit this interview, but keep much

of the original commentary. Amara’s ideas are

inspiring to youth and we can only hope that

she will run for office again in the near future.

CUSP MAGAZINE WINTER ’14 ISSUE

55


MUSIC// WINTER NEW RELEASES

56

CUSP MAGAZINE WINTER ’14 ISSUE


SRGMF

CONSULTING BRANDING CREATING

BUSINESS CONSULTING

BRAND MANAGEMENT

CREATIVE SOLUTIONS

THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN DREAMING IT AND LIVING IT.

C M F

www.SRGMF.com


Photography courtesy of The Lemons

MUSIC SPOTLIGHT//THE LEMONS

THE LEMONS

SWEET BUT NEVER SOUR: CHICAGO’S NEWEST DARLING BAND

Written by Liz Peterson

58

The Lemons are as local as your favorite coffee shop and have no intention of straying away. Their

latest album, “Hello We’re the Lemons”, was released this September and is described on their bandcamp

page as “Fourteen pop songs about animals, friends, and foods.”

Although the songs blend together into one euphoric dance track (if you were alive and listened

to underground punk in the 1960s), no single song on the album exceeds one minute and thirty seconds.

Their preference for the short and sweet originates from their days writing jingles for Logan Square

Businesses. Small business and indie record labels have allowed The Lemons to find a self-sustaining niche

in making music. They’ve released most of their albums on tapes, which is growing to be a good market

for local bands because they can sell their albums at a more affordable price while maintaining an analog

CUSP MAGAZINE WINTER ’14 ISSUE


sound. Technology in some genres of music tends to

futurize the sound and make it sound less genuine.

This is the opposite case for The Lemons,

who resurface a pleasing grittiness that has since

been lost in the era of digital recording and

streaming. The tapes have been re-released through

Gnar Tapes, an indie label based out of Portland,

Oregon. The Gnar crew also have a band called

Street Gnar from Lexington, KY who reached out

to The Lemons after hearing some of their tracks.

Their music can also be found at Tripp Tapes and

through Burger Records.

Recently recording a jingle for The Pitchfork

Review’s quarterly print publication, The Lemons

have found a home in creating fun tunes for an

audience with a short attention span. The band

doesn’t get too fancy when it comes to recording

equipment which allows them to release music

quickly and get instant feedback from their fans,

either on social media or at a local show.

Guitar player, singer and songwriter for the

band who goes by ‘John Lemon’, said, “Sometimes

we record on a 4-track and other times we record

on an iPhone.”

Their laid back style is refreshing, and even

inspiring, to musicians who want their music to

be heard but don’t have excessive amounts of

money to spend on production. Max’s advice is to

record at home using an iPhone and software like

GarageBand or any other multi-track recording

app. As for analog and tape recording, “For under

100 dollars, get a 4 track Tascam, get a mic, and

record,” Lemon states.

Photography courtesy of The Lemons

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MUSIC SPOTLIGHT//THE L.A. MUSIC SCENE

ORD TO LAX

REFLECTIONS ON THE LOS ANGELES MUSIC SCENE

Written by TJ Devoe

60

For the past eight years, Low End Theory has become a staple in the Los Angeles area beat scene.

Founded in 2006 by producer and Alpha Pub Records label head, Daddy Kev, the weekly event attracts

artists and fans for a taste of avant garde, left-of-center music in an environment where creativity and

experimentation are supported and encouraged.This sub-sect of the LA scene has long been responsible

for nurturing and highlighting the talents of a multitude of artists and producers such as, Flying Lotus,

Daedelus, Free The Robots, and Nosaj Thing, as a few who come to mind immediately. As a Chicagoan

in Los Angeles, it was mind blowing to consider that I would be taking the stage at Low End Theory,

alongside my friend and producer, Nunca Duerma, and that we would represent the midwest at the same

event so many of our underground heroes have rocked before us. No pressure or anything.

CUSP MAGAZINE WINTER ’14 ISSUE


Considering that we weren’t locals and that we entered this venue as relative unknowns in the LA

scene, our performance was wholly embraced by the crowd, and the humility and supportiveness of the

resident artists was only surpassed by the pure, unbridled creativity exhibited in their sets.

A personal highlight was The Gaslamp Killer, whose chaotic, commanding presence onstage belied

his laid back, approachable demeanor off stage.

Chicago, and the midwest in general, has a burgeoning beat scene of its own; collectives like Push

Beats in Chicago and Young Heavy Souls in Detroit have been carrying the torch for the various sub-genres

of hip-hop for some time now. As a midwesterner, I took several cues from the West Coast excursion and

thought of how we as musicians could apply what I saw out there to our respective independent music

scenes.

In essence, I think growth at home lies in emphasizing a sense of community at events, where artists

support and celebrate each other, and fans are encouraged to contribute and be made to feel that they

are involved, not just attendees.

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MUSIC SPOTLIGHT//HURT EVERYBODY

HURT EVERYBODY

NOT YOUR AVERAGE JOE’S

Written by Allison Matyus & Shawn Gee

Photography by Matthew Mzrozinski

62

Chicago is a city full of great music, and is especially known for the hip-hop artists that

come out of the music realm. Kanye West, Lupe Fiasco, and Chief Keef all call Chicago home,

and rising hip-hop group Hurt Everybody hopes to fall into the category of these famed rappers

some day. Supa Bwe, Carl, and Mulatto make up Hurt Everybody, a musical collaboration that is

fertilizing the soil of music and therefore changing the landscape. When asked what their name

means, they said, “Hurt Everybody is about how change hurts. We are here to break apart the

structure of the music industry and redistribute the power, and by doing so, we are going to hurt

a lot of people but open a lot of minds.” Each member agreed that their music represents the

multi-faceted culture that is Chicago. Hailing from different neighborhoods of Chicago, they see

CUSP MAGAZINE WINTER ’14 ISSUE


all the things the city has to offer, and share their experiences as well.

After forming only ten months ago, the trio is at a make or break point in their

career, but they are on the right path. “We are all at the same life points right now,

and that main focus is this music. We love music, and all of our lives reflect that,”

they said.

Supa, Carl, and Mulatto all came from music before Hurt Everybody, so they

all bring something different to the table. While one is good at producing, the other

succeeds in mixing the raps, and the other helps co-manage the group.

“While we all lack something, each member makes up for what the other may

lack. We are like a symbiotic relationship in that way,” they said.

By learning to work together and building a bond as three young men, they

have succeeded in realizing and forming their brand and their music. They said they

represent what they want to see from the world, in music and in everything else.

“Everything starts with ideas and we want to put innovative ideas into kid’s

heads. We push out this kind of groundbreaking material so they have good things

to extract from,” they said.

While they all can agree that musicians acquire distress from people who

represent how the world turns, what they do and say is everything that they have

been through.

Staying true to their experience and themselves, Hurt Everybody makes their

own moves and no one is telling them what to do except themselves.

“We are not chasing trends but rather making our own. Our music is like a

grab bag, it’s always music and always us, but different every time,” they said.

Their numbers are proving that their method works. In 2013, the group had

only 11,000 plays, but as of November 2014, their plays have reached 2 million.

Their high energy shows and musical conversation with the audience will take them

to that next level.

“In the future, we want to play festivals and bigger shows with bigger names.

We want it to be non-stop,” they said.

For the near future, they are working on their next project by making beats and

getting the production ready to drop an EP early next year. They will be playing a

show on December 19 at Lincoln Hall with Lucki Ecks and January 9 at Reggies

with Alex Wiley.

Hurt Everybody will be in everybody’s heads soon enough, because the group

has high hopes and soaring goals.

“We have been given a breeze of wind, and we have taken that into full flight.

It’s time to lift off.”

Visit hurteverybody.com

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WHITE M


Photography by Diane White

YSTERY

White Hot Rockers

Redefine Conventions

of Success

Written by Chloe Aiello


MUSIC FEATURE//WHITE MYSTERY

66

A first-time encounter with the White

Mystery siblings conveys an uncanny satisfaction,

a feeling that only comes from meeting individuals

of genuine originality and distinction. Even the

most cursory glance belays their relation.

Francis Scott Key stands tall and stoic, with

long, red curls falling in feral tresses to either side

of his bespectacled face. A few years older, Miss

Alex White, as she is known in the music scene

for her self-titled solo work, is diminutive with a

shock of the same curls and a strikingly focused

gaze. Despite her commanding presence and

impressive resume of artistic accomplishments,

she is surprisingly soft-spoken.

When onstage, the siblings make a fierce

pair. Their live performances radiate energy

reminiscent of the glory days of rock and roll,

though their friendly and approachable offstage

demeanor speaks most to the soul of their vision.

Meet White Mystery: the brother-sister power duo

whose refusal to play by the rules is changing the

landscape of the music industry for independent

artists in Chicago and across America.

White Mystery has been tearing up stages

in basements and bars, at music venues and

festivals, all over the world since their inception

in 2008. They have four full-length albums, an

array of prestigious sponsors, and show no signs

of stopping until they reach their predetermined

10-year mark in 2018. While countless punk and

garage-rock bands call Chicago home, Alex and

Francis differentiate themselves from the pack by

the scope and variety of their projects, the power

of their live performances, and a staunch refusal

to compromise the integrity of their art.

Born and raised in Rogers Park, where they

still live today, Alex and Francis were raised in a

creative household. “What got us into music in the

first place was probably our parents’ great taste in

Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones,” Alex said.

Their mother, Chicago’s photographer

Diane Alexander White, achieved acclaim through

her street documentation of the 1979 Disco

Demolition, rock and roll’s rowdy backlash to the

disco movement. Although not musically inclined,

the Whites nurtured their children’s talents and

CUSP MAGAZINE WINTER ’14 ISSUE

Photography by Diane White


encouraged their pursuit of music. Francis recalls

attending some of his first shows in Chicago, “[Our

parents] would drop us off at all ages shows around

Chicago, like the Fireside Bowl and backyards

where our friends would play.” Both siblings began

making music very early. Prior to forming White

Mystery in 2008, Alex had already made a

name for herself through her solo work, as Miss

Alex White, and numerous collaborations. So

far Alex has played in 12 bands and has 18 vinyl

releases. She self-released her first album at 17 on

Missile X records, a label founded with her best

friend. It was around that time that her solo project

and her band, The Hot Machines, began making

some serious waves. “The Hot Machines played

with The Kills and The Raveonettes, so we were

getting some attention. We were being pursued by

a major label but the feeling wasn’t right,” Alex

said. Turning down several major record deals in

favor of maintaining direct creative control over

her music, she continued to self-release on Missile

X Records and would eventually uphold that same

tradition with Francis and White Mystery.

Her decisions early on effectively set a

precedent for White Mystery’s later work. Of their

4 studio albums, White Mystery (2010), Blood

and Venom (2011), Telepathic (2013) and Dubble

Dragon (2014), all are self-released.

“We’ve definitely received a lot of offers from

a lot of different labels but we are committed to

independence,” Alex said, expressing a sentiment

widely shared in Chicago’s DIY scene.

“What I’ve told others and what I tell myself

is continue to follow your instincts… you might

be the right type of person for a label or maybe

not,” Alex explained. Demonstrating a presence of

mind, not often mirrored by young artists breaking

into the music industry, Alex and Francis White

have established White Mystery as an independent

creative powerhouse, blazing a new trail toward a

new definition of success. Francis also got an early

start in music. He attended his first live show at 13

(Alex chaperoned) after which he played in his fair

share of bands prior to the forming White Mystery.

“We’ve both been in other bands before and

the creative process wasn’t always easy,” Alex said.

Photography by Medium Gallery

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MUSIC FEATURE//WHITE MYSTERY

68

“The whole brother-sister dynamic lent an

organic flow to it.” White Mystery officially came

to life on April 20, 2008; the Whites celebrate

the anniversary every year with a release on the

same date. “We decided we would be a band

for 10 years total. No moving away, no backing

down, no matter what.” Alex said. Six years and

four full-length albums later, White Mystery is

still going strong—and the siblings attribute much

of their initial success to their hometown’s rich

legacy as a hub for DIY music. It is no wonder a

plethora of intimate DIY spaces have cropped up

in basements, backyards and bars in youth-centric

neighborhoods across Chicago. Given its history

as a self-made city, Chicago artists aren’t afraid of

hard work. Considered by many to be a fixture in

the scene, White Mystery started by playing small

local shows. Despite growing national success,

Alex and Francis can still be found playing at DIY

venues and festivals around the city. “The best

kind of shows are the ones where you can really

connect with people,” Alex said.

“The DIY scene is really awesome for

meeting other young punks.” In fact, one of White

Mystery’s recent memorable collaborations arose

out of a connection made locally.

Alex and Francis met up and coming rock

n’ roll three-piece band, the Holy Motors, at one

of White Mystery’s own shows during the summer

of 2013. The band’s lo-fi sound and rich, baritone

vocals make them right at home in Chicago.

“It was really cool because we started out as

fans,” Alex recalled. Opportunity for collaboration

sadly arose out of tragedy. The untimely passing

of influential garage rocker, and friend of White

Mystery, Jay Reatard brought the Whites together

with the Holy Motors for work on a tribute album

with French label, Teenage Hate Records. Teenage

Hate Records released their first limited edition

vinyl tribute to Reatard this past February. The

compilation on which Holy Motors and White

Mystery collaborated will be available in 2015.

In the late 2000s, DIY venues across the

city felt the pain from local authorities following a

citywide crackdown on live music permits. Largely

thanks to Paul Natkin, famed photographer,

CUSP MAGAZINE WINTER ’14 ISSUE

skilled networker, and friend and mentor to Alex

White, the scene pulled through and so did White

Mystery. Aside from being an influential force in

the survival of Chicago’s punk and garage rock

movement, rock and roll photographer Paul

Natkin encouraged Alex to take a plunge into a

full-fledged artistic lifestyle. “Paul was a friend of

my mom’s in the 70’s. He would take me out to

lunch sometimes and one day asked why I wasn’t

doing [music] full-time. I was 24.” Although she

was playing shows every weekend and touring

nationally and internationally with White Mystery,

Alex still worked a day job at a Busy Beaver Button

Company in Logan Square. “I can’t say I was

comfortable making [such a] big leap but I didn’t

want to still be working an office job at 26,” Alex

said. Following the conversation with Paul, Alex

saved every penny, quit her day job and began

booking White Mystery shows every day.

In the 6 years since White Mystery’s

naissance, Alex and Francis have played almost

1000 shows in 20 countries. They’ve booked major

music festivals, like South by Southwest and Riot

Fest, and performed with names as illustrious as

Robert Plant and Weezer. The Whites’ powerful

live shows and polished studio recordings only

fuel the momentum of their redheaded fury. “I go

into playing the best show of my life, every day

of my life,” Alex said. Alex’s heavy, virtuosic riffs,

provoke memories of the White Stripes or MC5,

and perfectly balance her soaring vocals. Francis

first ignites audiences with wild thrash-worthy

drum sets before guiding them on decidedly

psychedelic journeys rife with poetic, reverb-heavy

improvisation.

These energetic and effortlessly charismatic

performers never fail to treat their audience to

an unforgettable show. The performances, in

part, have earned White Mystery sponsorships

from a number of prestigious companies. Alex

and Francis have worked with Levi, Orange

Amplification, C&C Custom Drums and even

Airhead and Pretzel Crisps. Much like their stance

on record labels, the Whites are stringent when

selecting partnerships, only entering into mutually

supportive relationships.


Photography by Medium Gallery

I go into

playing the

“of

best show of my

life, every day

my life.


MUSIC FEATURE//WHITE MYSTERY

Much of White Mystery’s creative process

takes place on the road during the months leading

up to their yearly releases. The siblings take equal

charge of the material. Being poetic, Francis writes

many of the lyrics while Alex matches words with

melodies.

Occasionally, a song will relate directly to an

experience, as is such with “Jungle Cat,” a track

off their 2013 Telepathic:

Midnight claws, witch of my love, under

darkness heat whispers fire, craving thunder,

prowlers stalk, fearless heroes clash eternal.

Jungle cat rawr!

Far from any jungle, Alex and Francis found

themselves driving through Tornado Alley when

beset by a crazy storm. “Texas and Oklahoma

have really intense weather. As lighting crashed

across the sky and hail hit the car, we decided to

write a song,” Alex said. As a majority of White

Mystery’s music is written during the winter

months in preparation for their yearly output,

the material often betrays a darker theme than

the melody suggests. Despite some occasional

darkness, however, White Mystery’s mission could

not be more upbeat.

“Our goal with White Mystery is to make a

positive impact on the world,” Alex explained. “A

lot of pop culture depresses people, [but] you can

be a good person and make rock and roll music.”

Alex and Francis take inspiration from

the many happy coincidences and supportive

individuals they have encountered throughout

their careers. This enduring positivity fuels the

magnanimous goals set for White Mystery in the

coming years. Short-term, the siblings would like

to play a new continent— topping the list are

Australia and Asia. Long term, however, as Alex

expressed, White Mystery intends to sew cultural

and musical vitality.

Lofty though their professional goals may

be, personally, Alex aspires to an even higher

mission.

“My main goal in life is to obtain Nirvana,”

she admitted candidly. “I guess I’ll know if I get

there, it might be in the end, but I’ll know.” With

all that Alex and Francis have achieved in the

past few years, there is little doubt that one day

she’ll realize that goal too. Until then fans, friends,

and family are left to wonder what will become

of White Mystery once they reach their 10-year

mark. Laughing cryptically Alex said, “Well, that’s

the real mystery.”

Photography by Diane White

70

CUSP MAGAZINE WINTER ’14 ISSUE


WHITE MYSTERY

DISCOGRAPHY

Photography by Medium Gallery

whitemysteryband.com facebook twitter


Pilsen Ar

Second Fridays Have Something for Everyone


t District

Written & Photographed by Tyler Quick


ART FEATURE//PILSEN ART DISTRICT

Chicago is a city full of art. Whether it be fashion, music, or galleries full of local artwork, there is

something for everybody. The Second Fridays Gallery Night in the Pilsen Art District is drawing a cool,

diverse crowd that is expanding every month.

The Chicago Arts District, founded in 2002 by John Podmajersky III, whose parents and

grandparents had lived in the neighborhood since it was a Slavic neighborhood at the turn of the 20th

Century, puts on the event on every second Friday of each month. The CAD represents a coalition of

both established and up-and-coming galleries in Pilsen.

The galleries spread across a section of 18th that undercuts the highway and southwards along

Halsted. Each gallery has a distinct character and crowd, but even that isn’t static from month to month.

On my first Second Friday on October 10th, I started the night at what’s become one of my favorite

spots, Elee Gallery on 18th Street. Elee sits on a corner just below the highway in a pretty unassuming

spot across from a gas station. With its enormous windows and Zoolander-style loft feel, it stands out

along with the gallery next to it in the sea of modest, nondescript homes in the area.

When we arrived, the local artist showing at Elee that night, Barret Keithley, showed us around and

told us a little bit about his art and what he does. Barrett, who dabbled in visual art and poetry throughout

his childhood, didn’t start to paint in earnest until the age of 20 when he came home to Chicago from

college in Maryland. “My first piece was on a poster board. It was a gift for a girlfriend,” he told us with

a laugh.

Now, Barrett’s works cover entire sections of the wall and grab your attention from across the block.

When we were walking up, my friend Julianna looked in through the window about half a block away and

exclaimed, “Oh that looks good!”

Barrett’s largest piece, hugging most of the eastern interior wall at Elee, had a cartoonish feel, but

74

CUSP MAGAZINE WINTER ’14 ISSUE


was anything but juvenile. Subtle variations in facial expression and hand gestures really animated

his characters, speaking to the real complexities of the community he was depicting through his art.

When I asked him about it, he replied, “The figures all represent community. When their fists are

raised up, that’s power. When they’re raising their hands like that, it’s an offering.” “And what about these

guys?” I asked, gesturing towards a few ghostly characters interspersed with the rest of the community.

“Those guys are tombstones,” Barrett said. “Whoa, morbid,” I replied. “Listen,” he told me. “Death is

not something to be afraid of. Death is not a bad thing. Those tombstones also represent rebirth. I grew

up on the South Side in the 100s, literally on the wrong side of the tracks and look at me now.”

I kept in mind the hard realness of Barrett’s work and words while I traversed the other galleries.

Not only did the themes vary; there were galleries that we explored in October that had mysteriously

disappeared in November. A house that we went into the month before was closed to the public in

November.

The last time that we went in there, we ran into acclaimed Chicago artist Allen Vandever serving

up corn and hot dogs to hungry art fans. Allen took me into the basement of the house and showed me

a few pieces he had been working on. They were composed of varying layers of transparencies, overlaid

on top of one another in a collage. Some of the layers had the same image, giving each image a depth

that it wouldn’t have otherwise.

Each piece had a realism to it that was evocative of what you might see in a dream. It turns out

dreams are what motivate Allen. “I paint my dreams,” he told me when we went back upstairs, gesturing

to a gorgeous painting of a woman underwater. “I sketch out the dream on Photoshop and then paint

over it. Sometimes I repeat this process multiple times.” The other two artists who were showing at that

house, Jason Davis and Vincent Vittorini, evoke similar dreamlike aesthetics with their work. Vincent’s

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ART FEATURE//PILSEN ART DISTRICT

76

paintings reminiscent of the infamous dystopic murals at Denver International Airport, may have

appeared like political criticisms, but actually were references to his personal theology.

“I’m spiritual more than religious,” he told me. “I’m trying to express my beliefs in terms of creative

energy as the driving force more than anything else.”

One work, titled Magic Carpet Ride, portrays a group of mysterious cosmic autocrats controlling

the crowds on Earth, but being swept along by the very same forces they are extolling. No matter how real

or ephemeral the subject matter of a piece of artwork, conversation kept coming back to our worlds and

communities and how they influence art. It seemed like, despite the disparate themes, every artist agreed

on one thing; you create and are created in the process. Pam Hamilton, an artist who runs Studio Oh

on Halsted with fellow artist Erwin Overes, said, “As artists, it’s hard not to influence each other. We’ve

shared this space for 5 years, so the subtle, unspoken influences really affect your work.” Their studio is

one of the most interesting spaces along the art walk. Immediately upon entering you’re confronted with

CUSP MAGAZINE WINTER ’14 ISSUE


one set of stairs that empties into a large studio space and another which leads to a thin balcony that

overlooks the studio. It’s got the aesthetic vibe of an early 90s, super-chic party loft in Manhattan.

While I was content to sit on the oval chairs and people watch, I knew that I had to get downstairs

and get a closer look at the art because Pam and Erwin’s work was quite different than a lot of the other

stuff we had already seen. Irwin’s sculptures are grandiose, colorfully complex, and skew away from

symmetry. Pam’s abstract paintings also abstain from symmetry and concreteness , but lack crazy color

which stood apart from Irwin’s pieces. In fact, what was most jarring to me about one of Pam’s painting, a

massive black and white piece, was a flash of color: a red plus that refocused my attention from wherever

I was in the room. My description, however, does not do her work justice. It is as thought provoking as it

is gargantuan and plays with the very idea of simplicity itself. “I do the background first and then I do

the black and finally, the rest,” Pam explained to me when I asked her how she did her work. “I do what

inspires me and sometimes it sits there for a while before I go back to it.” For a guy that’s not a visual artist,

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ART FEATURE//PILSEN ART DISTRICT

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CUSP MAGAZINE WINTER ’14 ISSUE


than it really was, but then again I am a big fan of Studio Oh and the work they do. It wasn’t just art

that drew us in at every gallery. NYCH Gallery, next to door to Elee, had a DJ playing in a room full of

free stuff. It’s too bad the clothes they had on the racks weren’t free though, because some the items were

completely trendy. Like Elee, a lot of the art on display in October at NYCH dealt with issues of race

and urban living. However, when we came back the next month, the theme was less political. Elee, on the

other hand, was even more political in November than in October.

The mutability was the same to an extent at almost every gallery we visited. I would assume that

it’s a smart business move for galleries to change up their work from month to month to please a fickle

Millennial crowd. Compared to other gallery nights in the city, Second Fridays tends to attract a younger

and more diverse crowd. Hip-hop influenced fashionistas mixed in seamlessly with the University of

Chicago Art History students rocking the sexy librarian look.

One group of girls we spoke to with a decidedly fashion-forward look, dressed so well that they

might as well have been part of the gallery showings, seemed elated to be there. When we asked them

what brought them out, they talked to us about how Second Fridays isn’t just about good art. It’s a

reflection of the intense cultural experience the city has to offer.

“Chicago is a major city in the world, why wouldn’t you take advantage of events like this?” Camillle

Johnson, a local media entrepreneur and student told us. But, it’s more than just Chicago’s world-class

art scene that makes Second Fridays at Pilsen Art District special. It’s hard to imagine many other places

where you could you walk from Pam’s (a working mother who lives in the suburbs) studio, to Elee studio’s

exposition on the grittiness of urban life in South Chicago. When I asked Barret if he had a message

for anyone reading, he told me simply, “Be powerful.” It seemed to be an apt message for the people

who were gathering outside, all from different walks of life and brought together only by art. In a city

that sometimes feels isolated and often segregated, community is difficult to find sometimes. I think that

Second Fridays represents our communities best though. And on top of that, it encourages the kind of

community-driven individuality that inspires artists to give their best, dialogue together and with their

artists, and inspire the community in return, or at least provoke them to think.

For more information on Pilsen’s Art District and events like this, go to http://chicagoartsdistrict.org/

secondfridays_main.asp.

CUSP MAGAZINE WINTER ’14 ISSUE

79


Still

Written by Tyler Quick Photography by Brenda Hernandez


Staying Sane as an Artist

Sane


ART FEATURE//STILL SANE

Even if it isn’t the Second Friday art walk, there is always something going

on at the elee.mosynary gallery in Pilsen.

One of our favorite events that they put on is Still Sane, a DIY, “popup”

market where independent artists and entrepreneurs show off their work for

longtime fans and potential new customers alike. Held on the last Sunday of each

month, Still Sane features a wide variety of business people and artists. Some

are already quite established and some are just getting off their feet. Some of the

attendees aren’t even based in Chicago.

At October’s Still Sane, New Jersey based clothing designer Darius Osorio

was selling custom designed jeans. If you wanted an alteration on what he had or

“increased customization”, Osorio would whip out his tools and get to work right

on the table. He had just finished up when we asked him what he was doing so far

from home.

“I was working on a project with some friends and had some extra jeans,

so I came over,” he said.

Still Sane might be chaotic, but in this it thrives. Young people, mostly

of the fashionista persuasion, came and went throughout the night, weaving

through a tightly packed set up including Osorio and about half a dozen local

entrepreneurs.

In the basement of the gallery, local hip-hop artist Roy French performed an

energized set for a small crowd. French hopped around and rapped about

“Tumblr hoes,” delighting the group of mostly twenty-somethings with his fun

and innovative lyrics.

82

CUSP MAGAZINE WINTER ’14 ISSUE


Above the main gallery space,

a small group was discussing African

politics and munching on fortune

cookies sitting in a massive bowl. “We

had Chinese food a little while ago, but

y’all missed it,” someone told me.

Still Sane offers so much that I

have a hard time imagining someone

not finding something to do here. The

crowd is diverse and interesting and the

products aren’t the kinds that you can

find at Walgreens.

Rachel, the owner and creator

of Pear Nova Nail Lacquer, pulled out

a couple of bottles of homemade nail

polish with names like Jekyll, Hyde Park,

Boystown Blue that reflect the character

of the city. Trained in cosmetic chemistry

in Paris, Rachel offers high quality,

affordable cosmetic products.

Most of the apparel fit a similar

mold. While most of it wasn’t cheap,

prices still paled in comparison to similar

quality goods that you might find at a

corporate retailer. And when you buy

at Still Sane, you’re supporting other

Chicago kids just like you trying to make

their dreams come true.

If there is a unifying theme of Still

Sane, it is the hustle that lots of young

Chicagoans know all too well. At the

start of his performance, Roy French

told the crowd, “I go out and do shit like

everybody else. This is my escape from

reality.”

It’s his method for staying sane. It

probably is for everyone there: artist,

entrepreneur, and consumer alike. And I

guarantee if you go, you’ll find something

that helps you keep it real too.

CUSP MAGAZINE WINTER ’14 ISSUE

83


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