Chris Widman is Equal Parts DJ and Electronic Music Encyclopedia

The Last Record: The Chicago-based DJ celebrates 20 years of his legendary radio program, Abstract Science, with some of his favorite new and old cuts.
June 24, 2017, 4:24pm
Photo of Chris Widman by Kathleen Kazimir.

Whether it's for playing out at a club or listening at home, DJs and producers typically have an encyclopedic hoard of music, new and old. In The Last Record, they tell us about the last three songs or albums they've purchased, and why these were important additions to their music collection.

This week, we spoke to Chris Widman of the influential Chicago radio program Abstract Science, which celebrates 1000 episodes and 20 years of broadcasting. Widman also produces music with Colin Harris as Quadratic. Past Abstract Science guests include The Black Madonna, Bonobo, Four Tet, Romare, Squarepusher and many, many more. Abstract Science will takeover WLUW for 20 hours on Thursday, July 6 at 10am. Special guests will include Monolake, Noncompliant, M50, and Chrissy, along with the show's regular hosts and selectors Henry Self, Luke Stokes, Joshua P Ferguson and Widman.


Akkord - "RCVR/XMTR"

Akkord's music—when I hear it out—always draws me to the DJ booth, begging the answer, "What is this?!" It usually turns out to be this Manchester UK duo who excel at creating dread-fueled, left-field bass music. They've been quiet since 2015, so this latest two-track release on Fabric's innovative in-house Houndstooth label is exciting. "RCVR" reminds me of a Technical Itch track pitched down to 140 BPM with cavernous bass, cascading breakbeats and alien synth lines. "XMTR" flips the famously hype 2 Bad Mice break from "Bombscare" into a reserved and eerie techno breakbeat number.

Batu - "Eraser / Stairwells"

Batu is one of my favorite new-school UK producers who operate in a nether region between techno/club and grime/dubstep. Hailing from Bristol UK (home of Massive Attack, Roni Size and Appleblim), you can feel the blunted sound system culture running through his work. "Eraser / Stairwells" is an early release of his, previously available only on 12", and finally out for digital release.

"Eraser," features a stuttering kick, tango/latin claps and driving drum-machine percussion, anchored by a rolling baseline, half-time feel and dancehall alarm synths that reminds me of both aughts-era broken beat and current cutting-edge grime instrumentals. "Stairwells" is more forward moving yet off-kilter, with cracking snares often accentuating the off-beat sixteenth notes and a foreboding drop. I love this style, but the eyes-down intensity and complex rhythms can confuse an uninitiated dance floor.

Clark - Death Peak

Chris Clark has put out a number of excellent full-length records, but Death Peak, his ninth for Warp Records, may be his most accomplished and accessible album to date. I say album because it has a cohesive appeal that approaches a narrative. Maybe this is just my perception after listening to the promo CD repeatedly in the car, before recently downloading it for gig purposes.

Clark is remarkable in his ability to craft highly original sounding and structured electronic music, while displaying an astounding mastery of groove, melody and sound design. The results become even more dramatic with his incorporation of a children's choir and choral voice samples throughout the record. Death Peak's first half is more club-friendly—driving techno peppered with disorienting and unexpected deconstructions and flourishes—while the last four tracks are something of an orchestral brain dance suite, which owes a debt to Steve Reich.

Jlin - Black Origami

We played tracks from Dark Lotus quite a bit, so I didn't get around to downloading Black Origami until recently for a Detroit/Chicago radio show feature. To be fair, her hometown of Gary, Indiana, while in the orbit of Chicago, is still across the lake. But the town fits nicely into the continuum of black music that follows along I-94.

It's hard to say more about this record than has already been said with the massively deserved, yet surprising press. Jlin's story, and thoughtful attitude toward her music, is compelling, but mainstream outlets usually don't pay much attention to instrumental electronic music. I can hear echoes of the eccentricities of her mentor, footwork godfather RP BOO, who has made the most oblique cuts of the genre. But Jlin goes a few steps further.

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My favorite park of footwork is the trip-a-let, trip-a-let beat, which reminds me of west african percussion a la Mamady Keita. Jlin takes hypnotic footwork sample techniques and that similar ternary rhythm structure and infuses them with percussion of all kinds, from marching drum lines to gamelanesque sounds, Japanese flutes and Art of Noise-style snippets.

Marcus Intalex & S.T. Files - "Taking Over Me"

After his unexpected death, I wanted to record a Marcus Intalex "In Memoriam" set for the radio show, but couldn't find vinyl copies of my favorite track, "Taking Over Me," buried in the stacks. The perils of being a disorganized multi-genre DJ lessen in the digital era, so I was able to find this gem online, though I don't think the digital mastering is as good as the vinyl cut.

Marcus Intalex is rightly recognized as one of the great drum and bass producers, known for pioneering a more soulful sound—later to be known as "liquid"—in response to the dark styles that dominated the end of the 90s. Personally, I prefer his house and techno work, of which "Taking Over Me," made with long-time collaborator S.T. Files, is an early example. There is something about the disciplined and demanding nature of drum and bass production that makes an artist particularly adept when they turn to other genres.

"Taking Over Me" is really more of a slow UK garage tune. The lush pads, house music vocal clip, shuffling two-step drums and deep bass add up to an emotive dance floor mover. It prefigures his excellent work under the Trevino alias, which I will sorely miss. I hadn't quite noticed how much Trevino I had been playing in recent years until I put together the retrospective. He wasn't at the top of the list when people asked about my favorite producers, but in the midst DJ sets, I found myself turning to his Trevino tracks over and over again.