Meet the women rocking Chicago’s music scene

Meet the women rocking Chicago’s music scene

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Alex Fryer, co-founder of the cassette label Dumpster Tapes. (Photo courtesy of Alex Fryer)

Chicago has long been a bastion for local music, thanks in large part to the independent labels, record stores, and pop-up venues that have provided support to artists every step of the way.

But what may be surprising is the sheer number of women behind that scene. Many of the organizations powering the local industry today — including several record labels, stores, and other businesses — are female-owned and operated.

Melissa Oglesby is the outreach director of Girls Rock! Chicago, a music camp for girls ages 8 to 16 that aims to foster creative expression, self-esteem, and community awareness through rock music. She says that not only are girls in the program empowered to find their voices, but they also have the opportunity to gain inspiration from female volunteers and mentors.

“It can be hard out there for girls,” Oglesby adds, “But at Girls Rock, the volunteers really support each other. The sense of community is great; you can always find someone here that you can relate to.”

Alex Fryer, co-founder of the casette label Dumpster Tapes with Ed McMenamin, says Chicago is an ideal place for musical creativity and collaboration.

“The energy is the best here,” she said. “I’ve been to shows in other cities, and it never feels quite as good as it does in Chicago. Most of all, I think that the music rules. It’s one thing to support music just because it’s local and it’s your friends that are making it. It’s definitely another to believe that the music is good and worth not only your time, but other people’s as well.”

Now, your guide to the local women that fuel this community, and why they love doing it:

NAN WARSHAW, co-owner of Bloodshot Records

Background: Warshaw co-founded Bloodshot Records in 1994, and went on to launch the careers of Ryan Adams, Neko Case, and Justin Townes Earle. Almost two decades and more than 200 releases later, she is excited to be working on new releases including Lydia Loveless, Luke Winslow-King, Barrence Whitfield, Robbie Fulks, Scott Biram, and JC Brooks & The Uptown Sound.

On Chicago’s music scene: “Bloodshot could not have developed and grown into what it is today anywhere other than in Chicago. We have active top-notch music writers covering the local scene and publishing in a variety of sources. We have more than a half dozen strong independent record stores – there are cities and towns today that have none. Plus, we have dozens of great live music venues showcasing cutting-edge music, and owned by people who are in it for the right reasons and who treat the artists well.”

“To help our community grow and flourish, I share information to educate and support musicians. I sit on music business panels and guest lecture college classes. I donate my time and resources to Rock For Kids and The Chicago Music Commission. I firmly believe Chicago has the best music scene of any city in the world.”

KELLY NOTHING, of Animal Kingdom a Logan Square DIY house

Animal Kingdom's 4th of July 'Summer Slammer.' (Matt Avignon/Animal Kingdom)

Background: “I graduated from North Park University with a degree in Business Economics, and I apply what I learned to successfully run this space. We host several shows a month and a few festivals a year. Our biggest show this year was the Summer Slammer on the 4th of July: about 20 bands played and attendance was just shy of 1,000 people.”

On the Chicago music scene: “One of my favorite events is AK Night at the Owl, which is on the first Wednesday of every month. I DJ, spinning locals only, and premier my new monthly mix tape Tuff + Rumble. Active local bands and Chicago bands of years past will be included on the mix. [You can download it for free here.] A cassette will be co-released with Parliament Tapes every two months that will be available for purchase from the bands and in the Owl’s tape vending machine.”

“The Chicago Underground Music Archive is another project I help out with. It is a community effort to record local bands at DIY spaces around town and make them available online for free.”

HEATHER WEST, owner of Western Publicity

Background: “I’ve been in the business since I was 18, as a concert promoter, club talent buyer, record company manager, and publicist. I started my own music publicity company in 2008, and I work with festivals, record labels, indie bands, and documentary projects.”

On the Chicago music scene: “I love the generosity I see going on in the creative community. People truly look out for each other; there is no misfortune that will not cause other folks on the scene to throw a benefit, crowdsource, etc.”

“I have a very large circle of women friends who work in music here in Chicago; I feel really blessed. I find myself connecting bands with journalists, agents, managers, and club bookers without regard to whether they’ve hired me (as well as trying to find jobs for dedicated interns), and I know we all do the same. It’s the sharing that helps keep things fresh and growing, not competition. The women I see around me understand this.”

MELANIE MCCLAIN, artist manager for The GTW and JODY

Background: “In addition to moving to Nashville, 2011 began a new chapter of my life as I began to manage the rapper turned electronic R&B crooner, The GTW. In 2012, The GTW teamed up with the Chicago-based electronic production duo The Drum and vocalists Khalee Standberry-Lois and David Robertson to form the supergroup, JODY. I also manage JODY, and in less than a year, they performed at Lollapalooza and Converse’s FADER FORT at CMJ.”

On the Chicago music scene: “I am motivated to support Chicago’s music scene because it inspires me to think outside the box and defy stereotypes. Chicago is a city that doesn’t stifle a creative’s vision or limit them to local mentality. Whenever I travel, people have a hard time identifying the city that I’m from, but the pieces come together when I confidently say, “Chicago,” because my hometown represents a Mecca for dance music, soul, experimental rock music, and unclassifiable genres. I think Kanye West is perfect example of the misunderstood creative genius that Chicago can easily incubate.”

JENN GREEN, radio personality at RWD.FM

Background: “Every Wednesday, I host a prime time two-hour radio show called “Greenhaus Radio” which features the latest electronic, house, techno, footwork and hip-hop tracks. Before joining RWD.FM, I hosted a radio show with Party 934 Radio based out of Joliet, IL that broadcasted online, as well as on 94.9 FM in Hudson Valley, NY.”

On the Chicago music scene: “The music scene in Chicago is truly a melting pot! I know many artists and other talented individuals from all over the world, and everyone seems to have Chicago heavy on their radar. I’ve been in Chicago for almost six years now, and the music culture keeps growing — from the huge electronic boom to hip-hop artists becoming household names overnight.”

“I love dance and electronic music. I’m from the suburbs of Detroit, the birthplace of techno, and then I move to Chicago, the birth place of house music— how could I not indulge? I find myself frequenting Smart Bar, Primary Night Club, Neo, Elbo Room, Rodan’s, Lincoln Hall, Berlin, and the Empty Bottle. Let’s face it: if you are a Chicago music fan, then you are indeed dedicated, because these venues are all over town! If the music is of quality, then your feet will guide you there (with the help of Uber, but of course).”

Jesse Rose Crane of The Funs plays on Cassette Store Day at Bric-A-Brac Records. (Photo courtesy of Kelly Nothing)
KARISSA TALANIAN, owner of Eye Vybe Records & Tapes

Background: “I run a label that specializes in releases for local groups. I’m up to about 20 releases and have done 45’s, cassettes, cassingles, and even a flexi disc. I’ve got an LP coming in early 2014. I also drum in a handful of bands — including Plastic Crimewave Syndicate, The Cut Worms, Purple Pain, Eeeagles, and the now-defunct Strychnine — and do my fair share of booking and promoting shows for bands and venues.”

On the Chicago music scene: “The thing that strikes me about the Chicago music community — at least the more garage/psych/rock and roll community that I find myself to be a part of — is how many people are genuinely interested in helping the scene develop and grow. For every casual show-goer there is, there’s another person at that and every other show, and then there’s another who’s behind it all: working to book, record, release, play themselves, and spread the word.”

“And I don’t mean this to sound like it’s an insular group of people only helping each other! The enthusiasm of so many of the characters in this community is amazing, and it’s great watching it blossom.”

VERONICA MURTAGH, founder and editor of the music blog Cream Team

Background: “I started Cream Team in 2008 as a way to promote events and share music with friends, and it quickly became a destination and a local resource. It opened the doors for me to contribute short and long-form writing to a variety of other outlets.”

On the Chicago music scene: “There’s never a dull moment, or an off day. Chicago has a vibrant scene for whatever sound you might be into, with something going on every night of the week. It makes getting outside your comfort zone easy. You can go to a club one night, a rock show the next, an all-ages DIY space on Thursday, and an after-hours loft on Friday. It’s all close by and ready to explore.”

“Chicago is a big city filled with big hearts. No matter what genre of music you’re a fan of, the people are the same — genuine. From the artists to the promoters to the crowds, there’s a feeling of being amongst kindred spirits.”


Leah Pickett writes about popular culture for WBEZ. Follow her on Twitter @leahkpickett.