I count six people on stage including a blonde girl who stands in the middle armed with a synth and a mic. She's wearing a neon coral dress with a black mesh overlay and looks like she's about to teach us all a lesson in rock and roll and festival fashion. The band itself, along with their many instruments and hardware, fill the small stage at Emporium Arcade Bar
in Wicker Park. Plenty of fans are already dancing and swaying, lost in the electric jam, while others are chatting next to Pac-Man with whiskey-cokes and craft beers in hand, nodding in the bands direction and cheering at the end of the song.
As they pack up their instruments, adjust the electrical cords, and exit the stage from their soundcheck, I walk right up to the front (wo)man who has just finished testing the mics. "Kiley?" I ask loudly, hoping she's the girl I had messaged earlier. "Hi, are you Niki?" she responds, having scheduled this interview with me after soundcheck, "Just a minute, I’ll be down in a second!".
I’ve just met the vocalist and cover art model of DJ noDJ
. She greets me as she comes off stage with a big handshake and bright smile. “I’m just about to go do my makeup and get ready. Would you like to join me backstage?” I suddenly wished I hadn't already applied my mascara and matte red lipstick. I suppose my pen and paper would keep me busy instead.
Chatting with Kiley
"So tell me, who's who?" I ask, not knowing much about the band other than they're a six person band known for sounding like an electronic DJ and once covered a Daft Punk set. Kiley faces me to answer with makeup brush in hand, “Well, I play the synth and sing, obviously. Then there's Charlie who does vocals and plays guitar. He plugs into a synth which is then triggered by his guitar. Matt's on the keys, Patrick plays bass, Alan's on the drums and Rez is percussion." She continues highlighting her other eyelid and tells me that they are all from Chicago and love performing here at home, specifically Emporium. "We started playing together in 2012. We started as a cover band, experimenting with songs from the Daft Punk
album and went from there. We do have a few originals as well."
Just then, a man walks into the open, no-door bathroom. "Oh hey, is this the girls bathroom?", he looks noticeably confused as if he's about to leave, but we're quick to inform him it doesn't really matter to us and he's welcome. Kiley introduces him before I introduce myself, "This is Alan, our drummer".
Definitely Not a DJ…
"And the name DJ noDJ, tell me about that," I ask, wondering what the band's name meant to them. I had read it multiple ways to myself, curious as to how they had come up it. Alan responds almost laughing, "That was Charlie being literal, really." "It still confuses venues sometimes," continues Kiley, "like they think they're hiring a DJ, and then we show up as a band and are like 'Nope, we told you we're a band'." "The name succinctly tells what we're doing and sound like," finished Alan. It all makes perfect sense to me: humorous, yet upfront and direct.
Kiley tells me they're looking forward to recording on their own soon. While they may outsource a little bit for a producer or recording studio, they own most of their own equipment and could probably do it themselves. She makes it very clear that the band has taken a lot of initiative in learning how to produce and perfect their own sound by mastering both the hardware and the software.
"It can be really challenging," she explains, "and I love that. There is a ton of technology that Charlie's really good at. He helps with a lot of it. There's is a lot of learning with creating sounds, learning the software. I’ve learned a lot playing on my little synth."
I suddenly realize how advanced this band truly is and appreciate that each member genuinely contributes to their success. We start chatting about some of those successful moments as they develop themselves nationally. "We'll know we've made it when we're playing a really great venue and we have a full crowd." Alan shares, recalling shows in Colorado and Illinois. Kiley reminds me, though, that it isn't the fame that drives their passion and performances: "The audience response is great, but we also feel great personal fulfillment. I think that's the best part."
Photo Courtesy of DJ noDJ
Kiley, now gingerly applying mascara to her lashes, starts telling me about her favorite memories with the band: "I'm gonna brag here for a moment," she turns to me and pauses her lash game to share her favorite story.
"We were touring in Colorado in this big van and it was my turn to drive," she begins, "and we just happened to take the most dangerous road." She gestures to show me the steep mountain pass she drove around and tells me about the drop just feet outside the lane she navigated. "I was white-knuckling it the whole time. It was really scary, but I did it," she says victoriously. "It was my proudest moment. And most responsible!" Alan laughs and recalls the mountain pass as well, agreeing that Kiley's driving was "on point" before talking about some of his favorite moments as well. "We love playing Emporium here. The crowd is always bangin'. They're super hyped and everyone's dancing. The sound here is great, and it's a great stage." His absolute favorite memory though? He looks up and cocks his head as he reminisces, "Probably playing at Belly Up
in Aspen and just traveling with the band."
Photo Courtesy of DJ noDJ
Party in the Bathroom!
Matt, the keyboardist, enters the bathroom abruptly with his beer, cheerful and rather enthusiastic. I greet him reminding him, that 'we are live from the bathroom' and catch him up to speed. Matt adds on saying he loves playing here at Emporium because it's a "free show, which is rare in Chicago on a Friday night!" He reminds me this is like their neighborhood so playing 'at home' is really special.
I consider myself a bit of a techy, often geeking out over hardware and computers, so I frequently ask for groups to share their must-have piece of equipment. Matt insists he couldn't live without his MIDI controller which makes sense as the keyboardist. "My must-have,” Alan divulges "the SPD-SX Sampling Pad
. I can plug into it, get a deep kick and tons of sound effects!” Kiley says her must-have tool is probably MainStage
, the program she uses with her MIDI controller.
Shoot for the Moon to Land Among Stars
Patrick walks into the bathroom at this time to join us for the fun. "If you could play with any artist, dead or alive, who would your dream collab be with?" Kiley is stumped by the question at first, turning to Alan and Matt for help answering. They suggest a few names, but Kiley but confidently chooses French electronic duo, Justice.
To me, this makes perfect sense and goes along with their Daft Punk cover sound excellently. Matt chooses Queen, if the iconic, British rock band were still around, recalling a cool backup keyboard act, and that playing with Queen would have to be one of those bucket list moments.
As for dream music festivals or shows to either play or attend, the band says Red Rocks is a dream venue (as I'm sure is for most bands and current DJs), but they'd love to play shows in Ibiza. We may also find the band scoping out a festival in Denmark called KaZantip
, an outrageous festival known for extreme sports, music and a spirited experience. For now, we’ll find DJ noDJ touring across the U.S., but we'll definitely keep an eye out for them abroad.
Photo Courtesy of DJ noDJ
Since the band hails from Chicago, I had to ask about their favorite Chicago pizza before they left. Kiley, who shared she was vegan, informed me that Kitchen 17
, a vegan BYOB restaurant, has a wonderful, vegan, deep dish pizza. Matt suggests I check out Craft Pizza
, over on Damen, for some of the best thin crust in town. Patrick, who prefers New York-style slices, recommends Petey's Pizza
. Clearly, these Chicago cats know their food as well as their instruments.
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