GTW to steal IndieU spotlight on Dillo Day

Chicago-based artist The GTW will perform Saturday on the IndieU stage at Dillo Day.

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Chicago-based artist The GTW will perform Saturday on the IndieU stage at Dillo Day.

Scott Ostrin, Music Columnist

You may have expected an OK Go preview in your copy of The Current today. That may have even been what you wanted. But I’m not about giving you what you want! I’m about giving you what you need.

I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that most readers don’t need a primer on the alt-rock band that hit its peak stride (pun very intended) while dancing on treadmills back in 2006. They’re fun, they’re alt, they balance out the other performers and you’re gonna go see them. It’s OK, go.

This frees me up to write an article about the IndieU artists, the five Chicago musicians WNUR selected to perform at Dillo Day for half an hour a pop. We know four of them as of writing: RUNNING, Teen Witch Fan Club, Tink and The GTW.

At least, I thought it would free me up to write about four artists. One stole the spotlight, this article and my heart.

But before I dive in, here’s what you need to know about the other three to decide whether or not to pull yourself away from the main stage. RUNNING is a garage, punk rock band with angry, thrashing sounds and distorted lyrics. They’re partnered with Castle Face Records, which houses many psychedelic, punk and overall distortion rock artists.

Teen Witch Fan Club is about as hipster as Dillo Day will get. Zain Curtis remixes famous songs like Miley Cyrus’ “Wrecking Ball” or Taylor Swift’s “Red” into comic, schlocky dance pastiches. This genre is known as vaporwave, a satirical take on kitschy pop culture that satirizes by becoming even kitschier. If you love irony, you’ll love Teen Witch Fan Club.

Tink, the first female performer at Dillo Day in a few years, brings two styles: the self-assured but predictable bass-dropping rap style of 2013’s “Boss Up” and the smooth R&B stylings of 2014’s “Winter’s Diary 2.” Definitely give “When it Rains” a listen.

So feel free to come and drop by for these performers’ 30-minute shows. But I implore you to see The GTW above all other performers this Saturday. James “Akaninyene” King is a real undiscovered diamond, or at least his 2010 mixtape “Don’t Smoke the Cigarette” is.

His easy blend of R&B and smooth rap is reminiscent of A Tribe Called Quest, especially on tracks like “Sweet & Sour.” The easy lounge feel on this song comes through the soft percussion and GTW’s controlled, steady delivery.

There’s a different style for every song, and even on tracks where the production is basic or not trying to blow you away, King manages to do something interesting with his voice, lyrics or layering. “O.M.B.,” the third track, is about as straight a track as can be. Instead of being generic, GTW apes the style of straight rap to break down what he thinks are fake women.

This eclectic style culminates in mixtape closer “Sound of Music,” with Jay-Z levels of confidence in both delivery and production. He knows that all this song needs to work is a hooky synth and some beating bass for the verses. Just wait for it all to explode in the chorus with those funky backing vocals, the song says.

This whole album is laden with themes of insecurity that King sees in mainstream performers and the vices they succumb to as a result. This is a smart rapper who is talking about things that are not mindless consumption of money, drugs and sex (cough), but someone with something to say. GTW tackles the insincerity of the models to the facade of success to the trappings of label deals. All that’s bubbling underneath the surface is the reality of King’s struggle to be heard as a musician. “Put me on the site and I got that buzz/It was a few hundred people but I got that love,” he raps on the intro of the mixtape. The fans and the people and the love matter more than the appearance of success for King, and it should for us as well.

And he’s not afraid to be vulnerable. Seventh track “Henessy Joint (Remix)” finds GTW rapping about alcoholism as a romance. Startlingly vulnerable on this track, King strips away any remaining wall to be as real as possible, to show that he practices what he preaches.

Look, the highest possible praise I can give this artist is that he will be kept in my listening circulation after this article has been finished. I can’t say the same for the other artists I’ve reviewed this quarter.

GTW’s next production, “Chigeria” is set to drop this summer. His first track, “Calling Cards,” was released back in February, and it is just as consistently fun and rhythmic as his other R&B work. Check him out at IndieU’s stage on Saturday. Seriously, you need this.

Correction: A previous version of this story misstated the group which selected the IndieU stage artists. WNUR selected the artists. The Daily regrets the error.

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Twitter: @scottostrin22