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Music Reviews

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Fat Possum
LOSTATSEA.NET > FEATURES >

December 5, 2006
Every idiot (and his brother) has a blog. Or a podcast. Or some other electronic web-form of expressing pointless things about themselves. However there are clearly a select few websites, podcasts, and blogs that are of the upper echelon in the general music dialogue arena (I call them "web-needles in the Internet haystack"). These elite often contribute in forming stylish opinions and mirror somewhat of a consensus, or at least gather enough focus to convince readers as much.

Late this summer I heard about two 30-year-old Chicago individuals Fred Wells (33) and Gabe McDonough (31) and their increasingly popular music podcast, Market Frenzy. The story I read explained that the DJs played a wide range of songs, from acid disco to indie rock, had nearly 1,000 weekly show downloads, and were performing the service free of charge to downloaders. Since checking it out a few months ago I have become hooked, awaiting each week's new episode with a zeal just as genuine as when I began listening to music in the first place. Much of Market Frenzy's appeal obviously comes from the buzz of discovering great new material each week, but equally absorbing is the friendly banter that is charged between the knowledgeable and humorous co-hosts.

The type of discussion that is held between Wells and McDonough, reminiscent of college-radio at its best, is a residual effect from the manner in which the program began. The two music enthusiasts met circa 2000 through mutual friends, but for five years knew each other merely as acquaintances. It wasn't until a New Year's party that Wells was hosting that the podcast's triumvirate was eventually brought together: Wells, McDonough, and the idea of mixtapes. Having previously exchanged personalized mix CDs with each other, they began to talk about making something bigger out of the process.

"At the time [early 2005] 'podcasting' was more of a buzz word than anything," recalls McDonough while lounging at a bar across the street from Wells' apartment, which doubles as Market Frenzy's recording headquarters, a.k.a. SoFu Studio ("south of Fullerton").

McDonough concedes that it took some prodding from Wells to convince him it was all worth the effort. In 2005 - just as at the start of the .com/website days a decade earlier - few people understood the management behind publishing or even just creating a podcast. However, after a couple weeks of doing research online, Wells was confident that he had the idea down. Soon the show's name had been chosen and, in April of that year, Market Frenzy made its debut.

During the first year of the show there was not a week that went by without a broadcast. Every Tuesday a program was taped and two days later it was released on the website, www.market-frenzy.com, and through a free subscription that enables listeners to download it directly through programs like iTunes. Although the show's second year has brought along a few growing pains - there have been sporadic weeks of filler or missed programming - Gabe and Fred are still going strong.

"Why has it lasted this long, why haven't we pod-faded?" McDonough cracks. "You know what, I have no idea. I think it's because for me it's like scheduled fun."

"It's never become work," Wells adds. "We're sitting around playing music to each other that we like, you know, and basically recording it. That's what we were doing before. Whenever we're together, it's like, 'I just listened to such and such, it's fucking amazing! You gotta check it out.'"

The duo's seemingly unexplainable success and chemistry both have a lot to do with complementary balance. McDonough is a tallish, bearded, long-haired white dude originally from Kelowna, a small town towards Canada's west coast. Wells is a shorter, sometimes mustache'd (fuck, sorry Fred), short-haired black guy who was raised on the other side of North America in the much larger city of Baltimore, Maryland. Both men followed friends to Chicago with little or no knowledge of the city, not to mention jobs or apartments to land in.

Somewhat ironically, both were aided by music connections as they settled into their new city surroundings. McDonough was assisted by Kelowna friend and his onetime band mate in the Boas, Graeme Gibson, in getting a job at the Rainbo Club as a doorman and bartender. For Wells, he claims that when he first moved to Chicago his only knowledge of the city was "Screeching Weasel and Underdog Records." After buying some time with a short-term temp position, it was an Underdog staffer who tipped Wells off to his first real Chicago job at a Copy Max in Wicker Park.

There are more distinct characteristics that appear between the two when they are on air. For their October 10th podcast, one of Fred's picks was the hardcore punk track "Aspirin Kid," from The Nation of Ulysses, and later Gabe slotted the dance groove "54B" from Mudd into the set. An October 31st set started off with some psychedelic rock from Spacemen 3 and followed up with a new Nas track, "Hip Hop Is Dead." Some Market Frenzy programs will feature underground and mainstream artists alike, with rare tracks given as much credence as hit songs, in every subgenre of rock, electronic, soul/R&B, jazz, folk, rap, and world. If your favorite category is missing from that list, just listen to next week's episode; McDonough and Wells will probably cover it.

Some people would view this as a situation of musicheads being know-it-alls, but in this case it is actually just two music fans talking shop, no pretensions. "I always envisioned [Market Frenzy] as exactly what it is - a couple guys hanging out, talking about music, playing records," says McDonough. Humble intentions become even more obvious when the DJs reference themselves as "nerding out," which is a self-conscious phrase they use to describe becoming heavily interested with a particular track or artist.

Much of the show is all about nerding out. One of the only strategies that Wells and McDonough established before going public was that there would be no negative criticism of bands. Instead, the program is a forum intended solely to explore music and champion the parts that the hosts find noteworthy.

"First of all, it's very entertaining to me when people talk shit about bands... but part of that thought process is that I'm not a critic, I'm an enthusiast," McDonough explains. "I'm not gonna waste my time spewing negativity to people. Why would I play a band on my show and then go on and talk trash about them? Anything we play, we play 'cause we love it, and we can't help but say good things about it."

Market Frenzy's positive attitude, exceptional and rounded taste palette, and friendly atmosphere have generated a significant buzz. In addition to the Chicago Reader feature that first turned me on to the program, there has been a Spin Magazine blurb, additional work gained for Gabe and Fred in doing interviews for an Empty Bottle podcast, and a few offered advertisements (which have been turned down). Other industry types and musicians in Chicago have begun to take notice as well, with the show playing host to the likes of Flosstradamus's Autobot and J2K, Overcoat Records owner Howard Greynolds, Joan of Arc's Tim Kinsella, Isotope 217's Matt Lux, and others.

As word of mouth spreads about Market Frenzy, people in countries across the globe that the hosts have never visited are emailing them to express their enjoyment. Lately residents of Turkey, South Africa, and South American countries have done as much. It's almost as if listeners are "nerding out" about the show; being enthusiasts towards the original enthusiastic cause. Even though Market Frenzy is not the most important show ever, it does fulfill a purpose for the hosts and music lovers alike: to share good music with others. That alone makes them pretty important, whether the weekly download totals are 800 or 800,000.

SEE ALSO: www.market-frenzy.com

--
Josh Zanger
Joshua Ian Zanger, a native of rural Chicago, rocks many a world with his writing, style, and generally sweet aroma.

See other articles by Josh Zanger.

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