Area residents share the music at listening party

UI alumnus Josh King, right, and graduate student Leah Zinthefer talk during a listening party at the Independent Media Center, 202 S. Broadway Ave. Urbana, Wednesday evening. The event, which takes place on the third Wednesday of every month, is intended Erica Magda

By Jim Vorel

There aren’t many places in Champaign-Urbana where one is likely to come across a giant cardboard Illini Lego-man. Fewer still are those places where the silent cardboard colossus might be joined by towering sunflowers and blades of grass dotting the walls of a renovated post office. Throw in an independent community radio station, a community performance stage and some high-end audio equipment, and you have a truly unique destination.

All of these things can be found at the Independent Media Center in Urbana, located at 202 S. Broadway Ave. Since 2003, the IMC has operated in the Urbana area as a nonprofit Registered Student Organization. The IMC operates out of a location that was once an Urbana post office, but one would never know it to see the inside of the building. The stage is dominated by a huge sculpted peace sign, and the easygoing vibe is reinforced by the plush couches, carpets and images of nonviolence advocates like Martin Luther King Jr. One wall made of giant replica Scrabble tiles reminds all comers that use of the letter “F” is worth four points.

Last Thursday, the IMC played host to the first of its new series of “listening parties.” The events, according to IMC regular and coordinator Daniel Blah, are a way for people to discover more about their own musical preferences and those of others.

At the listening party, music fans bring a burned CD to the IMC and explore each others’ musical tastes. Working in a round format, participants select one or two songs from their CD that they would like played, and the crowd listens without knowing the artist or who had requested the song. Afterward, the song may get an explanation, and all songs join the master list of what has been played that evening. Blah, who works for an Urbana software company doing Web design, said that events like the listening parties are a good way to make new participants aware of the IMC.

“I’m an active core member here at the IMC, and we’ve probably got about 25 more core members,” Blah said. “Not enough people know that the IMC is here, and not enough students in particular. People don’t think of Urbana as being the trendy place for music, but it really is.”

Blah went on to describe the shows that the IMC regularly puts on: small shows about three or four times a month, and larger shows slightly less frequently. He said that many of the groups are new or young groups looking for exposure.

“There’s actually a lot of great high school bands that want to make use of our sound system,” Blah said. “We can fit hundreds of people in here, so this is a good place for them to get used to performing in front of real crowds.”

The listening party didn’t exactly attract the crowd that Blah described, but he was pleased by the dozen participants in the event. He also added that he expects numbers to increase as word spreads and members tell their friends to come along. At the event itself, the music played proved extremely eclectic, varying in tone from snappy pop tunes, to indie rock, to folk, to 20-minute rock epics and back again. Even classical composers such as Beethoven found representation in the varied tastes of the participants. Some participants gave short summaries of the music before or after their songs played, emphasizing why they played that particular song and what they hoped others might get out of it.

Adam Vogel, a graduate of the College Of Engineering in 2007, said he was impressed by how much he could learn about people during the event.

“I really think it’s useful to learn about new music by networking with new people, and this is a great way to do it,” said Vogel, who is hoping to get involved in WRFU 104.5, the community radio station broadcast from the IMC. “Myself, I love indie and psychedelic rock, but there’s no better way to find out about music you never would have known about than by sharing your tastes with other people.”

He added that he hoped to have his own radio show on WRFU about media and culture in Urbana.

Emily Johnson, a local disc jockey at the IMC, said that she appreciated the listening party for the social aspect. With her CD of classic jazz remixed into modern dance music, she stood next to a pony-sized origami swan, another of the IMC’s unique pieces of décor, and talked about how she appreciated the laid-back atmosphere.

“I’ve been a member here for about six months, and it’s really a great place to expand your horizons,” Johnson said. “Every time I go to an event like one of these listening parties, I’m hearing music I’ve never heard before. That’s exciting to me. You never know what you’ll hear.”

Are you ready to broaden your musical horizons?

  • When: Wednesday, Feb. 20 from 7-10 p.m.
  • Where: The Independent Media Center, 202 S. Broadway Ave., Urbana.
  • What to bring: a burned CD or iPod mix. Make it something you want people to be exposed to, not something everyone has already heard thousands of times.