We're back with our first local scene update for 2019 — so let's get right into it.

If you have anything you think we should know about, please email us at music@smilepolitely.com, and we'll take a look, or a listen, whichever it might be.


Meet ZZO, she just released her debut album

University of Illinois student Zoe Willott (top photo) channeled her talents on the piano and her creative energies and released a solo project under the moniker, zzo, titled Telling Other People’s Stories back toward the end of the year. Frankly, this project is too well put together — laced with Willott’s subdued, at times dejected vocals over pleasing chords — to not write about on here. The project runs close to 35 minutes, just enough time to get drawn into Willott’s dreamy tales. On “Steal The Show”, she sings admiringly, “go ‘head, steal the show, you know everything that I know, only better”, over a pensive melody. In its totality, the project is an excellent introduction to Willott’s talent and dynamism as an artist.


WALUIGI'S MANSION forging its place as an Urbana house venue

House venues come and go as residents bounce from lease to lease and neighbors get annoyed to varying levels, but they never cease to pop into fruition. WALUIGI'S MANSION is one of the more recent do-it-yourself locations to come into existence, coming off their semester-opener of rock 'n roll acts over the weekend. It hosted Chicago act The Evening Attraction, as well as self-professed Hamm’s drinkers and classic rock outfit, Today’s Children, jazzy act Open Hall, and local group Archer Elevator. The folks running Waluigi’s Mansion seem to be enjoying themselves so far, so expect more developments out of this youngin’ of a house venue.

KENNA MAE returns with Still Asleep, her first new record since 2015

Folk singer KENNA MAE just released Still Asleep on Monday, but upon listening to the project, her voice cuts into your brain. On “Strong and Solid”, the project’s closer, her voice projects over a slow, steady rattle of bass drums: “I am strong and solid in my body, I am strong and solid in my body, I am deep and open in my soul, I am fearless and right in my true desire.” At the same time, Mae channels her voice into much different purposes, like on the more tender opener, “Pined For”. Mae’s fearless by self-proclamation and follows through with her artistic presence from song to song, and this project stands on its own as an impressionable early year listen.

DANCE MUSIC THERAPY back, this time at IMC in January, March and April

There ain’t nothing quite like letting your social anxieties go and getting caught up in the heat of dancing to good music. DJ’s TDM, Terrance, and KamaMau know all about that. That’s why they’re back with their program, DANCE MUSIC THERAPY, at the IMC this winter and spring. Sponsored by the Urbana Park District and started back in 2016, the event caters to a wide range of music tastes, as they play, lots of house, disco, Afrobeat, world music, and “maybe even a little bit of hip hop.” There are three dates set for the year so far, on January 26, March 23, and April 27, from 7-11 p.m.

yourbeautifulruin x KASHOW “daydreams” track as he opens new year by working with new artist

It can be hard to make a name for oneself as a producer nowadays, with artists getting the lion’s share of credit for music. Though he hasn’t been putting out beats for all too long, Allen Xu, who goes by yourbeautifulruin, is making waves in the campus scene, providing a number of UIUC, Chambana and now Chicago artists with memorable, ear-popping production. He opened the 2019 slate by teaming up with Chicago act KASHOW for a wavy single titled, “daydreams”. Yourbeautifulruin balances eclectic synths and reverberating drums with KASHOW’s matter-of-fact bars, which results in a natural fit for the Chicago spitter. He’s been racking up an impressive catalog of work with area artists, including IsaiahG, Adobo, Chase Baby, and CJ Run, among others. Don’t expect that to change anytime soon.

A community recording studio on the way to IMC?

There’s something great about how music brings people together. It’s even greater when it brings people together right here in C-U, and that’s what artist Yung’n Muhdy is trying to do by building a studio at IMC for community use. He’s hosting a meeting where people can find out more, get involved, combine resources, and see what it will take to get the project done this weekend at the IMC at 11 a.m. The meeting will also serve as the launchpad for planning fundraising events for the studio, which is geared toward hosting hip-hop, punk, metal, rock, alternative, and more types of music makers.

CHAMPAIGN IS ALSO A BAND podcast cataloging Chambana’s ever-evolving scene

Back in June of last year, Sven Johnson started linking up with Chambana artists and people involved in music in the area for CHAMPAIGN IS ALSO A BAND, chopping it up and getting into what they do. Throughout the year, Johnson did shows with the folks who run Girls Rock! C-U, Melvin Knight, Tim McGee of Primitive Lights, and recently, he did a special on retired Heirship Records and Chambana DIY grinder, Isaac Arms. Johnson speaks with tons of people who worked with and around Arms and the impact of their work on artists and the scene in general. There isn’t much quite like this podcast around here, in terms of the in-depth, off-cuff analysis and input from area artists, and Arms’ story is an interesting one to dive into.