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updated: 7/30/2014 11:23 AM

Local Gemini Club brings mix of rock, electronica to Lolla stage

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  • When the band Gemini Club formed in Chicago a few years ago, the members set playing Lollapalooza as a goal. This year, they will do just that on Sunday.

      When the band Gemini Club formed in Chicago a few years ago, the members set playing Lollapalooza as a goal. This year, they will do just that on Sunday.
    Courtesy of Gemini Club

  • Video: Gemini Club's "By Surprise"

 
 

Electronic music has been on the rise to the extent where it can almost challenge good, old-fashioned rock 'n' roll for ascendancy at Lollapalooza, the annual alternative rock festival that has made Chicago its home since 2005.

So perhaps it's fitting that no band better reflects that shift than Chicago's own Gemini Club, which sits on the cusp between rock and electronica, with a date to play at 1 p.m. Sunday in the Grove on the last day of the three-day fest starting Friday.

"Our goal as a band has shifted a little bit over the years," said Dan Brunelle, the four-man group's "producer," but not as in a record producer. Rather, he alters and toys with the band's sound in performance with a bit of what he calls "digital trickery."

"When we started, our sort of mission statement was 'the rock band that can play into a DJ mixer.'

"Now that we're out there with more traditional rock bands, we've adapted," Brunelle added. "We're more the electronic act among bands than a band among electronic acts. … We want to be a rock band, first and foremost."

Gemini Club started out four years ago when Brunelle, from Barrington, began writing music with Tom Gavin, now the group's vocalist. They were students at Columbia College downtown along with Gordon Bramli, an aspiring disc jockey from Belgium.

As Brunelle puts it, kids in Europe get a set of turntables where American teens might get a Fender guitar and an amp.

"Being European," Brunelle said, "he always keeps us sort of centered and up to date with what's going on in clubs and the full electronic world."

Yet, if they were tilting toward electronica as a trio, things definitely changed when they brought on drummer Ryan Luciani, a Naperville product Brunelle described as "a John Bonham devotee, to his credit," referencing the Led Zeppelin drummer renowned for his ham-fisted style.

"He hits the drum so hard," Brunelle said of Luciani, "and he just brings that heavy, heavy rock energy into it, and it works really well."

Live, Luciani has helped them go from a more flowing, DJ-oriented style to something slightly more conventional in the way of songs that can be replicated onstage -- and, of course, recorded and put out as product, which is essential to any self-respecting band even in this day of digital music downloads.

Brunelle and Gavin often sport guitars or guitar-like devices, just to increase the rock-band look and feel.

"We come from a really broad range of backgrounds and musical tastes," Brunelle said. "It's not so much changing what we are, but more shifting the focus of what we like."

Where Brunelle comes in is in treating all their sounds to help make a cohesive, coherent whole uniquely theirs. If that doesn't seem like a traditional rock role, consider the recent profile of Brian Eno in The New Yorker. Eno, now a renowned rock producer, started out in Roxy Music similarly treating the band's music in live performance, in the days before sampling became commonplace. Brunelle said there are definite parallels in what he does.

"What I think electronic music really represents is a paradigm shift from notes to sounds," Brunelle said. "I'm just pretty deeply fascinated by sampling and hip-hop." He said much of his techniques concern "resampling," taking the sounds generated by the others in the band and converting them digitally into something else.

"Sometimes there's a little bit of 'Hey, I didn't play that,'" Brunelle acknowledged. "And I'm like, 'Yeah, but isn't it cool?' To me, as long as the end product is engaging and sounds good, then that's good."

That mix of rock and electronic is also a product of their hometown, as Chicago is home to rocking electric blues as well as the electronic dance music that grew out of house.

"There's a lot of diversity," Brunelle said, "but there's definitely a community. It's a big city with a little-town feel.

"There are a lot of fully electronic artists out there who are really pushing the envelope," he said, "and we try to pull from their inspirations and put it into a rock-band context."

Lollapalooza, then, brings them home full circle. "From the day we started, that was like … we decided on the name Gemini Club, and then we said, 'Let's play Lolla.' So it's a really big milestone for us.

"We've been looking over the fence for four years, and now we're gonna be onstage. It's humbling and really exciting."

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