From dorm room jam sessions, a new underground sound emerges

By Sam Tucker, Photojournalist

Mike Kelley, a junior music composition and production major and the keyboardist for The Groovy Motherfunkers, works on his unique blend of music. Sam Tucker

In his first year at Columbia, Tony Klacz found himself moving into the last available dorm on the 11th floor of the University Center. Klacz, a junior music business major and guitar player, soon found his neighbors were just as musically minded as he was.

Over the past three years, dorm room jam sessions have evolved into TGM Recordings, a label with a mix of Columbia talent that puts on house shows across Chicago.

Klacz grew up in the southwest suburbs, but he always felt the calling of the big city as a place where he could pursue his passion for making music.

“I [wanted] to be there because I know right underneath [the skyline] is one of the most creative places in the entire world,” Klacz said. “And coming here, it’s everything I’ve dreamed of.”

Pedro Canaan, Klacz’s roommate during his first year, co-founded the TGM Recordings label with Klacz and the two collaborated on songs as more of the 11th floor musical talent in the University Center began to emerge.

Quenters Simmons, also known as QLAW, turns the venue up a notch in a private show, blurring the line between where the stage ends and where the crowd begins. Sam Tucker

Jackson Arbogast, a junior music major, brought his riffs and chords with guitar in hand to Klacz’s dorm. After their first session, they knew they were onto something.

“The room just became a Mecca. People were coming up from floors … and we’re like ‘come on and sing.’ We just had this huge group of artists,” Klacz said. “Anybody that wanted to make music was suddenly in our little, tiny dorm room.”

As word spread through the University Center, Klacz and Canaan’s dorm evolved into a collaborative space where Columbia students would come together to make and share music. Suddenly Klacz said he found himself, Arbogast, Canaan and newly introduced Andrea Contreras, who goes by the stage name Drea C., finishing about two and a half EPs in the first couple of weeks of playing together.

“We all appreciate good pop music … and that’s the thing, we’re not extremely niche or inaccessible. But, I think what we still do is unique and different,” Arbogast said.

Contreras, a junior music major, said she never really expected to be pursue a career in performing, along with having future ambitions of owning her own venue in her home city of Los Angeles.

“Songwriting and just singing in general wasn’t like the forefront of what I wanted to do until the last minute,” Contreras said. I just changed my mind and was like, ‘I’m just going to do songwriting and everything and figure it out,’ and now I’m here.”

Left to right, Tony Klacz, Mike Kelley and Judah VanDyke all use their laptops to create songs as well as live instruments. Sam Tucker

Klacz, Canaan, Arbogast and fellow Columbia student, Holland Sersen, formed The Groovy Motherfunkers and the band brought the inspiration for TGM Recordings, the label which the artists are all under.

“We’ve been preparing for seed funding to basically grow the label, not just into a bigger label, but into a PR firm as well,” Klacz said. The label’s goal: “To really help artists and creatives in Chicago to be able to access sort of this underground scene that we began to cultivate and that others are cultivating so that we can all collaboratively build that scene up right underneath the skyline,” Klacz said.

TGM has cultivated a unique environment of collaboration with a blend of genres its artists offer. Klacz said TGM cultivates their ideas and unique sound in weekly writing and rehearsal sessions.

“I think that’s the most important thing about being an artist. It’s surrounding yourself with people who are not only like minded, but help you grow as an artist,” said Judah VanDyke, a TGM artist also known as Saint Romanov. “And that’s, I feel like, what this environment does for me, for all of us living here.”

VanDyke, a journalism major at DePaul University, initially started working as security for the events and is now a mainstay in the TGM lineup with his self-described punk rock sound.

Left to right, Tony Klacz, Drea C. and Samira Jasmine play for a private rooftop party, with Chicago’s skyline providing a striking backdrop. Sam Tucker

The “rogue musical theatre major,” Samira Carr, known as Samira Jasmine onstage, also did not expect herself to be involved in something like TGM. Carr, a junior at Columbia, said she enjoys exploring her other creative passions.

“I did not think I would be doing this, but it’s something that’s really fun,” Carr said. “Just being able to share my art, honestly, in a way that I’ve never shared before because musical theatre is so different.”

At TGM’s live house shows, Quenters Simmons, who goes by Q and QLAW onstage, brings his hardcore rap sound and the occasional can of silly string to turn things up a notch at venues. Simmons wants to contribute and give back to the music scene that he is breaking through right now.

“I feel like everybody is just waiting for that chance,” Simmons said. “I want to be in a position to give people the chance that maybe I wish I got when I was young.”

Klacz said TGM is set on growing in the underground music scene that continues to flourish under Chicago’s skyline. To find out more about TGM Recordings’ current lineup of artists and more information, head over to their Instagram @tgmrecordings.