Farewell to DJ Dave Roberts of Planet Earth and Late Bar

Dave Roberts in 2022 Credit: Courtesy Kristine Hengl

Veteran local DJ Dave Roberts died at 64 on Monday, February 6, after a bacterial infection spread from his spine into his bloodstream. In 1994, Roberts cofounded popular weekly new-wave party Planet Earth with his longtime partner and collaborator, Kristine Hengl, at Lincoln Park alternative bar Club 950 (aka Lucky Number). Planet Earth moved to Neo in the early 2000s, where it stayed until Roberts and Hengl opened Avondale night spot Late Bar in 2009. Late Bar then became Planet Earth’s longest-term home.

“Dave Roberts created a space where the subculture of outsiders and misfits who loved the new-wave and punk music of the late 70s and 80s could celebrate that music by dancing all night—and also connect with each other to form a community of friends, breathing life back into that subculture,” says Roberts’s friend Dave Awl. “In the process, Dave helped preserve the history of Chicago’s early punk and new-wave scene, and he mentored and inspired a new generation of Chicago DJs to embrace that sense of style and carry it forward.”

Roberts started spinning in the late 1970s and made his nightlife debut at Chicago’s first punk disco, La Mere Vipere. According to Awl, La Mere cofounder Noah “Noe” Boudreau liked the mixtapes Roberts had made and offered the budding DJ a gig. Roberts got his first regular slot at Old Town punk bar Wizards, and he continued spinning there after it became Exit. Roberts’s firsthand experience with punk and new wave helped give him the knowledge and sensibility to make Planet Earth a sensation. 

Awl first attended Planet Earth in 1998, and he says Roberts understood how to balance instant gratification with more challenging listens: he could give dancers songs they’d always loved, but he could also introduce them to songs they’d grow to love. “Dave was really, really good at playing that song that made you go, ‘What the heck was that? That’s amazing,’” Awl explains. “‘Why have I never heard that before?’ And you run up to the booth and ask him about it.”

The final Planet Earth night, which doubled as an informal memorial, was Saturday, February 11. According to Block Club’s tribute piece, Late Bar is retiring the Planet Earth name as a gesture of respect for Roberts. 

Dave Roberts at Neo in 2006 Credit: Kirk Williamson

Three Chicago composers and improvisers—cornetist Josh Berman, drummer Bill Harris, and cellist Ishmael Ali—team up with Brooklyn pianist Eli Wallace to form the all-star quartet on the standout new cassette An Ill-fitting Garment. Recorded live in December 2021 at Marmalade Studios, the West Loop space run by Harris and Ali, the cassette is a dizzying display of colliding and mutating moods and textures. Its seven beautiful, unpredictable tracks crawl from one scratchy bed of scattered polyphony to another, like a delightful but inscrutable old machine cranking to vivid life and then falling back into creaking, unsettled stillness over and over again. An Ill-fitting Garment arrives Saturday, February 18, via local artist-run label Amalgam Collective, and that night the quartet will celebrate with a show at Constellation that features an opening set from the duo of Lia Kohl and Macie Stewart. It’s a fine opportunity to pregame for next week’s Frequency Festival

The ensemble on An Ill-fitting Garment also handled the mixing, mastering, artwork, and design for this release.

In 2006, Reader critic Miles Raymer described Fake Fictions as “60s jangle with a flow that stalls and stutters, playing off the intentional awkwardness of early punks like the Modern Lovers.” That local band is long gone, but all three former members—Nick and Sarah Ammerman and Ben Bilow—have been delivering blasts of prickly, postpunk-injected power pop for several years now as Shredded Sun. They call their songs “impatient anthems for busy rockers,” and their new album, Each Dot and Each Line (recorded DIY style at home and in rehearsal spaces), has a mountain of hooks and raw energy. The band don’t play live, but these tunes could fire up a crowd in the packed club of your choosing.

Shredded Sun recorded this album with a laptop and a cassette four-track.

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Neo: where misfits fit in

The Lincoln Park club closed in 2015, after providing a sanctuary for generations of night crawlers—but its subcultural legacy continues to reverberate.

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