Steve Krakow’s apartment is the psychedelic mind of his alter ego, Plastic Crimewave, externalized. Every shelf and wall space has been filled with comic books, figurines, campy LP artwork and a wide variety of vintage, psychedelic ephemera. “It was probably my parents to blame.” He said, acknowledging our wandering eyes. “When I was young they never let me hang anything on my walls.” A library of LPs, 45s and tapes occupies one side of the apartment. Nestled back in the corner of the living room sat a functioning 45-rpm record jukebox. An illustrator, musician and writer, Krakow’s varied influences are made evident by the curiosity-shop quality of his home.
En route to Chi-Town, Reckless records recommended to us a variety of vinyl collectors in the Chicago area. It went without saying, a city with such a rich and diverse musical history must have a proportionate amount of vinyl record stores, enthusiasts and collectors. Among those recommended was Steve Krakow, A.K.A. Plastic Crimewave. The moniker alone was enough to intrigue us, but after learning that he collects rare and unusual psychedelic music, the deal was sealed.
Krakow is a guitar player and prominent figure in Chicago’s experimental music scene. He has recorded and performed extensively as Plastic Crimewave and as an illustrator he produces a psychedelic magazine occasional, the Galactic Zoo Dossier, as well as a series called the Secret History of Chicago Music, a bimonthly info strip in the Chicago Reader. The byline reads, “pivotal Chicago musicians that somehow have not gotten their just dues.”
“I have my own standards for who qualifies as obscure enough,” Krakow said about the Secret History. Sometimes his goal is to promote groups known to Chicago-natives but unknown to outsiders. Other times he said, “I love finding something in the thrift store, seeing that it’s from Chicago and looking on the back cover to see if there might be someone who has searchable name, not like John Smith.”
The term collector doesn't sit well with him. The word brings to mind guys who seal everything in plastic bags to file away - the kind who “flip” records rather than listen to them. During the time that he worked in a record store, he saw how “dudes” who would put records in his shop on hold and simultaneously post them on eBay for higher prices drove up the price of vinyl.
In contrast, Krakow has a listener appreciation approach to collecting. To exemplify this, he recounted how much effort went in to finding obscure music before the Internet facilitated the exchange of material. “I used to trade tapes with guys over seas to get a fourth generation copy of some record that was totally mysterious. You would see it and say okay, okay 1969 and see that he described it as ‘freak rock.’ That was it. And that was the only way to get stuff sometimes and most of the time it sounded like ass.” After previously only hearing taped, third-generation-copies, hearing reissues of rare material these days is a privilege.
But Krakow does much more than just collect records. He curates the Million Tongues Festival as an attempt to reconnect artists back to their records. An exposition of freak-folk and noise musicians, the festival has featured past performers such as Peter Walker, Bert Jansch, Michael Chapman and Terry Reid in addition to tons of obscure acts.
We had a great time talking with Steve and listening to his records and we’d encourage you to learn more about his work and recent activity at plasticcrimewave.com, knowing beforehand it’s bound to be informative, interesting and fittingly far out.
--- Jonathan Shifflett