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Wild Belle’s Big Break

BORN TO BE WILD: The siblings behind the new electro-reggae group play the Hideout Block Party in advance of their Columbia Record debut

Natalie and Elliot Bergman of Wild Belle

Natalie and Elliot Bergman know how to make a strong impression. When the siblings of Wild Belle perform, Natalie’s piercing voice darts and glides over Elliot’s soulful keyboard vamps and saxophone fanfares, and she shimmies and sways to the groove.

It’s a potent combination. Wild Belle needed only a self-released single and a few live shows—including an acclaimed gig at March’s South by Southwest music conference—to garner attention from big labels, leading to a deal with Columbia Records, home to such iconic names as Miles, Dylan, Springsteen, and Beyoncé. The duo’s as-yet-untitled record isn’t scheduled to be released until February, but you will have a chance to hear them this month when they perform as part of the Hideout Block Party. (Wilco, Iron and Wine, Glen Hansard, and others are also scheduled to play.)

While their success has been sudden, music has been a central part of their lives ever since Elliot, 31, and Natalie, 23, were kids in the northwest suburbs and Gold Coast. Their mother played jazz standards on the piano and supplemented their music lessons with tutoring from members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Their father unwound from his work in investment technology by strumming Dylan songs. The Bergman ensemble includes two other siblings, who play in a bluegrass band.

Elliot and Natalie began performing together seven years ago, when he invited her to tour with Nomo, his Afropop band. She sang backup, played percussion, and sold merchandise.

Last year, while working on the latest Nomo record, the Bergmans began recording some of Natalie’s songs and quickly realized they had their own identity. “My music was not Nomo. It was love ballads I wrote out of a broken heart,” Natalie says over lunch at El Barco, a Mexican restaurant in Wicker Park that’s a family favorite.

Although Elliot, a saxophonist who studied jazz at the University of Michigan, plays most of the music, the band clearly bears Natalie’s imprint (Belle is her middle name). Her love of early Bob Marley and Bill Withers is reflected in the songs’ slinky mix of reggae and soul with contemporary electronic grooves. “We try to walk the line between the vintage and future, electric and organic,” Elliot says.

Given that Natalie has a voice reminiscent of Amy Winehouse’s and the look of a ‘60s Bond girl, it’s easy to see why Columbia saw potential in Wild Belle’s highly danceable music. The star-maker machine grinds slowly, though, and the Bergmans are growing restless waiting for the release of their record. “Now that we’re working with a big label,” Natalie says, “we want big things to do.”

GO The Hideout Block Party & AV Fest runs September 14 to 15 at the Hideout; $40 to $60. For info, hideoutchicago.com.

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REST OF THE FESTS

Check out three other rousing concerts this month

Big Boi

NORTH COAST MUSIC FEST
August 31 to September 2
Dubbed Summer’s Last Stand, this fest invades Union Park with a huge range of acts, like rapper Big Boi and mixing guru Girl Talk.
northcoastfestival.com

 

James Ehnes

BEETHOVEN FESTIVAL
September 8 to 16

Violin virtuoso James Ehnes is one of many renowned guests to honor the composer. A ballet, The Creatures of Prometheus, rounds out the lineup.
internationalbeethovenproject.com

 

Rise Against

RIOT FEST AND CARNIVAL
September 14 to 16

Chicago punk rockers Rise Against, Iggy and the Stooges, and the Offspring headline this event in Humboldt Park.
riotfest.org

 

Photography: (Wild belle) Clayton Hauck; (Big Boi) AP/Damian Dovarganes; (James Ehnes) Benjamin Ealovega; (Rise Against) Evan Hunt; Hair and Makeup: (Wild Belle) Ashley Vest; Photographer Assistant: (Wild Belle) Lauren Butterfield

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