The first time Elton Aura entered my orbit was completely by chance.
Walking through the door and up the stairs of Subterranean with my girlfriend by my side, shaking the stubborn layer of snow from my collar, I was immediately taken back by the opening act occupying the stage. A run of show posted beside the bar revealed the act to be Elton Aura. Beers in hand, the two of us settled into the dark sway of the room and watched and moved as Elton masterfully owned the stage, winning us over in the process.
A native of Montgomery, a west Chicago suburb, or the "Valley", referring to the Fox River Valley, Elton creates from a place of deliberate understanding, avoiding the negative and creating music that is undeniably positive. Think Bob Ross. After all, that’s exactly how Elton describes the way he approaches his craft. At seven years old, his grandparents planted a seed of harmony by introducing him to the 1998 TV miniseries The Temptations. He describes this as the starting point for his interest in music, and it's clear he learned early on what sounds carry beyond the city's outskirts: deeply communal vibrations. For him, it seems that what now comes from within began from the outside looking in, much like his eventual move to Chicago proper. And as Chicago advances into the spotlight of being revered as a musical mecca, artists like Elton are becoming the prominent faces in a growing scene. His earliest musical venture, The Art of Cool, was a group designed to accomplish that and more.
Finding traction in the suburbs is an often fruitless journey. While The Valley provided room and relative comfort to grow as musicians, without the presence of an actively growing music scene, worthwhile venues prove hard to find. Between these facts and the importance of being around like minds, it was apparent their operations needed a larger populous to build a following. Chicago became the proper location of Elton & Co.
The MDMC Days: Elton & Phoelix
Moving the music to the city proved positive for The Art of Cool, as they found more avenues to success in Chicago’s art scene. Like many large and talented groups, the musicians began to split off into smaller, more specialized sounds. It was at this point that Elton narrowed focus with his longtime friend and collaborator Phoelix to form MDMC. If you’re familiar with psychoactives, you can probably draw your own conclusions about the naming convention.
There are bedroom projects, and there are bedroom "damn-near-everything DIY" bedroom projects. The era of MDMC fell into the latter category. It would best be considered a period of extreme focus in a realm of inspiration. Their most recent Loud Dream (Right) and Lisa were two projects the duo produced in the span of one day. Projects. Not just tracks. In a day. The music itself is a testament to what’s possible when you work closely with those you know and trust. The chemistry between them is tangible, something you should absolutely take the time to tap into.
A Solo Journey: Elton & Independence
Since the full swing of MDMC, Elton floated into something with a softer, soothing glow. Although his collaboration with Phoelix remains consistent in the form of a producer tag on most releases, his direction has become more atmospheric. The same is true of the subject matter, and the cover art to boot. It’s a comprehensive transformation. One of his first solo arrivals, “Stress, Love” (above) serves as a fitting introduction to Elton on a more personal level.
If you’re looking for him today, you’ll most likely find him in a distinct and recognizable pattern: red, cream, green, and blue. These are commonly reflected in the cover art we’ve seen from him thus far.
Anderson Paak. Knxwledge. Iman Omari. These are the first three people who come to mind as he deliberates over who, ideally, he'd like to work with someday. His next thought: "anybody from TDE". The conversation then unavoidably turns to Isaiah Rashad, whose "Cilvia Demo" served as a source of ongoing inspiration, as well as respite for Elton and Phoelix back when they lived in Hyde Park.
Inspirations and aspirations like these explain how Elton maintains that addiction fans get for musicians who create and channel originality through sound. That same compulsion that compels you to hit refresh, or share newly discovered music. But these aspirations for the future only comprise the paramount goals of a proven and promising path traveled thus far. As impressive as what's to come for Elton is the strength of the connections made among his peers. It seems that almost every couple weeks he drops a new composition showcasing the shine and artistry of others as much as his own, each time presenting an adventurous new flavor to the listener.
In his own words:
"We all have a story to tell, we all just want to be a part of something. I feel like once I tell my story, other people relate to it - and we can all tap into something deeper."
Back at Subterannean, the effects of his music and attitude toward others are beginning to be felt throughout the venue, a couple craned their necks and scooted closer as I turned to reload my plastic cup. His performance feels like a one-on-one conversation with each person in the audience, no less sincere than the best discussions. His notes and rhythms dissected the air. It was obvious that everyone could feel it. The main floor of the room was filled with musicians and fans alike - a feeling of appreciation and belonging simply radiated. That’s what Chicago music is all about, and seeing someone embody it the way Elton Aura does demonstrates what’s probable and necessary for this city to keep growing. Anything less is just a series of Happy Accidents.