Coffee and musicians hold an affinity for one another. The easiest explanations for why the two drift toward each other fall on tropes like the bleary-eyed-in-the-morning rocker or sleepless wigged-out artist, and maybe those are right. Whatever the reason, new collaborations between the two appear monthly. This year saw LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy team up with Blue Bottle and St. Vincent with Intelligentsia. Those are the big indie acts getting together. Small bands and small roasters team up regularly, like Jittery Joe’s Coffee and the great Southern rock band Futurebirds, both out of Athens, Georgia.
Dark Matter Coffee in Chicago has turned their musician collaborations into monthly gigs and even full-blown art projects. They’ve teamed up with funk, soul, jazz, house, world music, and metal artists, and not just released coffee but issued limited runs of CDs and cassettes, commissioned new music, and even staged concerts.
Though their work with sludge metal gods Mastodon was what caught my eye initially, it’s far from their most interesting project. Considering it includes a bourbon-aged roast and a barrel-aged cold brew with a story about cyborg-mastodons traveling in time to seek revenge on the Clovis people, that’s pretty incredible. It’s just hard to place that next to their project with the Chicago Jazz Fest, which included a coffee tribute to the immortal Sun Ra that bore unreleased album artwork and a commissioned work by DJ King Britt. The launch party for the coffee—a Sun Ra tribute set by King Britt and a visual artist—kicked off the Chicago Jazz Festival.
Kyle Hodges, Dark Matter’s minister of propaganda (yes, that’s right), says the collaborations started because, “We just wanted to make it something cool.” Dark Matter gets the artists involved in the selection process, evening bringing them to cuppings when the logistics work. The goal behind the band choices is the same as it was for the record shop Hodges used to own: diversity. With coffee’s honoring a Saturn-born angel and hirsute shredders, they’ve covered a wide field. As Hodges says, “We’ve tried to take the bowtie out of coffee.”
—Cory Eldridge is Fresh Cup’s editor and believes Leviathan is the sixth greatest metal album of all time.