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Chicago Indie Label Challenges Majors With Electronic Visual Album

By Paul Biasco | December 5, 2014 5:44am | Updated on December 6, 2014 12:03am
 Zaena Cherif and Jason Sizer, the artists behind Maek Pandamonium.
Zaena Cherif and Jason Sizer, the artists behind Maek Pandamonium.
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CHICAGO — For 15 days, Jason Sizer's North Side home was transformed into a studio, and, for the months that followed, the city became his set.

The finished product is a 70-minute visual album that is thought to be the first ever produced by an indie music label.

The visual album, "Maek Pandamonium," features 18 continuous music videos woven into an abstract storyline and has racked up more than 140,000 views on YouTube and Vevo.

Paul Biasco says the label wants their work to always be free for fans:

The electronic album is the first work that Sizer and co-producer, Libya-born singer Zaena Cherif, did together.

Sizer, a 27-year-old hip hop artist who goes by the stage name Jason Maek, wanted to launch his label with a bang.

"We wanted it to be something that people wouldn’t know how the hell an independent label did it, because theses are not projects that independent labels even try to do," Sizer said.

The ambition landed the visual album on the front page of YouTube rival Vevo.com in November.

There are 15 producers on the LP, and 70 filmmakers and 10 editors who helped out on the project, according to Sizer, who grew up in Stony Island Park and lives in Rogers Park. The credits alone run two minutes long.

"It was an animal to write," Sizer said.

Beyoncé dropped the most noteworthy visual album to date in 2013.

When Sizer brought up the idea of a similar project Zaena, then a newly signed singer to his label, she thought it was a joke.

"It was a lot of crazy, hallucinating, lack-of-sleep days," Zaena said.

"It was weird," Sizer added.

The album is also available for free on soundcloud.com.

In October more than 40 schools across the country threw viewing parties for the launch of Maek Pandemonium.

Scenes were filmed all over the city including in a mansion in Bronzeville, a house in Rogers Park and on a North Side beach where Cherif leads a mock "Fast Food Fitness" infomercial.

"We wanted to make it as Chicago inclusive as possible. This is our city. This is where we are from. I grew up here. Our label is here," Sizer said.

The duo are planning a nationwide 30-city tour of college campuses this winter and plan on riding the tour into the summer festival scene.

Their energetic show features a mix of Sizer rapping over hip hop and electronic beats while Zaena mixes and at other times Zaena sings while Jason Maek mixes.

The show stage presence draws influence from Wayne Coyne of psychedelic rock band The Flaming Lips, who is a mentor of Sizer's.

Getting to this point was years in the making for Sizer, who holds a master's degree in urban planning and pursued a doctorate in sociology from the University of Illinois.

Sizer was working in architecture when he realized he could not pass up his love of music in 2010.

"I was always scared to pursue music as a dream," he said. "I thought I'm just too young to hate my life. I realized I don't want to be one of those people who is 40 and realized I didn't live my dream."

In September 2013 Sizer and co-founder Tiffany Lee launched their label, Maek.

Maek is a free music label, no strings attached.

The label relies on advertisements, tours, merchandise sales and partnerships to support its artists.

"We aren’t Sony. We aren’t trying to be Sony. We aren’t trying to be Def Jam," Sizer said. "We like being able to be a label that was created by people who just love music."

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