I have the sad duty to inform you that a superstar of the Midwest electronic music scene, Phil Pelipada – better known in music, dance and art circles as “Phil Free Art” – has died from unknown causes, according to family and friends.

It’s been years since a copy of Free Art floated from hand-to-hand across the Photon Arena but Phil was still “named” after it. As he himself wrote in one of his zines, Phil Free Art was a part of the Midwest rave scene since “Day Two.” In 1992, shortly after studying art at Millikin University, Phil (with MC Gene) started a zine called Free Art.

Free Art was a photocopied and folded affair, containing scene discussion, reviews, cheeky pronunciamentos and hand-drawn graphics in Phil’s distinct style. Several of the issues are archived on ravearchive.com here, here and here.

phil-free-art-melissa

Phil was the first artist I ever saw who combined the stylized aesthetics of Japanese anime with the style of graffiti and tagging. I’m not saying he’s the first person to have done it (though he might have been the first to add R. Crumb-style footnotes and captions), but he’s the one who introduced it to me. It was that way for a lot of things. He was also one of the first DJs I ever heard play Drum’N’Bass (which we then still called “Jungle”), probably on WHPK, the college radio station whose signal you could just barely hear where I was living at the time. He was definitely the first person at a rave to hand me a piece of art that I thought I really wanted to keep, though, because it was art worth keeping on its own merits.

A photo posted by Phil Free Art (@freeart92) on

“Being from Chicago in the ’80s I experienced first hand the growth of house music form the view of someone who found it on a college radio show (WNUR’s Street Beat show) as well as the mixes on WBMX and WGCI,” he once wrote. “I was too young to go to the Music Box to hang out with Ron Hardy. In time I started going to clubs such as Medusa’s, Limelight and various rollerskating jams at the Rainbow Roller Rink. There I heard more music not played on the radio. So much to hear and with fresh ears. All this with out musical boundaries.”

Phil was an intensely positive presence in music, art and the overall Chicago community. More than for music or DJing or drawing or writing or inspiring people through running marathons or anything else mentioned here, Phil Free Art had hundreds of friends and thousands of acquaintances just because he was Phil Free Art. That’s why he was loved, and that’s what people are mourning tonight.

According to Phil’s family, the mass is Friday at 9:30 am at St. Peter’s Catholic Church in Skokie (8116 Niles Center Rd), followed by the wake at Haben Funeral Home at 8057 Niles Center Road in Skokie from 3pm to 8pm.