Sometime in late ’95, or very early ’96, a bunch of us at XLR8R wrote a large piece on Chicago house, the contemporary stuff of that time. I can’t fully remember who came up with the idea but, I have a notion that it was Matthew Bernsen, known to all as Matty B. Sadly, Matthew passed away some years ago. He was always up for some good house music, and could be relied on to relate his excited views on the last Derrick Carter or Mark Farina DJ set at Stompy or another club night.
He had a fantastic sense of humor, came from a family of journalists and used to clown my accent, adding a whistling sound by talking through his teeth, something I still think and laugh about to this day. He was one in a million and is sadly missed by many who worked with him and had the pleasure of his friendship.
The piece below is my intro to the multi-piece feature, which saw the light of day in XLR8R #20 from early 1996. For me it serves as a celebration of all the great Chicago records I obsessed over in the ’90s and all the times I sat in the XLR8R office laughing with Matty B.
Chicago. A city at once futuristic and retro. The world’s tallest building and Frank Lloyd Wright. Steel and Lake Michigan. And house music, the combination of present and past musics. Ten years ago the city was, along with Detroit, giving birth to the most important musical movement in 20 years. As things changed, the impetus was inherited by New York, London, Frankfurt and San Francisco. Chicago sort of fell by the wayside, while Detroit just went deeper underground.
But, as house moves into a new era, one of positivity, one of cooperation between the various scenes, the narrowing of the gaps between genres, and the realization that this is it, Chicago is, at least musically, once again becoming a central point. Take a look at the spread of features we’ve pieced together in this issue and you’ll find great variety and ideas emanating from Chicago. From the sheer technical wizardry of Derrick Carter, the down-to-earth work attitude of Johnny Fiasco and the eclecticism and inventiveness of Glenn Underground, the city is once again proving itself second to none. 1996 is going to be a very exciting year. Enjoy it.
The town with tall buildings, wide bass lines and long nights comes in from the cold wind. Chris Orr blows hot air on the subject
So here we are celebrating a Chicago house renaissance of sorts. House music is ten years down the line, getting better all the time, we are constantly finding new artists, new labels and new towns where it’s all kicking off afresh. The genre we knew as house has subdivided gloriously into several mutant forms, everybody has their flavor and most have several. So basically in this issue we are tipping our hats to the unstoppable groove that came out of Chicago but, if we are experiencing a Chicago house renaissance then what it is a renaissance of? It’s a renaissance of when Frankie Knuckles took over the decks at the Warehouse in Chicago in 1977 and started to slowly forge the sound that would become house.
Playing to thousands of the faithful kids, he and his contemporaries, DJs like Mike Izabuku, Ron Hardy and Andre Hatchett, turned out sweet, bass heavy disco grooves from New York, New Jersey, Philly and beyond. Tunes like Loose Joints “Is it All Over My Face” (recently butchered in Dark Ages, pre-Renaissance style by Sneak), “Moody” by ESG, “Dirty Talk” by Klein & MBO, “Dancer” by Gino Soccio and ”Vertigo”/”Relight My Fire” by Dan Hartman — fuck it, the list is endless. The new optimism in house is a return to when Darryl Pandy (Rest In Power) got on his back and did the ‘dead fly’ (in a green sequinned top; the man had no shame and some claimed, no taste (just kidding) — on BBC’s Top of The Pops when “Love Can’t Turn Around” hit the British and European charts in August 1986. Then in January 1987 Steve ‘Silk’ Hurley’s “Jack Your Body” hit the number one spot in Britain.
Before people knew what was going on, acid house was creeping into the underground, thousands of kids were dancing in London in white Aran sweaters, dungarees and Converse hi-tops (not everyone but, this was a popular look) under UV lights in clubs like Delirium (London’s first proper house club run by Irish brothers Noel and Maurice Watson) and Paul Oakenfold’s ‘Land of Oz’ (the first London space where straight and gay clubbers came together) and Danny Rampling’s ‘Shoom’, where Carl Cox, Andy Weatherall and Terry Farley all cut their DJing teeth. And the crowds danced to tunes imported from Chicago and other US cities. Tunes like “Acid Tracks” by Phuture, “Land of Confusion” by Armando, “Acid Over” by Tyree “Promised Land” by Joe Smooth and “Can You Feel It” by Mr. Fingers.
Standing from a European distance, Chicago was this great, bright American city full of grandly-titled artists like Sterling Void, Marshall Jefferson and Farley ‘Jackmaster’ Funk. It was throbbing with the funk and changing the face of music forever. Even when Chicago slipped out of the limelight, the tunes kept coming out, stunning music like Neal Howard’s “Indulge” and “Perpetual Motion,” Da Rebel’s “Don’t Fight It,” Blakk Society’s ‘Just Another Lonely Day” and “Altered States” by Ron Trent. Chicago house music was now joined by New York garage, British house, Detroit techno and Italian house on the dancefloors of the world. Chicago may have faded due to the underhandedness of certain labels and the spinelessness of the radio stations but, those who loved house music still knew where it came from. These people still knew that the fusion of electronics, gospel from Chicago’s south side and disco from the gay clubs was what set the ball rolling.
And it kept on rolling, and like the train in Risse’s “House Train,” it’s arriving in your town tonight, it’s arriving in everyone’s town, every town where a DJ or a clubber or a music lover lowers the needle on a record with a 312 area code before the phone number on the label. Things have been slowly improving in Chicago since Cajual gave us ‘Brighter Days, the “Dreaming” EP, since Ulysses gave us “I’m Leaving You.” Since Dance Mania started j-j-j-jacking us h-h-hard and House Jam, Night Club and all at Mirage Entertainment grooved us until they could groove no more and bowed out of proceedings after giving us many years of good tunes from LNR’s Work It To The Bone’ to Jordan Fields “Thrillseekers” EPs.
Now we’ve got Cajual, we’ve got Music Plant, Large, Flex Records Inc., Prescription, Relief, etc. We’ve got La Casa here in SF giving serious props and vinyl room for Chicago artists like Bernard Badie. Glenn Underground can’t decide if he wants to be John Shaft, a techno innovator, a Herb Alpert fan or a t-t-t-track addict (be all four Glenn). Chicago’s putting out some serious vinyl again and, by the way, while we’re on the subject, we need a new EP from Adonis. C’mon man if you’re reading this, put that record out on Terry MuIlan’s new label, it would be great to hear you again. It’s a new year, it’s ten years on, the party’s still in full effect, so let’s fuckin’ hear it for CHICAGO!!!