“Just some good ol’ funky House Music”: Musician, DJ, producer and Dance Mania impresario Parris Mitchell mixes down a new DJ set and sits for a conversation in another installment of A 5 Mag Mix, 5 Magazine’s new mix and interview series.

Even more than most in this age of the DJ/Producer, the craft of playing records and making records are inseparable to Parris Mitchell – or better put, they’re two sides of the same coin. A musician who came to DJing much later, the Chicago legend has charted a truly fascinating musical odyssey, from the world of disco and R&B to early Chicago House and Ghetto House and whole lotta ground in between.

Two years after Parris joined up with founder Ray Barney to bring Dance Mania Records back into circulation, we had a conversation touching briefly on the label but more on his own work behind the tables and in the studio.

And as always with A 5 Mag Mix, there’s an exclusive DJ set below. Parris breaks it down as —

“…a collection of tracks from producers and DJs that I have the utmost respect for, both from the new generation and the pioneers as well. Like the one track called “Work/Sweat” is from a young producer/DJ named Alex from Manchester, England, who goes by “Changez“. I was introduced to his tracks by Leo Croww in Manchester one night that we were spinning at the same event together. A bunch of Chicago cats whose music I love playing are on it also – Paul Johnson, Hula Mahone, DJ Funk, Jammin’ Gerald, etc, etc… Just some good ‘ol funky House Music.”

 

 

I’ve been seeing these “Dance Mania events” going on around the world – you played a Dance Mania party on Halloween at Sankeys with Paul Johnson. But you’ve only played a couple of times here in Chicago…

Yes, I played at SmartBar and for Red Bull Music Academy with Actress. Marea (aka The Black Madonna) contacted me through Kevin Starke from Kstarke Records for the SmartBar Dance Mania event, which went off with Jammin’ Gerald and Paul Johnson. Mica Alaniz contacted me for the Red Bull Music Academy event. Both were great events. The respect and appreciation I have for them is immense. They made a conscious – and successful – move to help bring attention to the label and its influence on today’s music, as well as being relevant during the ’80s and ’90s.

“There’s no tellin’. Honestly, there isn’t. I just play with integrity. I mean if I like it, then I hope that the people will like to groove to it also.”

It isn’t about the money. It’s a sincere effort to shed light on the label, its artists, music and influence. I feel with continuity of this nature, it will reflect a positive connotation from Chicago’s House and Dance Music scene, for the rest of the world to take notice of. The unity, and sincere mutual respect will give Chicago’s talent the correct shine that we all deserve.

 

What sort of records do you play for a label-branded event like this? Classics? New material? Maybe you can walk us through what you played at the last one.

There’s no tellin’. Honestly, there isn’t. I’m liable to play any funky House track. Kinda like, as long as it’s groovin’ the crowd, I’m into it as well! I just play with integrity. I mean if I like it, then I hope that the people will like to groove to it also.

I can group my last set and sum it up. 75-90% of my set was Chicago, or Chicago-style influenced records, excluding Disco. Seeing that Disco was the precursor to Chicago House, and the reason House was born anyway, I just group it in with the Chicago style House music. (By the way, thanks to Steve Dahl. He had great timing!)

When I say “Chicago-style”, this includes Techno also. I feel as though we can’t separate the two – simply because at one time during the ’80s, it was all one thing. You would play Farley and a Derrick May track all in one night, and so on. The roots cannot be ignored. It’s like having hair with no roots – that’s called a wig!

So if the record is funky, with roots, I’m on it, no matter where it’s from. So, in my sets you would hear pioneer labels like Cajual Records, Trax, DJ International, Hula Mahone’s ClubHouse Records etc. Along that you would hear Jamie 3:26 edits, Chrissy Murderbot edits from Chicago also, mixed with some of the younger generation of talented DJ/producers from around the world that I hope will continue to make great records.

 

You’ve always had a sound (going back to the Victor Romeo projects) that was much more eclectic than solely Ghetto House. I was still surprised by “Mellow Magic” that was released on the Revival Traxx record that Strut put out for Record Store Day. Apparently it was a “lost” record of yours – and it had almost an R&B flavor.

Well, early on in my career, I was solely a musician. During the time I was making my first House records from 1987 to 1989, I was making those records solely from a musician’s perspective.

I was fortunate enough to have a family member that was DJing years before. My cousin Jessie Davis out in Detroit brought me into the fold of DJing in 1989, which added a dimension to my creativity – thus the more raw beat driven tracks were produced. He also exposed me to Jeff Mills’ style, years before Jeff’s world recognition, so I was in complete awe towards the art of DJing after that.

The circumstances surrounding “Mellow Magic”, and other similar records, is that they were produced during one of those periods when I’m just embracing my musicality. I have certain friends who are purely musical – they’re into Jazz, Blues, they’re Soul singers from the past and present that I connect with. Rob Muzerik played an incredible trumpet on “Brighter Day”, with Kevin Irving on vocals, and I wanted to do another House track with Rob playing on it. So, a good friend of mine, who’s a drummer, Joel Erenberg, and I would get together and jam out a track every so often. “Mellow Magic” was one of them tracks.

 

Tell me about these Juke Joints records too while you’re at it? Are there any more volumes beyond #2 and the remix packs to come? I didn’t see anything from you for awhile and suddenly you’ve got records everywhere.

No, I doubt that there will be another Juke Joints. It was a great project, especially with all the incredibly talented DJs/Producers that did their remixes. Big ups to them all!!

I released those on Deep Moves Records. Jamie Fry from Deep Moves actually brought me back into the fold of House Music. He connected with me via FB in 2009. I’m creating tracks at the present time for a double 12″, to be released on Dance Mania Records. New tracks are definitely coming soon. Hopefully people will dig them, as much as we enjoyed creating them

 

You also had a layoff, personally, of some years away from dance music. Was there a learning curve in getting back in the studio? or behind the decks? What was the biggest adjustment of studio work & DJing?

Well, I never had a layoff from recording. I ventured out a bit in different genres. I was in the midst of the technology shift from analog to the digital domain, as far as recording is concerned. But, was not in the midst during the shift from vinyl to CDs, computer-based DJ software, etc.. That took a bit of connecting with.

I was actually playing guitar for Marshall Jefferson on Curtis McClain’s project around the time my interest peaked again. Marshall and his partner Chauncey had some CDJs in the studio that I would go and turn on in between sessions. So I guess Marshall (unknowingly),was the one who put me in tune with adjusting to the shift, and getting over that learning curve.

 

What can you tell us about this mix for 5 Mag?

It’s a collection of tracks from producers and DJs that I have the utmost respect for, both from the new generation and the pioneers as well. Like the one track called “Work/Sweat” is from a young producer/DJ named Alex from Manchester, England, who goes by “Changez“. I was introduced to his tracks by Leo Croww in Manchester one night that we were spinning at the same event together. A bunch of Chicago cats whose music I love playing are on it also – Paul Johnson, Hula Mahone, DJ Funk, Jammin’ Gerald, etc, etc… Just some good ‘ol funky House Music.

 

A version of this interview appeared in 5 Magazine #114, released January 2015.