SINCE THE EARLY 1990s, DJ, producer, and collaborator Anthony Nicholson has been blowing up the underground airwaves with his dance music while doing what he does best – producing and spinning. With hit tracks like “Dance Anthology” (Peacefrog Records), “Don’t Stop” (Circular Motion), “Dirty Soul” (Trackmode), “The Alter Ego” (Clairaudience) and “Twisted Energy” (Nite Grooves), as well as owning a trifecta of record labels, Anthony has come to be one of the most well-respected music gurus of this generation. As he continues to hold down his residency at Sonotheque’s Inner Sound System (1440 W. Chicago, 1st Saturday of every month), his music is constantly being played and sought after by others.
Born right here in Chi-Town, Anthony proudly brings his staunch views and beliefs about music, life, and art from Chicago to Europe, from the turntables to the studio and everywhere in between. He constantly keeps his family at the forefront of it all, and never looks to the future or the past, simply staying in the present.
I had the pleasure of speaking with the colorfully articulate Anthony Nicholson as he revealed his strong opinions on DJing, producing, his labels, and what House Music really means to him.
First, I want to say that I really wanted to come out to Sonotheque on Saturday because I live four houses away from it, but I did not make it. So… I’m the bogus one!
Oh yeah, you’re the bogus one. I bet you wanted me to say “Nah, nah!” – but you’re bogus.
What neighborhood did you grow up in and how did you start DJing?
I grew up on the Southside in the Washington Park neighborhood. I kinda got into DJing probably around 15 years old. There was a field house in the summertime – older guys would DJ and bring out their big systems, and I just started hanging out with those guys and got into it.
Who do you give credit to for helping you start your career?
For helping me start my career? Me. I give myself credit for starting my career. I give my wife credit for being supportive, and my family. There are people that inspired me, but I’m not going to give anybody credit.
Do you remember the first party that you played at that you got paid?
The first party that I ever got paid at – it was actually a fashion show. That was my first paying job, DJing. It was a series of fashion shows that were paying gigs. One was at a loft on Michigan Avenue. It was for one of the top black lifestyle magazines at the time. It was fun. I was 17 or 18, but I don’t want to talk about how long ago that was because then it makes me feel old!
Do you remember the first record of yours that you heard someone else play?
It probably was a record I put out on Movin Records called “Thrill Me,” and I think the first person I heard play it – the first time I heard it out – Andre Hatchett played it. Yeah, that was the first time I heard one of my records in a big club.
How did it feel?
I felt pretty good. I felt a sense of pride, but I wasn’t too comfortable. Putting out my first record, I still had a lot of work to do and a lot more stuff to learn about producing music. I was happy that it was being played, but in the same sense I was insecure about my music. I’m probably just getting comfortable with the music I put out.
Just getting comfortable now?
Yeah, and that was in 1991. This past year I started to get comfortable with my music and started accepting it.
When did you make the transition from just DJing to producing?
From 15 to 22 years old, I was just doing recreational stuff and then I started working with Ron Trent, and I got more serious and started experiencing more stuff.
Talk me through your process of creating music.
It’s hard to say because it’s different every time. You know, you’ll be messing around with the keyboard or just playing around with some drums or working with some virtual drum machines or stuff like that. It varies. It’s never the same thing every time.
It’s like if I hear something really interesting and it grabs my attention – I have a really short attention p – sometimes I’ll just do it over and over or do it enough to just put it on my computer. I work with very good quality musicians, and I’ll bring them in, and we’ll go through the ideas, and we’ll sit down and talk about the possibilities and compose parts of the song. Sometimes it’s like a real collaboration and sometimes it’s like I’m being a control freak for the whole thing. And, sometimes I’ll just play off stuff myself, particularly if it’s something I feel can be manipulated in a way where people won’t focus on my bad keyboard playing.
Have you ever used a live band or live musicians when you were DJing?
I’ve DJed with various live elements: live percussionist, live horn player, but I don’t think I’ve ever DJed with a whole band. That would be very frustrating – for the band and for me.
So, you’ve been DJing for Inner Sound System at Sonotheque for three years now…
I know I’ve been DJing at Sonotheque for at least four or five years – for as long as they’ve been open, I’ve been DJing there. But for the Inner Sound System, yeah, that’s been about three years.
That’s a long time to have something regularly for any type of genre, but especially in House Music. That must be something you’re really proud of. Do you anticipate it lasting for another three years?
I think I always take everything one day at a time. I wish it would last three more years, but then again maybe after three more years that could be the worst thing to happen to me. I believe that every good thing comes to an end. I would really like to look back and at least have something to feel good about. I don’t think about how long it’s being going on. I don’t think about how long it possibly can go on. It’s a situation where I just deal with the now. Tomorrow is not now. Now is now.
Can you tell me about your three labels – Clairaudience, Circular Motion, and Infinite Audio and how they differ from one another?
Clairaudience is a label that I own in part with my friend in New York named Samir. It’s been around for at least 15 years. It’s a real special label because it’s not a label to really to make money. It’s just one of those labels that you think is dead and then it comes back every once in a while.
Circular Motion was started with the hope of rejuvenating some different music. I kinda developed it with Chicago in mind, but it ended up being more of just a label for me to put out some of my own stuff. So I’m not closed to the idea of someone submitting anything. It’s like, in this day and age of the digital download – you know – you’re sort of a one man operation.
Infinite Audio is another label that was created with the intention of releasing music that wouldn’t necessarily be defined by a certain style – just something free-form.
Clairaudience is an established label. It’s been around for a while, but my two other labels, they’re just an outlet for me to just really get out some diverse music.
I know that you also go by Miquifaye. Can you talk about that?
It’s just a production name that I go under sometimes because I’m always self-conscious about putting anything out under the name Anthony Nicholson.
Why is that?!
Miquifaye can act like a buffer between introducing me and can make it sound really freaky and can get people talking.
How did you come up with that name?
Actually, it’s not real deep. People think it’s like a voodoo name or something. Actually, my wife’s name is Michelle. My son’s name is Quincy.My daughter’s name is Faizah. So, I called it Miquifaye.
Awhhh… that’s so cute.
It’s corny… but it’s cool.
So, what’s coming up for you in the near future?
I have an album coming out on Deep Soul Records based out of England called Life, Rhythms & Lessons. I just released an album that I produced for a local jazz artist by the name of Hudson and the name of the album is Hudson. My son worked on the album as well. I have another album project coming out to be released digitally. It’s a collaboration with another musician… And I’m producing an album with another Chicago artist by the name of William Kirk.
You seem to use a lot of African beats within your music. Do you ever incorporate music from any other cultures?
I don’t know, I never really noticed all this ethnic inspiration in my music. I don’t know if I ever set out to make music Afro-ific or even include a strong presence of ethnicity. It’s probably just that when you’re programming drums or programming rhythms, you have your traditional African pattern going on or a traditional Latin rhythm, but I don’t know if I consciously ever incorporate any into the music. I think it’s just more of natural thing, just growing up around those elements and they become a part of you. That’s all.
I read that you don’t like to always classify yourself as strictly House.
I don’t like to classify myself as House at all. No disrespect to House Music. I don’t have a problem with House Music. I just don’t want to say at this point that I’m a House Music producer or a House Music DJ because I’ve never really embraced the concept of House Music.
I find it strange that my music is always being classified as House, but at the same time House is being played all over the world. I feel like if you’re the one playing it, you can call it whatever you want to.
I never really set out to make House Music. Even my first attempts to make music, I thought I was making “dance music”, but people were calling it “club music”. When I was in high school, I was going to parties and stuff like that. We didn’t call it House Music. I didn’t know anything about House until my records were coming out and had “House” in the titles.
It’s funny when you’re in a situation – it’s like you’re in a movie and as far as you know, the movie has no name. You step outside the movie, and they’re all calling it something. So, it’s like – that ain’t no damn movie, that’s my life!
I don’t know, I guess I’m not a House Music member. I say that out of respect for House Music. I would never want to come off as being a House pioneer.
I just don’t get it. Where I come from, we didn’t have to call it anything. It’s like now, it’s more of a big thing to define something than to actually experience it. Music is bigger than some clique-ish thing. I look at music as a gift. I can’t really define what my style of music is. There would have to have been some retribution from me to claim, early on, ownership or affiliation.
What are your thoughts about Chicago being the birthplace of House?
Chicago is definitely the birthplace of House, but Chicago is also lacking in the progression of House. Chicago created it, but New York and Europe took it to the next level. At the same time, Chicago has a thriving party scene. There’s just no industry here.
So, what do you think needs to happen for Chicago to take House to the next level like, as you say, New York and Europe?
Chicago would have to start supporting its artists. Chicago is really caught up in celebrating and holding onto the past. Some producers are not getting anywhere near the type of recognition that some of the past (producers/DJs) have experienced.
Over the years, House Music has had very limited resources – sort of primitive tools. It’s been on the cutting edge for years, but at the same time there’s really no support for the producers who have made great music forever, like Glenn Underground, Ron Trent, Mark Grant.
In wrapping up, what would you say then to the House community here in Chicago?
Be a little more open-minded to programming and DJs. Break out more. Art is not a straight line. There are bumps and twists and turns. Don’t be afraid to dive into different aspects of the art of music.
Interview by Laurie Canning