Part 1 of this feature is posted here.
Since I first met him more than a decade ago, Chip E. has been something of a mentor to me – a guide to help navigate the Chicago House Music scene of the 1980s as well as provide insight into the changing technology of the world today. Bits of wisdom from my chats and interviews with Chip E. have found themselves lodged in dozens of reviews and pieces I’ve written over the years. He was an evangelist of the DIY ethic back when there was still a mystery to the process of making records and videos – “Everyone can make music,” he told me, back when Beatport was still an ambitious little start up in Denver. “Everyone is already an editor,” he told me, when most video websites required a credit card to upload. He’s one of the rare legends of House Music that is more interested in teaching people how to think than telling them what to think – and I have to say, his visions of the future since I’ve known him have been dead-on accurate.
Feeling it’s a loss to readers to talk exclusively about back in the day (or current) dance music lore and opinion with Chip, we stumbled almost accidentally across a unique split format for this feature.
The first part focused mostly on the Chicago House Music scene of the 1980s and Chip’s classic tracks from that era.
This second part focuses on the present day and how a legend in one format changes as a producer & DJ with the tech and the times.
So where are you talking from right now? Japan or the US? Do you still split your time between them?
I just returned from Asia, and I spend most of the time that I’m not touring in Chicago. My mother still lives in Chicago, as well as my son, daughter and son-in-law. I’m pretty excited that my daughter is expecting her first child. She and her husband know it’s a boy, and have decided to name him “Tobi.” I told them I’m going to call him “Kunta Kente.”
Do you keep up with the Japanese House Music scene? I’ve seen some incredible records come out of there in the last few years, especially that soulful/deep Moodymann-style sound.
Japan has a great nightlife scene, not just in Tokyo but also in Osaka. They really like the old soulful sounds of early House as well as Disco. I remember when my film The Unusual Suspects was released there, and I met a Japanese guy at the premier (it played in theaters in Osaka and Tokyo). This guy tells me about how he was into Hip Hop, but then went to a House club in Osaka and how it changed his life. That’s a story I hear around the world, how House Music lifts people up and moves them forward.
What about out of all producers? Who do you feel right now?
What’s interesting is that I’m discovering a lot of Carl Cox productions that I enjoy playing. I say interesting because he credits “Time To Jack” with being the song that made him want to become a DJ and start recording music. I guess it’s come full circle now. Matter of fact, we’ve discussed a collaboration.
There’s this theory that I heard aired after Frankie passed away – the idea that DJing is something more like playing jazz than pop music, and that DJs (unlike most pop stars) seem to get much better and more refined with age, like jazz players. Do you think that’s true?
I hadn’t heard that, but personally I feel it’s true. When I was younger, it was about playing the songs people liked and introducing them to new ones. Now I think of DJing as more like playing an instrument. You’ll see in my new mixes that my style has evolved, and I try to do more than just beat match or do a blend. I treat every transition like it’s a change in a single song. I try to make it very fluid. So yeah, I know I’m a better DJ today than I was 20 years ago.
What is your DJ set up like now? The last time I saw you play you had a laptop, which not a lot of people did back then. Controllers over CDJs?
I’m a lover of technology. I struggled with a lot of the early vinyl options. As much as I love vinyl, you just can’t take it with you. But as I was saying, I struggled with vinyl control discs, and laptop controllers, but I finally found something that’s stable. I’m currently using a Native Instruments Traktor controller along with the Traktor software. It’s powerful, flexible and doesn’t stand in the way of what I’m thinking. I feel like I know it so well now that it just disappears, and there’s just me and the music.
You’ve always got some project going on. What’s on the agenda right now?
I’m working on some music with my old collaborator Lidell Townsell. We’ve been in the studio working on some really cool stuff, but we’re trying to find the right vocalist. Oh… and we’re working on a remix for Nikki Phoenix, a really talented singer from Vegas. I think that project will drop next.
And what can you tell us about this new mix?
The new mix is what I’m playing outside of Chicago. It’s the sound I play in Asia and in Europe when they’re not requesting an old school set. It’s the music I play loud in my car and at home. It’s music that reflects the youth of today and the diversity that House is all about.
Some of the old House Headz will have a hard time getting into it. They’ll like the old school mix better. But I think the 5 Magazine fans in general, especially the younger ones, will absolutely love it.
Support #RealHouseMusic! This story was originally published in 5 Magazine Issue 146 featuring Kai Alce, Doorly, Chip E., Golf Clap, Frederick Dunson and the Frankie Knuckles Foundation and more. Become a member of 5 Magazine for First & Full Access to Real House Music for only $2 per month!