A proud “re-plant” to Chicago, DJ Dealer recently moved back to his former childhood home after spending much of his musical career in Denver. It was there that he built an incomparable reputation as a solo artist in addition to being part of Pound Boys, the powerhouse production duo with his former partner, Craig C. Dealer has over 100 releases spanning 12 years on his Look At You record label alone, and has worked with many of the top House vocalists, including Inaya Day, Lisa Millet, Byron Stingily and Dajae.
Now that he’s settled in town and on the eve of the release of his new album Joyride on Look At You, 5 Magazine interviewed Dealer on the move to Chicago, the end of Pound Boys and future prospects for both Dealer and Look At You.
How come the recent location back to Chicago?
I have family here, and it was also kind of time for change. There are a lot of things that have changed with the scene in Denver. And I know people here already. My brother has two identical twins that are a year old. It’s nice to be here for them in their lives. And as far as the music goes, you can pretty much do that from anywhere.
You have highly successful label called Look At You Records. Where did the name derive from?
When it came to selecting the name, I didn’t want anything too serious. It was an inside joke amongst friends. It was kind of like when you put someone down and say, ‘Hey, look at you with your orange high-tops and your blue wig!” I think you can’t really take things too seriously and that’s how it came about.
You released material prior to starting up Look At You.
I spent a couple years trying to find my footing with production. A couple of my first releases were on Mindfood Records, which was a small label based out of Chicago. Also one of my earlier releases was on Subliminal.
I was going to mention that! You actually had the 9th release on Subliminal which is at nearly 200 releases now and still one of the biggest House music labels around. Did you know the label was going to be that big and blow up like it did?
I didn’t! I knew who Erick Morillo was of course because of Strictly Rhythm and the Reel 2 Real stuff. I also had just met the label manager from going to Miami, but it was still all new to me. It was the beginning of a new chapter.
A lot more of your releases recently have been on your own label. Is there a reason for that?
Yes. I spent about two years doing my solo thing and then about ten years of doing production under Pound Boys. That was good and eventually it lead to time for another change and we stopped doing stuff together. I really didn’t want to do stuff for the major labels anymore. That became a game I didn’t like.
For many years people only knew the Pound Boys name. When we split I got to start fresh again as DJ Dealer, and I’m doing stuff for the label where I can start over from scratch.
Do you want to talk about why you and Craig C. aren’t doing stuff together anymore as Pound Boys?
It was a long time coming. There are a lot of reasons, but mainly because after working with someone for so long, it led to differences in what we each wanted out of things as well as the musical direction that we each wanted to go in. For awhile it felt like it was one step forward and three steps back. Things finally reached the point where we had done as much as we were going to do together and it was time to move into different directions musically.
Are you on speaking terms?
Initially it was amicable but then it wasn’t, so we haven’t spoken in a few years. It is what it is. Things happen. The good thing about it is it gives the opportunity to start again and reevaluate things, like I mentioned earlier.
I know it’s cliché, but it’s always been about the music for me. When I used to live here in my younger years I would listen to the Hot Mix 5 on the radio and go to roller rinks.
So you were able to witness some of the House Music scene in Chicago before you moved to Denver.
Yes, when I was younger I was exposed to it here in the ’80s. That’s where my initial roots are from. I didn’t realize that it was something different until many years later. Here it was on the radio, in the roller rinks and at the juice bars and that’s something you took for granted. The essence hooked me in and eventually it led to a career.
That reminds me of one of my first international gigs where I played in Italy and the DJ after me was Steve “Silk” Hurley and the DJ before me was Ralphi Rosario. I mention that because they were recording or broadcasting Ralphi’s set. Kind of ironic I got to play that show with some of the Chicago House legends.
How did you land that gig?
Actually one of our biggest early supporters was Tony Humphries. One of the very first Pound Boys releases was a remix for the first release on his label Yellorange. His manager at the time, Alan Anderson (RIP), always had a soft spot in his heart for what we were doing. He helped us to get our first remixes on King Street. They in turn put us in touch with the people that represented Tony over in Italy. All around, it just opened some doors for us.
Defected recently re-released the Pound Boys remixes of Sandy Rivera’s “I Can’t Stop”. I thought that was a new release at first and that you guys might have been working together again.
Actually, that release is probably six years old. Defected does a good job of repackaging old stuff and making it fresh again. They might add a new mix or two and include the older mixes as well.
It’s a good way to get a lot of music to people that might have missed it or not been into House music at the time.
It’s true. A lot of people say that the older music is better. There’s a lot of music I still play from the ’90s. There’s so much music that’s timeless. I remember doing a gig in England and at some of the venues they try and be so up front with their music. There’s a bunch on trainspotters and DJs just sitting by the booth all night writing down every single song you play. It was a bit irritating, everyone asking about every promo you played.
I ended up playing the same club again about six months later. I was still playing mostly records at the time but I recorded a lot of the music to CD and it was all about ten years old. I played my whole set like that. All the DJs there did the same thing and asked about almost every song. They would ask, “Where do I get this?” I would say, “Well, you don’t – this is eight years old!” The songs rocked the club just the same. The reason I did it was to prove a point, because half of the crowd were DJs. The point was that good music is good music regardless when it was released.
A couple years ago you remixed Green Velvet’s massive “Shake & Pop” track. That was something a bit outside of your regular forte. What was it like for you to do that project?
I heard the track and actually called up Cajmere. He said he was putting out remixes and let me do one. It reminded me of ’80s Chicago House. That’s a sound that’s dear to me so I wanted to do something that had that influence in it. A lot of people heard it and thought it was such a different sound for me. But part of the thing with Pound Boys was we just got so pigeonholed and everyone only wanted to hear that one sound from us – labels, artists, everyone. I don’t have that problem now. If I want to do something deep, I do something deep. If I want to do something a bit more jackin’, then I do that.
You mentioned earlier you weren’t keen on really doing major label projects anymore. How come?
I’m not opposed to it. It’s just different now. For one thing, a lot of the people at the majors just don’t understand House! They’re looking at commercial viability, iTunes sales… They’re looking at who’s the hot remixer right now and if you’ve had your big hit. There’s nothing wrong with that – it’s a business for sure. The other problem is 90% of the time they never even release the music to the masses.
It’s something that Maurice Joshua still deals with. No one really knows he does all these great productions because they aren’t available at most outlets where people look for this type of music. He’s been doing hundreds and hundreds of remixes over all these years. You couldn’t buy those remixes in stores on vinyl. It just got pointless. It’s almost like it doesn’t exist. It’s really sad. You put all your time and effort into this. Fair enough – you get a nice check but I still want people to hear my music.
Craig and I would always laugh about the remixes and say if we were doing this in the early ’90s it would have been cool to remix artists like Whitney Houston. Somehow, later on in the ’90s, remixing mainstream artists lost that cool factor and to a certain degree was even looked down upon!
Out of all the major label artists you remixed what has been your favorite project?
A remix of Daryl Hall, of Hall & Oates fame. Johnny D, who runs or ran Henry Street, was doing A&R at couple major labels as well. He was well connected with both industries. He called me to tell me Daryl Hall had a new album and to pick a song to remix. They sent me acapellas to his album of 14 tracks. I never got hear the music to any of them. We picked this song called “Cab Driver”. I remember giving the DATs to Derrick Carter, he would play it all the time. In the meantime Hall & Oates got back together and they scrapped the album and it was never released. I loved Hall & Oates growing up so it was fun to do that project.
The Angie Stone song “I Wish I Didn’t Miss You” was another one. That blew up and opened a lot doors for us. I’d like to take more credit for it but the thing that helped make it big was they sampled the O’Jays, I believe. That’s what really made the song for everyone.
There’s well over 100 remixes we did for majors. We were like a factory.
You’ve worked with a who’s who of the bigger vocalists and producers in the House realm. Who are some of the standout artists you’ve collaborated with from that perspective?
A lot of people we hand-picked for certain purposes, many of them because we were fans before we were producers. People like Ron Carroll, a lot of vocalists like Dajae, Byron Stingily, Joi Cardwell and Kim English… Pretty much anyone we liked we’d try and pursue them.
For three or four years there used to be an Italian Music Conference. It was real small. What the founders decided they wanted to do was to take DJs/producers and pair them up with singers. No one would get paid to play but they would give you an all-inclusive trip for five days and you would hang out with like minded people. As a DJ you might play two nights and hang out the rest of the time with the vocalists and other DJs and producers. There were literally only about 50 people invited so it was kind of intimate. This is how I met Lisa Millet for instance. We’re the best of friends now. Everyone from Sabrynaah Pope and Dawn Tallman to Darryl D’Bonneau and Sabrina Johnston would be there. For producers there was Tony Humphries, Basement Boys, DJ Spen, Teddy Douglas – people like that. You might go to breakfast with Dawn Tallman in the morning and then hang out during the day and see some people DJ and perform in the evening. It led to so many working relationships. It was really a great meeting place.
I guess to answer your question, Lisa Millet is great to work with, and Joi Cardwell also. They’ve really all been great. I was always a fan of these people first.
What are you striving to achieve in the near future?
Just a re-branding myself as a solo artist. I have my new album Joyride on Look At You being distributed out of France on CD worldwide in a couple weeks.