ANY TRUE HOUSE FAN knows that there have been a few DVDs floating around as of late that chronicle the early days of House music in Chicago. Well, get ready for one more.
About three years in the making, the Chicago LP and DVD project is slated for official release this summer. Born of the desire to foster warmer communications in the Chicago House community, the project features many heavyweights from the early days, such as Farley and Marshall Jefferson. “We wanted to kill the stigma about people in Chicago not getting along and put together a timeless Chicago album and DVD,” says DJ Skip, who collaborated with Steve “Silk” Hurley to make this project happen.
But what really sets this one apart from the other DVDs currently in rotation?
Says Silk and Skip: “We felt that a lot of guys’ stories weren’t being told the way they wanted to tell it. I think our project is like a House Music reality show. The DJs and producers are getting the opportunity to go to their neighborhoods and give glimpses of their lives, back into their pasts, back to the grassroots of how they started. That’s important because a lot of our fans and House music enthusiasts know who we are but don’t know who we were before the success.”
5 Magazine wanted to take a moment to chat about what was crucial to the completion of the Chicago LP and DVD.
Tell us how this project started?
DJ SKIP: Steve and I knew each other and had similar interests in electronic dance music but never collaborated professionally. We were just buddies playing basketball. We started talking about House Music, how Chicago producers and DJs had never come together to work on one project. The Chicago LP/DVD project started in the summer of 2004, so that tells you how much time and effort went into creating this project.
STEVE “SILK” HURLEY: It actually started with twelve guys initially; we wanted to pull together some guys who had achieved a lot on their own but never together. When we started working on the project, we saw that more and more people wanted to get involved. It started snowballing into something bigger and better. People were giving us their best work, and it really was turning into something great. The video portion of it got more and more detailed, because we decided we didn’t want to just do a documentary – we wanted to get up close and personal and find out how these guys got to do what they love for a living.
DJ SKIP: This project is like the first dance music reality show. As far as hours go, wow! 24/7 for three years straight seems to be about it, but Steve and I had one thing in mind: creating a classic project that everyone could be proud of, such as the talented producers on the album and the city of Chicago.
STEVE “SILK” HURLEY: We not only did A&R for the album, we produced tracks ourselves. I had to head up the legal department and Skip spent more time dealing with the artists. We ended up with 34 records. Normally, from our labels we put out a release every few months – quality instead of quantity. But we had 34 quality records to showcase to the world so the timing is everything because you only get one chance to make a first impression.
You and Steve have successful music careers, and there have been a few DVDs out there (UnUsual Suspects, Maestro, etc) covering different aspects of the early days of House. Why did you decide to do this?
SILK + SKIP: We wanted to give people a real outlook on the artists. None of the DVD was scripted; the music is all original and unreleased. It’s these guys expressing themselves to the fullest. We have a great deal of respect for the documentaries that are out because each one carries its own form of originality and helps promote the culture. However, we wanted to do something a little different and out of the ordinary for our genre and bring the fans closer to us as people, not just entertainers.
How was the reception from artists? Did they open up more talking to you as friends and peers?
STEVE “SILK” HURLEY: As a matter of fact, some of the interviews started with us talking about each other’s mamas. We actually went and played basketball with Bad Boy Bill before the interview. It was cool that we could just go with the flow and didn’t have a script. It was more about what they wanted to do. Some of them just wanted to drive around in their cars; some wanted us to come to their studios. Up until now, the fans only get as close as what they know about our music. Everybody is exploring their artistry. When we interviewed some of the producers/DJs, we wanted them to express what would be their legacy, what defines them as a producer/DJ, and how they wanted to be remembered.
I did a record with Marshall Jefferson and my daughter because I was a big fan of Marshall Jefferson. Most people remember him for “Move Your Body”. I used to remix his records back in the day. So I was a fan and colleague and it was great for me to relive that and bring in the next generation of talent, which was my daughter. She’s actually an R&B singer. I wanted to combine the past with the future and do whatever felt good, like combining an old school producer with a new school track. There were no rules. And I think that’s what makes a very interesting album/DVD.
When we were talking earlier, you mentioned a couple of moving scenes – reuniting Ron Carroll with his father and Paul Johnson’s first on-camera interview about his accident.
SILK + SKIP: We felt like we brought Ron Carroll closer to his father by going there, like it gave him a better understanding of Ron – a better validation of what Ron does. We ended up hugging his dad at the end of the interview, that’s how deep it got. And Paul, just the chance for him to say that he feels blessed and being paralyzed brought him closer to his music. Every person on this album has a story. These are not only great artists, they are also great guys which in my book is bigger than the music any day because the person is who makes the music.
Chip E. told me that, as a music producer, he wanted people to understand that anyone can do this if they put in the work. The same is true, he said, of video. Do you agree?
DJ SKIP: We totally agree with Chip E., and with hard work and determination, at the end of the day comes great reward – whether it is personal or professional reward. The reward is defined by self. Some people just do things that are fulfilling to them. For the individuals out there with handy-cams – get that footage, document it and carry it around. Treat it like a limb. Nobody is promised tomorrow, so it’s always great to document your journey.
STEVE “SILK” HURLEY: I wish I had a camera back in the day at all those parties I did back before people would even let me DJ, going to the underground Music Box. I remember that stuff and see it vividly in my head. We performed at the Paradise Garage. I went there and just danced, met Larry Levan. It was just the feeling I got. I definitely agree that anytime you can personally document something, it is life changing to look back ten, fifteen years. Even old family footage – I think this is going to be a great time capsule as well.
Do you think a lot of the old wounds from the battles of the 1980s (Trax, DJ International, etc.) have healed? Do you think that projects like this have a role in that?
DJ SKIP: I think Trax records & DJ International were necessary record labels and if it weren’t for those labels some of these guys wouldn’t be the artists that they are now because marketing and promotion are the keys to success. They were hard lessons to learn but it made all the artists much stronger people. It gave them a business savvy in the rights and wrongs of the music industry. A project like this just goes to show that there could be a Chicago-based music label whose goal is to cater to the artist.
STEVE “SILK” HURLEY: That’s one of the beautiful things about this project and why it was important to interview Farley. There was this thing with Farley being my roommate and him coming out with a version of my music. I interviewed Farley, he actually apologized, and even though I had already forgiven him, we got closer to that. I wanted to show that we could squash whatever beef we had and could be an example to others who might not want to work because of whatever beef they have. They’re worried about being pulled back down. Farley and I just wanted to set an example as pioneers and industry professionals. From my standpoint, I thought Farley was an important part of this so that people could see that we could move on. He got the chance to explain why he did what he did. His interview is one of the most interesting.