FIRST, OPEN A RECORD STORE. Open it a few months before Tower becomes the first of the major record chains to liquidate, and preferably at a time when the industry in general is lying prostrate on the ground. It helps if you’ve never owned or even worked in a record store before.
Specialize in vinyl, and be sure to keep your online footprint as lowkey as possible. Jump into the re-issue business with a record from a Chicago Acid House legend that most of the other Chicago DJs never heard of, and mix in a few original productions of your own that vibe right along with the raw House sound.
Do this, and keep it up for nearly nine years, and you’ve followed in the footsteps of Kevin Starke of Chicago’s Kstarke Records. A collection of Kstarke’s releases has just been released as The House That Jackmaster Hater Built on Still Music, featuring re-issues from James “Jack Rabbit” Martin as well as original tracks, and is available now (vinyl one and two here, CD or digitally from Juno).
You started the store almost nine years ago. This is when record stores were closing all around the country. I was starting a print magazine at the same time so I sympathize, but why did you do it?
I think every DJ has that fantasy when they’re young and buying records. “If I had a record store, I’d do this! I’d run it like this! I’d put that in!” So I always had that fantasy in my head. I used to hang out at stores like the Hip House in Brickyard Mall, Gramaphone, Importes and all the other places in Chicago.
But really the key was when I had all of my records stolen when I was 21. I was playing a party and someone broke into my trunk and stole my best crates. I kind of cried – I remember to this day walking down and seeing the trunk open and being like, “I don’t remember that being open… oh no! Fuck!” All my stuff was gone.
[quote align=”right” color=”#999999″] “Every DJ’s fantasy is to have their own record store. Their second fantasy is to make their own records.” [/quote]
Little by little, I was trying to get my record collection back. I moved out to LA for awhile, and while LA’s great, it wasn’t my scene. I moved back to Chicago and was thinking, well okay, now I can start finding more of those records that I lost. The thing is that people were selling some of them for just crazy amounts of money – like $200 for a record I’d paid $3 for. I didn’t realize these records had become so valuable.
I started buying collections and tried selling them online. I met a guy who had a record store back in the day and still had his old stock. I went in his basement – everything was still sealed. I cry now because I passed on so much old soul and punk and jazz and rock – I could have retired already on the records I passed over!
But I bought some and put the first one online on eBay. I thought I might get $50 for it. It jumped from $50 to $225 and I fucking screamed. I thought I’d found gold!
So that was your gig – selling records on eBay?
No, I had another job and I was making a good living at it, but I’d been doing it for awhile and was looking for something new. Aside from eBay, I was selling records out of my house, basically. I’d tell guys who bought from me online to come by my house and take a look around. I had so much they’d tell me I should open a store or something. I’d always wanted to. Who wouldn’t? That was my attitude anyway.
[quote align=”right” color=”#999999″] “I’d never owned a record store. I’d actually never even worked in a record store.” [/quote]
Then I met a guy who told me he had a lot of records too. That’s what everyone says but he took me to his storage lockers and he wasn’t lying. Picture this whole store, filled, top to bottom and front to back with records. He sold me stuff really cheap and we started working together online.
For that first year selling out of my house I was making, I think, about $2,000 a week at the top level. I was doing well enough that I thought, You know what? I’m going to do this for real. I’m going to open a record store. My wife at the time said I was crazy. I’d never owned a record store – I’d actually never even worked in a record store – and I didn’t know anything about running one. I said you know what? I’m going to do this no matter what happens. I’m going to do what it takes. At least I can say I tried.
The only thing was I didn’t know what to call it. I’d been selling on eBay for over a year as “kstarke”. I feel foolish now but I didn’t know you could put some cool name in there, so I just used my first initial and last name. The name kind of stuck so I thought I’ll just stick with it.
When we opened, I didn’t know anything. I didn’t know about distributors. I’d done sales before but that was outside sales, where you go out and get the money. I was just sitting here worrying what would happen if they never came in the door.
But they came. And you learned how to run a record store, apparently.
I’m still learning. I try to go out to other people’s stores and see what they’re doing and figure out why they’re doing things the way they are. I’m not spying – I just never worked in a record store.
[quote align=”right” color=”#999999″] “I never want to be that guy that says, ‘Well I had to learn things the hard way, so you’ve got to learn things the hard way too.'” [/quote]
In the beginning, nobody wanted to tell me anything. That’s one thing I can say I learned from that experience, though. I never want to be that guy that says, well I had to learn things the hard way, so you’ve got to learn things the hard way too. Whenever someone comes in here and makes music or collects records or anything and is reaching out with a question, I always think back to how nobody wanted to tell me anything or point me in the right direction. I don’t want to do that.
Pretty much my entire experience of hanging out in record stores as a kid consisted of employees laughing at my selections and ignoring my questions.
No way man, I want to help. Yeah, maybe there are some people who take advantage of me, but I don’t care. If that’s what you get off on, you have fun with that. But I want to help people do what they want to do.
So when did pressing vinyl come into it?
Well, if every DJ wants to run a record store his way, the next thing is to make his own records. Who doesn’t want that? When I opened the store and started dealing with distributors, I remember thinking that maybe it was time to give production a shot and start making some music and try to put some music out.
So how much of that is on the Kstarke Records compilation from Still Music? Is it just re-issues or a mix of both?
Okay, some of the stuff on here is from my bootleg label Booton Records. Some of the stuff is from my Warehouse Box Tracks label. Some of the stuff I personally made, some are re-issues, and some of the stuff is from Jordan Zawideh who works here in the store.
When I first started with Booton with that Jack Rabbit track, most of the guys that I was meeting weren’t into that kind of stuff. They were into Soulful House and all this other stuff. I like that stuff too, but growing up I bought the Target releases and the Marcus Mixx records.
I thought hey, this stuff is making money online. I didn’t know if people here were into it or not, but overseas they loved it. And I wanted this record too. I just wanted to put out records that I thought were really good and were underrated for everyone to hear them. Like that Jack Rabbit track you wrote about. He is so underrated. If you listen to that first track that he put out (“Rabbit Trax”), that’s from like 1987 or 1988. They weren’t making acid like that back then. That song is way ahead of its time, and if you compare to the acid coming out at the time, it sounds nothing like it. Like if you compare it to Sleazy D’s “I’ve Lost Control” or Phuture’s “Acid Tracks”, they’re two different worlds. It’s something I can see coming out now from some brand new producer and becoming huge – that’s how far ahead of his time he was.
So anyway, that record lead to meeting and networking with a few other guys who gave me unreleased tracks and that’s when I started the next label, Warehouse Box Tracks. I got the name because it kind of looks like Trax but it’s not, and it kind of sounds like the music from the Warehouse and the Music Box. So that’s “Warehouse Box Tracks”.
What’s with the name “Jackmaster Hater”?
The reason I picked the name Jackmaster Hater is that all these tracks I had, the majority of guys I knew wanted them bad. When they knew I had it, they would hit me up immediately. But there were a handful of DJs who would be like, “I’ve got that on cassette!” or “I’ve got the REAL mix of it.” These are the guys who get all confrontational, like “Why would you put this out? I don’t want everyone to have that!” I’d tell them “Because it’s disgustingly good! It’s sick! I want everyone to hear this!”
It’s funny to think that this is how some DJs are. Nearly every label gives DJs records to break them, not to hoard them.
Yeah, and even worse is that (a.) most of these guys don’t even play out, (b.) everybody’s going to play it their own way so nobody’s going to step on you, and (c.) why the hell do you even care what anyone else has? Fuck you, I want everyone to hear this song and everyone to enjoy it. I don’t care if you hate me for this. In fact, you know what? I want you to hate me. So I’ll be Jackmaster Hater. They can hate on me all they want. That’s my name. And that’s how there came to be “Jackmaster Hater” records.
[quote align=”right” color=”#999999″] Even worse is that (a.) most of these guys don’t even play out, (b.) everybody’s going to play it their own way so nobody’s going to step on you, and (c.) why the hell do you even care what records anyone else has? [/quote]
I wanted to show the world the raw-sounding House that I remember when I was growing up, before House went into so many genres that I couldn’t keep up with it. But you know, the funny thing is that when I started Booton and Warehouse Box Tracks, not too many people were really putting out this music. A lot of these labels that are going nuts with this music now were putting out anything but this kind of music. I’m not saying I started anything – it’s not like nobody has ever heard of re-issues before! I’m not the first and I won’t be the last.
But now there’s a groundswell for raw Chicago House records like these.
Right, now that people see it’s popular, you have guys jumping on the bandwagon. There are people who jump on whatever’s hot at the time. I put this out because it rings true to me. I didn’t put these records out because I wanted to make money or I wanted to be popular. I did it more for the store and the love of the music. If I get money or something happens, that’s great but that has never been the goal in any of this. It’s the music and the store. Everything I do is for the music and the store.
Kstarke: The House That Jackmaster Hater Built is out now on 2xLP vinyl (part two), on CD and digitally. Kstarke Records – the store – is at 1109 N. Western Avenue (just south of Division Street) in Chicago.