In the early 1990s, Mystic Bill was one of the key figures in the emergence of the Chicago Rave Scene, introducing Chicago’s homegrown House Music sound to a new generation. Now in his homebase of Miami, Bill & the revamped House Preservation Society are set for a revival.
You threw what I think was the first “warehouse” party I ever went to – sort of a small-scale rave called Sagittarius Rising, and that must have been 1993 or 1994. I think it was out on Diversey?
You mean Libra Rising, I think? Yes that was probably the first in a series with that name that we threw. It was across from the bowling alley on Diversey.
You were already throwing parties in the underground here when I first got into the scene, so I know little about how you got to that point. How did you get to Chicago and fall in with that scene?
I moved out to Chicago in 1988 with a bunch of friends. I’d been visiting for a couple of years so I got a chance to check out the Music Box and a bunch of clubs like that going on at the time. House was really just starting up in Florida, where I’m from. So I came out with a bunch of friends and attended Columbia for a little while. I started working with a production company producing records and remixes and really trying to get my foot in the door.
As far as parties, these were mostly lofts and warehouses and something in between those. That was when Mark [Farina], Derrick [Carter] and Spencer Kincy were really starting to do their thing. So I think I’m definitely in that second generation of House Music people.
Spencer Kincy (aka Gemini)
I’m surprised to hear you were making music at that point. I looked up your entry on discogs.com and it’s really lacking, missing even some of what I have, and the first release is a compilation! Do you remember what the first record you actually did was?
The first, I think, was a remix of an artist called Karla St. James. I did that and a few other remixes under the “Sundowners” name – I remixed Darryl Pandy, Xaviera Gold and a few others.
Who were the actual members of your crew House Preservation Society?
There was Davey Dave, Traxx and myself. A few others were invited in but the basis of it was the three of us. We threw a lot of parties, and sometimes bigger ones with other promoters but the core of it was in the loft and warehouse scene. The HPS parties were a little more subdued than the big rave events.
I recently came across some materials from the early 1990s, and one thing caught my eye. The kids who were into the rave scene in Chicago – me included- really didn’t know much about the pre-existing House scene. I look back on that and I’m grateful that folks like yourself were consistently bringing House to events that otherwise might have been full-on Trance or Drum’n’Bass or whatever.
We were aware of that, and in our scene, we were trying to bring the Chicago House sound to this new generation of kids. What we were trying to do was keep the first generation crowd that was still around and mix them with the second generation crowd, which were newer kids learning about the roots of the music.
Are there any events that really stand out to you, looking back all these years later?
The roots-ier parties stand out to me now. I felt like we had a job to do in educating kids about the music. Bringing in Michael Ezebukwu, who had played at LaRay’s and with Ron Hardy back in the day – that’s something that I’m proud of and that stands out to me. Or bringing in Romanthony with his band.
The rave scene got REALLY big toward the end of the 1990s, which is actually when I fell out of it. There was a significant amount of bad press. Did you ever wonder, “What have I gotten into here?”
At times, yeah, but what HPS was doing was something that needed to be done. Someone needed to spread the word and educate people about the Chicago sound and music. I guess somebody had to do it!
A few people from our scene started developing sort of an international profile while others didn’t. Were you traveling a lot?
Yeah I went through a phase where I was travelling a lot. I was trying to focus more on studio work when I was arrested and went to jail. I spent a year in jail.
You’ve been really open about that – I read it when you posted a mix on SoundCloud, just before you came up here to play at Dave Medusa’s club a year ago. What were the circumstances of your arrest? Was it possession?
I’ll just say that I was at the wrong place at the wrong time. To tell you the truth, I was in a house where people were cooking up meth, though I wasn’t aware of the intensity of what they were doing. Suddenly the police are at the door rounding everyone up and that’s where it started.
You were living in Texas then?
That’s right. I was working a lot with Select Recordings, if you know them, going out of town a lot with a few local residencies and a nice studio and everything. To tell you the truth, I feel it helped me get back on track and realize what I’d been taking for granted. After my release I decided to move back home to Florida; I’m in Miami now.
You know there are a lot of brilliant, wacky, creative people I know in Miami and Florida in general; it seems like there’s the nucleus of a great scene with people like yourself and Atnarko and Q-Burns Abstract, though most of what the rest of the world hears are stories about Mansion in Miami throwing world class DJs off the decks.
Yeah, I know. I’ve just been chilling for the most part and haven’t really dug into the local scene much. I’ve played a few parties but to be honest I’ve never been the type to push myself on anyone. I’ve always gotten gigs because people reached out to me, not because I went around lobbying. That’s just not me. I guess I still kind of have that hippie vibe and mentality.
There are a lot of cool clubs here, with something going on nearly every day of the week, a lot of European people flying in and a lot of that Disco or Nu Disco sound. And also people like Osunlade and Louie Vega headlining. There’s not so much “Chicago” in the scene here at the moment.
You worked with DJ Spun a lot before; I’ve always sort of thought he was like the “Mystic Bill of California” (or “of New York” now I guess). There seemed to be a real affinity in your styles and personalities.
I met DJ Spun when he was still out on the West Coast. He invited me to play out there. There was this really funny thing that happened on my first experience playing for him in San Francisco. Some Hell’s Angels showed up at the club, and I remember Spun coming up to me and saying, “Look man, if they make a request, just be cool!” [laughs] If they wanted me to play some Lynyrd Skynyrd, damn I might have brought some…
You’ve been able to play in Chicago a couple of times lately, yes? Have you had a chance to reconnect with anyone?
Yeah, I played the Soul Foundation party at Darkroom when it was still open, and just recently at the Boxx. I’ve been in touch with some old friends. Right now I’m trying to get my studio together and all of that. I was up in New York a couple of months ago too and met up with Jake Reif, who has joined up with the HPS crew. We’re working on some tracks together and have a few projects in the works. We’re also working on some HPS parties just about everywhere – Chicago, New York, San Francisco every so often. It’s still in the planning stages but it looks like everything should come together around February, right around Valentine’s Day.
Out of the new music that you’re hearing, what are you liking?
The stuff I look for and that I really like, strangely, has that ’90s retro feel to it. So I guess it’s new music that resembles old music – music made with analog equipment or made to sound like it is. It’s “older sounding new stuff”. A lot of what I hear is overproduced and too polished and has a lot of reverb and all of that. That’s just me – I like things that sound a little rougher.