The Blessed Madonna
From a series of breakthrough releases to a debut at Panorama Bar, smartbar’s first female talent buyer has had a lot on her plate this year. Her first record, “Exodus” was an anthem to a concentrated pool of Chicago house aficionados, passed from person to person for nearly three years before anyone outside of the city ever heard it. Its champions now range from the esteemed Little White Earbuds blog to fellow smartbar resident, Derrick Carter, who debuted “Exodus” to the rest of the world on the mainstage at Movement 2012. The Blessed Madonna’s (previously known as The Black Madonna) catalog of current and upcoming releases/remixes now includes labels such as Classic, Freerange, Home Taping is Killing Music, Argot and Stripped & Chewed
Since the debut release on Stripped & Chewed, The Blessed Madonna has been remixed by The Revenge and Nicholas, while releasing a bestselling and now virtually impossible to find split EP with Chicago’s disco master, DJ Rahaan that currently resells for up to ten times its original value. In 2013, Madonna shared remix duties with Matthew Herbert on the James Curd/No Dial Tone split for Classic Music Company and remixed Roberto Rodriguez for Freerange. Fervent supporters of her work include Ashley Beedle, Dimitri From Paris, Jacques Renault, Luke Solomon, Derrick Carter, 6th Borough Project, Jimpster, Move D, Chris Duckenfield, Junior Boys and many more. Crosstalk International describes her current project, the “Lady Of Sorrows EP” on Argot, as “her most fully realized work to date — A great leap forward from the sample-clad disco house of her records for Home Taping Is Killing Music and Stripped & Chewed. Weaving live orchestration and irresistible synth lines through tough percussive frames, both tracks bare their souls to listeners with enough muscle to command dancers’ attention.”
Her mixes for Little White Earbuds and Bicep’s Rinse FM show, contributed in spring of 2013, were received with acclaim. A sublime technician behind the decks, The Blessed Madonna is known for fluent and dynamic all-vinyl appearances, which span from disco to techno. You can catch her here at her residencies, We Still Believe and Blood, Sweat & Tears.
“I like to keep myself pretty invisible. You may think I’m somewhere, but I’ve already left.”
Derrick Carter is widely acknowledged as one of the better DJs of the world. With innovative productions, flawless technical skills and an effortlessly joyful attitude of rocking a crowd, his influence has infiltrated throughout the spectrum of dance music. Although known as one of the key players of Chicago’s house music wave in the ’90s, Derrick began DJ’ing at the age of nine, spinning disco and funk records at family reunions. he freely travels outside standard club tastes, incorporating old-school disco, soul, jazz, new wave, and whatever else catches his fancy.
Harry Cross is the co-founder and resident DJ of the underground Femme’s Room and Men’s Room Chicago parties in Chicago, IL. In 2014, he released his first remix of Shaun J. Wright and Alinka’s “Love Songs” on the Twirl Records label. His weekly functions at bathhouses and leather bars influence his multi-genre yet always sexy vibe. He’s currently putting the finishing touches on Loose Ends, a 12-hour rave at a historic Chicago bathhouse.
Harry’s residency, Pala, is a collaboration between visual artists, performers, and DJ’s that draws inspiration from nature, the universe, fantasy and witchcraft to create a unique, psychedelic experience.
Chicago’s Garrett David has quickly made a name for himself as a producer and DJ. Also known for his collaboration with Adam Rowe, the Bell Boys. His work pushes the boundaries of Chicago house while staying true to its legacy. When not behind the decks at Smart Bar, Garrett can be found behind the desk of Gramaphone Records, where he serves as house buyer and head of A&R in Gramaphone’s new endeavor as a Chicago-centric imprint. Current releases include Balance, Stripped & Chewed, Persnickety, and Discovery Recordings.
Dj Heather’s interest in music was sparked by her own parents’ eclectic record collection and then nourished by her own discoveries. Heavily influenced by the burgeoning waves of industrial, alternative, rap, and house she began to explore the art of deejaying. Attempting to replicate what she heard at underground events, clubs and radio. Known in local circles as a rare groove, hip hop and downtempo dj, requests for her house sets increased and became her primary focus.
With various collaborations alongside Brett Johnson, Derrick Carter, Johnny Fiasco amongst others, licensed mixed compilations for Afterhours, Fabric, Om, Nordic Trax. Releases on Aroma, Classic, Seasons, and 20/20 Vision to name a few. Her own labels Blackcherry Recordings, newly minted Apollo Music Group beside Dan X and Lil Mark; in addition to 20 plus years of extensive touring she continues to be a champion of a brand of house Chicago is known for. “To make a room full of people happy is difficult to do. You become part mind reader, guru, sensei, educator, entertainer, babysitter all at once. All the experiences I’ve had, made me who I am today, as a person and dj. I love what I do.”
Lake Effect: Simply defined as the phenomena created in a surrounding area. That is the essence Chicago house and it’s influence globally as well.
Hugo Ball is a polysexual, oppositional, surrealist monthly dance happening occurring on the third Saturday of each month at Smart Bar. The Hugo Ball Troupe—Justin Long, Eris Drew, Sevron, and sold —are a collective of musicians, selectors, writers, and artists. They have based Hugo Ball on a musical philosophy that transcends genre and time—one might hear Severed Heads mixed with Terry “Housemaster” Baldwin, Section 25 and Gesloten Cirkel. All selectors play vinyl and all live shows are performed on hardware. Hard-dancing and democratized space are the politics of the dance floor. Please check-out www.hugoballchicago.com for more information about the Troupe, including its Manifesto.
Chicago’s Jeff Derringer is a staple of the American Techno scene, and one of its most respected producers. As a resident at Smartbar, Jeff presides over Oktave, his home-grown techno night focusing on the best and brightest international talent.
Jeff’s productions display the skill and focus of a life-long musician, one who has spent decades honing his craft. He has released records on esteemed labels like Soma, Electric Deluxe and Perc Trax, and his music has been charted and played by artists around the world. With influences ranging from early 80s film scores, industrial, trip hop, IDM and beyond, his tough, textured and direct techno is effective for the dance floor as well as the headphone experience. With a focus on quality over quantity, every record Jeff releases has his sound signature all over it. His music has earned the praise of stalwarts like Regis, Surgeon, Luke Slater, Laurent Garnier and many more. New music is forthcoming in 2017 on Soma, Lanthan Audio and Reclaim Your City.
As a performer, Jeff delivers complex and urgent soundscapes. He experiments with different set ups regularly, pushing the envelope of what’s possible in a hybrid techno set. Jeff has taken his sound around the world; recent highlights include appearances at Berghain and at Bassiani in Tbilisi, as well as the Movement Electronic Music Festival in Detroit and the Great American Techno Festival in Denver.
Jeff continues to teach at Columbia College Chicago, where he is an adjunct professor in the music department. Jeff’s classes focus on digital production techniques, helping to unlock the talents of a new generation of artists. Showing them the way with affordable tools and a DIY mindset, Jeff hopes to have a lasting impact on the lives of the next wave of underground talent in Chicago.
Chicago native Justin Long discovered his fascination for uncanny music at an early age when his mother entrusted him with her record collection that spanned from UK punk to American dance. This served as a gateway, stimulating his journey into the sonic vortex. As a child of Medusa’s on Sheffield, Long gained a higher level of musical education. His weekly pilgrimages to this venue’s all-ages hedonistic dance parties supplied a compelling musical concoction of acid house, UK bleep, industrial and new wave. Possessed by these unorthodox forms of music, Long purchased his first set of turntables and began to collect 12-inch singles from local record shops. Though his intentions were solely to pander to his musical appetite in the privacy of his bedroom, this acquisition proved to be the genesis of a voyage that continues to present him with new challenges that are met with an unforgiving dogmatic approach.
Long can be found on every third Saturday at Hugo Ball, a gathering that was founded with music collaborators, Nathan Drew Larsen and Sevron and sustained with the Hugo Ball troupe. For 2014, Long has been officially named Senior Resident of Smart Bar.
The Black Madonna on Michael Serafini: “I got to Gramaphone around 8:45 PM, the hour it really slows down on weekdays. Only the lone holdouts —part time employees, incurable vinyl wonks and industry regulars are left. They shuffle around, putting releases back on the wall, deciding between records and ramen noodles, wrapping up consignment deals with Michael. Michael is Michael Serafini, the constant, steady, and capable captain of one of the truly preiminent and most influential record stores in these United States.
It’s past the hour to turn the lights off, but Michael never hurries anyone, taking time to answer everyone’s questions in a way that feels welcoming, considerate and completely unrushed, even though you know he must want to go home. Finally, when everyone’s left, he asks me to walk to the currency exchange with him. The first snow of the year is falling on Clark Street when we walk outside and he apologizes. He hasn’t had a chance to get any change today. Someone has missed a shift. It happens all the time and tasks that get missed often fall to him. Years and staff come and go, but Michael, his partner Jason and a handful of deputies are the ever-reliable guard at the shop. In the countless times that I have been in the store, his only absences are the Sundays he deservedly spends at home, before working at the late shift at Smart Bar. It all starts again on Monday. As the owner of an independent record store in a challenging era for vinyl sales, he puts in hours that would frighten mere mortals. But it hasn’t always been that way and he hasn’t always been the owner. In fact, Gramaphone hasn’t always sold dance records.
Opening in 1969 at the original location, 2663 N. Clark St., the store was purchased for the first owner by his parents, whose interest in shepherding a retail record shop was short-lived. Power transferred to two employees of the store, Joe and Carl. With record stores now collapsing at an unfathomable rate, it’s hard to imagine that Gramaphone opened in an area known at the time as “Record Store Alley,” which boasted an astounding 15-20 record stores within a two mile radius. This zone supported the musical needs of Chicago, with jazz, classical, and rock and roll all offered in close proximity. Nestled in that bustling music district, Gramaphone became a sort of petri dish, reflecting the mutating strains of music that would eventually combine and give birth to Chicago’s distinct dance culture. Servicing a growing gay clientele, who wanted access to the blend of European disco, electro and American soul they heard in venues such as the Warehouse, Gramaphone’s stock shifted away from the standard fare. Michael tells me, “With the house music coming in, they had a customer they hired by the name of Andy Moy, who was one of the first young guys– outside the circle of their friends (Joe and Carl) — that worked at the store that started to be someone who was a buyer of music for the store. His focus was to be buying more of the dance music and house music, what they would call ‘New York beat’ and ‘New Jersey house.’ It was freestyle and stuff like that.”
This is the part of the story you probably know. As the popularity of their dance stock increased, Gramaphone hired a who’s who of Chicago’s dance music legends. Ralphi Rosario, DJ Sneak, Derrick Carter and half the DJ’s that you love worked the counter in quick succession. Josh Werner began cultivating the alternative and techno stock after quitting his job at Coconuts, while still in high school. Jacques Renault eventually became the Drum and Bass buyer. If it sounds like magic, it kind of is. Enter Michael, who joined the staff in 1993, after working at Best Buy.
Of Gramaphone’s earliest and influential staff, Michael laughs as he winks and he tells me, “They are very nice people now, but back in the day they were notorious for buying only four or five copies of a record until it was broke by them and their friends and then stocked in the store regularly. They have lots of little tricks that they used to do back in the day.”
The history between Smart Bar and Gramaphone is long, complicated and often fuzzy. These two institutions have long been required coursework for DJ’s hoping to graduate from Chicago onto the world. It’s a proud and shared tradition. Smart Bar and Gramaphone have been trading and sharing employees for almost 20 years. “Over the years,” Michael says, “the DJs who worked at the store, becoming successful and travelling… and becoming producers, they moved on from the store, other people took their places and carried on.”
But that’s not the only connection between these two. While many of Smart Bar’s top visiting DJs haven’t worked at Gramaphone, they’ve certainly spent enough time in it. You’d be hard pressed not to put Steffi and Prosumer at the top of a list of Smart Bar’s most notable and universally praised sets in recent memory. And like many guests, both Steffi and Prosumer requested a trip to Gramaphone and left our fair city with much heavier crates. They aren’t alone. This happens all the time. Many of Smart Bar’s biggest headliners have spent the morning after getting their fingers dusty at Gramaphone. Knowing this happens with such regularity, I wanted to know what the hell these guys and gals are buying.
And that’s just the question we’re going to be asking in this series from now on. What are our favorite visiting DJs buying at Gramaphone when they wrap at Smart Bar?
Michael tells us that, more often than not, they take a little piece of Chicago home with them, “OK, for example, we were all very surprised when Herbert came into town back in the nineties. He was such a huge artist at the time. He bought Dance Mania. Recently Bob Sinclar came in the store. We were closed. We opened specifically for him and he pretty much shopped the Dance Mania section and bought ghetto house. You really wouldn’t expect Bob Sinclar to be buying ghetto house. Hot Chip comes in here regularly when they’re in town. The DFA guys. Mostly when those guys come here they look for Chicago house and classics. American classics and Chicago classics. Todd Terje was in here looking for a record by the Peech Boys, which we didn’t have but then later found and we put it on hold for him.” And lest you think that kind of service is reserved for the likes of Todd, I’ve seen the staff dig through bins and search stock to find clubby remixes of songs for wedding DJs too.
So who are the superdiggers, you may wonder? The aforementioned Prosumer and Steffi, of course. And, Michael adds, “Danny Krivit, he would spend a lot of money. Cassy, she spends a lot of money.” We’ll be catching up with just one such superdigger in the second edition of this feature. Get excited. We were blown away by what we saw.
I wanted to work on this series for several reasons. First, I’m just plain curious. I have a record shaped hole in my heart. I want to know what’s in that bag. I want to know what you’re buying when you get done making my feet hurt at Smart Bar. But it’s more than that. What I know is this: most of the people I revere in dance music stood on one side of Gramaphone’s counter or the other. And most of them stood behind the decks at Smart Bar… or in front of the left front speaker. That means something. I personally believe that records are important, but this series won’t be referendum on the “war” between vinyl and digital by any means. I think Steffi and Prosumer’s sets would do a better job making the case for vinyl than I would anyway. But, there is often connection between the truly lights-out amazing sets at Smart Bar sets and pro-level digging. Smart Bar and Gramaphone are fundamentally connected. Both represent the pinnacle of the American dance music tradition. They share a culture that I treasure and fiercely want to protect. I believe that starting a conversation about the role record buying serves in this amazing club that we proudly call “home” is a step in the right direction.
By the time Michael and I get done gossiping, it’s late enough on a school night that even the light dusting of snow has hushed the neighborhood a little. Michael puts a record in my bag and folds the corners inside to protect my purchase like he does every time and we make plans to see each other on Sunday at Smart Bar.
Chicago is so damned lucky.”
A Kansan by birth, Chicagoan by privilege, Olin has been quietly offering up his unique take on dance music. With several recent releases on respected labels such as Argot, Discovery, God Particle, and more, Olin has cast a wide net with his productions, which range from deep techno to italo disco. His DJ sets offer the same dynamic variety and are often long-haul, cross-genre affairs.
Olin’s residency, Slack, is a night dedicated to DJs and performers who need a little slack in the line to fully explore their tastes and tendencies. An open-format affair, Slack guests DJs will enjoy extended sets and the freedom to take the dancefloor to places unknown (and back). Resident and curator, Olin, will also be pushing himself to keep things tight with long-form opening sets for DJs of varying styles and slants. When all is said and done, a little slack in the line and an open mind is all most DJs ask for, and Slack aims to let them loose.
One of the fascinating creatures that our Planet houses is the ever-elusive Sassmouth. Fortunately, the Planet Chicago recording crew caught some sounds from her natural habitat, and we just finished listening to the entire Sassmouth ‘Collected Mixes’ and ‘Selected Productions.’ The music explores all aspects of our Planet. Mind the abundant basslines, dazzling melodies, and unparalleled orchestral score. I was absolutely gobsmacked from start to finish indeed!
As of her ‘god particle’ label launch in early 2013, and ‘Planet Chicago’ club night launch at the legendary ‘Smartbar’ in early 2014 where she continues her Chicago residency, one can say that she is quite simply the inimitable nature/wildlife/DJ/producer. Following the similarly paramount achievement of being enlisted as a resident for the San Francisco based ‘As You Like It’ production group in early 2013, this colossal cephalopod continued to so sensibly organize each and every impromptu mix whilst covering specific genre regions and/or habitats (deep oceans, techno, Great Lakes, house, shallow seas, electro, urban rivers, experimental, etc.) until the entire Planet was magnificently represented by the most astonishing sounds you’ve ever experienced from the comforts of home, club, or NBFC underground party.
-Sir David Attenborough
Raised in rural Michigan, the DJ and producer Savile, born Gianpaolo Dieli, has been in constant pursuit of outlets for his creativity and largesse from a young age. His musical interests first took root in rapping and scratch DJing before the influence of Jay Dilla and DJ Premier led him to producing hip-hop instrumentals. Paying the bills as a professional chef, Dieli was drawn to dance music after stumbling upon videos of Jeff Mills mixing, deeply inspired by its limitless nature and ability to elicit a range of emotional responses in dancers.
Moving to Chicago in 2010 helped fill up his DJing schedule, forcing him to hang up the apron in favor of headphones. He has spent the past several years quietly honing in on his own sound: a potently simple, stripped-down distillation of hip hop-derived funk and swing into a house-and-techno palette. “For years, I struggled with overcrowding records with too many ideas,” Savile says. “Then I came to the realization that my most potent dancefloor experiences were in response to the most simple pieces of music: three or four sounds; a kick, a bassline, a hi-hat, a clap. The music I’m making now is a response to that.”
Ariel is a Chicago-based club music DJ/producer/performance artist/poet who has been tearing up clubs like smartbar, Berlin Nightclub – Chicago, Hideout Inn, and just about everywhere else with her genre jumping blend of cutting edge club cuts and more classic sounds of house and techno. Her debut EP ‘Cyst’ was released on Boukan Records in September. Other releases on CLUB CHAI, SHXME, Pedicure Records (with performance group WITCH HAZEL), & with club personality Imp Queen. Her plays have been produced in NYC, Chicago, and LA.
Diamond Formation is the future iteration of Ariel Zetina’s Cubic Zirconia parties of the past…where organic sounds meet the geometric, where beauty is birthed out of dirt, Diamond Formation will bring disparate club sounds into a 35 year old house music institution, celebrating our ancestors while introducing new sounds to the dance floor soundscape. Diamond Formation will uplift trans folk, people of color, and the beautiful intersections of identities which allow the musician/listener/dancer to create such tectonic work. House, techno, and electro as common as kuduro, gqom, & baile funk.”
RIP Frankie Knuckles / Godfather of House and smartbar Resident
Metro/Smart Bar Mourns Frankie Knuckles. Metro/Smart Bar joins the Chicago music community and music fans around the world in mourning the loss of the Godfather of House, Frankie Knuckles. “Frankie was always one of those DJs that through his music could take us from the dance floor to church. He was the first person I heard use a Martin Luther King Jr speech as part of a remix. He was an innovator and a pioneer who influenced generations of musicians and music fans. He took me under his wing 35 years ago at the original Warehouse and then the Power Plant. Frankie was the first DJ we ever booked for Metro/Smart Bar – he played our opening weekend. He’s one of the few artists to have played the club in all three decades of its existence. He was a pioneer, a consummate professional. I was lucky to have worked with and collaborated with him. He is and will always be the Godfather of House, but more than that, to me, he was a dear, dear friend who I will deeply miss.” – Joe Shanahan