LWE Podcast 100: Chicago Skyway

Patience is not the most common feature among up and coming producers these days, but for Sean Hernandez it was the only way. A Chicago native who joined its house scene in the late 80’s, first as a teenage party-goer and then as part of a DJ duo with his older brother, Hernandez learned the art of working a crowd for years before starting in on production. Once he did, he lavished attention upon his hardware, mastering the basics and absorbing every intricacy. It was only in 2007 that he began seriously submitting his music to labels both in Chicago and abroad, finding homes for his refined yet spazzy house tunes on M>O>S Recordings, Eargasmic Recordings, and Uzuri. Now that determined approach is paying off as people are aligning Hernandez, as Chicago Skyway, with part of Chicago’s house music vanguard. LWE recently caught up with Hernandez at his home and discussed the early days, his philosophy on house music’s purpose, and his sublime collaboration with Dcook. We’re also proud to present our 100th exclusive podcast — a double podcast showcasing both sides of Chicago Skyway: a groovy, sweat-inducing DJ set and a live set made almost entirely of unreleased CS material. We can’t think of a better way to reach this milestone than with two incredible works by one of Chicago’s rising stars.

LWE Podcast 100-1: Chicago Skyway (60:50)

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Tracklist:

01. Black Traxx, “Holiday” [Night Club Records]
02. Markey, “5 Minute Workout” [Cajual Records]
03. Deymare, “Your Love” [Boe Recordings]
04. Ethyl & Flori, “Malmö” [Quintessentials]
05. Marc Vacher, “I Know” [Boe Recordings]
06. Jump Cutz, “Why You Wanna Play Me” (Norman’s Original Rare Groove Mix)
[Luxury Service]
07. Groove Committee, “Let’s Groove It” [Nu Groove]
08. TNT Subhead, “Deep Shit Show” [Groovement Records]
09. Joe Drive, “Towards The Light” [Mathematics Recordings]
10. 7 Citizens, “Quietus” [Praterei Records]
11. Perseus Traxx, “NR-707” [Boe Recordings]
12. Steve Poindexter, “Computer Madness” [Muzique Records]
13. Joseph Bacchilega, “Human Form” (Piero Russo/ESOM Re-Form) [PulseWave]

LWE Podcast 100-2: Chicago Skyway (56:08)

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Tracklist:

01. Chicago Skyway, “Plan B” [white*]
02. Chicago Skyway, “Joaquin Looks At The Stars” [Eargasmic Recordings*]
03. Chicago Skyway, “Butterfly’s Flight” [white*]
04. Chicago Skyway, “Confusion” (Wait Mix) [white*]
05. Chicago Skyway & Dcook, “Lager Dream” [white*]
06. Chicago Skyway, “Wreckage” [Eargasmic Recordings*]
07. Chicago Skyway, “Bad Driver” [white*]
08. Chicago Skyway, “Purgatory” (Yesi’s New Hair Cut Mix) [white*]
09. Chicago Skyway, “Noise” [Uzuri*]
10. Chicago Skyway, “Chicago Skyway Theme” [white*]
11. Crystal Maze, “Crystal Maze” (Chicago Skyway Remix) [aDepth Recordings]
12. Chicago Skyway, “122606” [white*]
* denotes tracks which, as of the time of publishing, are unreleased

Tell me a little bit about how you were first exposed to house music and roughly when that was.

Sean Hernandez: I would say that was in the mid to late 80’s. Definitely [W]BMX, I mean that goes without saying. Anyone that was in Chicago from early 80’s to — when did it end? Early 90’s? Everybody was exposed to that. Everybody and their mama was talking about it.

It was like pop radio for Chicago wasn’t it, practically?

I never knew that it was only a Chicago thing back then. We were all just like, ‘Aw man, house music.’ And then, you know, [W]NUR would be playing the hip-hop show — Streetbeat show. And you know, the Streetbeat show would also play house music. So it would be like listening to BMX and the Streetbeat show on — what was it 89.3, or whatever? But we’d also get the early taste of hip-hop too. And then the New York guys that would come and — whatever, somebody was related to somebody that lived in New York. ‘Here, man, I got this record; I’m going to play it.’ Everywhere in grammar school everybody would have boomboxes. Not everybody, but some of the more well-off kids. It was kind of a mixed school. The poor kids or middle class — I grew up in Wrigleyville.

Oh, OK.

So it was very diverse. It was up and coming, aka was getting gentrified. If you go to that area like Chicago right now, it’s nothing the way it was when I was growing up in it. It was majority Puerto Rican, but I mean, it was still diverse. It was still very diverse class-wise, racially. You know, it’s funny because we were all the kids that were skateboarders. And skateboarding, you know, everybody gets along with everybody for the most part. And we also had that house music thing in common. And in grammar school people would bring — because it was always the lunchtime mixes. During lunch somebody would be playing their boombox. Or they’d have one of those little radios with the little headphones. It was everywhere. People were trading mixtapes or whatever.

Were you latching on to any artists or specific records at the time? Or was it just sort of like, “It’s all good.”

I mean, Farley [Jackmaster Funk]. And I definitely related more towards, I guess Rafael “Razz” Rosario because he was Latino. He was the Latino. But I always really dug Farley’s tracks more, and his selection better. We were aware that there was a Music Box and there was a Warehouse because everybody’s brothers or sisters would go, ‘Aw yeah, man, my brother was telling me that fuckin’ Ronny [Hardy] beat that shit yesterday.’ And we were like, ‘Uh, what the fuck is that?’ And that’s my earliest memories of actually being aware — I never knew what it was called, but people would be like, ‘Oh, this fuckin’ music.’ Because people would have Italo, they’d have sprinkles of disco, and all of a sudden this beat track would come on and everybody would just be losing it. We would be in the lunch room, people would be eating, and people would be dancing to it and whatever. If you were walking down the street in my neighborhood at the time, there was this place — there was this street like a block away. My parents would be like, ‘Don’t go down that street. There’s a bunch of gang bangers over there.’ And there were, but I mean everybody would be blasting BMX or whatever mixtape they have, and they’d be like throwing their gang signs at you and shit. It was everywhere. That and Puerto Rican music, obviously. You know how you see those movies of the Bronx in the 70’s and 80’s, and you see the clothes lines going from one building to another and people playing bongos and shit in the streets. That’s the way it was over there on the north side. So I mean it’s a far cry from what it is now. It’s always, like, twentysomethings, new transplants from Chicago now.

And when did you actually start DJing?

Well, going back to the gentrification process of Lakeview, the rents got so high that we had to move. So we ended up moving to the suburbs, to the west suburbs. And I was a freshman in high school, and we didn’t really have shit to do. I always thought, ‘Aw man, this is going to be, like, some fuckin’ “Brady Bunch” suburb.’ Hell no, I was completely wrong. The majority of the school was black; it was Proviso West High School, and the majority of the school was black and Mexican. And everybody was listening to house music and hip-hop also. My brother one day came home with a boombox. It was a huge boombox, and it was one of the boomboxes that lit up — the woofers lit up. He also had these two beat-up-ass turntables. One was a Gemini, one was a Technics. It wasn’t like the Technics 1200s or anything, but one had a roll pitch this way, the other had a little sliding roll pitch like that. They were belt drive, and my brother, from what I vaguely remember he was like, ‘Man, we should try to DJ.’ I was like, ‘Yeah, let’s fuckin’ do it.’ And we started just really paying attention to what they were announcing on the radio: ‘This was whatever track. “We’re Rocking Down The House” by Adonis on Trax Records, go get it.’ You know, Gramaphone was a couple blocks away from us, and we would just walk over there. Or we would go to Imports every now and then.

Little by little we started buying the records. And then something kind of clicked like, ‘Oh, every beat four measures and 16 and 32’ — you know, ‘Eight, 16, and 32. Hey, I’m starting to get the concept of this.’ We were really bad DJs. Especially because with those belt drives you have to kind of give them a push. It’s not like the 1200s where you just give it a little nudge. No, these motherfuckers you have to, you know, wind back and push. So it finally kicks in after, like, three measures. It’s funny because nobody was really a DJ; everybody was a graffiti guy or some shit, you know what I mean? Somehow we just ended up getting all these house party gigs, and everybody would be hiring — ‘Oh, that’s the Hernandez brothers. They have turntables and they have a mixer.’ We had like a RadioShack Realistic mixer. It didn’t even have a cross fader, just two channels and a mic channel. Somebody we knew had a — I don’t know if it was really a “banging” sound system, but it was these huge car speakers. It was like, ‘Hey, man, let’s just fuckin’ hook up the mixer and the turntables to my speaker.’ Like, really fuckin’ ghetto. And he’d be like, ‘I’ll help you guys.’ And then we kind of started forming this little crew in high school. We started throwing our own nights at American Legions. Some cop in Northlake ended up taking us under his wing and started throwing parties with us in them, and he started hiring Bad Boy Bill and Joey Fernandez.

Really? Wow.

I remember the first time he hired somebody, he hired us, Bad Boy Bill and Kool Rock Steady. And he had no idea how to throw a party, but he gave us our chance. He was like, ‘Hey, I really like what you guys are doing, and I’m a big house head’ and blah blah blah blah. So he printed 500 flyers because the capacity of this party was 500 people. There’s this place in the western suburbs on Lake and Mannheim, and it’s this retirement home. It’s this high-rise by the expressway. And in the very top of this high-rise is this party room, but it’s all windows. So you can see the skyline and shit. We set up lights and a sound system, and nobody came. Bad Boy Bill was playing. He was like, ‘Fuck that, I want to play first.’

Right, ‘Get me out of here.’

‘Get me out of here.’ Tou had to go in through the lobby and one of the security people would let you up in the elevator to take you all the way upstairs. But Kool Rock Steady was like, ‘No, I’m Kool Rock Steady. Let me in. That’s my boy playing upstairs.’ And they were like, ‘We’re not going to let you in; you have to pay. You’re not on our guest list.’ It got into this whole thing where they all started fighting and shit. Bad Boy Bill just grabbed my record, threw it on there, scratched it, and just fuckin’ left. But I mean, that’s basically how we started.

How old were you at the time when you got your start?

I must have been about 14. How old are you when you’re a freshman? Like 14?

Yeah, about 14.

It’s always something that I wanted to do. My brother’s two years older than me, and we look similar. So I would always take his ID. He was in high school; he used to go to Lakeview High School in Lakeview. There was this school named Gordon Tech that was an all-boys school, and there was another one that was the sister school that was all girls. So they’d always be throwing parties, and they had some party — I think at the time it was the Master Mix Six or something like that. It was after Farley left BMX and went to [W]GCI. So it was Bad Boy Bill and Farley and Fast Eddie. I ended up taking my brother’s ID and I went. I paid my five bucks and that was the first party I had actually gone to. There was tons of people. The DJ was just up there fuckin’ jamming, and lights all over the place. I was like, ‘Man, I want to fuckin’ do this. I want to be that guy up there making all these people dance.’ I don’t even remember who was playing that night. It must have been Bad Boy Bill that was playing, and he played “Strings of Life,” and people just lost it. I was like, ‘Man, I’ve got to figure out how to do that song. I’ve got to figure out how they made that song, and — first I’ve got to figure out how to make motherfuckers dance.’

So when did you actually get your start in producing?

That’s kind of hard to say because I mean — like I said, everybody was into house. Even people in my family. My uncle, who was a younger guy, he was — I want to say he was 19, 20 or something like that — he was always into music. He still has really great taste in music, and he brought this little SynSonic Mattel drum machine. It has four pads; it comes with drumsticks you can hit it with. And it has these little buttons that sounded exactly like an 808. I was convinced, ‘Wow, this is what they’re using!’ So I’m making the four-on-the-floor beat on it. I was like, ‘I can do this!’ Because right away after he got it and he’s like, ‘You know what? I don’t have any time. I’m going to let you borrow it.’ This must have been, like, around ’88, ’89 or something that it came out. And I was having a blast with that shit. My mom and dad were probably just going nuts like, ‘Whatever, stop that shit already.’ Eventually I started doing more research. I was trying to get my friends together to — I was like, ‘Man, this gear’s really expensive. Let’s get together — you know, we all work. Let’s get together and buy gear.’ But everybody was just kind of wishy washy about it, and I’m like, ‘Well, alright well, fuck you guys. I’m just going to do it myself.’

So I think the first actual thing that I ever bought was an MC-303, and I think a lot of people — I know Hakim Murphy has one. Anyway, that got really boring after a while. I guess I outgrew it. I know people that still fuckin’ use that thing, but I got tired of it. I started talking to more people that were producing music — not anyone specific, no one that’s big time or whatever, but they were like, ‘Oh, we use this drum machine, and we use this synth. Here’s the way you connect shit.’ I had a friend named Derrick Kyles who had a ton of gear. He had a R8, he had some Roland synth, and we started working on music. He had, like, an Amiga, the and we’d do sequencing on that. He taught me a lot. I think he’s still DJing. We recorded a couple tracks and submitted them to Cajmere for Relief Records. Because everybody wanted to be on Relief Records, either Relief or Dance Mania. And Caj said he liked it, but Derrick and I, we always had conflicting schedules. I was still a young producer so I was really experimental, and I’d be like, ‘Oh, let’s make it go in triplets] [claps in triplets] you know? I could tell Derrick would sometimes look at me and go, ‘What the fuck is wrong with you?’ But he was just gracious enough to let me get that all out. A couple years down the line we ended up meeting up again, and tried working on stuff, but again our schedules conflicted so it just wouldn’t work out. But the Caj thing, there was never any follow through. And every now and then I’d see Caj, and he would be like, ‘Yeah, man, what happened to those tracks?’ I’d go, ‘Oh man, we never finished them.’ [laughs] And all of a sudden, what happened to Relief Records, you know what I mean? A couple years go by, and I’m like, ‘What the fuck happened? I thought this was going to last forever.’

So when did you — so I know you put your first record as Chicago Skyway in 2007? Is that right?

Mmhm.

So were you spending — up until that time were you just sort of working on stuff, and then 2007 just felt right?

It was the first Eargasmic release, which was a digital release. Just the first versions of “Heavens.” I had been DJing straight through the late 80’s, throughout he 90’s, and towards the early 2000’s I just got so fed up with it. I think a lot of people just got frustrated with it, and some DJs went to hip-hop. The full-timers, they weren’t making any money off of house anymore, and it wasn’t as big as it used to be. So they went either to hip-hop or towards the Euro shit or whatever. And some people just got burned out because of the drugs and all that shit. We were still throwing parties, but it was more like deeper house, which is still — you know, I still love deep house. More vocal-y — you know, that type of deep house. New York-y, I guess. Some people say, ‘Oh, that New York — gay vocal house.’ But that’s also great house, you know? And after a while we we started settling down. My brother got married, he had kids. This was before I had kids, but I’m like, ‘Yeah, you know what? I’m tired of this already. Let me concentrated on my career, and let me just get shit rolling.’ As opposed to going out to party all the time, getting drunk, and stupid — let me be a responsible adult.

But at the same time, while I was doing all that I was slowly starving myself to save money to buy gear. I ended up selling my MC-303, and I bought another synth that was called a Sirius. It was a Quasimidi Sirius, or something like that. It was kind of an all-in-one thing also, but it sucked. And I ended up trading that — this old man in Iowa. I drove all the way over there, gave him my keyboard, and he gave me a 909. I would literally sleep with that fuckin’ 909, try to figure out every subtle nuance. And not that there’s much, but there are subtle little things, like when you program a clap or a snare of whatever. I tried to recreate beat tracks I would hear. The whole time I was just studying my gear. Because a lot of times my friends would be like, ‘Oh yeah, so how does it work? Show me how it works.’ I’m like, ‘No, fuck that; read the manual. I read the manual.’ And that’s the thing: I was just trying to figure out my gear, especially with those early Roland machines, the manuals are just fuckin’ worthless, man. You might as well just fuckin’ cross everything out — you can’t figure it out. You have to talk to somebody or something.

I would always record stuff. It was really bad, actually, and I would show it to friends. And one day my friend was playing at this place called Dante’s. And Daryl Cura was playing also, and my friend played my track. Daryl was like, ‘Whoa, what the fuck is this?’ My friend said, ‘That’s that guy over there.’ He introduced himself and we just started talking. We started a dialog, and started talking about music — we got along really well. He was like, ‘This is still really rough, but I like where it’s going. It’s very old school sounding.’ And I was like, ‘Well, that’s not what I’m trying to do, but if you like it, then that’s cool.’ A couple years later when I felt more comfortable — even though I still don’t feel comfortable about ever releasing music — I finally gave him “Heavens.” He was like, ‘Dude, this is great. I’m going to release it, but I’m not going to release it on vinyl. I’m just going to help you out and release it on digital.’ And I’m like, ‘Well, do whatever. I don’t want you to spend any money on my behalf. Just see what happens.’ He was the one that basically gave me my break, as far as that goes. Later on I ended up sending those same tracks to — because I kept all the rights and publishing, all that stuff — to Delsin, because I really loved Delsin’s shit. It was months and months and months. I sent it to a lot of people in Amsterdam. Because, what had just come out? The [Para]disco 3000. It was this five or six album set. Eskimo Music released it. I just started sending it to all these guys, ‘He said the song’s old school, these guys seem to like old school house; I’ll send it to them.’ I think it was Marcel from Delsin who contacted me. He was like, ‘This is not really up our alley, but let me get you in contact with Steven Brunsmann, who runs the M>O>S label. This is more up his alley.’ Steven and I started talking, and he ended up releasing ‘Heavens’ on vinyl. Around that time also Daryl ended up releasing “Bells.”

So you named yourself after the Chicago Skyway, which is an interesting Illinois landmark, and I’m curious how that name came about.

I’ve always thought it sounded so cool. It sounded like space, like — ‘Skyway,’ you know? There’s so many reasons why it’s the perfect fit for me. One of them is — you’re the DJ; you’re elevating the crowd. I’m from Chicago. It was also kind of a marketing thing. Because right away I thought, if someone sees something that says Chicago on it, I know right away I’ll pick it up. There was a label that would say “made in Chicago.” And I would be like, ‘I’ll pick that up; I want to give it a chance.’ I thought the same thing: ‘I wonder if Chicago Skyway would work?’ Also because of my nickname, Changó. My friends would call me Changó, some of my family members would call me Changó because I’m a goofball, basically. And Changó is the god of the sky. There are a few other reasons, but it kind of stuck, you know?

That’s great. So obviously being from Chicago, the Chicago house influence was going to be very strong on your music. At the same time, I imagine that you didn’t want to just make straight Chicago house that everyone could tell right away. How do you sort of take that influence and make it your own? Because it’s so easy — and so desirable for a lot of people — to just redo the past, basically.

That’s the thing: there are a lot of producers out there that are mimicking it to the tee, where even the labels are looking like old school labels, like hand-drawn labels. With me, I never tried to sound old school. But I’ll admit that when I got the drum machines, I was trying to recreate some of the music, but that’s because I needed to figure out, why is this so good? And I’m not trying to compare myself to like a jazz musician or anything, but it’s kind of the same way a saxophonist will try to memorize a John Coltrane solo. Like, why does this work so well? And that’s what I would do. And I mean you’ll hear it a lot in my music. There’s a beat track that doesn’t have a name, but whenever you hear it, everyone just goes nuts. It’s just a simple 808 beat track. And when my friend sold me the 808, that was on there. He was like, ‘Man, check it out; I recreated it.’ I erased it and I recreated it again. In some of my productions, you’ll hear that. I’m using old gear so it’s always going to sound like it’s old school.

But if a trumpeter’s playing bebop, in a bebop style, he’s not trying to sound like Dizzy Gillespie, although there is that kind of nod to that early jazz. So there are going to be some notes or something similar from the past, but they’re going to throw in their own little flavor in there. And that’s kind of what I do. I don’t ever try to sound old school, but it just happens that I’m using old gear, because in my opinion, I think that’s the best-sounding gear. It’s house music to me. The 909, the 808 — that’s house music to me. Now I’m starting to step away from it for a little while. Another big influence on me is DJ Rush, early DJ Rush. Some of my friends are saying, ‘Oh man, that sounds like DJ Rush.’ And I’m like, ‘Yeah man, it’s those drums.’ Also Cajmere — Cajmere told me he uses just an MPC. I’m not ever trying to sound that way — because you’re right: it is easy to get caught in that, but — and this sounds so fuckin’ cliché — I like to have one foot in the past, one foot in the present, looking towards the future. You know what I mean? I definitely want to keep my sound, but I do want it to evolve. I hope it just doesn’t get too cheesy. [laughs]

So on that tip, you were talking about DJ Rush, and I know you also cited Traxmen and just Dance Mania in general as big influences. A lot of that stuff tends to be a little bit harder, a little bit faster. And I just wondered how that — because a lot of your stuff tends to be more melodically focused — how you thought that sort of filters into your style? It’s not like someone would necessarily say off the top of their head “Dance Mania,” or whatever else.

Yeah. I’ve always wanted my music to be party music. This is probably going to sound cheesy, but I’ve always tried to study a crowd and what they react to. I just recently came back from the UK, playing Freerotation Festival, and it was funny because I was with Steven Tang, and I’m like, ‘Look at this. Watch, watch, watch.’ And then something would drop, and the audience would go, ‘Yeah!’ I’d go, ‘See that, man, see? We’ve got to do that! Right there, right there, right there!’ I never try to be deep with my music. I don’t go, ‘I’m going to play this open hi-hat, and it’s going to be the pain of the world.’ None of that shit. I want it to be escapism; I want it to be party music. And all that Dance Mania stuff, all the Trax stuff, that to me was always party music. So going back to my experience at Freerotation, I was shitting bricks. ‘What am I going to play? You know what? Fuck it, I’m just going to pretend like this is like a house party in Chicago.’ And I started playing tracks. I started playing not Trax Records, but track-y stuff. I started playing some of Tang’s stuff, I started playing some vocal house. I only had two hours, so I tried to kind of go all over the place to feel out the crowd. And they responded to a lot of the tracks, a lot of Cajmere shit that I was playing. And I’m like, ‘Man, this stuff works so well. I think I need to make more of this stuff.’

Interesting, yeah.

Because I want people to have fun. When they’re listening to my music, I don’t want them to be like, ‘Ah, this is so fuckin’ depressing. This isn’t dance music.’ House music is about escapism. That’s what it all boils down to. The punk rock people, they were for rebellion. They were like, ‘Fuck this shit. Fuck the establishment.’ House music’s like, ‘Fuck everything, let’s just fuckin’ go have fun, let’s fuck, let’s do weed,’ you know what I mean?

So your most recent record was with Dave Cook, and I just want you to tell me a little bit about how you know Dave and how you came together for that record.

Dave — I would actually see him — bald, white dude — I would always see him at parties, and Specter, which I don’t know if I should even describe who Specter is. Because I know not a lot of people know who Specter is. Specter is a fellow Chicagoan producer. I’ve known Specter forever; I would also go out to his disco parties, and we would hang out. We were in the same circle, you know? He introduced me to Dave Cook. Every now and then I’d see him at some of my parties we were throwing, or at some of Specter’s parties, or some of the Soul Foundation parties. One day I saw him online, and we just started talking, and he started sending me some of his music, and it was like — it was kind of like the reaction the west side people had with me. Like, ‘Damn, look at this white boy trying to sound like Theo Parrish.’ You know what I mean? Because that’s the way his stuff sounds. Dave is brilliant when it comes to tracks. He does some really brilliant shit. I told him, ‘You know, I’m just starting myself. We should work on shit.’ Years passed, and one day I called him, ‘Hey, dude, let’s get together. Let’s have a couple beers and let’s throw something together.’ And we did, but nothing came out of it. A couple years later it came again, and [we were] like, ‘No, this time, for real.’ ‘Okay, now I have a couple records under my belt; we need to do something.’ One day we just went over to his house, and we started some arpeggiated synth line and started opening bottles of beer —

Hence, “Lager”?

“Lager,” yeah. I never know what to call — I never name anything. I usually ask my friends. Like, with Wolfgang Hair EP I asked my my boss, who’s also a graphic designer, ‘Hey, what should I call this EP?’ [He was like,] ‘Wolfgang Hair EP. Like Wolfgang Weingart.’ Everybody was like, ‘Who the fuck is that?’ I’m like, ‘Wolfgang Weingart, man. He’s a designer, dude.’ And his hair’s really fucked up. If you Google his name, you’ll see. So Dave and I got together, and we actually started in Reason, and from there I took it into my hardware and just started fucking with it. And from there, it just kind of blossomed. It’s funny because that track — and I shouldn’t say this — that track was only three minutes long. And I lost the original recording of it. And Steven Brunsmann had always gotten on my ass about, ‘Dude, this shit is awesome, but’s it’s one minute.’ And I always joke, ‘Man, that’s all you fuckin’ need. Here in Chicago you need two minutes. Hit it, quit it, get the fuck out.’ I asked him, ‘Hey, what do you think of this track?’ He was like, ‘Yeah, it’s good, but it’s too short.’ So I re-edited the fuck out of it. I took little bits and pieces, and it — it took me about an hour or two to edit it to where I wanted it. It does feel very loopy. So I took three minutes of it, and extended it to whatever it is — five, six minutes. And then ‘”Bad Driver,” that’s actually my track. I submitted that to Steven a long time ago — that was around the time I submitted “Heavens,” but it never found a place on the EP, but he always wanted to release it. He’s like, ‘Let me do an edit of it.’ Steven loves to edit my stuff, which I’m fine with. He adds a little bit of that Aroy Dee flavor, and I love his productions so I’m fine with that.

Yeah, I was curious about that.

Yeah. The original version’s on that mix that I gave you.

Oh, really? Awesome.

Dude, there’s a ton of shit on there that’s original versions. The very first version of “Lager” is on there too.

Any more collaborations you’d like to do?

With Dcook?

Well, with anyone.

Well, Steven and I are working on tracks right now. I want to collaborate with Hakim Murphy. Specter, I’ve asked him, but Specter kind of does his own thing so I respect that. I’ll collaborate with anyone. Just as long as I can have a place to work on music. If I have some sort of hardware– although I’m never opposed to digital because I have done stuff in digital. Right now I’m working on a Chicago Skyway and Dcook thing for Uzuri. And you’ll probably hear that track — that DJ Rush-style track — on Kerstin’s [Tama Sumo] next podcast mix that’s coming out. She said she played it at Panorama Bar and people went nuts over it.

That’s great.

I was like, ‘Fucking great!’ She said, ‘You’ve got to come to Berlin.’ I’m like, ‘Send me there. I’m ready. I’ll fuckin’ tear it up.’ Steven and I, we’ve been remixing each other — I’m actually working on a remix for Steven right now. For his next Synapsis release. So I’m doing another remix for him. We’re getting into this thing where we’re exchanging remixes. I think that’s the coolest thing, too. In my eyes it’s a lot easier to remix somebody’s music who I know, as opposed to somebody that comes up to me [and says], ‘Hey, I like your music. Can you remix my shit?’ I’m like, ‘Dude, I’ve never even met you. And I’m not even familiar with your music.’ You know? A remix is kind of a collaboration. I have that remix that just came out for Crystal Maze. I also did a remix for this guy out of Chile, a guy I have never met in my life. He has really good taste in music, and I ended up remixing his stuff. So that should be coming out at the end of the year. And I’m supposed to be doing another remix for this Irish producer who’s a really cool guy. We were chatting at Freerotation, and he was like, ‘Man, — ‘ because I told him after this year I want to stop remixing shit. I’ve got to work on my own shit. He was like, ‘Come on.’ Anyway, he was a real cool guy, and I was like, ‘Yeah, I’ll do it.’

Who is that?

His name is Graham Bray.

Do you know what name he produces as?

I think nothing yet. [laughs]

Oh really, he’s just getting it going?

It’s, like, stuff in the works, but he’s kind of trying to plan for the future.

That’s great. So one thing I’ve noticed a lot about American producers in general, but also specific about Detroit and Chicago, is that a lot of producers then go on to start their own labels. And it’s not something that you’ve done yet, and I was just curious if that’s something you were interested in doing or not?

I definitely am interested in started my own label; the only thing that’s keeping me back is finances. I think with every producer, it’s kind of like, OK, why am I going to keep on giving my stuff away and making other people money when I could be making all the money myself?’ When I start my own label I’d probably just have it where the main focus is me. Because I don’t ever want to play the, ‘OK, here’s this contract, and — ‘ Never say never, of course. I mean I’m sure I’m going to hear someone like, ‘Oh, wow, this is dope — how much do you want for this? I’ll give you this much and I’ll buy you a Happy Meal or something.’ I think eventually when I do have the right the connections and I do get it together — because I don’t ever really like to do anything half-assed or too half-assed. I want it to be really good. I want it to be, beautiful artwork like how your label is. I want it to be decent distribution. It’ll get there. But I’m not going to stop giving music to other labels. Like with Lerato [Khati, of Uzuri], or with Steven and Daryl, I will give them music because I they’ve helped me out so much and I’m forever in debt with them. I mean, they’re just great people to work with.

Right on. So you were saying you’re a graphic designer.

Yeah.

And what is — it a firm that just does it for different clients, or? Tell me a little bit about that.

It’s for the University of Chicago. And I mean before I used to work at a free publication, and I was an art director there. I was working there for seven years.

Do you ever do any graphic design for labels or anything like — I don’t even know.

Oh dude, my flyers are everywhere. I do a lot of stuff for [Funky] Buddha [Lounge], a lot of stuff — I used to do stuff for the House Spot. I don’t know if you’re familiar with that.

No.

It’s like an underground disco kind of party. I used to do stuff for Cuatro, I used to do stuff for, man, so many people. And I mean, these are all my friends who are still throwing parties from back in the day when we used to throw the deep house parties. I still keep in touch with them. I give them the super-cheap friend discount. I still do that on the side. That’s kind of how I make ends meet, with some of the freelance stuff I do for them. Like, I do identity systems for them and all that fun stuff. I mean some of it is better than others; it’s not like my professional stuff, but —

And what do you do for fun? Obviously you’re quite busy with your kid.

I just play with my kid. I have a really boring life. I mean I come home, I play with Joaquin, hang out with my girlfriend — soon to be wife — they go to sleep, and I just stay up all night working on music with my headphones. It’s rare that I get a chance to mix because my son is so into the music. He loves music. He has this little guitar that — he wakes his ass up at — it’s Saturday, six in the morning [and says,] ‘Dada, let’s play music! Let’s dance!’ He loves to dance.

Oh, that’s awesome. How old is he?

He’s two.

So what’s the next 12 months look like for you, release-wise? I mean, you mentioned some of the remixes earlier.

Doing a remix for Steven Tang. I hope I finish that by the end of this month because that’s when he wants it. I’m finishing up an EP for Uzuri — for Lerato. We just need to tighten up two more tracks, and we have a Hakim Murphy mix on there. I have that a remix for a Chilean label, that should be coming out at the end of the month. Finally the Wreckage EP will be out by the end of this year also. [Daryl]’s going to release two EPs at the same time, a package set. I don’t know if you remember, there was an actual CD. That’s going to be coming out, and that’s going to have some different versions on there that I played on the mix. There’re going to be extended versions of “Wreckage” and “Joaquin Looks At The Stars.” So a lot of people kept on telling me, ‘Oh, shit’s too short. You need to extend that.’ I was like, ‘Alright, I’ll fuckin’ do it.’ I’m also doing — there’s this guy named Malcolm Moore, Altered Moods Recordings. We did the Pancake Sessions EP — me, Steven Specter, and him. I’m working on an album for him. I haven’t really started; it’s kind of in my head, what I want to do with it. It’s going to be a deeper one. [laughs] I hate the term “deep.” It irks me. House music should be party music. I mean, even Larry Heard shit, which is considered “deep,” it still moves you. I mean, his later stuff is a little on the sleepy side. Sorry, Larry. I love you, but some of that shit is sleepy.

I mean, look at what a spaz I am now. You know, I’m always like this. I actually can’t remember if it was Steven Tang — somebody like, ‘Man, your productions are exactly the way you are. You’re a fuckin’ spaz. There’s fuckin hats all over the place. Claps and fuckin’ snare fills and shit. You’re nuts,’ you know? And that’s kind of my personality. When Malcolm approached me with the Altered Moods thing, he was like, ‘I want a deep Chicago Skyway track, kind of like “Heavens.”‘ And I was like, ‘Dude, I’ll never be able to recreate that; that’s why I have so many fuckin’ versions of it.’ It took me months, and I was afraid to show him that one, and he’s like, ‘Dude, this is the shit.’ Maybe a year later he was like, ‘Hey, I want an EP from you.’ Malcolm’s a really good person to deal with also, and I think for the most part I’m going to just keep within those people. After that I’m just going to release shit on my own. But he wanted something for November, but I have a lot of stuff coming out at the end of the month, and I don’t want it all to conflict. I kind of told him I haven’t really worked on it. I haven’t had time to work on it. But it’s in the works. So I’m hoping at the beginning of the year. Definitely a lot more travel. Lerato’s been setting up a lot more gigs. I’m supposed to go to Berlin, hopefully soon. Japan is in the works right now, and so is Australia. So hopefully [knocks on wood]. I mean, I can’t get a fucking gig in Chicago to save my life, but I’m glad people over there are appreciating what I’m doing.

So tell me a little bit about the mixes that you made for us.

It’s funny because I was actually going to be a lot more creative with it. I was going to record Joaquin interrupting me, and seriously just change up the mood of the whole mix. I wanted to be a little bit more creative with it, but the only time I had was when he was asleep. And the majority of the time when I’m trying to practice [he’s like,] ‘Dada, dada! I want to scratch!’ I gave him his own record, and I gave him his own beat-up needle so he can actually fuck with it. And then also my turntable was fucked up, and I’m like, ‘Aright, let me fix it.’ It was just so many things, and summer’s just awful because it’s like 50 million Mexicans have their birthday parties, you know what I mean? So when I finally got change to do the mix, Joaquin was asleep and so was my girlfriend, and I had to play really low. I mean, I’m not trying to come up with excuses for my blending, but I think I heard a DJ Harvey saying, ‘I think sometimes perfect blends are kind of boring. I kind of like the DJ to struggle with the music sometimes.’ I hope this makes a lot of people feel the same way.

But you know, Chicago, man, you have to be fuckin’ tight. Motherfuckers will be standing in the middle of the floor, pointing at you. ‘You bastard! How could you do that?’ I never claim to be the best blender, beatmatcher. So I was playing that mix really low, trying not to wake them up. While I was picking up records for that mix, I was also picking out some other stuff that I hadn’t released because I wanted to also put that on there. But for some reason — I was playing off my laptop with the mix with all the other vinyl stuff — the laptop wasn’t working where I could play both those together. So I’m like, ‘Eh, I’ll just keep on going with the vinyl.’ I picked out those tracks because I thought they did go smoothly together, for the most part. Not the beat blending, but programming-wise. When I was at Freerotation I got a lot of promos, a lot of really great stuff from Ben Boe. I love his label. I remember I was talking to Perseus Traxx on Facebook or something, and we were talking about — I made a comment about how awful some design is on record labels, and if I’m sifting through records and I can’t even fuckin’ read your shit, why would I want to pick it up? And he showed me his label for Ben Boe’s thing, and then I go, ‘I can’t read it, but it’s Ben Boe so it’s good.’

Yeah, that hand stamp was a little murky, but the contents are good.

So it’s like a typical Skyway set where I’ll start off with some of the more — I don’t know what the word is for that type of house — but more of the mellow house into the banging shit, but I started getting tired, [laughs] and towards then I was just forcing shit. So some of the stuff towards the end is really slow, but it’s like more of the banging shit. And I mean that’s like a typical Skyway set where I’ll leave the crowd like, ‘Yeah!’ It’s kind of the way I played at Freerotation too. I’m sure I was putting people to sleep at the beginning, but towards the end I think people were like, ‘Oh shit, okay. Now I know who that guy is.’

And so the other mix is all your own stuff?

The other mix is all my own stuff, and it’s stuff from various versions of my studio, and various versions of my skills. It’s kind of all over the place. But it’s a lot of unreleased stuff. I would say that the only thing that’s released on there is the Crystal Maze remix. It’s funny because a lot of people have asked me, ‘Well, what’s the original of the “Bad Driver” song?’ I’m like, ‘Well, it’s pretty much the same, but Steven added that synth part, those washes. Mine isn’t like that at all. It’s just straight beat and [imitates bass]. And then there’s this long-ass breakdown, and it comes back. There’s stuff that is possibly going to come out on there, but might not. I’ll probably end up waiting to release it on my own. Yeah, it’s just a bunch of stuff that — I mean, 98 percent of it is unreleased shit.

Very cool, well we’re privileged to have that.

It’s one of those things too, because a lot of people are like, ‘You don’t really have that much music out.’ It’s because I’m really fuckin’ picky. I tell my girl, I’m like, ‘Give me this weekend. Just I want to fuckin’ get this shit right.’ And the majority of the time, the music that I do — I rarely sequence it out. I have my MPC in front of me, and I have my drum machine on one side and synths on the other. So I press play, and then I start triggering buttons and drum patterns and sort of twiddling knobs live. It gives a better feel to it. It feels a lot more raw than when you sync up something and feels very robotic. You know what I mean? Or I’ll sequence this part, but I’ll keep fuckin’ with this part. Like a synth or filter, or I’ll changed drum patterns with this hand, or whatever. And I mean that’s the way I work with the majority of my tracks. And then later on, maybe I’ll record again two minutes — two or three minutes of it, and then I’ll come back and look at it on this program and just edit what I didn’t like about it, maybe make it go backwards. That old Derrick May style shit. Or even Ron Hardy — Ron Hardy used to do it all the time. But I mean, just to get the party hype, of course. I’m very picky about shit, and anyone who knows me, they’ll tell you, ‘Man, this motherfucker has, like, eight versions of one song.’ So some of those versions that weren’t released are on there. Because I mean, it’s always going to be a different version. Within a day, it’ll be a completely different song.

Adam Lundberg  on October 3, 2011 at 10:37 AM

Really nice interview with one of the most interesting producers at the moment. Thanks!

hiss  on October 3, 2011 at 11:15 AM

this is the best

lerato  on October 3, 2011 at 12:16 PM

wicked !

gema lopez  on October 3, 2011 at 1:21 PM

Skyway is a beast! Que viva el Changó!!!

Nigel  on October 3, 2011 at 2:01 PM

that sh*t is hot!!

enda  on October 3, 2011 at 2:30 PM

One of the most enjoyable interviews I’ve heard in quite a while, and on a side note, that Irish guy Graham Bray is indeed putting together some very nice stuff :)

Amir Alexander  on October 3, 2011 at 2:57 PM

Word. Great read…… and dope pod casts as well!!!
Peace!
A.A.

Communicator  on October 3, 2011 at 4:31 PM

Go Chango! Go Chango!

Tnecniv Novel  on October 4, 2011 at 2:58 AM

I saw C-Skyway play at Freerotation, it was brilliant. Looking forward to listening!

Patrick  on October 9, 2011 at 10:11 AM

A lot of the tracks sound distorted to me, though Audacity doesn’t indicate distortion. I find it important that mixes are well-recorded.

hakim m.  on October 11, 2011 at 11:33 AM

Banging mixes son…. The Skyway sound is DEEP!

deltafiore  on October 13, 2011 at 3:33 PM

what’s the track at 50:00 on the first mix? sounds like Kassem Mosse.

first mix is huge, btw

PeteBlas  on October 14, 2011 at 2:05 PM

I just listen the mix nº2 and is fucking great!! Lovely interview!! Lovely route to get here bro!!!! Keep burning Chicago Skyway!!!

Trackbacks

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