Consulting The Architect - In Conversation with Chip-E (FoH2017)
On my field research in Chicago I was lucky enough to speak with the Architect Of House music, Chip-E. Responsible for creating the blueprint of what could be, and defining a new, consciously populist aesthetic for the genre. We get into it on italo disco, Chicago parties in the last days of disco, and just what the queer contingent meant to the genre.
FOH: Given the death of David Mancuso, how does the music that you were making initially connect with people Mancuso? Is it a straight line from disco, Comiskey park, post-disco, house music? Or is there something that isn't discussed in that timeline that should be?
CE: There's another piece I think. Red Bull's been doing a pretty good job of keeping up with things. Man, I can't think of the name of the piece but it was a piece on italo disco3. But basically, it went from disco, as disco died out it got picked up in Europe, especially in Italy, italo disco. They kept the disco movement going, it became more electronic. And then we took it to a different place in Chicago. We were still playing a lot of disco songs, and the disco songs– when you hear people talk about oldschool house or classic house, a lot times they're talking about disco music. It's really weird because music that was played at the Warehouse was considered house, even though it was disco, some of it was funk, some of it was R&B, but the real genre of house music didn't start until 1984.
We went from disco, to Italo disco, and right now we're speaking in Colombia College, this is where I was attending in 1984 and 1985 when I was taking marketing classes here. I'm teaching here now. But I was taking marketing classes here, and I was taking music classes, and I was learning about music theory. I was learning about how music is marketed, well, about how all products are marketed. And in the day time I was working at Importes Etc. and I was learning about how people buy music. What they ask for or what they remember when they come in. In the night time I was spinning music, I was learning about what makes people move. What makes their bodies move. I put all that together, and consciously made the effort to make this new style. I'm going to call it house music because that's a good marketing term. And I'm going to make it special. It's going to be based on 4/4, it's going to be simplistic, because complex works on the radio, complex may work at studios. But when you're on the dancefloor you want rawness. You want beats, you want rhythm, you want feeling. Essentially on the dancefloor, you want the sound that’s going to make you do standing up what you really want to do laying down. That's what house music is.
FOH: So, one of the things I'm finding it hard to penetrate as I speak to people is the actual experience of being there at that early point in house music's history, being on the dancefloor or being in the booth. Can you somehow express what that actually felt like?
CE: So, I went to this party, and I go up these stairs. There’s a dark room, there's Mars lights flashing, like police lights flashing, there's a strobe flashing, other than that it's dark. And every now and again when the strobes flash or the Mars lights flash you see these silhouettes that get lit up, and you see these sweating bodies moving up and down just enjoying the music. You can feel the floor moving up and down, because it's a loft space, it's not designed to be a club. And the song that was playing was Martin Circus "Disco Circus". The DJs that night was the Chosen Few group and Alan King was playing. And I fell in love with that music, I fell in love with that environment, I fell in love with the people, they were Black, White, Asian, Hispanic, straight, gay, wealthy, poor. There was a just a unity of love there, and I wanted to be a part of that and I loved the music. And from that point on I started buying music, and listening to more music, listening to more disco.
One day somebody snuck me into the Warehouse, and Frankie was playing, but Ronnie but was playing too. Ronnie was like a guest DJ. Ron Hardy, and this was pretty rare for them because they both had their own venues. But I remember that night, Frankie had played "Let No Man Put Asunder" that was one that stuck out, I had never heard that before that night. And I remember Ronnie playing Sylvester "Don't Stop". And there's a break in "Don't Stop" [sings] and I just loved that break, and I just thought "that's the beat, that's what needs to be extended". I mean the rest of the song was nice, but it was just that that really caught me. It was that rawness. That was the beat and that was a big inspiration to me.
So, from a patron's point of view, dance music was just in general this raw sound that made you feel good and you enjoyed being around the people who enjoyed it. And when I became a DJ it was taken to another level. It was because I was helping be a part of moving those people into a direction, moving them into enjoyment. And I got a lot of personal enjoyment from that. And DJ's in the day; everybody wanted to be a DJ. And part of being a DJ is having the newest, latest, greatest, and try to have something that nobody else had. So that was why I had to go out and buy a synthesizer and a drum machine, and start to do my own thing so I could get a little advantage. So, house music was just this joyous celebration of life. That's really what it is.
FOH: So, the last thing I want to touch on is the gay or queer contingent at that early starting point of house. How important is that to the genre? Because some people say that's not the entire story, some people say it's the most thing. I'm just curious where you stand?
CE: It's part of the story. I don't think it was the most important part of the story. I can't completely explain it other than a lot of the... I guess I can explain it. Ok let me explain. Because I'm not gay but I did go to a lot of gay clubs because they played the best music. And I guess that's the story behind it is this. The straight clubs were more commercial. They played the popular music that people would hear on the radio and such. The gay clubs would play the best music. Period. They didn't care if it was popular or if it was underground. And the best music a lot of times, for dance music, tended to be more underground. So, it gravitated towards those kinds of clubs. Because their patrons weren't so much interested in what's the hottest tune on the radio. They were more interested in "I want to go some place tonight and I want to have a good fucking time ok". Both figuratively and literally ok? So, they wanted music that would really put them in the mood for having a good time. And dance music speaks to that.