FoHDiary Day 11: Community Of The Spirit
I'm leaving Chicago VERY early tomorrow morning. On my last night in the city, a particularly warm, balmy evening considering it's mid-November, I thought I'd try to share some of my thoughts and impressions of the place.
The city reminds me of Leeds, or Manchester, or Sheffield. Any of the interesting, rough around the edges, but ultimately cool cities that aren't a capital. But obviously expanded to that American scale we expect from the country. The people here also fit well with stereotypes of the north. They're essentially fast-talking, angry, dry, straight to the point Yorkshiremen. No airs and graces. People don't even want polite (my impression of bumbling Hugh Grant stumbling over my words didn't work), they want to the point and don't really care about language or protocol. I like it, I could certainly live here if this was the main feature of Chicago. But it's not.
I landed expecting to find a city all wrapped up with itself, house music, and bracing itself for the coming winter. Which to some extent I did. But I didn't expect to find a city struggling with its identity, its make up and a city do deeply divided along racial and geographical lines. Visiting Stony Island on the South Side, and comparing that with heading north up to Gramaphone records threw into stark contrast the experience of people of colour in the city. It's understandable why people are so desperate to put some claim or some stamp onto the music that reflects their experience. In my time here I've been told that house music is a purely Black thing, and I've also been told that house is unequivocally a gay thing (regardless of race), I've been told it's youth culture, it's counter culture, and it's merely a commercial product with no specific affiliations. These varying opinions are as varied as the city itself.
I was chatting to Jamie Principle (one of the nicest and most easy-going people I've ever had the pleasure to interview). He echoed a view that house never really happened. The scene and music was ramping up 84 to 86, at which point the music jumps the pond to places like the Haçienda, and then back in Chi the fighting starts. Jamie estimates he's missed out on about a million dollars from Trax stealing Your Love and releasing it without his consent. That's probably not far off as far as estimates go. Jamie, Thomos Oakes, Vince Lawrence, Chip-E all seem to think that money killed the scene. It became unpleasant and it became unliveable for many of those 1st and 2nd generation artists. The scene to a certain extent was tainted by the money and the backstabbing, which implies that it never really happened in Chicago.
So what is it people are still hanging on to? I've met people who seem to be desperately holding onto some idea of a glorious past, a world where house was and still is all important. It was representative of you as a person and of your group, it was a unifying force within communities. But it's hard to think that there's anything left that's worth fighting for. I'm starting to believe that house in Chicago can't and won't evolve until there's some sort of clearing of the decks. In a city traumatised by it's racial divide, and segregated across it's geographical features, it's not possible for any kind of reconciliation to occur without a serious sea-change. And the constant arguments and fighting over what the music means, and who house truly belongs to, infects the music with the sociological trauma of the people invested in it.
Chicago has been a fascinating, enjoyable, and frankly bizarre experience. I feel like I've been able to gather some enlightening comments and insights from great people, and I have a much stronger idea of where this paper is going. But I'm happy to be leaving for the last leg of my oddly chronological journey through disco, house, and finally to the garage/journey sound. I feel that if I'd spent much more time here I'd have come out with an oddly twisted view of what house is. House in Chicago is it's own thing. It belongs to nobody and everybody. House everywhere else belongs to everyone. It's my house, your house, our house music.