FoHDiary Day 12: Love Is The Message
Back in NYC. The second time around the city seems far less intimidating. It’s understood (vaguely), it’s a known quantity and the rules of engagement are understood. Arriving here two weeks ago felt different. I was more apprehensive about what I’d find, there was a fraught election looming, and it felt like a new kind of ethnography I’d not practiced before. Now it feels familiar and I’m more excited to be here.
Chicago doesn’t feel like NYC. It’s more inward looking, more insular, protectionist. It’s wrapped up in it’s own affairs and issues. It’s no wonder none of the luminaries of house music are living in mansions or penthouse apartments. No one ever leaves! It’s not like Avicii living in something that wouldn’t look out of place on MTV cribs. All the people, DJs and luminaries I’ve spoken to here live in normal houses, in suburban areas. There’s areal disparity between what they’ve done, how they’re thought of in the common consciousness, and how they actually exist in Chicago. No one leaves.
The whole thing is tied into this oddly pervasive and insidious sense of scene politics. And because no one leaves the result is a city absolutely saturated with DJs. Good DJs, great DJs, important DJs. But it’s only one city and there’s only so much work to go around. NYC on the other hand couldn’t be more different. It’s open and it’s inviting, and it’s willing to roll and change as fashion permits. If Lady Liberty were on Lake Michigan sh’ed be looking at the city and not out into the vast blue welcoming new people and new things to the city. In Chicago she’d be a boundary marker. Do not cross. Das its verboten. Here be dragons. Don’t you bloody dare. She wouldn’t be holding aloft a flame to welcome the homeless masses, she’d be whispering about local gossip.
It’s not surprising that The Loft and the Garage started here in NYC, because it’s such a diverse city infused with so many people from so many backgrounds that diversity becomes simply background noise and something to ignore. It’s a mongrel city and benefits from it’s mixed cultural structure, as opposed to struggling with it.
NYC doesn’t care about it’s musical legacy, not in a way that somewhere like Liverpool does. It doesn’t feel the need to celebrate or venerate. In fact the CBGB’s boutique was the most stomach churning thing I’ve seen here, a desperate historical cash grab that no one really wants or needs. New York is easy about it’s history, and not precious about it, whereas Chicago feels slighted by it’s history. Old wounds, going back as far as the Great Migration, that are festering rather than healing. New York is onto bigger and better things happy with it’s contribution but not smug about it. Chicago is struggling to come to terms with exactly what it’s contribution was. Jamie Principle said that if the city were to in some way recognise its contribution with a museum or some kind of establishment to celebrate house there’s no way that establishment could be built by a local. It would have to come from outside, from someone appreciative of the music but not connected to it (don’t worry I’m not trying to start a museum). His views make sense but it’s a real shame.
The thing that has struck me is that Chicago doesn’t seem to realise no one else cares about it’s internal struggles. Absolutely everyone I’ve spoken to, without exception, has said something that echoes the sentiment that “it’s all about the music or the love of music”. In Chicago that’s really not the came. It’s about claiming and establishing positions. Everyone else in house is just getting on with it and it is about the music. No infighting, no agendas (not in the same way anyway). Just house music! It’s a shame there’s so little focus on the music in Chi.
When Round One sang “I’m your brother, don’t you know?” they could well have been talking about Chicago. It’s not an affirmation, it’s a plea or a call for some kind of unity in a scene that’s fractured. New York? No one needs a brother, everyone’s just about the love of music.