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Can you feel it: A Q&A with Jamie 3:26

Jamie 3:26 was there at the birth of House in Chicago and he continues to perpetuate the black, gay legacy of the city and its music in his sets and his productions today. A stalwart and at the same time a contemporary in his field, he is a prominent figure in the booth today, and spends most of his time playing to large audiences around Europe.

Jamie 3:26 is a rare entity in that legacy; a DJ that was not only able to cross that north- and south divide at home in Chicago, but also be both “Chicago famous” and “world famous” at the same time. He rose to prominence at the epicenter of the first House movement right at the gestation of the scene as a dancer, dancing at the legendary Muzic Box under the musical tutelage of Ron Hardy.

His transition from the dance floor to the booth was a measured progression, Jamie biding his time to learn from the best, by looking over their collective shoulder in the booth. Learning his craft by observing DJs like Ron Hardy and Pharris Thomas, confidence drove Jamie in crafting his unique style in the booth to become one of the limelights locally and beyond as he started playing to audiences in New York and eventually Europe.

After staking his claim in the booth, a career in production beckoned and taking his cues from the legacy of Chicago the first of his Basement Edits series hit record bags in 2008 through ParteHardy records. Seminal edits like “Hit it n Quit it” and “Testify” followed through a reserved but considered discography, harnessing Jamie 3:26’s extensive musical knowledge and channeling it to the modern dance floor.

There are remarkable parallels between what he does through his edit series and his work in the booth.T here’s an immense energy to his sets that prevails in the music as he blends elements of Soul, Funk, Gospel and modern House music through his work and his sets. A Jamie 3:26 is always an electrifying experience and before we get our own personal taste at Jaeger, we shot over some questions to the Chicago DJ to talk about his early formative years, his music, his sets and

*Jamie 3:26 plays Retro tonight with Daniel Gude

 

Hello Jamie. You’re originally from Chicago, but you’ve also lived in Amsterdam. Where do you spend most of your time today?

Hey There!!  Good to meet ya and talk w ya!! I’m born and raised on the south side of Chicago,in a neighborhood called Beverly. I lived between Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Chicago for 2 years. I am now a resident of Rotterdam. This is my new home and I have been here permanently for 2 years. Reminds me so much of Chicago and the people are real.

I assume you travel to play in Chicago quite often at least. How have you seen the music scene evolve since you first left, especially considering how that legacy has been reaffirmed by this latest generation of DJs in Europe?

I only come home twice a year and I rarely play when I do visit. This last visit in March, I played for Reggie Corner’s Sunday event he does with Mike Dunn,on the south side at a spot called Renaissance. It’s the best Sunday night party on the south side. It was a packed house and I really enjoyed playing for and seeing my people.

The scene back home has a few different scenes. Chicago is segregated and it always crossed over into the party scenes and sides of towns and genres. There used to only be a few…you were either into the deep disco and underground/club music, basic house, gay and the underground scene. Some years back, in the late 90’s, it went back underground and was basically on life support, in regards to the black side of things. Frankie’s parties would be the only parties where you’d see the vets and real party people.That used to be 2 times a year. There were some other things still going, like the Prop House, but honestly a lot of those folks were late to the scene and not my kind of music or crowd. No dis to them, but being deep from the culture, I have always sought out the alternative and was on things before they became trendy.

I am proud to say now that there’s quality house music events on EVERY side of town, 7 nights a week. Damn good progress for me.

Being from Chicago, gives me a certain pedigree, that many can mimic and emulate, but I was there, so I have a unique authenticity that can’t be denied. I’m fine with that, yet I don’t carry myself as arrogant, being where I’m from…and the world seems to dig it, so I’m blessed and good with that as well!!!

House music in Europe is quite different from anything in the USA, and in many respects it’s thrived here in a way it never did back in the US. Why do you think it’s so much more popular on this side of the Atlantic, having experienced it on both sides?

I guess part of it would be that it’s still played on the radio, in cafes, shops, restaurants alongside popular music and radio and the mix shows is what helped popularise the music in the States, as well as it being added to stations playlist.  Now that American radio is controlled by corporates, they all play the same playlist across the markets. Where it used to be certain sounds and songs were played in certain regions, it’s now a generic playlist. Club culture and festival culture also plays a part because it’s been passed down to younger generations, versus in Chicago where house music basically stops under the age of 35. With the addition of certain blogs and websites dedicated to dance music, when they do write-ups and articles on dance music legends and provide links, they can go to places like You Tube and Spotify and have an entire genres history at their fingertips.

Chicago (and probably the larger midwest) is where House music was born and you were there as a teenager growing up in the middle of it. It’s hallowed ground, but as always a lot has been assumed about the origins of the scene through the media. How significant was House music at that time in Chicago and how aware were you as a dancer on the floor about this new music?

House culture spawned from black gay underground culture, so if you were into House music at one time it was considered gay music. So you dealt with being outcast, or thought or considered gay, and if you weren’t because a lot of us who were deep into the culture, ours wasn’t the music being played on the radio.  It came from the black gay underground DJ’s who then began performing for high school kids at school dances. Prior to that it was the hot mix style of DJing like the Hot Mix 5 with tricks and scratches. Those DJ’s brought from the underground the style of presenting music, ‘playing’ and EQ manipulation. I equate the House phemonomen and how it spread throughout the city, from the streets to the basement parties to the school parties to the teen clubs to the underground. The same way you could trace the roots of hip hop music in New York. These House parties helped keep a lot of kids off the streets during a very turbulent time with the gang culture. There was a point where you could not go anywhere and not hear any House music. You could hear it everywhere coming from people’s cars, boom boxes, people putting speakers in their windows playing mixes recorded from the radio, to local neighbourhood DJ’s doing the same.

From what I understand, from other interviews I’ve done with other Chicago luminaries, is that House was more of an attitude/lifestyle than a genre music. Is that something you experienced growing up in the scene?

Yes. There was a style, a look, a fashion, lingo, all associated with House. You could look at someone by the way they dressed or wore their hair, you could tell they were House or what you call Deep. I was deep in the culture because that was the ‘live’ crowd. Like people today say lit. You just had to be a part of it.  Even though most of us who were deep into the culture, were outcast, so to speak, because we looked and dressed as people associated with being gay.

When you started DJing it was from your parents record collection. Was there a lot of House music already making its way into DJ sets at that time, or was it still more focussed on elements of Soul, Disco and Funk in the places you were going out to dance?

Those were the original elements of House. What we called House was from all of those genres, before the electronic form of House music came about.  House is Disco’s stepchild.

What were some of your favourite haunts (as a dancer) in Chicago at that time?

Longwood Academy, the Muzic Box / Powerhouse, the Gentle Persuasion, the Hummingbird.  Medusa’s, Hyde Park Racquetball Club and the Bismarck.


I believe you eventually swapped one side of the club for another when you went from dancing to become a DJ. What inspired you to want to become a DJ?

I grew up around a few DJ’s in my family, but they didn’t necessarily mix.  Seeing DJ’s in my neighbourhood throw down at local basement parties made me want to mix. I’m a self-taught DJ learning from various radio station mix shows and observing DJ’s.

From what I’ve read in interviews is that it took you some time, but you basically learnt your craft from looking over the shoulders of working DJs, especially Ron Hardy. In another interview I’ve read you said that there wasn’t particularly a lot of support in Chicago for House music at the time. How supportive were people like Hardy on new blood like yourself  looking over their shoulder?

It wasn’t like the times that I was hanging in the booth at the Box / Powerhouse, that I was even being mentored. They didn’t know I was a DJ. But I watched other DJ’s as well, including Andre Hatchett, Mike WIlliams, Pharris Thomas and anybody I could get close to, to watch them while they played.  No-one really mentored me back then. But some of these same DJ’s I mentioned, my crew, when we were doing promotions, ended up hiring for some of our events. And at times, I would open for them.

Ron’s ParteHardy records brought out your first release (the only non-Hardy release on that label) and Theo Parrish played a hand in bringing it to the masses by playing it a lot in his sets at the time. Is this level of support a common occurrence in the Chicago DJ community today and what is the initiation process like to ascend to the level you’re at now?

ParteHardy records is run by Ron’s nephew Bill, who is a good friend. So as well, I owe a lot to him and Theo for pushing me and believing in me. It’s always been very competitive in Chicago period. You have DJ’s who will support DJ’s and then you have DJ’s who will only support who they get down with. Honestly, it’s just human nature. It’s not something that’s mainly a Chicago thing. For the most part, there’s a lot of us who have been doing our best to break the stereotype concerning Chicago DJ and music culture. I do my best to represent my city in a positive light and to support talent in my city. I also don’t play politics with my music. So sometimes that has strained my relationship, because I don’t play what I don’t feel whether my best friend made it or a stranger made it. I gotta feel it.

You were DJing for the longest time in and around Chicago before breaking through as a DJ  and getting gigs further afield. What was the major turning point in your career as a DJ?

I would have to say being an active member of DeepHousepage.com. That message board had a community that was global and it made me venture out of Chicago. That first trip to New York city in 2000 was life changing and humbling. It showed me that this was much more bigger than Chicago. My first international DJ gigs came via that website.

For a while you had your own mobile Disco service. How did you have to adapt your mixing style and DJ sets when you started getting booked on the merit of your releases?

I had to learn to give these people what they heard of me and not cater and me catering, thinking that I had to play a certain way because I was in Europe, ended up being not a good gig. I learnt fast.

I’ve noticed in the comments on your Boiler Room set that the opinion was very divided on your use of the filter. How much emphasis do you put on technique and mixing style and how did you arrive at the way you mix today?

That event had over 700 people losing their minds on a sick sound system. I could care less what some lames in the comments section have to say, because those people partied their asses off and that’s all that matters. I have different styles of playing and mixing. It depends on what atmosphere I create. I can do short quick mixes, long blends or crazy EQ work.  Or just clean presentation. It all depends on my mood. I utilise EQ work to create drama within the music.

Is it still a learning process for a DJ with so much experience?

A DJ is forever a student.  No-one knows all of the jams and there’s tons of undiscovered music out here.  I’m still a fan of this music. And forever a student.

Your sets are incredibly dynamic and it takes me back to that idea of House as an attitude rather than a genre or a style of music as your sets very rarely stick to modern 4-4 House tracks. What is your perception of the term House today and what are your thoughts on  the very formulaic norm of the genre in recent times?

It seems that some DJ’s can only stick to one lane of music. Hearing one same groove all night gets boring. Mix it up. That’s why we call it mixing.

What do you look for in a record to make it into a Jamie 3:26 set?

It has to have a groove.  It also has to make me dance.  If it doesn’t make me shake my ass, I won’t play it.

I hear a lot of edits in your sets, including your own productions. What makes an edit work in the context of a DJ set in your opinion?

Energy. That’s it.

When it comes to your own edits, what do you look for in a track in the first place to edit it and how do you usually put your own mark on it?

Once again it’s about energy.  If a song has a high part and a then a big section full of fluff, I cut out the fluff and go straight for the meat and bones.

I only have one more question Jamie and here comes the plug. You’re playing at our weekly concept called RETRO and as you might have guessed it is about highlighting the legacy and the imprint of House on music today. How would you sum that up with what you know and is there an element of the origins of the genre that you’d like to get back to?

I do my best to keep the true underground culture of House music alive. That was taught to me by my elders in the game. This shit is real to me because it’s my life. It shaped me, molded me and beat me down, in a good way. I would like to bring back the element of people dancing together and not with their cell phones facing the DJ or them with their cell phones on the dance floor.  I just want people to feel the true freedom of being lost in music without a care in the world.