Jamie 3:26 embodies the spirit and origins of House music. It’s even there in his name; 3:26 a reference to the address of the iconic Music Box in Chicago, where Ron Hardy held a residency and where Jamie first became aware of this thing called House. Born and raised in Chicago, it was dancing that led the nascent DJ and producer towards a path to House music. “I was introduced to this from my family,” he told Black Widow’s Web in 2018. “We would have a lot of parties at our house. Eventually, I began sneaking out to some of those basement parties. That’s when I started really getting into going to the parties and dancing. That was around 1985.”
Hip Hop had laid the foundation for an interest in music and DJing, but dancing was Jamie’s access to this nocturnal paradise in Chicago. “That’s how house music started;” Jamie compares; “DJs started making their own stuff to separate themselves and to be different.” Although the dance floor was his domain, the DJ booth beckoned, but it would remain a hobby for the longest time, due to some crippling stage fright. “I would kick ass in the basement but when it came time for the gig I would freak out and mess up,” he told 5 Mag’s Terry Matthew back in 2013. “I had a few chances to do some parties and they were like, ‘Okay, Jamie, go back to dancing.’”
Dancing did however offer the young Jamie a gateway to some of Chicago’s leading lights behind the decks, DJ’s like Ron Hardy, who he would often mention as a major inspiration in interviews. From his unique vantage point he “studied a lot of popular DJs and learned about timing and how they set up songs and things like that”. He “would hang out at the Music Box/Powerhouse on 22nd and Michigan” and “when they would DJ downstairs, Ron (Hardy) would let me get in the back and check him out.”
Influenced by Hardy and other greats like Lil Louis and Pharris Thomas he worked at his skills. These luminaries taught him about things like “crowd control” and armed with his parents’ record collection, he set out to master his craft like an astute student from these legends of House music.
When Jamie’s confidence started to mature as a DJ, he and some friends started a crew called lust corp and even though they weren’t meeting the age requirements at the door, they had youthful exuberance and numbers on their side. “We were a pretty deep crew,” explains Jamie. “We had the gift of gab and would talk our way in.” Combining the lessons he learnt from the DJs around him and the experience he was gathering in the booth as a DJ, he eventually came into his own in the Chicago scene. Admittedly, it took him a “while to get it all together” but when he did, he instinctively set himself apart from the rest of the scene through his selections.
He and his crew “would listen to music and be like, ‘Aww that sounds like something Frankie would play or Ronnie may play,’” avoiding these records for something undiscovered and something that could distinguish them from their senior peers. “We were looking for that gem, something to set you apart that no one had.” By the time Jamie was coming into his own as a DJ, Chicago had played an integral role in the dominance of House music on an international level, but at home it still had its own divisions across the scene. “You can have someone from Chicago that’s known everywhere around the world”… Jamie told 5 mag, “and here, they’ll be like, ‘Who are you? He ain’t shit.’” That kind of trial by fire must have had some effect on Jamie and well before he started making waves on the international circuit, he spent years proving himself on the local circuit. “In regard to any kind of scene, there’s not a lot of hometown support,” but Jamie persevered and by the time he released his first record, he had not only garnered the respect of people like Theo Parrish and the Hardys, but had also started to make his imprint in DJ booths in places like New York.
Between starting to DJ and that first release, nearly a couple of decades transpired, but Jamie’s ascent onto the world stage had still been a rapid one after the release of basement edits volume 1 on Bill (Ron’s brother) Hardy’s Parte Hardy label. It was a huge honour as the first, and to this day, the only artist ever to feature on the label other than Ron Hardy. Jamie’s music lifted some choice samples from some obscure records, cut them down to their bare essentials and built them back up to a point where they’d combine their infectious, at times familiar origins with a modern take on the dance floor.
Jamie’s music is built on the very same foundations of that Chicago legacy and the traditions of the edit, first introduced to the world by the likes of Hardy and Pharris, which still to this day sets the city’s music apart from the rest of the world. “That’s what made the Chicago sound so unique and so different:” he says about the music. “We didn’t make shit for anybody else but us. They discovered us. We didn’t make shit for New York or Europe. This was for us.”
But it didn’t take long for the rest of the world to cotton on to Jamie 3:26. Theo Parrish was particularly instrumental in disseminating Jamie’s edits and even before the basement edits volume 1 came out he had been championing his Chicago counterpart through his sets. “I owe a lot to Theo Parrish,” urges Jamie in 5 mag. “I gave him a disc a few years earlier and he found a few of my edits that he loved and played the fuck out of them.”
From there Jamie started getting gig offers in New York and eventually Europe, and his popularity continued to grow around the world as the producer of edits like “Hit it n Quit it”, “Testify” and many more for labels like Rush Hour and Lumberjacks in Hell. A move to Amsterdam put him in reach of an European audience and his prowess in the booth had gone from being a local secret in the insular scene in Chicago to a prominent fixture in booths all around the world.
He might have taken longer than his Chicago peers to get to the same level, but Jamie 3:26 is a Chicago legend in every respect and more. He is one of the few Chicago DJs that can boast being both world famous and Chicago famous, and he is one of a very select few DJs in Chicago that can bridge the North and South divide in his hometown, an “imaginary Mason-Dixon Line” at Roosevelt Street as he calls it in 5 Mag. “There’s two different house music worlds here,” according to Jamie in 2013, “there’s a black house music world and a white house music world” and Jamie is one of the few DJs that is welcomed in both. “You can call me the Rosa Parks of House Music!” he jokes, but it verifies his unique ability to please a diverse crowd through his sets.
There’s a personality to the music he brings to his sets and the way he strings them together. Vocals and that Chicago funk bring a dynamism that seems to electrify and energise the dance floor and with Jamie’s individuality as a DJ through what he’s learnt and experienced through one of the most dominant House music scenes in the world, there are few DJs that does what he does in the way he does it.
*Jamie 3:26 plays Retro this Thursday, on the eve of 17.May.