The Third Article in the “Chicago: Deeper than a Drop” Series.
By: John C.
A Community United
One of the continued themes seen throughout this series has been the culture and community aspects of electronic music with a concentration towards the local Chicago scene. As I write this series, I look to highlight the aspects of Chicago\’s involvement in electronic music and highlight what truly makes it\’s community stand out. As I considered the subject matter of my third article, I wanted to continue this trend. The [FOCUS] Workshop series which began earlier this year, to me at least, is a perfect example of the sense of community we have created within this music.
The [FOCUS] series hosts instructional producer programs that are offered completely free of charge to attendees. While the cost of entry has certainly been lowered enough to allow more people interested in producing music to get started, many find themselves without a support group to discuss progress or an experienced producer to receive advice from. The [FOCUS] series was introduced earlier this year and so far has done an exceptional job filling that void. I have been fortunate to catch the first two events in the series and each one has introduced me to some new concepts, improved workflow ideas, and an opportunity to experience new concepts first hand.
Leading The Way For New Producers
Without individuals willing to spend their own time into organizing and hosting these events, they would not be possible. A key force behind the success of the [FOCUS] Series is a DJ who requires no introduction to many involved in Chicago\’s electronic music scene, Frankie Vega. To those who have not had the opportunity to meet Frankie, he is a Chicago based DJ with an extended history of involvement with the Chicago house and techno scene. He also happens to be one of it\’s kindest members. If you are attending one of the classes, he remains completely approachable and open to discussion/questions with any of the event\’s guests. Behind the scenes, he devotes his own time to organizing the event, ensuring partner support (Ableton has endorsed both of the first two events), and making sure that they run without interruption. He has ensured the classes are lead by experienced instructors, such as Orville Kline (Member of Porn and Chicken and certified Ableton instructor) and Thomas Faulds (Ableton instructor and producer). After having the opportunity to meet Frankie personally at [FOCUS]\’s second event, I asked him if he would be willing to do a brief interview for the series.
For readers who may be unacquainted, can you give us a brief background on yourself and your involvement with electronic music?
Born and raised in Chicago, grew up on the south side in Bridgeport and currently reside in Logan Square, Chicago. I began working at a record shop when I was 17 years old, Hot Jams Records which was at the intersection of Pulaski Rd & Archer. Gramophone Records was the hot spot on the North Side, The Hip House was the spot on the West Side and Hot Jams was the Chicago hot spot to shop for records on the South Side.
I was later hired to support sales and distribution for record company Strictly Hype Recordings which was the head company for record labels, Underground Construction (UC Music), Afterhours, Gourmet Music, Flash Records, my first record label Blueline Music and many more. On the distribution end I was responsible for product placement into just under 200 record shops throughout North America. I spent a minimum of 30 hours a week on the phone getting music into the doors of record shops. A few years I later worked as a contractor supporting distribution for another company called Sole, where I assisted with A&R work, development of merchandise (Slipmat line, Battle Records, compilations and more). As the MP3 outsold the vinyl record, I then moved into b2b technology consulting. Part of my role was selling and setting up training for IT professionals and creatives.
We had a facility to professionally produce and host workshops. As the trend of using a Mac in part with DJing and music creation grew, so did the interest in discovering new software options. I began using Ableton Live 7 specifically for DJing. The place I worked for also sold technology and software to companies. With all of the people I knew in the DJ/producing industry, I opened as a reseller with native instruments an Ableton. Through talking with the US based team at Ableton, who at the time included David Hill and Sam Walker of Walker & Royce, we hosted an event for The Live 8 launch in Chicago drawing in and uniting a solid community of Ableton users. We continued the events for a couple of seasons and from there the Ableton user group, Thomas Faulds and Orville Kline and others continued to meet and keep the community growing in Chicago.
How did the idea for the [FOCUS] Series manifest?
To start my friend Derek (owner of Primary Nightclub) asked me to support getting workshops going at Primary Nightclub. He’s really invested in hosting exciting, cutting edge happenings centered around electronic music, Chicago Dance music roots and technology at his club. He is also a DJ and excited about making music, apps and hardware. As a matter of a fact alongside Primary, its great to see that the most successful clubs in our city are headed by folks who are DJs and into music making possibilities today. Thankfully, they’re achieving the most long term success managing these places and have drawn the the attention of a healthy music community and clearly deliver a consistency at their respected places today. I was skeptical on bringing workshops into a nightclub space but the venue is a perfect setting and has proven to be a great space for us. Primary has an amazing VOID Acoustics sound system. Hearing the workshop audio over a solid club system and being in a club setting has really supported the mood for the events. These events are also about uniting a community of both music production enthusiasts, clubbers that go out, enjoy the music and are curious about making it as well as those who have been doing it for a while. It’s really nice to see people come together, meet and share ideas.
I had a close DJ friend who I have looked up to growing up over the years. He attended the first session we did. He was a huge part of Chicago’s Underground electronic music scene in the early 90’s putting records out and DJing shows. He left Chicago in the late 90’s due to opportunities in the west coast and just relocated to Chicago at the start of summer. He attended the first event we hosted and mentioned how fantastic it was to see so many people coming together that are excited about producing music. Also, companies are releasing gear again. Undoubtedly there are so many new hardware options to go along with software today. It’s also exciting to see SAE Institute open in Chicago and hear about the exciting learning opportunities here and at Columbia College which are all centered around modern methods for making music.Ableton has shown strong support for the first two sessions, including giveaways and providing Ableton certified instructors.
How has working with the company been?
Thomas Faulds has been an amazing support! He travels quite a bit supporting events like this happening all throughout the Midwest and beyond. Every person I have meet that has worked for Ableton in the states has been very invested when they can confirm they’re reaching a community of those passionate about making music and the possibilities that are out there.
During our brief talk last weekend, you described [FOCUS] as a community. Can you explain why you feel maintaining a sense of community is important for producers in our area?
Chicago is a major city. It’s had such an influence worldwide when it comes to dance music. As noted, “it’s the birthplace of house music” While those that came before us have done an amazing job getting our city on the map, someone has to keep the fire burning.
Growing up in this city and being a fan of music, I was able to clearly see that there is a lot of people here that are inspired to express their talents and push forth intelligence. What good are you if you just make tracks in your bedroom, don’t tell anyone about it and keep to yourself? It sounds pretty lonely doesn’t it? Community is about participation and advancement. It requires everyone to chip in, share and it offers us all an opportunity to uncover a wide range of things we may have not known about. That includes technique, usability, commons curiosities and meeting people who care about this.
As a resident of Chicago, a city with profound history in electronic music, what role do you hope to see the [FOCUS] series play in the development of Chicago area producers?
That\’s holding us to a lot considering we have only done a couple of events so far but what we do hope is to encourage people to take their talents further, support the expansion of awareness and expertise. I hope that attendees find the workshops fulfilling and realize that there are endless possibilities and not one person truly can have all the answers. I also hope to keep seeing more amazing talents going the distance with their music from Chicago as there really is a lot of talent residing here.
What does the future hold for the [Focus] Series?
We certainly plan to keep them going. We plan on getting more community involved on the contribution side per event. We’re also asking people for feedback on how we can make the events better and each time utilizing it to make changes. There are takeaways from each event. We have also reached out to various hardware companies about coming in to showcase their hardware along with the use of Ableton Live. The goal is that I will keep creating and proposing the agendas as seen with the recent events,
Orville Kline and Thomas Faulds will continue to lead and approve the agendas and finalize the structure, contributors and facilitation of presentations. We also like the beer sponsor/tastings. They’ve proven to be great ways to take breaks from learning in the middle of the sessions and it seem attendees don’t mind sampling the beverages. I would eventually like to launch a landing page on Primary’s website, we have also thought about web-casting the events and recording them for podcasts.
I wanted to end this article by giving thanks to Frankie Vega for taking the interview and devoting his time to these classes, Derek Specs for accommodating to the events by hosting them at Primary, Orville Kline and Thomas Faulds for sharing their knowledge as instructors, and Ableton for their support of the events.
While a website detailing the events may be forthcoming, in the mean time I suggest you follow Primary Presents on facebook to keep informed on upcoming [FOCUS] events.