It\’s around 9 pm on a Friday night as I step onto an unfamiliar street corner on Chicago\’s west side. Walking onto the sidewalk, I reach for my phone to verify the address I had been sent earlier. As I continue walking, the silence of the cold Chicago night is suddenly interrupted with the familiar sound of a four on the floor drum pattern and accompanying bassline. I quickly come to the realization that verification would no longer be necessary. I have arrived at the home of David Castellani, one of four members of a group of artists by the name of Mia Wallace. As I proceed to the front door, a sense of excitement begins to grab hold. Tonight, I have the pleasure of discussing music with the group just prior to their performance at Primary Night Club.
The excitement I felt was fueled by an anticipation that had been developing for this particular feature. I recently had the pleasure of catching Mia Wallace during one of their prior performances at Primary. It was not even 30 minutes into that set when I turned to Mike Miraldi, the promoter behind The Pool House, and stated \”Mike, I NEED to do a feature on them!\” Their live-hybrid performance (which incorporates a traditional DJ performance along side live instrumental and vocal elements) was both unique and full of energy. Without hesitation, the group seemed to have successfully captivated the audience that had filled the dance floor.
I didn\’t have the opportunity to speak with the group that night, but was fortunate enough to catch David at Primary on a subsequent visit. After a brief introduction, I mentioned that I would like to feature the group and would follow up online to confirm the details. After some coordination with group member Michael Azrikan, a meeting was finally going to take place just prior to a return performance.
As I settled in from the cold and the group members finished off the last of their pre-performance routines, we took a seat and began to discuss the group and our music scene in general. Coming off of a recent wave of interviews, I explained to the group that for this feature, we would take a less structured approach and allow for the conversation to lead in whichever spontaneous direction it may. It seemed as if it would be a beneficial approach for a feature on multiple artists and the spontaneous nature may allow for dialogue that might not have occurred in a traditional interview.
\”Deep, Dark & Sexy\” is the tagline description that Mia Wallace, (consisting of members David Castellani, Michael Azrikan, Garrett Brunson and Alyssa Waldon), utilizes to describe their sound. Combining ethereal atmospheric elements amongst dark vocals, out-worldly synth elements and the backing of a dance orientated house beats, their sound is both delicate and provocative at the same time. With such an interesting approach to music, I decided to begin by digging into the history of the group and discovering what has influenced them.
The first connection between the group members was found in the collaboration of Garret and David when they performed in a hip hop group together. Although the group did not last, the two friends continued to collaborate on hip hop orientated projects. While Garrett admits to having various musical influences, his background was consistent to hip hop. David, on the other hand, notes a background in Jazz as a one of his earliest influences, although he also shared an interest for hip hop. As David\’s appreciation of dance music began to take hold, the collaboration between the two began to follow suit. As their sound continued to progress in a dance music direction, Michael, who was already quite involved in the music scene, was consulted to help fine tune their production and DJ skills while also actively managing the group. With Micheal\’s involvement in the group steadily increasing, it was decided that he would leave the management role to join as a member himself. Alyssa, the last addition to the group, would come a short time there after. With a history of singing that date back towards her youth, she would join Mia Wallace as a vocalist for their productions.
As we go deeper into some of their individual musical interests and backgrounds, which include Jazz, Metal, Hip Hop, House and Techno, the diversity each member brings to the group begins to surface. In addition to differences in musical influences, we began to discuss the cultural ones as well. Garret is the only Chicago native of the four and although Alyssa was originally from Wisconsin, she has lived in Chicago for most of her life. David and Michael both moved to the United States just prior to beginning high school; David arriving from Italy and Michael from Russia. When considering the individual characteristics and influences of the group, their melding as one creates an extremely unique singular identity, which is perhaps very fitting of a group name adopted from Uma Thurman\’s notorious character in Pulp Fiction.
As a group, Mia Wallace has been releasing music for approximately two years across various labels: Apulia Records, Bulletdodge, KGBeats Records, Voltaire Music, Counterfeit Fun Records, Deadfunk Music, JQM Recordings, and Slur. Mike and David take the primary responsibility of beat making, with Mike drawing upon his house and techno influences and David utilizing his knowledge of percussion and jazz. Most often, Mike and David\’s beat will provide the foundation of a new track, followed by Garret and Alyssa expanding the song\’s identity by adding vocal elements. Predominantly balancing between the deep house and tech house genres, the music seems to be designed in a way that that remains characteristically dark and invites the listener into a sonic journey crafted with unified purpose by the group. Without compromising complexity, they take a step back from the overly-melodic in favor of driving bass and an emphasized percussion. As a result, the music they produce translates its energy directly to the dance floor.
Expanding upon their production methodology, we begin to discuss live performance. The live performance set up utilized by Mia Wallace allows for the group to not only play and mix complete tracks as one would in a traditional DJ performance, but also incorporate live play and improvised re-adaptations. At the center of the set up are two instances of Traktor, one instance of Ableton, and one instance of Reason. The mixer of choice is currently the all analog Allen & Heath Xone:92 and is primarily controlled by Michael during a live performance. The instance of Reason remains specific to David\’s usage, where his electronic drum pads allow him to utilize Reason\’s familiar drum processing. The combination, along with the layered vocal contributions allows for creative pathways that bring their performance beyond the abilities of the traditional DJ set.
As I came to be more familiar with the performance structure, I became even more impressed with the seamless integration of all elements in the prior sets I had witnessed. Considering the potential such performances could hold for the long term success of the group, we start to discuss where they have brought their performance to thus far. In the short time period that they have been performing as a live act, the group has performed at many of the city\’s most well known venues, including Primary, Evil Olive, Spybar, The Mid and Castle. Beyond the club scene, they have performed for various underground shows, including Team SSS parties. As the discussion continues, it becomes clear that most of the performances have been concentrated to Chicago by this time. When I attempt to dive deeper into the subject, David states that this is for the most part true, with a couple of exceptions in Detroit and Europe. David went on to explain that they most certainly plan to bring the group to a full touring schedule, but for now have been concentrating on Chicago shows and their studio productions. Considering their productions have been a success on various non-US labels in addition to US releases, the opportunity to bring that plan to action may come earlier than expected.
With their current experience in the Chicago scene becoming successful on the artist side, the topic began to transition to their thoughts on the Chicago scene as a whole. Michael, perhaps the most experienced from his background in electronic music, immediately takes hold of the conversation. \”I think it is great!\” he expresses with enthusiasm. Michael goes on to support his stance by mentioning the influence that has been seen by clubs such as Spybar, Primary and Smartbar. He expands this thought towards Chicago\’s underground scene and contrasts the current variety of choices presented every weekend with the 2000s, when underground shows often failed to escape law enforcement\’s attention. \”Now you can find good shows and many of them are consistently run successfully,\” he explains, \”for awhile in the 2000s, you would go through an elaborate process to arrive to a show, only to have it shut down moments later.\”
Chicago isn\’t without it\’s criticisms, however. While it seemed to be agreed that those who downplay the merits of Chicago in the media tend to be from those who have not been extensively involved in it, notable areas that could be improved were mentioned. Collectively, they believe that Chicago needs to step out of the shadow in terms of it\’s exposure beyond the city. Comparing cities currently considered epicenters of electronic music, such as Ibiza and Berlin, Chicago has not maintained the same classification, instead often remaining very centralized to the city itself. Similar arguments have been presented to me by other Chicago artists as well, inspiring me to push the group even further into the discussion by questioning what could be done to correct this. It seems the most centralized points relied on the promotion of the scene itself and the lack of a larger label that exposes the releases of Chicago artists to a larger network of listeners. The group is quick to ensure that this should not be interpreted as the scene is not strongly working towards some of these crucial steps. In fact, they specifically mention some of it\’s current successes, including labels like Pool House Records, with releases from the newest waves of Chicago talent, the Tied collective of artists including Max Jacobson and Mantas Steles, and Jason Patrick\’s Klectik Records which features artists from outside of Chicago, but is still identified as, and thus representative of, a Chicago label.
Never once are any of the criticisms utilized as a barrier to their potential success, however. Although they mention the need to continue to put their music in front of more people and expand upon the relationships they have established, they seem confident that their growth will continue to steadily rise as they focus on their music, first and foremost. When asked how often the group comes together in the studio or to expand upon their live performance, David quickly affirms \”All day, every day,\” going on to explain that they focus on their music at every opportunity presented. As artists that have numerous quality releases across various labels and an enthralling live performance design to showcase them, it seems this focus on the music is not only the reason for their current success, but also the reason why it will continue to expand into the future.
As the conversation continues to evolve into a deep discussion of the scene\’s intricacies as well as the roles artist play in support their own scene, I notice that the is now edging fairly close to the time in which we would need to end out talk to travel to their performance. Since our discussion came to an end while discussing ways in which the scene can promote itself actively, I decided to borrow a question I have brought into recent artist interviews, which asks Chicago artists to share other local artists they believe deserve more spotlight. Amongst the artists mentioned were My Boy Elroy, Joe Sylthe, Alinka, Max and Mantas (of Tied), HxH and the remainder of the Pool House Collective. As the final names are shared, another time check confirms that we had to conclude our discussion and the group members would need to pack their equipment for the show.
Later that night Mia Wallace once again took control of the void sound system found at Primary and gave it a proper treatment. Coming from a discussion on the successes and opportunity points the group currently has, I maintained the additional perspective during my attendance in mind. As I would watch the packed dance floor at Primary dance through every track and cheer on each exhibition of their talent, I had the sense that things were only getting started for the group. As more and more fans become attracted to their unique performances, the continued dedication to their music will be their key to the doors that will surely open for the four members. Since the time of our meeting, Primary Night Club has officially named Mia Wallace as one of their new club residents with a kick off show taking place on Friday, December 5th. As a group that has drawn me into a journey of sound and has delivered every time, I encourage you to make it out to one of their upcoming sets and experience it for yourself. As Chicago\’s scene continues to take off in the hands of those dedicated to making it all it can be, it is your support that will help them get there. I can assure you that you will not regret the experience.
I would like to thank Mia Wallace for taking the time to talk with me and
for each performance, past and future, that I am able to attend.
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