John Ciba and James Porter have a penchant for old records and old soul in particular. This isn't an unheard-of trend at the moment. Modern soul singers like Amy Winehouse and Duffy are making headlines and playing festivals around the world. Record stores like Reckless and Permanent Records are somehow thriving in the digital age. The Numero Group in Chicago is putting together retrospectives of defunct soul labels. So what sets the East of Edens Soul Express apart from all the other collectors and revivalists?
"We're having the experience in real life," says Ciba. "This is how the music was meant to be experienced–on the dance floor." Their formula has proved successful, and they've opened for acts like the Beastie Boys, Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings and Sly Stone (or would have, had he not cancelled the show). They've played with legends like Syl Johnson and Roscoe Robinson. And they've played shows as far away as Oxford, Mississippi, but you can watch these boys spin their magic closer to home, during their near-monthly residency at the Hideout on Saturday nights. Dropping their collective years of experience in crate-digging on the turn-tables, the boys are not afraid to spin some Peter Guralnick in the same set as some Common: they just want the crowd to get down.
If I were to come to your neighborhood, where would you insist I go?
John Ciba: Mario's Barbershop on Southport. Easily the best barbershop in Chicago.
James Porter: Oh no, in that case, I'm picking Haji's Truth and Soul on 87th; that's the best barbershop in the whole city, not just the North Side. That guy knew Curtis Mayfield.
What's your favorite Chicago hidden gem?
JP: The Catfish Corner on Madison puts on live soul revues, and even has gospel revues. It's also got pretty damn good food, too.
JC: It's just outside the city, but the Maple Tree Inn in Blue Island is the perfect New Orleans atmosphere. Having just come back from New Orleans, I think I can say that.
What is your favorite venue to play at in Chicago?
JP: The Hideout is our jukehouse from heaven.
JC: The Hideout has been very good to us. We've done some outside shows in the past, and we'd love to put together one of our own there—on a flatbed truck, with some of our friends, with the music as gritty and old as possible.
What's the best Chicago-related advice you've ever given or received?
JP: Well, it's especially true for Chicago: "The best things aren't on the map –sometimes, ya gotta dig."
JC: Actually, mine comes from James: "It doesn't matter where you work up the appetite as long as you eat at home."
So does the dance party "work up an appetite" for you guys?
JC: There's some dirty, crazy dancing from people. It's mostly a kinda young, indie-rock crowd, and they get into it. And yeah, sometimes we get approached at the end of the night.
JP: Definitely; these aren't crowds coming up and checking the record labels on old Stax wax. They know what we're about, they’re not asking for things like Outkast anymore, but they are still all there to have fun and really dance. Mostly I just dream of getting a Missed Connections listing from one of these shows.