photo: courtesy of Tim Kasper
Shaking up industrial lofts and historic mansions, a generation of kids nursed on the spiritual side of '70s pop charts took the fading beats of disco, layered some synth and picked up the tempo...and Chicago house was born.
Official clubs would eventually brand the name, mostly thanks to Frankie Knuckles' work at the Warehouse and later at his own enterprise, The Power Plant. But the community flourished at less sanctioned parties, impromptu spaces where young, aspiring DJs would battle in front of hundreds of fans.
It was a fitting place for a 19-year-old South Sider named Steve Hurley to break into the scene and win his "silk" moniker; something that didn't happen until several nights of tapping on people's shoulders, record collection under his arm, trying to get his hand on the needle.
In the meantime, partly due to his parent's strict curfew, Hurley had to practice mixing in the shadows of his basement on some tables he bought from his side job as a grocery store clerk. When he did finally convince his peers to check out his sound and let him battle, he played records so fast with such a flow that it was dubbed "smooth as silk".
From here, Hurley became a regular talent at Sauer's, a German restaurant on East 23rd Street that converted its concrete floors to an all-ages house club by night that saw the likes of DJs like Tony and Andre Hatchett, Alan King, Wayne Williams and Jesse Saunders.
Hurley would go on to take the community by storm, fronting the genre as one of its leaders. Keeping true to his R&B tinged roots—the "best music ever" he claims—Hurley scored his first top-10 Billboard hit on his own label, DJ International, with his soulful 1985 production of "Music is the Key." His first group, J.M. Silk, found big-label attention with RCA, which led to dance chart-topper "Jack Your Body" in 1987, among many others in his songwriting heyday.
His production company Silk Entertainment Inc. has produced the likes of Ce Ce Peniston and Chantay Savage and had a hand in movie soundtracks such as To Wong Foo and Love and Basketball. Hurley has also served as president of the Chicago chapter of the NARAS (The Grammys). But what he's most known for are his remixing skills. Also given the tag the "Remix King," in a 10-year span Hurley has taken more than 200 A-list musicians' songs—Michael Jackson, Prince, Lionel Richie, Marvin Gaye, Liza Minelli, Mary J. Blige—fused them with his trademark spin and re-launched their run on the charts.
All of this however, is not nearly as important as the community that spawned him: "It's a great a feeling to know that I'm a part of the beginning of something that has lasted at least 20 years."
For the first time since that start, the city of Chicago is recognizing this community with MOVE! Chicago International House Music Festival, a July 22-23 fest that boasts the "The Godfather of House" himself, DJ Frankie Knuckles, among 15 other local and national heroes including, of course, Steve Hurley.
"To see someone put a nice amount of promotion, to think big and put a big budget behind house music...give it that shine that it deserves in our own city...we get a lot of credit for what we do in other cities, and even other countries, but we usually don't get it at home like this.
In the beginning:
My first time that I got to spin for a house crowd was a DJ battle at Sauer's. I had like seven records stacked up on each turntable, and I played them in less than five minutes. I was backtracking records and editing on the fly, doing a bunch of tricks and scratches. And nobody else really came like that, so I ended up winning the battle. Before that, I had been practicing in my basement for three or four years.
After a gig I:
Well, back in the day, when I used to DJ at this place called The Candy Store, I used to go to 18th underneath the L tracks and play basketball at four in the morning, with all the body guards from the club. But now, I don't really have anybody that will go do that with me. So...I hate to say it, but I usually end up going to sleep.
What's cool in your neck of the woods:
In the South Suburbs, Olympia Fields, I play basketball at this gym called St. James. It's a health club on 196th and Halsted. I have to get my basketball on at least three or for times a week.
I get live at:
I do Zentra, on Weed Street, at least a couple times a year.
Here I am – rock you like a:
An aerobics instructor—you'll be sweatin'.
Fresh from the woodshop:
A double DVD, double CD package called The Chicago LP coming out in October based on Chicago house music pioneers. Everybody from Farley Jackmaster Funk, myself, Marshall Jefferson, Maurice Joshua; like 30 different producers. I'm also producing my daughter's—B. Laurén—album; we're going to start dropping singles later this year.
Coming soon to a stage near you:
MOVE! The Chicago International House Music Festival, 1–4 p.m. I'll be previewing stuff from The Chicago LP, as well as a few surprises; a few tricks up my sleeve.