Founder of Universal Dance Music, DJ Cheez Darius, started DJ'ing at the age 11 years in 6th grade around 1982. He grew up on the southeast side of Chicago in the Pill Hill neighborhood. While attending Hales Franciscan High School, Cheez won the battle of the DJs as a freshman. His early influences stem from many Chicago greats: Ron Hardy, Frankie Knuckles, Farley, Andre Hatchett, Bryon Brame, Chico Fry, Eric ET Taylor, Frank Washington & Derrick Johnson. DJ Cheez has an impressive list of heroes and musical idols, producers such as Glenn Underground, Josh Milan, Ron Trent, Ian Friday, Dj Spinna, Louie Vega, Larry Heard, Mark Francis , Joe Clausell, Incognito, Anthony Nicholson, Zepherin Saint, and many more . He is a fan of many DJs and their different playing styles such as Groove Temple(Steve Maxwell, Jozana & Black Terry) Soul and The Hole (Sadar & Lee Collins) Cee White, Rahaan, Ron Trent, James Vincent, Anthony Nicholson, Jamie 326, to the East, Tyronne Francis, Joe Clausell, Louie Vega, Timmy Regisford, Ian Friday, Master Kev, Jihad Muhammad, others in the world, Osunlade, Zepherin Saint, Neter Supreme Tommy Toonz, Stan Zeff, Kai Alce and many others. Known for his parties, it is no secret that Cheez is doing big things this year by hosting events with both local and international talent giving that universal, intimate, social, dancing experience literally in his own backyard and other venues. I had a chance to chat with Cheez about his vision and his views on the Chicago House scene and more.
INTERVIEW WITH DJ CHEEZ/UNIVERSAL DANCE MUSIC
Black Widow: When did you start DJ’ing?
DJ Cheez: I grew up in Pill Hill and have been playing since 1982. I started in grade school around 6th grade. I remember hanging out at Tony Fry's House with Chico and Victor and playing video games. I heard some of the music that sounded like what I had been listening to on the radio and went upstairs to see what cassette tape they were playing and I was surprised to see them actually playing. Actually seeing them mixing the music I was enjoying live, I wanted to learn. I would just sit and watch them. In 7th grade I remember asking my parents for a mixer and two turntables. My parents got my turntables from Service Merchandise. I can’t remember where I got my mixer from but from there I would setup on my parents pool table and practice. I would go to Import Records on Plymouth Court and buy records. Then I’d hang out with the guys. You know if you had records, they would let you play for 15-30 minutes. (Laughter)
My parents always had music around me. you know they would have people over for card parties and things like that so I was surrounded by music growing up. We were fortunate to have music and sports. I liked sports but I loved music so that’s what I focused on when I was younger. I knew I would rather play music. It got real when in was in High school at Hales Franciscan. I won a Battle of the DJs my freshman year and got to spin the year’s parties at school. It was so funny because I remember everyone had to submit a audition tape. Everyone had Cornel Abrams song, “Trapped” on it except me. I wasn’t into any of that anymore. By that time, I was loving Frankie, Ron, Rush etc…my tapes was different and they took notice.
Black Widow: What were some of your favorite house music experiences growing up?
DJ Cheez: You know I was younger so I wasn’t always able to get into certain parties but I did get to someDJs that really impacted me. My neighborhood was all about the music. You know it was me, Osman Muhammad, Korey Buchanan, Jozana, Sadar, Derrick Brown, Steve…we all grew up and played together. I remember my first Mendel party. I was going to hear the Hotmix 5 and I remember they also had Lil John, Pharris, Leonard Roy downstairs too. It was crazy to see the guys you listened to on the radio in person spinning to a crowd of dancing people. My next experience really changed how I looked at house music. I was introduced to the underground scene by Michelle Buccannan. She would let me listen to tapes from the music box and what I was hearing was crazy. It was Ron Hardy and he was playing all the stuff I had at home but he was playing it in a different way. He was on a whole different level. You know he would play music that made you want to go out and buy music. You would be that inspired. After that I was introduced to Frankie Knuckles, Andre Hatchett, Pharris, Hugo, Pink House and I was done with the other stuff I had been listening too. The music from the underground was what I wanted to do.
Black Widow: What’s your musical/playing style?
DJ Cheez: I love playing soulful music. It’s just who I am. It’s music that makes you feel something inside. I’ve played all different types of music but that is my focus now. I don’t really spin parties that I can’t connect with authentically.
Black Widow: What is Universal Dance Music and how did that come about?
DJ Cheez: Once I started traveling to different cities and seeing the different house music scenes, it really opened my eyes as to how global this music was. Universal Dance Music is about embracing all of that…house music as a global force. It’s about promoting artists, DJs, singers and producers who share the same vision and connecting with one another on a global scale.
Black Widow: Where do you see for the future of the Chicago House Music Scene?
DJ Cheez: The future is bright for Chicago. You know we have 2 huge events in the summer with the Chosen Few Festival, now 2 days long and the Silver Room Block party that just had it’s largest attendance. We have so much talent in this city it’s incredible. I mean, the artists, the music, it’s a goldmine. Chicago is known as the birthplace. That’s our title and now that the music is more global it’s time that we realize how much of an impact Chicago has had and really embrace that. It’s a community and we have to really set aside egos and the beefs so we can all succeed and push the culture forward. It’s how we continue to the legacy of house music.
Black Widow: Thank you Cheez for taking a moment to chat with me.
DJ Cheez: No problem it was my pleasure
Until next time,
See you on a dance floor!
You can find DJ Cheez at the following: