"Growing up in the Chicago area, Emmaculate was exposed to the sounds of Classic House & Disco as a young teen. That along with the Golden Era of Hip Hop steered him into DJ'ing and producing tracks in 1990. Emmaculate has been fortunate to rub shoulders with many of the legends of Chicago House Music, giving him an invaluable education. He is a partner in the Aid to the SouLLess label, along with Julius the Mad Thinker, and Mi Casa Holiday alumni. His sounds are eclectic... sometimes hard, acidic, dreamy, jazzy, funky, & soulful... a cosmic slop of organic technology".
I recently had a chance to speak with Emmaculate about his career, his passion for music and his new release, "Do It" featuring Kaye Fox.
Black Widow: How were you introduced to House Music and DJing?
DJ Emmaculate: In the late 80s, when I was in middle school, between ’87-89, I got turned on to house music from friends at school, listening to mix tapes. I grew up in Elgin (a suburb of Chicago) and we had a teen dance club, called “Discovery”. We would just go and dance; I got into dancing first. I just loved the music. I come from a family of musicians. My dad and brother play guitar, my mom is an abstract artist that also sings; my parents were in a band together, and my older brother is in the business so there was art and music in my home. I’m just drawn to it and fell in love with the music and it made me want to DJ. I started buying and collecting records here and there and playing around with it. Doing pause mixes on a cassette deck first. Using one turntable doing pause mixes and stuff like that. Eventually, I got a pair of turntables but it didn’t have any pitch control, you had to speed the record up or slow it down with your finger. It was real primitive. I just loved it. I was always an athlete who played baseball and football every year but quit and decided this (DJing) was what I wanted to do. That’s how I started.
Black Widow: You and I share a similar experience in that we were introduced to house music while we were much younger. We couldn’t go to the club and experience what others did in the 80s. Most of my exposure to house music was through radio or grade school parties.
DJ Emmaculate: Same for me. It was two things, it was my age and the fact that I was in the suburbs. You know I can’t say I snuck out to hear Ron Hardy or anything like that because I was too far. [Laughter] I started DJing in 1990 in between my freshman and sophomore year of high school. I had records but it was more of the popular records being played. One of my best friends that I used to dance with had an older cousin who was a DJ but was in prison. He had an extensive record collection; he had all the hot records from the 80s in crates just sitting there. My friend was able to give me those records. I went from having a couple of crates of “just alright” records to having crates of “pure heat”, like some real some jams. Once I got that, all I wanted to do after school was come home and mix. That’s what allowed me to learn about those 80s records that were before my time.
Black Widow: There are some DJs who were able to watch and learn from others while at the club. Since you were younger and didn’t have that experience, who were your early influences and how did you learn from them?
DJ Emmaculate: It really was the ones that were from where I’m from. There were two, Andre and Orphie. Orphie was 5 years older than me and Andre was 10 years older than me. I started making mix tapes and my best friend would play my tapes around them and they were like, “who is this kid? We need to meet him”. They turned me on to a lot of information. They would take me to Imports and Gramaphone to buy records. At that same time, they were also good friends with a guy by the name of Armand, who went by the name, Professor Funk. He had stuff out on DJ international. They took me to my first recording studio at 15. They were my direct influences. Then creatively, I was really into Marshall Jefferson, Farley, Larry Heard, Lil Louis and I loved Future’s stuff, Armando, Jack Frost, and Adonis. Those were my creative influences but it was the people I was around, the ones I grew up with that taught me the game and gave me information.
Black Widow: When did you have your first Professional gig?
DJ Emmaculate: LOL…well professional? (Laughter) I started out doing basement parties at 16 and I really didn’t know what I was doing yet. I just got out there and did it. Elgin is a big GD town, for those who are in Chicago they understand what that means. They were the ones throwing the parties and I’m this white kid DJ spinning at all of the GD basement parties around 17/18 years old. That’s how I cut my teeth as a DJ, doing those basement parties. Once I turned 21 that evolved into clubs and private parties in that area.
Black Widow: Playing basement parties for the gangstas! LOL! Did you get flack for being a white DJ playing house music?
DJ Emmaculate: Honestly no. My experience has been different. I’ve never felt uncomfortable being in a party that was all black and I’m the only white person there. I’ve never had anyone treat me badly because I was white playing primarily black music (soul, disco, and R&B, hip-hop). You know I might get the side eye in the beginning, like “oh no…what’s this white boy about to do” but I’m able to win them over after I start playing. I’m a student of music, so once they see and hear me play and they enjoy themselves, then it’s all love.
Black Widow: I think that’s indicative of the inclusive nature of the house scene.
DJ Emmaculate: I agree and I think groups like the Hot Mix Five and Bad Boy Bill that came before me that helped with that and showed that it wasn’t unusual to have a white guy playing real house music.
Black Widow: When did producing come into play?
DJ Emmaculate: Around the same time in my teenage years I started playing around with making beats. My older brother had a 4-track cassette recorder and he played guitar. He was more of a heavy metal kind of guy. He had a tape recorder and a cheap keyboard and I’d fool around with it making stuff. Then I eventually bought my own drum machine and learned how to program it. It was a Korg DDD-5 and I just taught myself and I never stopped. I was always learning. I was doing hip hop tracks too in addition to house tracks.
Black Widow: What differences do you see when you are producing hip hop vs house music?
DJ Emmaculate: One of the things I enjoy so much about house music in comparison to hip hop is the freedom in the creativity. With house music, I feel like I can be more abstract, more diverse and depending on what sub-genre of hip hop you are doing, hip hop can feel more confined in structure, especially now. Coming from our era, late 80s and 90s hip hop it was a different vibe and there was a different value placed on the craft. If I’m producing hip hop, Emmaculate is not the artist. I’m the producer, so my job is to bring the best out of the artist. That being said, I enjoy that process but when I create house music it’s different. It’s really me expressing myself. It’s just a different context of art.
Black Widow: When you are playing clubs and venues, how do you approach a set? What’s your creative process?
DJ Emmaculate: I usually have an idea of what direction I want to go, depending on the environment. I don’t plan out my entire set but I have an idea of the records I want to play. I always play the music that I love, the music in my crates. I’m never going outside of what I love and my integrity, but I leave myself space to read the energy of the room and the crowd. I have a preconceived notion of what I want to do but I improvise depending on the energy of the room.
Black Widow: How do you balance what the people want with what your musical vibe and style are?
DJ Emmaculate: I think that has a lot to do with the types of gigs you take. If you knowingly allow someone to book you that has a crowd or a night that enjoys a form of house that’s outside your spectrum it’s best to say no to that. It’s not bad or good, it’s just different. Sometimes it’s not a good fit and that’s ok. That’s the beauty of house music. There are so many different subcategories; some things are for me and some things aren’t for me. I try not to put myself in those situations because you are either going to play what you want and bomb because the crowd isn’t feeling it or you are going to have to play something you don’t like. Then you aren’t being true to who you are aesthetically as a DJ. The key is gravitating toward crowds that like what you like and exposing them to new music.
Black Widow: Being selective with the gigs you take?
DJ Emmaculate: Exactly! Absolutely!
Black Widow: So let’s talk about “Do It”, your newest release with singer Kaye Fox. You have remixes by Terry Hunter as well. How did this collaboration and project come about?
DJ Emmaculate: I’ve known Terry for about 15 years or so. We have worked with many of the same artists over the years so our paths always crossed at certain points. He told me back in 2008 to make some house tracks and he would put them out on T’s Box to help build me up and get my name out there. I wanted to do it but I was absorbed in some other projects and didn’t really take the initiative or the time to follow up on it. We stayed in contact over the years and what’s interesting is that Terry also had a long-standing relationship with Kaye Fox. He always wanted to work with her as well. Terry always kept the door open for me to release music under T’s Box. I also have a partnership with Julius the Mad Thinker. We grew up together. He’s like my big brother in real life and we produced stuff together. We started doing some records for his album, Perspective, and in that process, I was playing around one day and just made this beat. Kaye was in LA at the time and we talk and share stuff all the time and I asked her to take a listen to what I made. When Kaye heard it, she said wanted to write to it. So, I restructured it in song format and send it. A few months later she recorded it and sent it to me and I was blown away. I knew I had something special on my hands. That was 2015.
That was around the same time, Kaye wrote “Queen” for Angie Fischer, and so, she had been speaking with Terry quite a bit and I had been talking to Roy Davis Jr quite a bit at the same time. I sent the record to Roy and he loved it. Kaye sent the record to Terry and he loved it. They both are like what are you doing with it, but Kaye and I started on a different project and this track just fell on the backburner. Fast forward a few months ago, Julius and I put out a record that was jazzier and I hit Terry up for some feedback. We had a series of long conversations and he put it out there again that I could release music on T’s box. He said I could do a remix of “Queen” and he’d do a remix of “Do It”. I was like cool…like I’m honored. So, I did the remix of “Queen” and as our conversations evolved, we decided to put “Do It” out on T’s Box because we just felt like “Do It” was special and we really wanted to give it the best possible presentation. It was about presenting it on the biggest possible platform, which obviously Terry has. The energy and timing of it all just made sense. He always wanted to work with Kaye and we always wanted to work together. So, he did his remix which is more soulful, and that’s how it came to be. So far it’s been a great look!
Black Widow: Perfect timing it seems! You know its so much stuff said and negativity, DJ Beefs etc. I always like to combat that image and change the narrative because there are so many awesome collaborations in this scene.
DJ Emmaculate: I can tell you for me being a kid from Elgin and having these records from these big names…you know these guys were like superheroes to me. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting many of them and in some cases I can call them friends. It can be disappointing to see some of the infighting because I’m a fan first. I think the key is to live by example. There is a great synergy among those of us who work together and support each other and who put out positive energy. As for those who subscribe to the other stuff, I just let them be. I gravitate to those that feel like I feel.
Black Widow: It’s so much competition sometimes it can get ugly.
DJ Emmaculate: You know… Having a competitive spirit is good. Iron sharpens iron. When I am working with Terry and watching what he does and hearing the stuff he creates, it’s inspires me. If I hear someone doing something great or hear something being played that’s unreleased that’ inspires me to go out and create. It makes me want to constantly elevate my game and my craft. You can be competitive and be positive spirited. When people start hating, it’s a form of insecurity. There’s no need to hate on someone doing good, it should inspire you to do something good.
Black Widow: That’s how I look at it and I love to see DJs and artists, producers collaborate and link up. It makes it a more enjoyable experience for me as an artist and as a music lover. The party experience and listening experience is more enjoyable.
DJ Emmaculate: Yes and honestly there are so many like that…like for example, take Terry Hunter. There’s no reason for Terry to embrace me, put me on his party at ADE and allow me to showcase my work through his platform. He’s already Terry Hunter. He has his records, his gigs, his labels and his remixes and such. That’s love… he reached back and I respect that. He wants me to be successful and he’s willing to help me in that way and I think a light should be shined on that because there are people here in Chicago helping others “climb up”. It’s not just a bunch some guys sitting around like “Ok we already on… playing in Europe and overseas all the time… we want to keep you guys down cause you are threat to us… nah…it’s not like that. I think the more good stuff we do as a community the more it helps everybody.
Black Widow: Absolutely and it’s a good look for our entire city. I couldn’t agree with you more. It’s about changing the narrative.
DJ Emmaculate: You know you can look at it as a war against one another or you spread love and get love in return. People that come together that are like minded. You know people like (DJ) Peace, Kaye (Fox), Timmy (Triplett), Terry (Hunter), Julius (Mad Thinker); those are all guys that embody that. It’s probably why we have that kind of chemistry and work well together. They are just rays of positive energy and good things happen to them because of it.
Black Widow: I always say collaboration can be a double edge sword. When you get a group of creatives together it can be magical or it can be like mixing oil and water. What makes a great collaboration?
DJ Emmaculate: I think part of it is just compatibility. Some personality types clash and some are compatible. That’s just a universal principle in all relationships. I think creative relationships are the same as personal ones. As you get older and mature, you understand how to listen and consider someone else’s thoughts rather than being too aggressive. I think people that are confident in their ideas can be aggressive sometimes. The key is to know when to be assertive and when to allow someone else to have an idea and humble enough to know you don’t always have the best idea. To work well with others, its’ a give and take. Sometimes you must check yourself and your ego…be open and respect other people’s creativity as well.
Black Widow: What does being a Chicago artist mean to you?
DJ Emmaculate: I’m proud to be from the mecca. I’m proud to have friendships and the opportunity to meet some of the people who created this genre and this movement. I feel fortunate because it’s so saturated right now. Its so many great producers and DJs throughout the world that it’s very easy to become a needle in a haystack. One of the benefits of being a Chicago artist for me personally is that I have a great relationship with a Terry Hunter or a Roy Davis Jr. Having the work that those guys have put into for so many years, has allowed me to cut through the noise if you will, and that’s because of the legacy of our scene here. And that’s part of the value…that’s part of it. I think Chicago has a certain soul to it. Just from the soul, gospel, blues and jazz music that comes from here and that edge. There’s an edge that’s here in real life from the streets that we’ve been around and lived in for so long. That gives us a certain sound and energy in the music we create and you can’t replicate that. Other cities have their own but Chicago is the only Chicago. There’s a unique feeling, edge, and soul that we bring to the music from here that differentiates us. I think some people feel like they must detach themselves from whatever negative stigma that is associated with Chicago to be accepted by the global dance community because of some of the negative perceptions of our city. I look at it differently. I don’t feel like I have to detach from my city in order for me to progress on the world stage. I look at is as a badge of honor that should be celebrated. We come from the place that created this form of music. This started here and that’s something to be valued and respected. I respect the people that came before me that started this thing and inspired me to do it and continue to open doors for me to continue to do it. I think value is perception. To me, I choose to perceive it as I choose to perceive it. Forget the negativity; I think it’s a beautiful thing to be a part of this scene here.
Black Widow: And rep where you’re from. I love that! What an awesome way to end this interview. Thank you so much for speaking with me and congrats on the single as well!
DJ Emmaculate: No doubt
You can catch DJ Emmaculate on social media and on the Groove Sharks Radio Show which airs every 2nd and 4th Weds at 5pm CST at www.dancegruv.net.
Instagram - @djemmaculate
Twitter - @djemmaculate
Mixcloud - https://www.mixcloud.com/djemmaculate/
Soundcloud - https://soundcloud.com/djemmaculate
Until next time, See ya on a Dance Floor!