Hula Mahone is a Chicago DJ, Producer, Remixer and Entrepreneur who has been a part of the Chicago Music Scene for over two decades. His contributions to House music and to Chicago House Culture are undeniable and his success has crossed musical genres. I was able to chat with Hula about his career, House Music and Culture and his upcoming guest DJ appearance at this year’s Chosen Few Festival!
Interview: Hula Mahone/DJ/Producer/Remixer
Black Widow: When and why did you start playing?
Hula Mahone: I initially wanted to be a disc jockey like Tom Joyner. I started playing in the 80s. I’d listen to WMBX and the Hot Mix Five and try to emulate what I heard. I had one turntable with one receiver. (Laughter). I’d use paper to slow it down. I made a mixer and would fade songs in and out. I saved my money and eventually bought some technics I think with round pitch. I used those for years. It started from there.
I was in high school and Maurice Joshua, my best friend…we started throwing parties in the suburbs when I was 15. We’d play local parties then eventually we rented out a flower shop and had parties there. We used to call it “The Complex”. You know my parents were strict. They were not trying to let me hang out all night to party, so because I was throwing the parties, it was work!
Black Widow: So that’s how you got to party? By throwing one? (Laughter)
Hula Mahone: Yep…as long as my dad knew I was out all night working, he was cool! We were doing parties in suburbs all through high school like until ’89. I remember going to Mendel one time and coming from the suburbs, I was amazed. It was incredible! It was like the Chosen Few Picnic in a gym! It was two floors…it was so big and jam packed. At that age, that was incredible to me! I knew this was what I wanted to do.
Black Widow: So when did producing come in to play?
Hula Mahone: I remember I had my records stolen around ’87 and I was like, man…I’m done. I lost the desire to play so I started producing then did that non-stop through the 90s. I was doing house and hip-hop and R&B too. The party scene had dried up a bit and I just started to make music. You know we had Ron Carroll, Cashmere, Ron Trent, Lidell Townsend, they all came out under the label “Club House” and then you know I worked with the group, Hi-Five, then “Summertime” with DJ Jazzy Jeff & Will Smith. I was going nonstop producing.
Black Widow: Do you have a favorite style of house music? If not, what are your thoughts on the different categories of house nowadays?
Hula Mahone: I like all of it but right now, I’m really digging Afro House. I used to be against all of these subcategories, you know it’s still all house music, but now I can support it. It plays a role in how I promote my parties.
Black Widow: What do you love about being a DJ from Chicago?
Hula Mahone: I love being a DJ period. You have the power to shift the crowd, set the mood and I just love that.
Black Widow: What’s your creative approach when playing a set?
Hula Mahone: You know I like to have a plan before I head to play a party but the funny thing is that depending on the vibe, it can totally change once I’m there. I like to get there early, set the lighting, and bring my sound system. It’s about setting a mood from the moment you walk into the door. I love breaking new music when I play at parties. Man…the last hour of a party is the best. That’s when your die-hards are still on the dance floor, you can really connect with them at that moment. It’s the best!
Black Widow: Does it differ when making music?
Hula Mahone: Oh Absolutely! Producing gives me more freedom. I have no expectations when I start working on music. I’m just trying to please myself at that point, so I’m free to play around with sounds and different things like that. As a DJ, my expectations are great. I want people to have a good time and come back again for more. I want them to like the vibe I try to give to them. It's about them.
Black Widow: As a producer, what are the keys for a successful collaboration?
Hula Mahone: You know… I like to be in the driver’s seat. I have a vision and I need the artist to trust that vision. That doesn’t mean we don’t share ideas and collaborate though. The artist is important. It’s really an exercise in trust. They need to trust me and vice versa. The most important thing is being creative. It’s an organic process with creatives, that’s where the magic happens.
Black Widow: What does it take to become a successful DJ? What skills or personal attributes are required?
Hula Mahone: You have to know your audience. You have to connect with them. DJ’s are like performers now, you have to have a style people connect to.
Black Widow: that’s interesting. I always say DJs are important. I tend to buy a lot of house music for my personal collection but it’s a difference when I play it at home vs. when I hear it in a club.
Hula Mahone: Right. That’s really where DJs distinguish themselves. It’s how they ride the groove. That’s why one song can sound totally different depending on the DJ. It’s You know you can be a DJ that can kill it on social media, mixcloud or whatever but when you get in front of a crowd, it’s totally different.
Black Widow: What’s the key to longevity in this scene?
Hula Mahone: House Music isn’t going anywhere. I think it’s like what “Steppers Music” was for our parents. You know I’ve been doing the “I love House Music Friday’s” Parties now for 8 years. There was a time when we didn’t have a spot and I was done but they wouldn’t let me. (Laughter) People were hitting me up like, “man, so where are you moving to?” or “so what are we doing on Friday Nights now”. They really forced me to keep it going. They loved what we were providing to them. That’s the key, people want feel something when they come out, and they want to have a good time. I’m constantly looking for new music. I love to break something new when I’m playing. You have to balance catering to your loyal following and attracting new audiences.
Black Widow: What are your top three tracks right now?
Hula Mahone: I’m digging so much right now but I’m really loving Afro House, South African House right now. I like Africa by Mr. Raoul K, this track called Allegra’s Theme, Da Beat by Black Coffee and another track called Memorial Day.
Black Widow: You’ve been doing this now for 20+ years, how has the Chicago House Scene changed?
Hula Mahone: You know we don’t have spaces anymore. We need more spaces. It’s too many DJs and not enough space. That’s why you see all the complaining honestly. I really wish I had a space just for house music, not necessarily a club either, just a space where you can really have a large crowd, and a dope vibe. You know back in the day I remember going to the music box and they had a wall of speakers. It was a vibe back then but clubs here don’t know or respect the culture. So they don’t care. It doesn’t matter that our parties are never violent; they are about that bottom line. That’s why you see the priority on other genres of music because they want to see those dollars but sometimes they get something else, the club closes and we all lose out. I was throwing a party out in the burbs at a club that wanted me to pay for 8 security guards. I had to laugh because I’m like, you don’t know our crowd. You don’t need 8 security guards. You may need two, house people don’t get down like that. The only thing we fight about is our music! (Laughter)
How you promote parties is different too. For a party to be successful you have to cater your base and following but you also have to reach out to newbies via the birthday parties and such. It’s a balance. The music has to be balanced sometimes too; you got to give people their classics and something new. The more commercial music with the more underground. It’s so messed up because people are always screaming about music that’s commercial but there are DJs who are good and making good music that still have 9-5s. They can’t live off of the music because people don’t support it. The DJs, the artists they can’t grow because people want to keep them in this “underground box”, like it’s something wrong with success. That’s odd to me. I don’t get it. You have to allow DJs, artists to grow and achieve success and if you like it, why wouldn’t you support it?
Black Widow: What does it mean to play the Chosen Few Festival?
Hula Mahone: Man…it’s an honor to play. I mean what is this…the 27th year? It’s the biggest party in the country and it’s Chicago House Music for two days!!! That’s just a good look for the culture! I’m just excited to get out there and do what I do. I want to connect with people who already know me and connect with people who may be hearing me for the first time. It’s so funny because I always support the festival but this is my first year playing and I’ve known Wayne since ’88. I always find it funny when DJs complain about not being chosen to play the picnic. They aren’t looking at the bigger picture. This is an awesome event for the culture, for Chicago House Music, for Chicago! Whether I play or not, I’ll always support it….AND it’s only $25!!! I mean seriously, you aren’t going to get that anywhere! Folks kill me complaining about the costs. I mean you can’t spend $25 to help move the culture forward? That’s a pet peeve. The more we support the “Chicago House Culture”, the more it grows and our legacy lives! I'm all about moving our culture forward and supporting those who do the same.
Black Widow: This was awesome! Thanks so much for speaking with me!
Hula Mahone: Anytime...It was my pleasure.
I hope you enjoyed this week's "Chicago Spotlight" with Hula Mahone! As always, check out the blog for more party reviews, artist interviews and new music reviews!
You can find more about Hula Mahone at the following: