Down the stairs we go, every Sunday, where Smartbar is dressed by drag, populated by club kids (including some of the originals) and powered by three of the best DJs in the world. One of them is Garrett David, whose record The Queen! Tracks takes its name and inspiration from these Sunday nights in the dark.
The first edition of The Queen! Tracks came out in 2013, and it enshrined the label Stripped & Chewed Records in Chicago house music lore. It was so good that they could never make another record after this and they would still be remembered. I thought it was the record of the year. There were great records before and great ones to come from the label run since 2013 by Adam Rowe, Jake Nelson & Andrew Gordon (Garrett David & Lee Dunn were two other founders). And now it feels like we’re coming full circle with – some six years later – part II of The Queen! Tracks, released by a more mature but still mad Garrett David and the Stripped & Chewed crew. It’s the sequel we never saw coming and never knew we needed until we heard Javonntte on the opener imploring us to clap our hands.
Stripped & Chewed began as a local affair and remains rooted in the Chicago scene, despite having a worldwide perspective with figures like Ka§par and Borrowed Identity behind a couple of their best releases. It was born as much inside of Gramaphone Records as Smartbar’s Queen. And in about seven years they’ve released as many records as some digital labels drop in a couple of months – which is, probably, one reason why they’re regarded so highly. They’re never predictable and always surprising. There’s nothing ordinary about a Stripped & Chewed release. Nothing else looks like their stickers and sleeves. It’s a treasure, and there’s no greater blessing I can bestow than to hope you get a label like this doing this kind of stuff in your town, too.
5 Mag talked to Adam, Jake and Andrew about the release of The Queen! Tracks Part II this month, the evolution of the label and a group that’s grown up in the thick of the Chicago house scene and have done their part to grow that scene around them.
Who are the principals behind Stripped & Chewed and how did you come together? Who had the idea and what were your original plans/goals/dreams for the label?
Stripped & Chewed is currently run by Adam Rowe, Jake Nelson, and Andrew Gordon. We were all in our 20s growing up in Chicago when the label started, and it feels like the label has grown with us. Hell, we’re creeping up on 10 years of working together in some capacity or another. Our main goal was always to uplift our talented friends, and we’ve made sure to focus on releasing music that fits within the stylistic canon of Chicago house. At the end of the day, though, Garrett David really was the driving force behind starting Stripped & Chewed.
A collective label is often a short-term endeavor. People get married, get boring, start listening to Soundcloud Rap, etc. You’ve kept most everyone on board though.
Yeah, it’s been a quite a ride. You’re definitely right: two of us have gotten married since we started the label, we’ve had members move to LA and Berlin, we’ve all gotten boring, and our music tastes have evolved.
It’s nice to share something together, and, while we may not see each other as much as we used to, we are all still a close knit team. Everyone on the team works together so well, and we all love Stripped & Chewed. We’ve also found focusing on music that fits within the stylistic tradition of Chicago house has helped us keep the label plugging along through any personal musical changes.
Was it always called Stripped & Chewed?
We don’t talk about this too much, but it wasn’t our first name. We had a launch announcement with our first name and immediately received a C&D from an unnamed comedy club in Chicago that forced our hand. Luckily it was early enough in the process that we were able to recover and develop the label fully as Stripped & Chewed. Huge shoutout to our design wiz, Adam Rowe, who was able to turn the ship around visually in an extreme crunch.
It is hard for me to imagine Stripped & Chewed without a connection both to Gramaphone and to Smartbar. What’s the relationship between the club, label and store?
Both relationships are extremely solid but relatively undefined. Garrett’s been a Smartbar resident for ages, and we’ve been extremely proud to showcase his Queen!-inspired records. Marea, The Black Madonna, a former Smartbar booker was with us in the trenches from the start lending invaluable advice, fantastic music, and love.
Garrett & Adam have both spent time behind the counter at Gramaphone, and they’ve always been our first and best record shop supporter. We always try to release our records with a Gramaphone special edition to play our part in the shop’s ecosystem.
There’s a tradition of tracks from and to an extent made for a specific club, but it strikes me that there are very few club nights today that you could cite in a record today and have it mean anything. Tell us about The Queen! Tracks – the originals and this sequel.
Since its start, Queen! has been a meaningful part of Chicago nightlife for us. That being said, it has definitely grown and evolved significantly over time into the institution that it is today.
Garrett made the first Queen! Tracks to showcase the sounds and vibes of the Queen! party (in 2013!) Given Queen’s meteoric rise over the course of the following six years, we all thought it would be a fitting time to come back to that idea and present a sequel. He’s grown up with Queen!, and it was incredibly fun to see how his Queen! Tracks came out of the studio in 2019.
How would you describe the sound of the label? Is it a conscious choice for tracks with a certain aesthetic?
We’d describe the sound as a contemporary contribution to the Chicago’s house music sonic-tradition. We definitely focus on local talent and choosing tracks that fit within some type of boundaries (however loosely defined). Chicago house certainly has a wide range, and we’ve found a lot of latitude with our little niche corner of the dance music world.
But to answer your question: yes, we do focus on choosing tracks that fit within some sort of… something. Ha!
How many records did you have already in the queue and ready to be released when you started? How many do you have in the queue now?
It’s been so long ago, that I’m not exactly sure what was in the hopper at first and exactly how it developed day by day. We certainly had a lot of music to work with then, and we’re proud of how it turned out.
Currently we don’t have anything solid in the pipeline and are working with a few different artists. The record-sales market has changed significantly since we began the label, and with that we’ve focused on taking our time with releases. We’re not so much concerned with pace as we are with releasing fitting music from fantastic artists that is (hopefully!) timeless.
What was the visual inspiration for the artwork? There is not one other label that looks like Stripped & Chewed.
The inspiration for the visual identity of the label has definitely evolved over time. The original logo and brand identity was a collaborative effort between us all that sought to capture many aspects of us as individuals, including nods to the neighborhoods we lived in, our upbringing and where we grew up, as well as some more obvious symbols of vinyl culture.
Before moving to Chicago, Adam was very active in the punk scene in Detroit, so the look and feel of the individual releases is very much rooted in that DIY aesthetic. Everything is done by hand – stamped, screen printed, and numbered – and most of the printed designs were constructed by cut and pasting elements together on a Xerox machine. The artwork is also a critical aspect of our relationship with Gramaphone, as the limited editions sold exclusively in the shop always feature more art and extra love. We like to think that the handmade nature of the artwork is a direct reflection of the way we feel about the music we have released, resulting in a final package that is deeply personal to everyone involved.
Was there a better reception locally or internationally?
Chicago has always been a fantastic community for us. 5 Mag was the first publication to give us any time of day, Gramaphone’s been able to sell more records of ours than any other store in the world, and we wouldn’t have made it out of the primordial label-ooze without the local reception we received.
Internationally, there have been ebbs and flows, but it’s been awesome to see how far the reach extends. We’ll never forget when our old distributor Phil Hz (RIP) approached us with the idea to make a 200 copy run of Japanese exclusive copies of one of our records. It was wild to us that there was interest from that far afield.
There were all kinds of creative people involved directly or peripherally with S&C at launch. Garrett and all of these people then began releasing records everywhere and getting an audience for them. the label has always felt like a catalyst to me than just a label. Do you agree?
We don’t necessarily agree. While we’ve certainly been able to provide a solid platform for folks we’ve worked with, we don’t see that as the catalyst to their success. Garrett would be making incredible contemporary house music without us, and Marea would have still seen dramatic success when the world heard her music. We’re proud to be a part of the journey, and more than anything we believe whole-heartedly in what our friends are doing.
What are your future musical plans and goals?
Our goals are to continue developing our small contribution to the expansive Chicago house musical tradition, to focus on using our platform to uplift artists we believe in, and to release solid jams that keep folks dancing. We want to continue building something that we can look back on with pride.
Garrett David’s The Queen Tracks Part 2 are now available from Stripped & Chewed.