chip e

Since I first met him more than a decade ago, Chip E. has been something of a mentor to me – a guide to help navigate the Chicago House Music scene of the 1980s as well as provide insight into the changing technology of the world today. Bits of wisdom from my chats and interviews with Chip E. have found themselves lodged in dozens of reviews and pieces I’ve written over the years. He was an evangelist of the DIY ethic back when there was still a mystery to the process of making records and videos – “Everyone can make music,” he told me, back when Beatport was still an ambitious little start up in Denver. “Everyone is already an editor,” he told me, when most video websites required a credit card to upload. He’s one of the rare legends of House Music that is more interested in teaching people how to think than telling them what to think – and I have to say, his visions of the future since I’ve known him have been dead-on accurate.

Feeling it’s a loss to readers to talk exclusively about back in the day (or current) dance music lore and opinion with Chip, we stumbled almost accidentally across a unique split format for this feature.

This first half focuses mostly on the Chicago House Music scene of the 1980s and Chip’s classic tracks from that era, the second on the present day and how a legend in one format changes as a producer & DJ with the tech and the times.

And there’s a separate DJ mix corresponding to each part: this (2017) old school mix from Chip and one featuring “very new” music selected by one of the best there ever was.

On iTunes On HearThis On Mixcloud

I don’t know if I’ve ever asked this, but when you were making, like, Jack Trax, what gear were you using? Was it yours or where did it come from?

We had a combination of gear. There were keyboards and samplers Kurt Landrum and I bought, Joe Smooth brought his Ensoniq keyboard, and there was a Roland TR-808 drum machine that Vince Lawrence loaned me (shhh, but the 808 actually belonged to my brother in House, Jesse Saunders). Eric “ET” Taylor was the only person in our group that didn’t bring any gear, but Eric brought his ear.

It’s been said that “Success has many fathers,” and without Kurt, Joe and Eric, there would be no “It’s House,”, “Time to Jack,” and no House Music.

Most of that stuff is still being used by someone somewhere to make new tracks. Are you still using it or does someone else unknowingly have Chip E.’s old 909? Could you (if you had to) make something hot with a 909?

I made the mistake of selling most of my old gear when sampling technology evolved. I sold my 909 to Adonis, and he used that for a lot of his Acid House tunes. But I do still have a couple of my analog keyboards, my old Akai S900 sampler, and a few other odds and ends. Everything still works, so yes, I could pull it out if needed.

How much do the tools that you make records with change the records that you make?

I’m a strong believer that it’s the artist, not the paint brush. My music evolves with me, not with my equipment. I’ve always pushed gear to its limits, used everything I could (like being one of the first to use the 909 external trigger option) but I’ve never felt limited by equipment or technology.

I’m using Native Instruments’ Maschine more and more. I like that I can start a track on my iPhone or iPad, and then finish it at home on Maschine Studio.

What’s an old record from back in the day that doesn’t seem to get the love now?

If you’re asking about one of my records, I’d say “Godfather of House Music” doesn’t get played as much as my other recordings. As for Old School in general, there are so many great ones, but “Let No Man Put Asunder” is still one of my all time faves that I’d like to hear more often.

Are there any of yours at this point that are still “unknown”?

There was this one song I made with Keith Nunnally, “Get On Up.” I have a promo of it, but can’t recall if it was ever released. THAT was a cool song. It was very Chicago groovish. I think that’s a new word I’ve invented. “Groovish.”

I like it. Now we’ve been losing a lot of giants in the last couple of years. I never got a chance to talk to you about Kevin Irving for the piece I wrote after he died. You worked together a lot. Maybe I can fill in the blanks of that story with you here now.

Yeah, I was really hit hard by Kevin Irving’s loss, and sad that I didn’t get a chance to contribute to your story. In a way, I discovered Kevin. Well, kind of “discovered,” in the way Columbus discovered a continent that already existed. What I mean is, I was the first to record Kevin. Actually, it was an accident. I heard about Kevin winning local talent shows, and I thought it would be a good idea to have a really great vocalist as a partner. We were talking about doing some music, and I was just starting to record “If You Only Knew.” Michelle Blount (aka “Lady Mia”) wrote the lyrics and was supposed to sing it. We had some problems keeping her on key. (I’m not saying all my earlier songs were pitch perfect, but this was a time in my career where my ears knew what perfect pitch sounds like.)

Anyway, I asked Kevin to lay down a guide track that Lady Mia could follow. Two things happened: she still couldn’t stay on key, and Kevin sounded awesome on the song. It was a no brainer, and that’s where his recording career started. Once people heard Kevin on “If You Only Knew” everyone wanted him on a record.

One time we were performing in NYC and Jay King of Club Nouveau was there. He introduced himself, and then a couple months later Kevin was performing with him on Soul Train.

I like to think that I’m taking them on a journey. What kind of journey is it if you only take them around their own neighborhood?

What do you think is missing from the scene today?

Wow, that’s the 100 million dollar question. I think what’s missing in the Chicago scene is what’s always been missing, and that’s unity over ego. We really need to come together as a family, and support each other more as a whole, instead of creating little cliques.

We also need to embrace the new music. When I worked at Importes Etc record store as a buyer, I was always looking for something new and different. Today, I hear DJs playing what’s familiar and comfortable instead of stretching their ears and their patrons. I’d rather try and fail than just play what people expect.

I like to think that I’m taking them on a journey. What kind of journey is it if you only take them around their own neighborhood?

So what can you tell us about this first mix – the old school mix?

I still get gig requests where they want the ’80s House sound exclusively, so I keep a lot of that music close to me. But I also like to play some tunes that pay homage to that era. So the Old School Mix is my version of what it was like in the mid-’80s. There’s some House as well as some Disco, but it all works well together.

Read part two of this feature with Chip E. – along with a new mix – here.
TW: @iamchip_e
IN: @iamchip_e_


Support #RealHouseMusic! This story was originally published in 5 Magazine Issue 146 featuring Kai Alce, Doorly, Chip E., Golf Clap, Frederick Dunson and the Frankie Knuckles Foundation and more. Become a member of 5 Magazine for First & Full Access to Real House Music for only $2 per month!


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