DEEP HOUSE HAS ALWAYS been enigmatic, its definition contingent upon where in Chicago (or the world, for that matter) one grew up. In the Chi, Southsiders might invoke the Philly Sound or R&B/Disco grooves of the ’70s and early ’80s to help explain what Deep House means to them. Conversely, someone from the northside might make the case that Masters at Work and the like symbolizes the deeper end of the dance music spectrum. This is not absolute, however, as there surely are some northside folks who are drawn to Prelude masterpieces as if they were new. A turntable practitioner would have to be of great skill and eclecticism to mix music from differing genres and time periods, all the while keeping it deep.
Craig Alexander is such a practitioner. Born and raised on the southside of Chicago, Craig’s name has been synonymous with Deep Disco and Deep House for decades. He, along with a myriad of others, was instrumental in bringing to light in the ’90s the raw, rare groove side of Deep House.
And whether it was throwing parties with his then business partner Jeff Johnson at AKA’s Night Club or throwing some of the wildest soireés at Private World lofts with Cheez and Joezana under the cognomen of Philly Groove Entertainment or traveling the world spinning raves and things, Craig has left many a stamp on the House music scene.
Now he is poised to rock the party in yet another mode: as a producer. 5 Magazine was able to yank Craig from his frenetic schedule long enough to rap a tad about the music and its forecast.
How long have you been DJing, and what put the bug in you to start?
For twenty-four years now. A guy named Tim King lived next door to me and used to spin. That got me interested. I’ve been spinning ever since.
You’ve been spinning for some time, so has your style changed much over the years?
Yes, it has changed a few times. I started playing disco and classics. Then, once I started producing, I began playing more dub and tracky at raves back in the ’90s. Now I play more soulful House, just because it’s more elegant and mature to me.
Were you around music much growing up?
Yeah, more so in the church, though. I was an accomplished percussionist by the age of 12, with several trophies from competitions. I also recorded with gospel greats Albertina Walker and The Barrett Sisters, for those who follow the gospel circuit.
Who were some of the DJ’s that influenced your DJ style the most, early on in your career?
Those are some of the best. Tell us, what do you think made these guys unique, and what made you gravitate towards them.
Ron Hardy because of the energy and spontaneity he had, Frankie because of his programming and mixing skills, Lil Louis because he brought class and style to the game, and Lee Collins for leaving no cut untouched. If Lee was playing, class was in session, even to this day.
What prompted you to want to don the hat of producer and not just DJ?
My boy Isaiah (DJ Rush) was making some bananas tracks that were obscure to me like my disco music was, so I borrowed his Yamaha RX-7 and started tracking.
Who are some of the producers/musicians you have worked with?
Who are some of the producers you are feeling at the moment?
Is there a constant, central theme to your productions, or do they reflect how you’re feeling at a particular time?
I make music based upon how I’m feeling as a person. You know, I could do a song based on something going on in my life.
Depending on whom you talk to, the House milieu in Chicago is alive and kicking. Care to comment on this?
I think it is definitely back, we just need to make sure it doesn’t become stationary – it’s got to keep moving. House did not stop after the Warehouse on Randolph closed, so we should not treat it as such. I love disco and I love playing it, but not all the time.
What, if any, differences do you see in the House party crowds of today and those of yesteryear?
We were more eager to get schooled back in the day, to obtain the knowledge of the music that was out here to be found in the second-hand record shops or the flea markets or the Mammoth Music Mart. Hell, my boy Cheez and I used to drive to Rockford or Milwaukee – wherever there were some cuts, because class was in session. Now, it’s more like a class reunion: no one is interested in higher education. But I’m trying to get my doctorate degree in House.
You’ve traveled abroad often in your career. What are some of your favorite spots outside the US to spin and why?
Paris is my favorite because of the whole fashion scene, the architecture – I just love the atmosphere. It is refreshing and vibrant. I also like Switzerland because the Alps are a beautiful sight and the sound systems in the clubs are bangin’. I like to travel, so the beauty of a country enlightens me.
What are some of your favorite spots in the US outside of Chicago to party and/or spin?
Miami, Dallas, Seattle, Detroit and New York.
How are the scenes in each of these cities similar or different than that of Chicago?
People are more receptive to Chicago jocks, especially because other abroad cities know what time it is when we come to town. Time to wreck shop! They respect where we’re going and where we’ve been, distinctively.
Someone recently commented that cats like you are bringing a measure of sartorial sophistication back to the party scene. How do you feel about that assessment?
I know me and the guys I hang with try to keep it real. We were always about sophistication and style because that’s what the scene was derived from. Sophistication and House went hand in hand. It’s flattering to know people see our vision of classic, classy events.
What does House need to keep it relevant in the future?
Soldiers that are dedicated to the preservation of it, not bandwagon fadsters (Is that a word? Sounds Hott!).
Not sure if it’s a word, but it should be! Now, have you, like so many others, jettisoned the vinyl in favor of spinning CDs?
I only play records when I’m playing disco.
What’s musically down the road for Craig Alexander?
I’ll be launching my label Oblique Records next month, which will consist of projects by me and other friends of mine in the industry, bringing a slightly different twist to the game. I always try to be me in whatever I produce – not trying to be the norm – so hopefully the fans I have acquired over the years will continue to support my new efforts and hopefully I’ll gain some new ones.
What single event, if any, deeply impacted your approach to or style of producing and DJing?
Going to Shelter NY and seeing everyone going berserk off of soulful, grooving cuts for hours on end. Leaving the party at 3pm on Sunday afternoon made me a believer: House Music Will Never Die!
Interview by Melvin G.