Since 1995 Lester Fitzpatrick has been producing powerful house and techno in the style of his idols, hard techno icons like Adam Beyer and Steve Stoll. From the beginning, his sound caught the ears of educated listeners like Dave Clarke and Green Velvet. Lester has stayed close to his Chicago roots and his family, even as his profile has expanded in scope with a Boiler Room set, remixes by Gary Beck and A.Paul among others, and a slew of upcoming projects for his label Mind Burn Recordings. I chatted with the prolific producer for 5 Mag.
How did you get into electronic music?
Back in, say like ’84, ’85 I was going to these parties where Tyree Cooper and Mike Dunn were playing. Tyree was at High Society and Mike Dunn was at Courtyard. House music back then was all over the radio. People even dressed a certain way and they said they was “house.” But anyway, I always liked the music. And then I came across a drum machine…
At first, I started to try to play the records because I was influenced by Mike Dunn, Tyree and followed it on the radio and WKKC. Then I came across a drum machine and I started making my own house beats. In 1988, me and Robert Armani were going to Kennedy-King College and I hooked up with him. He had machines and stuff, the 909, 303 and a sampler. Paul Johnson would be over there, Glenn Underground, Drew Sky… That was in 1988, so a few years had went by. I had hooked up with DJ Skull and recorded some stuff over at his place, too.
I was up at Hot Jams [record store] and Andre Lopez was playing my music. I had never seen Curtis, or Cajmere, or Green Velvet or whatever. I didn’t know that was him and he was up there, he was like, “Whose music is that?” Andre told him it was mine and he told me to come down to the office and that was that.
Even before that, Andre had put a six track record out by me on Madhouse, but it was as “DJ Skitzo.” Curtis told me to come down to the office and he picked up my first EP. I wanted to use the DJ Skitzo name again, and he was like … He liked my real name, which is Lester Fitzpatrick. Ever since then, it’s been Lester Fitzpatrick.
Tell me about your label, what’s the story with Mind Burn Recordings?
“Mind Burn” came from an alias that I used that came out on Relief. I had, I think, one or two records come out on Relief with Mind Burn. I was just sitting up one day and somebody hit me up from another country and they didn’t know it was me. When they realized it was me, they were like, “Wow. We really love that record.”
I think Dave Clarke played that record in a video, so I was just sitting around thinking about making my own digital label or whatever. I was like, “You know what? I’m going to go on ahead and call it Mind Burn Recordings,” and I released one project on it, which was Mind Burn. Other than that, I got a whole bunch of more stuff coming out on it this year.
Are you still using the same kind of gear or how has your production technique evolved over time?
Well, I’m using pretty much what everybody’s using now: gear incorporated with Ableton and stuff like that. It’s a little bit better now with Ableton because you got everything right there and you don’t have to connect all this stuff or whatever. It’s okay. I like it. I’m all for technology and stuff.
Making music is totally different than when I first started. You’d have all your effects and your VS key plug-ins right there. It’s a little bit simpler.
How has the Chicago scene changed over the time that you’ve been involved in it?
How has it changed? Now, for me, I never really associated myself with a lot of people in Chicago. I knew I some people or whatever, but basically I always kept to myself. I’m cool with Robert Armani, like I said, Drew Sky, but I never really hung around too many of the house cats in Chicago. But from what I see now … I mean, yeah, back then, you would get paid for a DJ gig or you would get paid even an EP. Everybody wants everything for free, it’s for free.
Back then, you liked the record or the label. Now everything is just for show.
That kind of leads me into my next question. How do you think the music business changed in the 25 years you’ve been involved?
I think it’s changed because of the internet. You got more people making the music now and I think the whole business of it has changed too. It’s all about, I guess, “likes” and how popular you are and stuff. Back then, we didn’t have really have a face. It’s been plenty of times I’ll see people and they’ll be like, “I thought you were White.”
I’m like, “No. I’m just Black from the hood.” You can put the face with the music more now, so I think it has become more of a personality, celebrity type of thing now opposed to back then. You just liked this record, or that record label. Like, “That was good. He’s a good producer.” But now everything is just for show.
The big difference is everybody wants stuff for free. I think it’s more cliquish a little bit now. I mean, it was cliques back then, I believe, but everything seems so cliquish, so I don’t go out and network with people. I see them on Facebook and I may see them out in the world, but I don’t network like that. Like I said, I mostly just keep to myself.
Your bio talks about your influences and what you make is very much in their vein, a hardstyle Thomas P. Heckmann type of vein. You’ve made a few jacking house tracks as well and it’s always been one of my favorite things when I hear somebody that’s known for one thing then makes something in another kind of sound. What got you into making the housier type of stuff?
Well, the thing is, I don’t really consider myself techno. I’m 47 now. I’m from Chicago and the guys that I mentioned like Mike Dunn and Tyree and especially Farley, through the radio – they played house, but they also played something that we called “tracks.”
Tracks were more like the harder, a little bit darker side of what they called house. But it was still house. When I first started, I thought I was just making harder house music or whatever. I always loved house and I always considered myself house.
I don’t really consider myself techno because I just don’t, but far as me making the jacking and all that type of stuff, I think on a couple of my earlier release records, they were like Dance Mania ghetto tracks. Like “Birdsong” and “Warp” and stuff like that – that’s like earlier Dance Mania type of music.
Far as the disco samples and stuff like that, I was doing that. I think I did three records as DJ Skitzo, one on IHR and two more with Music Man and they were just like disco samples. Man, “Jack My Body” and all the early stuff? That’s what … that’s in me.
It’s just that I guess a lot of people didn’t know that I liked to make house music and jacking stuff too. I love Ghetto, Deeon and Milton and Funk. I love all those guys. All the Dance Mania stuff, Paul Johnson’s stuff. I always made it, but mostly all my harder stuff came out.
You make a lot of well-produced records very quickly. What’s the key to making music that sounds good at such a brisk pace?
Well, back in the day, like I said, we used to meet up at Rob’s house. It would be about four or five of us. You didn’t have that much time. You couldn’t spend a lot of time on it until you got your own equipment and stuff like that.
So it was like, “Man. I need to put this together. Boom, boom, boom.” I think a lot of them tracks that was being made back then, I know by Rob and maybe Paul too, and Drew – we were all doing them in one take. Over the last 10 years, I went back to that method of, “Just go on ahead and get it over with.” Just get it out the way.
A lot of people asked me for music. Back then I would like to have a lot of music, no pressure or nothing like that on me, because you know when people always ask you, “Do you have this or do you have that?” That way I don’t have to sit down and try to put something together. I already had like 10, 20 tracks just sitting around…
So I always worked quick. It works out for me better now. A lot of people hit me up and they want music and they’re like, “Wow. You sent that fast!” Yeah, I make probably about five or ten of them a week and it just adds up and it adds up and it adds up.
The 30 track Bootlegs & Thangs Part 2 by Lester Fitzpatrick and Drew Sky is out now from UKR.