“In your article ‘Chicago 45’ I find it hilarious that your writers wrote about countless inconsequential bands yet somehow couldn’t find room in 45 slots for Kill Hannah who just returned from a two-month sold-out tour of the UK and Europe… The majority of the bands you wrote about will never see such achievement and it shows how easily real talent and accomplishment can be grossly overlooked in Chicago. It is every reason I left Chicago for New York City… New York has given me the opportunity to grow and flourish in a way I never could while being smothered by Chicago’s legacy and having to live up to some [fictitious] standard.”
—Tommie Sunshine, in a Letter to the Editor regarding last month’s Music 45 issue.
Excited to come back to his childhood home that once launched his DJ career, Tommie looks back fondly at the time spent here in Chicago, but offers up a few clarifications on his pointed letter to Newcity. He first begins by describing a pot of boiling crabs, drawing on his experiences from his family’s vacation home on the Jersey Shore to work this analogy. “If you ever see a pot of boiling crab…there will always be one crab that figures out how to get out…You will see, plain as day, one of those crabs, from a few levels under, reach out, grab his fucking leg, and pull him right back down into the water. That, to me, was Chicago.”
Despite Tommie’s dire assessment of the creative heart left to die in Chicago’s vicious circles, it can be argued that the foundations he set here—like setting up parties like Electro Sweat upstairs at the old Red Dog—set the stage for the current hipster deck-takeover of Chicago, even muscling out the house establishment that Tommie viewed as treating him so coldly. So Chicago has given him eventual credit by expanding what is arguably his legacy in Chicago nightlife, right?
Tommie pauses to take in what he initially sees as a compliment, before reloading and firing another salvo. He speaks fondly of playing alongside Chicago club staple Jordan Zawideh (who co-founded Electro-Sweat with Tommie), reminiscing about breaking in records bought at (now defunct) Weekend Records, along with stuff from Bunker, Gigolo and old Yello twelve-inches. “But now, cut to 2008, and Jordan Zawideh is sitting on the top of the heap in Chicago, as far as that hipster scene goes… and he’s playing Chumbawamba, and Quad City DJs and Michael Jackson records… I hope that is not the legacy people are attaching me to!”
Well, nobody has ever accused the former rave icon of being un-opinionated. But if it sounds like Tommie is bogged down in bitterness for the past, it should be noted that his infectious energy and excitement for his own life seems to trump even the most acidic of statements. He credits new management for a crazy schedule that has had him remixing everyone from Walter Meego to Young MC, Yoko Ono to Hearts Revolution. But what really excites Tommie is his upcoming collaborations, which have him writing lyrics and singing(?!) for German club luminaries Sharam Jey and Tomcraft, as well as London techno drum-lunatic Riva Starr and Aussies the Aston Shuffle. He’s also hard at work establishing his Brooklyn Fire remix moniker as an actual musical act, starting things off with a track with LA Riots before putting together an album. “I’m gonna write the hook and the melody and send it to the guys in LA,” he explains.
His concept for the rest of the album includes using MCs to rhyme over his tracks, with singers brought in to sing the hooks. He rattles off a list of Brooklyn Fire collaborators that include Baltimore’s prankster MC Oh Snap!! and Lady Tigra from L’Trimm before he cuts himself off in fear of divulging too much.
“I look at production and being a producer in a very traditional sense—I look at it in the way that Rick Rubin and Arthur Baker were producers. And when they were done with a record, they washed their hands…they were on to the next project,” he says.
For Chicago, that next project is headlining a loaded bill for Dark Wave Disco’s Trancid and Greg Corner’s Birthday bash. So what is to be expected? “Armageddon fidget-rave,” he says. “When I step into a DJ booth, that is my drug, that is my alcohol. That’s my every vice, with two CDJs and a Pioneer mixer.” Shine on.
Tommie Sunshine headlines Dark Wave Disco, alongside Junior Sanchez, Blake Miller of Moving Units and Weird Science, Keith Wilson of Club Moskow and Le Disco at Sonotheque, 1444 West Chicago, (312)226-7600, June 28, 9pm-3am. $12 before 11pm, $20 after.
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