Maybe the hardest working DJ in the scene, Jamie 3:26 is one of Chicago's true House Music soldiers. And thanks to the success of his original recordings, edits, remixes and a spinning style known for pleasing crowds, the world is getting down with one of our town's underground heroes.
Note: As promised, this is the complete interview with Jamie, containing a lot of material that we couldn't fit into our December 2012 print issue. So sit back, put your feet up - it's worth it!
The meaning of "3:26" was explained in your interview in Chip E.'s The UnUsual Suspects, but since your profile has grown so much internationally since then, maybe you can break it down for us again...
3:26 is from the address of The Music Box location at 326 North Lower Wacker Drive. It's a little shout out to the club and pays homage to Ron Hardy. I used to tag the addresses of clubs and things like that and "3:26" was something I came up with. Then I branched off from some guys I used to DJ with and thought I'd reinvent myself, so I thought I'd use that.
I didn't expect it to create so much madness! I had people come up to me saying they looked it up in the Bible, people thought it was my birthday... So I guess it worked!
It was "Jamie Lust" before, wasn't it?
Yeah. To give you some history on that, the crew I used to be with back in high school was called the Lust Boys. We were like a dance group, a DJ crew, we had crews at a few different high schools in the city. We started throwing our own events, picnics and things like that. We graduated to throwing events and one of the first was at AKA's. The funny thing is we were all underage and throwing parties at a 21 and up club. We did our thing but I kind of branched off a little bit and starting doing my own thing and it wound up being just me by myself. That's where the whole reinventing my name as Jamie 3:26 came about.
When did you start spinning? Or rather, when did you play the first gig that you were paid for?
Last week? [laughs] Honestly I have to think back... It must have been around 1987 that I first made a few bucks DJing. I used to prefer to dance and DJing was more of a hobby. I actually got stage fright when I DJ'd then. I would kick ass in the basement but when it came time for the gig I would freak out and mess up. I had a few chances to do some parties and they were like, "Okay, Jamie, go back to dancing." [laughs]
The supportive scene at work right there...
Right, right. But I started taking it seriously in 1989. In 1988 I started studying other DJs. Sometimes I would stand off to the side, near the DJ and if I could get as close as I could, I would be right there, just studying, just watching everything they did. That's how I learned crowd control - I studied a lot of popular DJs and learned about timing and how they set up songs and things like that. So I really got going around 1989 and then took it to a whole 'nother level around 1991 when I first got my own set up and my own equipment and started doing a lot of mobile gigs and high school and college parties, underground parties and everything in between. Anywhere they would let me play, I would bring my shit and set up and play. So I've done parties for gangbangers, all kinds of people. Thinking back now, the pay was shit and I really wasn't there for that - I just wanted to jam! After awhile I started realizing I could actually make some money and started changing my approach - I ran a professional mobile DJ service for about five years.
You know, there's a reunion party coming up tonight for the old I Love House Music Wednesday party at The Note, where you were a resident DJ. I don't want to crap on anyone's efforts, but to me there's never been anything that's replaced that. It feels like we haven't been able to put that crowd together again.
I agree with you. With the way things are now, you would think we're talking about a party 10 or 15 years ago. It was just barely 5 years ago!
There were a lot of factors that went into The Note. With the Note being where it was in the heart of Wicker Park, you already had a crowd that would come through there, Number 1. Number 2: when they started that event, there weren't any other dance parties going on in Wicker Park. Red Dog was closed, you did have a few nights in small lounges... But I think what added to the magic was a diverse group of people down with promoting. And who were willing to promote the night just because they enjoyed the night! When you have heads involved in an event and really support it and love it, they're really going to help spread the word. The club also was a late night spot so a lot of people just fell through. The timing was perfect.
Also, the place was grimey. You could come through and be yourself. There were all kinds of artists and freaks and weirdos - a melting pot of different people.
Now you have places that really don't cater to dance music and approach the crowd as if it's a hip hop night with dress codes and things like that. It was very loose at The Note. How can you expect people to want to come and get down and they can't even wear clothes they want to sweat out and feel lose in? You shouldn't have to dress up to want to go out and get down.
If you walk up to a place to get down and you're in a great mood and the doorman's an asshole, it kills your mood. It kills the vibe. It starts from the top all the way down. You have to remember to appreciate your patrons. A lot of places are only concerned with poppin' bottles rather than giving folks and experience.
I wanted to ask about something that I think you can maybe give the best answer to, and that's the North Side/South Side division in this city. You play both. As long as I've known who you are, you've played both. Why do you think this split still exists? And how did you break through this imaginary boundary in the scene?
Regardless of what people may say, Chicago's very segregated and that's in regard to a lot of things, not just race. Roosevelt Street is like the imaginary Mason-Dixon Line. For some people, the furthest south they'll go is Roosevelt. For other people, the furthest north they'll go is Roosevelt. And that's due to stereotyping. I don't understand why some people won't go to a particular side of town or a particular place because of something they've heard, because of hearsay, because of something that they've never experienced personally. That's one thing that trips me out.
I'm just going to be very real and raw. There's two different house music worlds here. There's a black house music world and a white house music world.
I believe I was able to cross both sides because I'm musically diverse. There are some people that don't know how to musically adapt. You can call me the Rosa Parks of House Music! [laughs]
There are a lot of DJs from the South Side who aren't able to crack the North Side market because of stereotypes. They figure that if you are a black DJ from the South Side, all you play is Disco - old music. They don't know that we're into the same shit that someone from the North Side is into. Not everybody on the South Side wants to hear or play classics all the time. That's a stereotype and I broke that stereotype.
I've actually had people say to me, "You're a South Side DJ?" It's like, what does that even mean? I'm just a DJ, and it doesn't matter where I'm from. Where I live doesn't have anything to do with how I play and present music. I've had people say some incredible shit - like, "Wow, I didn't know DJs from the South Side get down like that." Really?!
Music should have no boundaries, but Chicago has a lot of imaginary boundaries. It's to the point where we're so used to the segregation, we act like it's nothing. You don't really realize how segregated things are in this city until you go to another city.
There are people on the South Side who will venture North to kick it. I'm one of them and I've been doing it for years. I used to hang out on Milwaukee at all the loft jams back in the early '90s. But you still won't get many people from the North Side to venture to a South Side event. That's even the case with the Chosen Few Picnic. This is an event with thousands of people and there are still people on the North Side who won't venture to that event. There are people from all over the world who come here for that, but because of the imaginary line, they don't want to come south of Roosevelt.
There's two different house music worlds here. There's a black house music world and a white house music world. I'm just going to be very real and raw. It reminds me of the same thing that happened with the Blues. With the young white kids discovering the blues and how they looked up all these older blues guys, it became a hip thing. It's the same thing now with regards to House Music.
It's like at one time, House Music with black people was cool, it was the in-thing, then it disappeared and went underground. Now that there's a resurgence again of black people getting into House Music. It's a good thing and it's a bad thing. It's a good thing because there's people getting back into it. The bad thing is that there's a lot of people who haven't progressed with the music. They want to only hold on to one certain time period. They only want to keep it to themselves - there's no other generation that it's been passed down to. Everything is old school this, old school that. When you're young, old shit isn't cool!
You've been getting booked overseas a lot lately and it's really been great to see. When was your first booking outside of the US?
My first international booking was in 2002. The funny thing is, that came about due to me being a member of the Deep House Page. At the time there were a lot of people from overseas going to that site because it was really the only place you could get House Music history from a black perspective - there are a lot of people who really don't know that this is a form of black music because it's been "whitewashed", so to speak. There was a nice tight knit community there at the time. One of the guys on the board had a crew in Belgium and they started bringing in a few Chicago DJs and a few East Coast DJs. I got a chance to play over there and... I can be very honest with you: It was a shitty gig. [laughs] Not in regard to my friend Bart who set me up - it was a shitty gig because I got fucked up! The party went until 9am, and I didn't end up playing until like 6am, so I had nothing to do but drink. I learned the hard way: when you come to work, you can't party hard, because when it's time to get down, you're not 100%.
After that one international gig I didn't get another for a few years. When I started getting booked overseas again - it's just amazing to see these people from the other side of the world that know about the history of something that I grew up in. These are college kids in their 20s, and there are people who came up in it and they don't even know half the shit these people know.
But all of my travels have really broadened my mind. I've become friends with people from all kinds of cultures and backgrounds. I get a chance to do something I love to do and also travel and see places and have adventures that some people might never be able to have. So I do my best to remain humble about some of my accomplishments and enjoy it as well. Playing abroad I've learned from other DJs as well that this music is something that transcends boundaries. It's very powerful. This is something that shows you the power of music. I've met people who couldn't speak English but could sing every word to the song I was playing. It's quite amazing. I'm just doing my best to remain humble and enjoy the ride.
What was the role of your recordings like The Basement Edits on your bookings? Did this increase your profile? It seems to have really broken through in the last couple of years or so.
There are a few things that have played a part in that. I owe a lot to Theo Parrish. Even before I released anything, Theo championed and played a lot of my stuff. I gave him a disc a few years earlier and he found a few of my edits that he loved and played the fuck out of them. It actually helped create a buzz because he credited me. This is when he had his Ugly Edits series, and some of the people actually thought these were his edits. That helped bring a lot of attention.
And then I was friends with Bill Hardy. After getting contacted by a lot of people inquiring about my stuff after hearing Theo play it, that made me want to pursue releasing some things. So the edits and releases have most definitely increased my profile. The main thing is, I don't want to be known for just doing edits - especially now because it's quite trendy and kind of oversaturated.
I have to admit that's true. I actually burned out on Disco edits for awhile because there were just so many of them, and you probably get far more than I do.
I do get a lot of things sent to me. I'm still a fan so I also seek out music. But these days, due to technology, it's really easy to get a cracked copy of Abelton or ProTools and go to work. It's hard to stand out now since there's such an oversaturation of edits.
People can emulate and copy a sound we had and were known for. And yet currently, we don't have any kind of sound. There's no sound from Chicago at all.
What gets my attention is when someone's actually done something creative - when they've restructured the song or done something that's totally flipped the record. The opposite of that is saying, "This is an edit that Ron or Larry or Frankie did and now I'm gonna do it." That's not doing anything to separate yourself. What you're doing is copying the same tired idea. I would respect someone who would take a song and put their own spin on it rather than recreating something that's already been done. There's a lot of good stuff floating around out here and getting pressed up, and there's a lot of bullshit as well. Just like anything, you have to siphon out a lot of shit to get to the good stuff.
Years ago, to make a release or put something out, it was an investment. You couldn't spend thousands of dollars on studio time, musicians and getting things pressed on a fluke. Now, a guy in his bedroom can put up a label, release 500 songs and hope something hits because they don't really have anything invested in it. Especially in the digital marketplace, there's so much to sift through because there's no quality control.
There are lots of cats making music in this city, but one thing that's really stood out to me is how much of your stuff appears on vinyl.
Releasing something on vinyl is the only way you can make some kind of money!
I know, right? I get into arguments with people constantly about this.
Very ironic. And once again due to technology, you can have a song that can hit #1 and really not make much of an impact. I can give you a perfect example. I did a remix for Marshall Jefferson's Jungle Wonz's "The Jungle". It #1 on Traxsource on one of their charts. In a matter of days it dropped off totally. In the music industry, no one is #1 for two days. You can't be at the charts for two days! Maybe you drop to #2 or #3 but you don't drop off the charts altogether.
The amazing thing is, people who I KNOW don't buy music were playing it! It just circulated like a virus. File sharing is one reason why you can't make any money doing anything digital. There's some little guy in a closet in Russia going through all kinds of digital stores setting up a bootleg site giving you a whole top 100 chart for fifteen bucks. A lot of people don't realize that none of that money is going to ANYONE.
Chicago is so far behind by the vinyl thing. For a recent example, take someone like Tevo Howard. You have a guy that's from Chicago, has a ton of friends in the city, and then blew up everywhere except for here.
That's the one extreme about Chicago. You can either be "Chicago Famous" or "World Famous". It's very rare that someone here has both. You can have someone from Chicago that's known everywhere around the world... and here, they'll be like, "Who are you? He ain't shit."
I think that's the reason so many people sound the same. They're all going to the same sites and buying the same music and they have no idea of what's being released on wax. That's the only way you can sound different.
Chicago's always been a consumer driven city, and we'll consume everything that's given to us but won't support anything that's from here. It's quite weird. We're one of the only cities where in regard to any kind of scene, in regard to music, there's not a lot of hometown support. I can recall this when I was young: it wasn't really an inclusive thing as people try to make it out to be with all this "PLUR" shit. I can remember being young and I wanted to hang out and I always hung out with older people. I would try but they had a snobbish attitude. "You don't know nothing about this, you're not from this, da da da da da..." It's like... wow!
One thing I noticed from my travels abroad: they will eat up anything from Chicago. So you have some guy saying, "Oh, people don't even play records any more. Why should I press them up?" Well the market for it isn't even here. It's abroad but that's the only way you're going to be able to get to another level as well. Having a label up on Traxsource or Beatport doesn't really carry any weight. There's 5000 do-it-yourselves up there. How are you going to stand out?
I think that's the reason so many people sound the same. They're all going to the same sites and buying the same music and they have no idea of what's being released on wax. That's the only way you can sound different. I still buy records. There are certain things that aren't available digitally. If you want to be different or dare to be different you have to buy records. I still buy them and record 'em. You won't have a memory attached to a download. But "oh I remember when I bought that Moodymann record." He just now started putting things out digitally. He's been doing vinyl releases for over 20 years. There's a reason! It also creates a demand for your stuff as well. A lot of people don't understand that.
A lot of people are aiming to be #1 on Traxsource, and that's it. The music that's there, especially if it doesn't have a marketing machine behind it, has a very short shelf life. There shouldn't be any reason that a song comes out, and after two weeks it's considered "old".
Let's go back to your stuff now. I didn't realize it when I was writing about them at the time, but I think you made the first record Parte Hardy released by anyone other than Ron Hardy?
Yeah, I was the first. It was most definitely - I mean, if I'm one thing, I'm not Ron Hardy! For Bill Hardy to even be willing to take that risk carried a lot of merit with me. We're also good friends. When he released the first Basement Edits record, it did quite well. One of the edits was one that Theo was pushing. The record took off and did quite well.
A year and a half later, we did the second release but the numbers were totally different. That speaks a lot about the way things are right now. If you sell 300 pieces, that's House platinum. It used to be 500. Before that it was 1000! But The Basement Edits, both volumes, have done very well, and they did well by me in creating a nice buzz. It gave me a lot more exposure in different markets and a lot of people started checking me out for other things. As a result of those records, I ended up doing a release on Strobelight Honey, which was an edit of Yello's "Bostich" and an acid track on the flip called "Acid Whump". That one sold well. It also lead to a release for a Japanese label that should be out soon.
I'm also doing a lot of remix work. I have a remix I'm doing for Tyree Cooper, and I just had an edit I did of a track for Marcellus Pittman on his first album that's done very, very well. There's just a lot of remix work coming down the pipeline. I'm getting a nice amount of inquiries and requests for remixes and it's at the point now that I need to think about putting together a production team. It's getting to that point. There's a lot of things I can handle but a lot of things I'd like people to help me with. It's hard to create a balance between DJing and networking and also work on production and having a family life. I'm juggling. I'm a good juggler.
What about the record you did for Lumberjacks in Hell?
Oh yeah, that's actually sold out. Lumberjacks in Hell is an Amsterdam-based label. My friend Marcel, who runs the label, has had a great run with a lot of things he's released. I was just glad to be asked! The release is actually a shared release with something from myself and something from another cat from Chicago named Boogie Nite. It's done very very well. It's actually helped me, once again, get some more exposure in other markets. That label sells really well in Europe. He puts out nothing but quality, so I was really excited.
As you mentioned, there's been a resurgence of interest in Chicago House Music worldwide, and while it can get a little overdone, it's surreal to me that so many people making music from here almost have no idea it's going on...
Yeah, I saw this coming years ago and mentioned to people that there would be a lot of attention on Chicago again. These things come in cycles. The Chicago sound is being discovered by a whole new generation of kids. And yet everyone's eating up everything from Chicago, except for Chicago!
I've been trying to school people and realize the power of what it is to be from here. Some people think it's cool to shit on your hometown to try to be cool. We're the only city that does that. If it's so fucked up here, leave! Just leave. I'd rather you leave than to see you on Facebook moanin' and bitchin' when you don't realize the power that you hold being from where you're from. It's very self defeating. Every city and scene in the world has its own politics. In a lot of other places versus here, folks who may not even care for each other or get along with each other still work together. Business is business. They get down to business, and when business is done, it's "Fine, you're still an asshole".
People can emulate and copy a sound we had and were known for. And yet currently, we don't have any kind of sound. There's no sound from Chicago at all. There's a lot of very talented people here, but also a lot of people who are making music for gigs. They target a market or place they want to go. "Oh I'm going to make sexy house, I want to play in Paris." "Oh I want to go to Africa, so I'm going to target this market and I'll be Afro." That's what made the Chicago sound so unique and so different: We didn't make shit for anybody else but us. They discovered us. We didn't make shit for New York or Europe. This was for us. That's what's missing.
I'm not doing this for fame or for women or all the other bullshit. Even if nobody knew who I was, I would still be doing this in my basement or wherever they would have me. Some people like PlayStation - I like turntables and CDJs. I do this shit because it's saved my life. It's me.
The first edition of Jamie 3:26's Basement Edits caused a tremendous stir - so much so that Juno extended their campaign to get a number of the recent underground vinyl hits exposed to a wider audience