The latest beautifully packaged offering from San Francisco’s OM Records is a live mix CD from Derrick Carter and Mark Farina respectively. To celebrate its release, Farina was invited to spin in Chicago at the Monday night industry party that Carter presides over every week with Diz and Hiroki: House Arrest at Zentra. The party has been running for about eight months and ordinarily it’s held on the first floor of the club and the upstairs mainroom is kept shut. The DJs play down the end of a long room that’s dominated by a bar and spacious booths. There’s also a large lounge and an outdoor garden where movies are played and a patio where bbq food is served. But on this occasion both floors were open with Diz, Carter and Farina spinning upstairs and other DJs holding court elsewhere. The line to get in went well down the street. It’s possible that Farina simply has more pulling power in his native city than the usual residents because he doesn’t spin there so often. I think it’s also likely that many people need a bit of an excuse to go out these days and there was never any doubt that this party would be special.
I’m unable to report of the music or atmosphere in any area of the club besides the mainroom because I didn’t leave it: the energy was electric. Diz spun first and confirmed he’s got the skills and style to match any DJ on the planet. He played a mix of funky, fat, flirtatious house, working the EQs to get the dancefloor jumping. Next up, Carter delivered a set that hit you right in the chest. There was scarcely a vocal to be heard for the opening part as he lay down some driving, bass-heavy tracks that locked everyone in. Later he lightened things up with a couple of bouncing guitar-licking grooves then, toward the end of his time, he dropped a hip house track that was like a big shout out to black America, raising the vibe to another level. Farina finished things off with a flawlessly mixed, fantastic selection that made time fly. His set included a few more rap tracks and some of the acid-inspired stuff that’s big right now but, typically, every kind of good house was also well represented. At one point he dramatically slowed a tune down and melded it into Everybody Loves the Sunshine, then kicked the party off all over again. It was well into the night by this stage and it was seriously hot and sweaty in there.
Chicago is still a fairly segregated city but the best clubs naturally attract a crowd that’s properly representative of the underground house movement – mixed age and mixed race – and that was certainly true of Zentra on this occasion. Throughout the night there was an MC announcing the DJs and occasionally calling on the crowd for some response; at one point he was simply hollering “Chicago – Illinois – Chicago – Illinois” in time to the beat. I think I was privy to a special summer in the history of Chicago house, given that the mainstream press featured articles about the legacy of the genre, free house parties were happening in a major waterfront park every Wednesday, Frankie Knuckles got a street named after him, and Obama had just been elected senator.