The brains, along with Paul "Downtown" Brown, behind Siteholder Records from Chicago, Billy Dalessandro and Brian Ffar' main mission in life is to create jacking beats allied to decadent throbbing, the goal of which would seem to be to generate unrestrained dancefloor abandon. Siteholder, and its sibling Siteholder Uncut, have a thriving vinyl presence, as well as digital, something that Ffar and Dalessandro regard as being very important to the credibility of the label.
It's cliched to talk about a label from the birthplace of house as being an update of the Chicago house sound, but it's true that Siteholder embodies its spirit simultaneously giving it a synthetically licentious sheen. Bearing this in mind, I sent the guys some questions and was very happy to receive some full and frank replies.
Are you originally from Chicago? If not, were are you from and how long have you lived in the windy city?
BD: I am from Chicago. I recently relocated to Montreal, Quebec.
BF: Yes, I was actually born and raised just north of the city, but have basically lived here all of my life.
Your sound has often been defined as an update of the "Chicago house sound." How accurate a label do you think this is and how does your sound differ in any way?
BD: I would say pretty accurate. Although, I love to produce all kinds of material (not just dance music), so not everything I do is typical 'Chicago style.' However, I do find that coming from Chicago allows me to have that ability to 'sprinkle' some Chicago flavour onto everything I do, since I do understand exactly what it's about. Mostly I do this in my live performances these days. It's about the drums really.
BF: I think that's a fair assessment. Our individual preferences as label owners are definitely different, but very complimentary. Collectively, the common denominator is the classic boom-bap four-to-the-floor jackin' rhythms that Chicago is known for. The "update," in my eyes, is our ability to keep the soul while experimenting a bit more sonically.
What are your earliest musical memories?
BD: Church music, and those intense banjo playoffs. Just kidding. Classical music, since I was taught classically on the piano since I was about 11 years old. My parents also got me some strange Casio synth with those goofy sounds, and I would spend hours on it.
BF: Even at the age of 3 or 4, i can remember making my parents leave my Radio Shack "FM Deskube" radio on throughout the night. My favourite song, at that time, was Steve Miller Band - 'Abracadabra' (1982). I can't for the life of me understand why that memory is so vivid, but I find it interesting. Is it a coincidence that one of my favourite songs of all time now is Steve Miller Band - 'Fly Like an Eagle'?
The Promo Mixes series seeks to recreate clubs from the past by asking a guest DJ to play a set from a certain time in a certain place. Which club do you wish you could have played, and when?
BD: I guess I can't really answer this, as I don't really find clubs to be the final spot for serious dance music, and I have only been on the scene since 2000. I've been to some pretty serious parties in the desert that blow away any club I've been to. Outdoor parties just can't be beat. I get to travel quite a bit and am very thankful for this...and I'm still reaching new destinations to this day. Hmmm, I guess Studio 54 could've been interesting to check out. Also some Cupid's Palace (I dunno) place in NYC back in the day. Ancient Rome could have thrown some pretty filthy shindigs I bet. I'd play live in a colosseum while some poor gladiator is fighting off a tiger to win his/her freedom.
BF: Tough question. I don't think I have an answer.
If the past twenty-thirty years of electronic dance music have had a purple patch, when was it?
BD: I can't answer this...I've not been around long enough. But I will say I really really miss vinyl being the main platform. The late 90's/early 2000, just before digital took over...I was diggin' it yo! Digital is very cool and convenient, but has completely turned everything upside down and spilled the change out of everyones pockets...in regards to both medium and production quality. Que lastima! Digital is very cool and convenient, but has completely turned everything upside down & spilled the change out of everyones pockets... in regards to both medium & production quality...
BF: I'm convinced that the answer to that question depends on age. I felt most influenced and into music in my mid-teens. Artists like Beastie Boys were doing some mind-blowing sampling work and were way ahead of their time in my opinion. However, when it comes to electronic "dance" music, I think Daft Punk single-handedly pushed me into an arena that extended way beyond just listening to music. After 'Home Work' (I just fired this album up while answering these questions) I was compelled to do more than just listen. I needed to interact, dance, create, etc. So much has happened throughout the last 20 years in electronic music - it would be tough to pick just one hayday.
What music do you listen to beside house, techno, etc?
BD: African, Latin, Downtempo... (lots of latin and african rooted material). I love Reggae and Classical. Eastern European slavic music, the list goes on. I love everything that's "good" music. I have never heard a fucking Country song that I could ever say is good.
BF: I really like to listen to early 90's hip-hop and am still actively cultivating my collection. I'm also really into more experimental trip-hop artists like Prefuse 73 and Tipper. Outside of electronic stuff, I like Ben Folds, Band of Horses and Midlake and am a TOTAL sucker for 80's trash like Phil Collins and any Hall & Oates songs!
What are your interests outside what you do?
BD: Long walks in the park, introspective nightmares caused by substance abuse, snowboarding, brick type stuff, cooking (I love cooking). Hittin' that ass. Bitching about the complete and utter lack of standards and respect in the music industry these days (especially when I'm drunk). Although this may not have changed much even since before I was involved in all this madness.
BF: Right now, my family is my main interest. I've got two little girls that are hilarious and exhausting all at the same time. I've just finished up graduate school as well so I'm excited to find more free time to read (for pleasure) and seriously get back into the studio. My goal for 2011 is to put a solid live set together.
Where do you find the most knowledgeable crowds, and the most passionate?
BD: On this planet? Not in any of the typical big clubs. Definitely smaller, more intimate settings. Montreal, I will say, has a fantastic 'energy' when it comes to partying and music appreciation. Portugal (and most of the latin flavoured countries) definitely know how to get dirty while keeping it clean. I like this, it's way more 'pro'. I'm convinced that it's impossible to stay "knowledgeable" on new releases since there are too many to count on a daily basis...
BF: I apologize for sounding so jaded, but passion is something that is unfortunately missing from the most of the US scene. There have been some unbelievable parties, but they're few and far between. From personal experiences those in Central America have been the most passionate.
From a knowledge standpoint - I think that means something so different now than it did just 3 or 4 years ago. Back in the days of vinyl-only, there was a manageable pool of electronic music in each genre where fans could really know and keep up to date with everything coming out on a weekly basis. I'm convinced that it's impossible to stay "knowledgeable" on new releases since there are too many to count on a daily basis. With that said, I don't even pay attention to new releases. I go through tracks, new and old, and if I like them, I play them.
Siteholder makes straight-up, no bullshit club music for hedonists. True or not?
BD: True! I'll take Hedonism for $1000!
BF: I couldn't have said it better myself!
What's keeping you in North America when loads of your compatriots have fled to Berlin?
BD: PUSSAYS. Just kidding. I can safely say that Berlin is cheap for artists and is the "Hollywood" of dance music. This being said one has to know that Europe is the main arena for 'gigs' and it's easier when one is in the proximity of this in order to get those gigs, and to consider it part of having somewhat of a "work" schedule (paying bills, etc). I mean, let's be honest, if you can pay your bills just being a dj or producer...you're doing something right! So from there you can do the math. Otherwise I'm not the best person to answer this question.
Personally, I believe if you're really into something you can (and should be able to...) make it happen...anywhere. However, it's safe to say that the United States is not exactly the best breeding ground for intellectual music and club going culture. Too many old farts in charge and keeping things too conservative, with a bunch of bullshit rules holding things back, and this is caught forever in a vicious circle. Although, it doesn't mean we don't know how to party... anyway, I don't live there anymore. :P
BF: I have a family, full time job, and aspirations that reach well beyond music. While I think it would be fun, there are a lot of things I don't particularly care for about the lifestyle of a DJ/electronic music producer. I like structure, I like income, and I like providing stability for my family. I also like knowing that 10 years from now, I'm not going to be a washed up electronic music producer :)
What's the future for Siteholder?
BD: Beyond more filthy beats? Next up we have SH016 which throws some Balls in Your Face (literally) by myself, and then a Brian Ffar EP up next (not to be missed!) We're still pressing vinyl, and we got new tricks up our sleeves! Bottom line, we're happy and we work well together as a company. Even if I/we fail, I still love what I do and who I work with.
BF: The future of Siteholder is bright. We have started pressing vinyl again and our digital label, Siteholder UnCut, is still consistently releasing monthly. It's a great platform for us to get our music out there and we love the relationships we've built through the label. We have some amazing upcoming releases and keep adding new contributors to the Siteholder family (recently, they include Noah Pred, Stefny, Peacock, Paneoh, and Haruyuki Yokoyama, and Zarbeat). I personally have a wishlist of other people we'd like to get involved and I'm hopeful that we can make that happen. Daniel Steinberg (aka Harry Axt) - call me :)
Billy, why so many aliases? What do Huge Hephner & Tyrone bring to the party that you don't?
BD: First off...way more women and drugs. Second, we just like having fun with alias' (or rather, I do). It's a interesting challenge to see if you can do the same thing, in a completely different way, and have it actually seem different and stand out from the rest. But, I have slowed that down, though. Lately I am just focusing on Dalessandro, as too many alias' are distracting, both for myself and for the general public/scene.
Brian, have you always released under your own name, or do you have a few aliases like Billy?
BD: Yes, just Brian Ffar. I'm a marketing guy, and while I can understand the value of diversification, I'm at a point where I'm still establishing myself as a credible artist in this scene. No need to dilute what's already rather thin in terms of a discography! :p
How do you regards yourselves, as DJs primarily, or producers?
BD: Producers. Which these days, in this scene, I seriously doubt anyone knows what this really stands for :P
BF: I now definitely view myself more as a producer rather than a DJ. Even the term "DJ" seems a bit off since I'm now venturing into the live side of things albeit super late to the party.
Vinyl, CDs or digital, and does it really matter?
BD: VINYL. I don't need to explain this, I think. Digital is the sign of the times, and it's definitely scary yet does come with it's list of benefits. In the end...you just gotta roll with the punches.
BF: I'm an old ffart. I like vinyl. I hate CDs (but I'll play them if I must).
Thank you both very much.