As we enter 2015 its undeniable house music is the most popular its ever been, however the roots of house music cannot be forgotten. Conceived in a Chicago nightclub named Warehouse, the genre may have warped, shifted and evolved in numerous ways over the last three decades, nonetheless the Windy City still remains home for purveyors of the authentic house sound.
Shaun J. Wright & Alinka are a testament to this statement. Wright is the former vocalist of Hercules & Love Affair and Stereogamous, not to mention one of Chicago’s most cherished DJs. Meanwhile Alinka, real name Alena Ratner, has been DJing and producing for well over a decade, with previous releases under her Alena moniker boasting the likes of Igloo Recordings, Greenhouse, D’Lectable and Smart Bar’s Area DJ Records.
Both have grown up in Chicago whilst separately cementing themselves as key components to their city’s underground dance scene. Together they are the minds behind event series and fast-rising imprint Twirl – a label merely three releases young that has already played host to the likes of Kim Ann Foxman, Eli Escobar, Newbody, Stereogamous and soon to be Lil Mark and No Dial Tone. Since its launch Twirl has garnered support from leading names such as BBC Radio 1’s Heidi, Art Department’s Kenny Glasgow, Groove Armada and Ralph Lawson – an indisputably auspicious start for any budding imprint, and an indicator of promising things to come.
The Twirl label came organically as we finished more and more music together. After throwing our Twirl party at Berlin Night Club for a year and a half we decided to expand the brand and form Twirl Recordings... How did you two first meet? And how did this lead to working together, throwing your own parties and forming a label?
Wright: We first met in April 2012 when Chicago-based promoter, Scott Cramer, introduced us. He and I met a few times prior and Alinka and he were already friends and business partners. He thought we would get along and possibly make a few cool collaborations together. Boy, was he right!
Alinka: The Twirl label came organically as we finished more and more music together. After throwing our Twirl party at Berlin Night Club for a year and a half we decided to expand the brand and form Twirl Recordings. We wanted to give our a home of its’ own and also have more creative control and the whole process.
Can you tell us more about the label? What is the ethos behind it?
Wright: Twirl is about exploring the legacy of house music and its subgenres while also attempting to push things a bit forward. We wanted to create a platform for ourselves; to put out music that we like on our own terms without attempting to fit the mold of other imprints. We also wanted to highlight the upcoming talents of our peers and friends.
What is the situation in the studio? Do you each have your own strengths or roles when it comes to producing?
Wright: When we first started working together we were much more attached to our noted roles. Alinka on the production, me on the vocals. The roles have totally loosened as we’ve grown in both our work and personal relationships with each other. I’m more comfortable sharing my thoughts during the production process and Alinka’s voice is more present in the work. We bounce ideas off one another more fluently and we truly give and take.
Alinka: My strengths are definitely more in the producer role though Shaun has gotten me to start adding my vocals to some of our tracks. We always aim to grow and challenge ourselves and take on new roles in the creative process. So far it’s been very inspiring.
Together you saw some immediate success with Twirl Volume 1 being released on Derrick Carter’s Classic Music Company imprint. How did this transpire? And what was it like to release on the Chicago house legend’s label?
Wright: We both knew Mr. Carter prior and approached him with our demo. As long standing fans of the label we thought it might be a longshot but we were really excited when he passed it along to Luke Solomon and they both were into it.
Alinka: It meant a lot to release our first EP on Classic Music Company. We’re both fans of the label and it was very encouraging and inspiring to be part of the Classic family. I’ve collected their records for so many years, it was definitely a dream come true for me.
You are both from Chicago and obviously hold the city in high regard, with even Twirl’s artwork featuring an image of the cityscape. With Chicago having historically played a monumental role in the growth of house music, what was it like growing up there musically? Which artists were inspirational to you?
Alinka: It was pretty magical. Chicago is full of amazing artists. You can go out any night of the week and get inspired. The bar is set very high here so it really pushes you creatively. I was really inspired by Cajmere, Gemini, and Derrick Carter musically among many others.
I definitely took for granted the richness of the house music culture growing up in Chicago. It wasn’t until I moved away for undergrad that I realized how unique the city was...Wright: I definitely took for granted the richness of the house music culture growing up in Chicago. It wasn’t until I moved away for undergrad that I realized how unique the city was as I was coming of age in the 90’s. House music was on mainstream radio during the day, alongside Top 40. I was a precocious teen and would call Chicago radio station 107.5 WGCI to talk to the disc jockeys late at night and ask them questions about particular songs they were playing during Hot Mix 5 when I should have been asleep.
I remember rushing home from school to watch U Dance With B96, a local dance music program that spun off from the radio station. I had the privilege of learning how to footwork and participate in Mega Sweat, a dance troupe based in the West suburbs of Chicago, before the music and culture became globally recognized as Juke. These were very special experiences that I cherish greatly now.
My primary influences were Cajmere and Dajae. I was obsessed with Cajual and Relief Records. I wanted all of the records, all of the paraphernalia, to be on the label. I even wrote a report on Cajual Records for my sophomore English course in high school! I bugged the label until they put me in touch with Dajae for an interview. I then moved into loving all things Masters At Work/Nuyorican Soul/Bucketheads, Tribal America and a lot of the French house making waves at the time.
Chicago has an abundance of talent making waves at the moment. At the forefront is The Black Madonna, who I’ve had the pleasure of witnessing rock the crowd at Panorama Bar this past summer...How about now? Who are the Chicago-based DJs and producers at the moment that you think the world needs to be aware of?
Alinka: For me Michael Serafini, as far as DJ’s go. He’s always been one of my favorites and definitely deserves the spotlight. Garrett David is a great young producer to watch out for as well.
Wright: Chicago has an abundance of talent making waves at the moment. At the forefront is The Black Madonna, who I’ve had the pleasure of witnessing rock the crowd at Panorama Bar this past summer. Men’s Room is really awesome, too. Though not necessarily house, The Banjee Report, a queer rap/performance artist collective, does have roots in the culture and they are phenomenal live.
I have to agree with Alinka about Garrett David and Michael Serafini. They make up two-thirds of the Queen at Smart Bar residents alongside Derrick Carter. Queen is one of my favorite parties to attend in Chicago. David is making really cool, sophisticated productions. Serafini, owner of Gramaphone Records, is one of my favorite disc jockeys in the city. His taste is impeccable and he can play from jubilant and bouncy, to dark and dirty, and all in between.
In terms of Twirl, what plans do you have for 2015? Any events or releases our readers should know about?
Alinka: Our next single ‘Nowhere To Hide’ comes out February 2 and features remixes from Lil’ Mark and No Dial Tone. We’ve got Aerea Negrot, The Cucarachas, The Carry Nation and Men’s Room on board for the next two releases and lots of other great artists picked out for the rest of the year. We’ll also be releasing an anniversary compilation with unreleased remixes and new tracks next fall.
Finally are you working on anything individually that you would like to mention?
Alinka: I’ve just released another remix on Get Up Recordings for Sharper Image and have a remix for Iz coming out on his label Vizual Records as well as some others I’m working on.
Wright: At the moment, I’m being very diligent about building my profile as a dj. It’s nice to be recognized as a singer but I enjoy DJ’ing just as much. I’m placing some finishing touches on my solo EP with production from Alinka, Stereogamous and Aerea Negrot. I’ve been working on it for the last few years but I finally feel like the music is ready to share. Hopefully, it will be out some time in 2015. I’m also continuing to collaborate with Stereogamous on new music along with a few other guest features that will be released later this year.