5 Chicago DJ’s To Look Out For In 2017
Last year, I along with some of our other writers made some predictions for 2016. Being relatively new to the music scene, I decided that I’d stay local and write about what I knew; local Chicago acts. Some of my predictions came true, others I could not have been more wrong about. In this article, I’d like to briefly revisit 2016 it pertains to last year’s predictions, then expand on last year by offering my predictions for 2017.
2016 in Review
Last year, I predicted big things were in store for Zooey Glass, Dogma, Twitchin Skratch, Dabura, and Dustin Sheridan. I arrived at this by polling a number of promoters, booking agents, talent buyers, and even DJ’s themselves. I totally nailed some of these predictions, others I could not have been more wrong.
First things first, let’s start with where I blew it. Who the fuck is Zoey Glass? Yeah I’ve got no clue either. DISQUALIFIED!
Twitchin Skratch finished 2016 more or less where he started. He had some really fucking dope releases, some really fun release parties, and had quite a bit of fun at BPM festival. With that said, I didn’t see any tours, headline slots, or festival main stages that are indicitave of someone who is having a breakout year.
Same goes for Dustin and Dabura. 2016 had some incredible local bookings for Dustin. He also played a number of impressive camps at Burning Man and made it out to San Francisco once or twice. He also completely nails it from a selection standpoint. He’s one of my absolute favorite local acts, but I can’t say that I’ve been blown away by how 2016 shaped up for him.
As for Dabura, he had a few releases, managed to play a boat party during Miami Music Week, co-hosted a sold-out boat party with us in Detroit over Movement weekend, and made it out of town a few times. He did well, but I’m not blown away.
2017: Show Me What You’ve Got
This year I decided to raise the bar; not only for myself in terms of methodology, but for the acts that I would accept into this article. I also decided to branch out a little bit from the house and techno that dominates my daily listening. In addition to polling promoters, booking agents, venue owners, publicists, and talent buyers; I required that everyone who wished to be included plead their case for what they accomplished in 2016 and why they were going to kill it in 2017. I decided to judge based on how sound I thought their growth strategy was, how hard the hustled to get the spot in the article, and whether last year’s accomplishments were indicative that this year’s plans are achievable and realistic. Additionally, I required that they all submit exclusive mixes for your listening enjoyment. I did all of this on an intentionally tight timetable to see who had enough hustle in them. I figured that if they had what it takes to have a breakout year, they’d rise to the occasion.
Before I begin, I’d like to give a few honorable mentions. These are acts who submitted applications that stood out in my mind and probably would have been included had I not otherwise decided to branch out in the genre department. You should definitely keep an eye on Blu9, Karsten Sollors, as they’re also very likely to kill it in 2017. So with that out of the way, the following 5 acts got Shwifty enough to impress me.
5. Amy Unland
I’ve known Amy Unland for almost as long as I’ve been a part of the music industry. The St. Louis native turned Chicagoan has been seemingly everywhere. We started the year off together in Mexico for a 6 day event played together during BPM Festival. When I was on tour earlier this year, her name came up at almost every single stop I made. 2016 accomplishments include release on Krunch Audio, a number of excellent underground bookings, and residencies at the newly reopened Annex Nightclub along with another one we’ll be announcing this Sunday.
What makes me wary of veteran DJ’s, however, is that they often have trouble reinventing themselves, instead sticking to what they know and never really going anywhere. This fact completely tripped me up with last year’s predictions. I incorrectly predicted breakout years for a number of people last year, all of them established players. This year, I’ve set the bar significantly higher for acts who have been in the game for awhile. One of the primary things I wanted to know about veterans: how will this year be different?
In Amy’s case she’s got an upcoming 5 track solo EP completed and slated for release in 2017. Additionally, she’s started a weekly podcast called Reboot where she features recordings from her live performances as well as guest mixes from other acts. How does a podcast, a release, and a few residencies last year set her up to break out next year? Music industry is one run on favors. This is especially true in the underground world where in the absence of money, artists trade favors that result in access to exposure. These include DJ bookings, spots on podcasts, and remixes and collaborations with larger artists. Her club residencies offer her a say who gets booked at those venues. If she can grow the following of her podcast, she can feature increasingly large artists, all of whom will have exposure to her music. With an EP already prepared to be released, those artists will have everything they need to play her tracks. Between a completed EP, the podcast, and booking power, she’ll be properly positioned to cash in favors for bookings in different cities, slots on big lineups, and features on bigger labels. She just needs to play her cards correctly, and 2017 will tell. In the meantime, check out her podcast and listen to the exclusive mix that she did for us here:
4. The Trap House
I first wrote about The Trap House a year ago today when I covered heir first original release, The Trap House Anthem. In 2016, they continued to grow their weekly Tuesday parties, eventually outgrowing the Crocodile basement, instead moving to the much larger EvilOlive. Additionally, they saw quite a bit of stage time in Chicago’s largest festivals, with bookings at Spring Awakening, Freaky Deaky, and Northcoast Music Festival. Adding to their roster of parties, they added a new monthly at TheMID in Chicago which won Best Monthly Party by the Chicago Nightlife Awards.
In 2017 they have a number of tracks in the works. Most importantly, their weekly party has moved to an even bigger venue in the basement of Sound-Bar. The larger venue will allow their releases increased exposure and an even bigger bargaining chip at the local level if their weekly party responds well to the larger venue. For instance, Mayhem will be joining them on Feb 7th.
3. Kings of Class
Prolific party hosts Bobby Di Maria and Erik Johnson combine forces to form Kings of Class. They are probably best known for their #Afterlife series of parties in Chicago, Vegas, and Portland. I’ve written about their Afterlife parties and have even played a few.
2016 accomplishments include a 12 city tour, a residency at Chicago’s newly opened Annex Nightclub, an original release on Moody Records, and their part in hosting a Vegas pool party.
Why are they going to kill 2017? In addition to having two tracks already slated for release on major labels, their real secret lies in the success of last year’s pool party in Vegas. We all know that a Vegas residency can propels careers to the next level, and that is exactly what you should look out for. Opportunity in the wrong hands, however, isn’t likely to go very far. I don’t think anyone can argue in this day in age that you can make it on musical talent alone. Where this duo absolutely crushes it isn’t their division of labor onstage, but off. I don’t know Erik as well as I do Bobby, though from a musical perspective I’ve always gotten the vibe that he leads the way. On the business end of their operation is Bobby. I can say from personal experience that his business acumen is topped only by his ambition, which in turn is topped only by his work ethic. There are those who talk shit, there are those who talk about doing shit, and there are those who actually fucking do it. Bobby does all three, which is the primary reason Kings of Class landed themselves on this list. Anyone can get on a stage, push buttons that make people dance, make a track, get it released, and throw a few parties. I get the sense that Kings of Class get on the RIGHT stage, push the RIGHT buttons, put their tracks on the RIGHT labels. As for their parties, they speak for themselves.
2. RJ Pickens
RJ has been around for quite some time. 19 years to be exact. With so much time to hone in his craft, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that his sound is very well defined. So well defined in fact, my rekordbox collection even has a genre that I is appropriately labeled “RJ House.” This is not to be construed to paint RJ as your run of the mill old-schooler who bitches about the whipper snappers using sync and yearns for the good old days when the DJ’s were hidden in a corner.
Quite contrarily, RJ has been able to stay relevant without bending to the will of the latest trends by somehow figuring out how to add a component of timelessness to each of his carefully crafted mixes. If I had to define his Goldilocks blend of sounds, I’d say that he mixes deep and tech house that will at times range all the way to the techno side of the spectrum right along with, at the risk of dating his sound, progressive.
In 2016, His remix of Rydel – “Beat The Men” was released on UK Label Glamour Punk, and was subsequently licensed to 3 different compilations. He managed to get himself on a seriously impressive number of lineups with major acts including Steve Lawler, Eelke Kleijn, Coyu, Gui Boratto, Kölsch, Jody Wisternoff, Martin Roth, Edu Imbernon, Sydney Blu, Grum, Olivier Giacomotto, Supernova, Dosem, Gareth Emery, Fehrplay, Animal Trainer, Henry Saiz, Pete Tong, Darin Epsilon, Pleasurekraft, and Booka Shade. He didn’t mention where he’d toured this year, however I can remember seeing him in Playa Del Carmen Mexico during BPM when I played there. I also co-hosted a party with him in Detroit over Movement weekend along with Sydney Blu and Primary Presents.
Why will 2017 be a breakout year for him? For starters, he’s just launched his new label, Vested Recordings. The inaugural release features a pair of reconstruction mixes by RJ of “Shiver” by Sykoya, a vibrant up-and-coming UK-based indie music collective. If the label takes off, naturally his DJ career will follow.
I’ll be honest and say that when I put DOGMA on this list a year ago, he was a total wildcard in my mind. He mostly plays genres that I know very little about and he didn’t have much in the experience department outside of some small local shows. He fit into the category of “dude with real talent who is least likely to embarrass me,” which is why he was given the #4 spot. I totally blew it in my prediction for him as he was unquestionably deserving of the #1 spot. You’ll notice that he is the only person to have made the list two years in a row.
In the past 12 months, he took DOGMA from a completely newborn project to the Main stage at festivals. Notable 2016 achievements include a tag set with Datsik, Ghastly, and Ephwurd at TheMID Chicago for one of the Spring Awakening Official after parties, a surprise closeout set with Ghastly and Dr. Fresch at Up North Music Festival, and playing b2b with Figure and Protohype at Bassmnt in San Diego. He’s also played a number of Onlythebeat parties, including a boat party in Detroit over Movement weekend and the first party we ever threw. When asked what his crowning achievement was, he wanted everyone to know that getting to play direct support for his biggest influence, Feed Me, takes the gold.
For 2017, you can expect him to kick off the new year at REACTION NYE by React Presents in Chicago. He’s got a few original tracks in the works, a new merch line partnership with Stylin clothing, and a number of festival appearances in cities all over the US.
So why is he deserving of the #1 spot?
The biggest thing you can do to grow your following is to get the fuck out of your hometown. Not only does it influence your music and get you away from the local groupthink that kills the careers of locals; but it also means that every time you come home, you’ll receive a hero’s welcome. I don’t care if a travel gig is a shitty 10PM spot at a bar on a Wednesday; it raises eyebrows that can often garner more attention than a headline spot in your hometown. This strategy is one that I’ve personally utilized with great success.
Secondly, DOGMA pushes himself and those around him pretty hard, especially in the versatility department. Every single time I’ve tagged with him, he’s set some different kind of challenge for us to play and explore with. Sometimes he’ll have to play from my collection and I’ll have to play from his. Sometimes he’ll have dug up some random ass collection that seems like it came from 2007 and we’ll have to play from it. It’s always something new, you always have no way to prepare for it, and I can personally say that I’ve always come out of those sessions a more well-rounded DJ. In the era where Mija and her Fk a Genre parties are killing it, this versatility and refusal to stick with a clearly defined “sound,” seems to be a key differentiator. The Bruce Lee of Electronic Music as I once called him.
Lastly, unlike everyone else in this list, DOGMA is brand fucking new. The industry embraces freshness that puts established players at an automatic disadvantage to DOGMA, whose entire identity is only a year old. In Pulp fiction, Marcellus Wallace famously told Butch, a seasoned old boxer, “You came close but you never made it. And if you were gonna make it, you would have made it before now.” Combine these factors with the constant surprises that are his DJ sets, and you have a perfect storm just waiting to blow up.