Sassmouth and Adam Stolz dish on digging for records in Chicago, playing internationally and how to DJ any time-slot

DJ Sassmouth

You grew up in the Northwest but didn’t really start to immerse yourself in dance music until Chicago. Who are some of the DJ’s and Clubs that impacted you the most out there?  

I moved to Chicago in 2000 as a bright-eyed 21-year-old, totally mesmerized by Chicago's club scene at the time. All at once I fell in love with the 'anything goes' vibe of Crobar, the intimacy created in the smaller basement of Rednofive, and of course the dancefloor-centric spirit of Smart Bar. Underground parties were pretty sparse in Chicago in the early 2000's after a focused crackdown on raves by the city and police. We had to go to Detroit for underground parties, and we would go almost monthly. At the time I fell in love with DJ Heather and the energetic way she mixed house, and also Josh Werner, who was the techno buyer at Gramaphone records for many years and always played such an eclectic mix of music, something I still try to emulate. 

With some DJ’s moving towards CDJ’s what motivates you to keep vinyl as part of your rotation?  

Laziness! Well, that's part of it. Honestly, I hate the process of digitizing vinyl, but I know I need to start the process soon and keep my most favorite records at home. I've lost some absolutely precious records over the last few years playing at dusty outdoor parties, and places where the ceiling was crumbling onto the records. But at the same time, I don't see myself ever making the switch to 100% digital. For me, there's just a special connection that happens when I'm DJing with vinyl that I don't get when I'm playing with CDJs. Part of it has to do with the way I have developed a visual connection with the actual records. When I'm digging through my crate trying to figure out what to play next and am really in the zone, and not overthinking my set, I can somehow feel how each record holds past party memories in a way. I get a 'feeling' from a record, and I know immediately the way it will affect the dancers and the vibe in the room. I don't get that feeling when I'm staring at a screen with a bunch of artists and song titles. It's probably all in my head, but it works for me. Secondly, I just love the feel of mixing with turntables, I like riding the mix like it's a little surfing session. I like the sound of the mix as it wavers between being locked in and slightly out. I also like the energy of working within the specific time frame of the track, and not relying on loops to mix. Sometimes all you need to mix two things together is the last 20 seconds of a track, and it sounds way more energetic and brilliant then letting two loops play on forever.  

You recently got back from a trip to Mexico City. What was the scene like there and how was your experience playing?  

It has been a dream to play there for a long time, in the way playing in Berlin was a dream come true, and hopefully someday if I ever get to play in Tokyo. All 3 are just cities that I really l fell in love with, and felt it would be so cool to connect with through DJing as well. I've been a huge fan of Mexico City since I started going there for layovers for my job as a flight attendant in the early 2000's. I've always been attracted to cities with layers upon layers of culture and history peeking through, like a collage. Mexico City literally is a city that is layers built upon layers of history and architecture. Last month I got to play an excellent day party called Sunday Sunday, which was on the rooftop of a building in the historic center looking out at all the beautiful cathedrals and gorgeous colonial buildings and mountains in the distance. Sometimes parties that are in such beautiful settings can feel a little stuffy or snobby, but not this one. It was one of the liveliest parties I've played in a while with people dancing hard and chanting and just getting lost in the moment. I was playing a lot of Midwest techno, house and electro records and the way people were dancing and yelling, I almost felt transported back to a sweaty basement party in Chicago or Detroit. 

What advice do you have for DJ’s getting booked to play different time slots? I’ve seen you on lineups as an opener, headliner and closer. What type of thought process goes into those different roles for you?  

I think this is really important, especially for new DJs getting their first opportunities to play at clubs or even underground parties. I'll admit I wasn't the greatest at this when I first started getting booked for opening slots. For example, I remember playing a full on hard techno Adam Beyer record during an opening set for Magda at Smart Bar many moons ago. Lol. But over time you have to mature a bit and realize that you're an important piece that's adding to the greater whole of the night- and by playing a perfect opening set that has groove and energy but doesn't get overbearing for the early time of the night, you are setting the tone for a great party. So you really have to always be looking for a range of music when you are shopping- sometimes I buy things that I don't end up using for a long time because it doesn't feel right for an upcoming opening set, or maybe it's a weird hypnotic thing that would work better for a late night closing set. Obviously, when you are headlining, you are steering the narrative, but you still need to be able to read the crowd. If you're opening or closing, I recommend spending some time getting familiar with the headliners' sets if you can find them online. I always try to find music in my collection that I think will compliment their sound and style, almost the way you might think about what records to bring for a tag set with another DJ. Not so much to imitate, but to complement and either set them up or flow out of what they are doing with your own ideas. 

What’s the story behind your label God Particle?

God Particle has always been another way to connect some of my favorite people making music with new dancers. It's why I love throwing parties, and DJing and is just another way of expressing that love of connecting people. It started as a love of connecting people on the dance floor- introducing people that I thought just had to meet, and it's kind of manifested in all these other ways over the years as well- throwing parties, sharing music through DJing, and now helping to get music out through the label. I have kept it vinyl only so that there is a physical aspect to the connection. I have sold many of the records directly to fans at parties and events over the years, and enjoy selling them at Gramaphone Records where I work once a week. I will admit I'm a terrible business person, but I feel like as long as the label has helped new people connect with each of the incredible artists on the label then it's all worth it. It's also cool to see how it created a community that goes beyond the confines of just Chicago, and it happened so organically without hunting for hype or playing the PR game.  The next release is Ghosts of the Sky, a collaboration by Chicagodeep and Talue of Chicago and it's a moody acid EP. Excited to have the actual vinyl in stores in a few months. 

What’s some new music you have been into lately? 

I continue to be impressed by my friend and collaborator Jarvi's music. They started producing music a couple years ago, and just like DJing, really developed a knack for making catchy acid and electro tracks really quickly. They just released their first remix on vinyl on the label Make Mistakes, and I just can't wait to watch how their music evolves in the coming years.

Adam Stolz

Adam, we know you got your start in the Midwest. What do you see as unique about the DJs and scene there compared to other parts of the country?

That’s a great question… I’d say there are a couple of factors. One, being the history there. Not just the synonymous Detroit/Chicago dance influence but soul/Motown, rock, punk, blues, funk.. all these heavy deep institutions there musically. This is music that our parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends, whomever… all listened to. I think that subconsciously plays a part with how certain artists/producers (from the Midwest) channel their unique style or sound.
      I’d also say.. well.. there’s a little angst there. The people are beautiful — we are genuinely warm, hospitable, corny… all the stereotypes. With that being said, we can be a little cold too. Winters can be long. People can get depressed. Outlets for release can be few and far between at times. Friends, families.. parties.. music... these are things that keep the spirit and the body warm. It can be barren outside, colors can be gray, I think that can fuel some amazing energy for the creative process. Whether it be art, writing, music, whatever. Then on the flip side of that — once the weather turns, so do we! We blossom outside just like Mother Nature. Outdoors parties, festivals, BBQs, block parties, you name it — we’re doing it. It’s a beautifully manic area of extremes at times and I think the range of music, artists, DJs, and even types of events definitely reflect that.

We’ve heard you like to dig for records where ever you travel. Will you tell us about some record stores or finds from the United States that have stood out to you?

I mean being in Detroit at Submerge and having Mike Banks pull techno for you off the shelves and through the bins is a pretty amazing experience. That has to be top of the pile for me (or at least close). Not something I'm going to be quick to forget either. I definitely came home with some gems that day.

      Last fall I was in New York and did some digging. There is something special about pulling hiphop 12 inches from A-1. It’s cramped, busy, stacked, amazing. But my big vinyl nerd collector moment came from Good Music. I pulled some tracks and was pretty happy with my score, so I’m up at the register getting ready to pay and I look up at the wall (where they have a few items on display) and The Incredible Bongo Band “Bongo Rock” is staring back at me. Not necessarily a record you see on many store’s walls often. So... synapses start firing on overload... I start staring at the guy... he’s staring back at me... I stare at my credit card... he looks at the record... at this point he sees my dilemma. It’s right then that my friend Jennifer goes “Just buy the damn thing!” (Bless you Jenn!) We all crack up and I come home with “Bongo Rock”. 
       Now fast-forward one day from my Good Music experience, I’m back home in Chicago, it’s Saturday night and my girlfriend and I have plans to go see Peanut Butter Wolf, J-Rocc, and Karriem Riggins. Wolf opens and kills it per usual — some staples, some soul, some unreleased Madlib tracks. Not too shabby, right!? Well, then J-Rocc and Karriem come out. Let me say this.. J-Rocc is hands down one of the dopest DJs I have ever seen in my life. His history with the Beat Junkies and all the Stones Throw collective is vast, so I definitely expected him to drop heat and he did. He’s such a master of his craft, so dialed into the point of effortless looking. Classic style beat-juggling, not overly-flashy cutting, slamming samples through the mixer. Super dope! Ok — well — the second song in that he starts to mix was “Apache”. He doubled it, flipped it, remixed it, cut it, slayed that track for about ten minutes straight. Various progressions throughout the whole song, sampled songs from ‘Apache’ on top of the original. Anyway — Purchase confirmation if I ever needed one. 

Your project Open Channel is decidedly different than some of your other productions. What makes it so?
Certainly one of the biggest factors is that it’s a collaboration. My friend Ryan Boos (of the band Nomadic Firs) and I have known each other the better part of twenty years and we have a unique history together musically that has allowed us to build up to where we are now. Years ago we started playing records together, throwing events back home in MI, working in the studio (a little). After a few year of that he and I move separate ways, he moved to Tennessee and I moved to Chicago. Then some point time 2011/2012 we re-connected (after some time apart) and together we started to re-discover our love for hip-hop mutually.
       After a few months, we started making some beats and sending them back and forth to each other. We would share a beat, tweak it, send it back… he then laid a vocal over the top of it and something just registered. We’d created something new and enticing to us. Shortly thereafter we made an EP titled “Case Point”. The main track “Broadway Lights” got a little love, a little buzz, some college radio stuff. It was a fun project. Got our feet wet for sure. 
        Then once again, after a few more months, we took another break. It can be really difficult to work on music with someone 700 miles away. However about two years ago he and I gave it another go. This time it was purely through our record shopping habits and the samples/sounds/ideas that we were picking up at the time. So we started with one track, then a second, next thing we know we have ten to twelve tracks finished and we’re like “We have something here.” Granted we’re still in the beginning stages as we’re still developing the sound daily — but we take influence from a lot. Still a backbone of hip-hop-esque vibe, but we’ve also broken away from that a bit and made more up-tempo tracks lately as well. You can always recognize a dissonance or mood from our music. Perhaps a bit of quirkiness too. We love our classic sci-fi, old books, and comics, nostalgia items.. we can have the tendency to pepper those elements in too. 
     Below is a link to one of our new unreleased tracks. It's titled "North Ave."

You've know NCM partner Matthew Fit for a long time. Have any stories you can share?

Back in the day.. Matt loved his visors. HAHA! Jokes aside though, he and I do have a long history together and one of the biggest things I could tell SLC is that his crew who aren’t in the immediate area (but cheering him on) are super proud of him. It’s been great to have an old friend get ‘bit by the bug’ again. Trading tracks, talking about new releases, artists/sets we seen recently, new events on the horizon. It’s a blast and I’m excited for him.

Tell us about a gig that still stands out you've had during your DJ career?

About five years ago I had the privilege to travel with Sassmouth to play a music festival in Hawaii. It was an amazing experience. The people were warm and open, the weather and landscape was gorgeous. Being able to play music in a canopy while people below you are dancing was something I’ll never forget. That was such a great time and I’m forever grateful to her for that wonderful opportunity. 

What’s some new music you have been into lately (any genre)?

The artist I’ve discovered lately that has really resonated with me deeply is an English soul/rnb singer named Fatima. I hope someone out there is familiar with her.. I’m a little late in discovering her, she’s had a couple album releases and a couple EPs in the last 5 years or so. She just has this amazing rich tonal voice.. and the beats that her producers create are amazing. Her affiliation and album are with Floating Points  label ‘Eglo Records’. There is something about her.. gives me a Sade-like vibe. Worth some investigation if you’re into sultry deep music. ‘Technology’ (produced by Oh No) and ‘La Neta’ happen to be two of my favorite songs.

Jesse Walker