There's nothing like a little wet, stinging snow to suck the fun right out of a quick trip to the record store. But inclement weather isn't enough to keep Felix da Housecat from driving out from his new digs in the 'burbs to Weekend Records and Soap. Oh, no. This cozy record and handmade-soap shop tucked away in the trendy Wicker Park neighborhood is widely hailed as Chicago's top spot for all things eclectic, avant-garde and left-of-the-middle, making it a necessary stop for any DJ who has a taste for music with a retro, electro or otherwise unusual edge.
Owned and operated by Jim Magas, himself something of a local music icon, and his soap-savvy wife, Bridgette Wilson, Weekend carries a variety of sounds geared toward the more risqué dance aficionado, minus the fuss and pretension of self-consciously hip shops. Weekend is a rather homey place — Magas and Wilson even lived in the back of the shop for a while before they were able to rent out the whole building for themselves. Shopping here is, more often than not, a relaxed, unhurried experience.
Magas makes a point to carry material from a wide selection of underground labels, and his pals are typically the first to get their mitts on the best stuff. Felix da Housecat, for instance, drops by — usually with Tommie Sunshine, a member of Thee Glitz on Felix's last album, Kittenz and Thee Glitz (Emperor Norton, 2001) — when he returns to Chicago from a worldwide DJ tour. Being the jet-setting international DJ superstar that he is, Felix can be a bit choosey about where he shops nowadays. “I think a good record store is a store where people know you when you walk in the door, and the people know your sound, and they already have a stack of records sitting there for you to listen to,” he says. “I don't like stores where they have nothing for you; they just expect you to go through all these records on your own and know where everything's at. I'm not lazy, but I think that's what helps me. If I come here, Jim will just pull out some stuff because he knows my style. When I go through it, it's easy. I can go in and out without getting drained.”
Lucky for Felix, he can usually tell within the first few seconds of a song if it's suited to his style. “[I take] about 15 seconds to figure out if I like a track,” says the perpetually jovial electro-house producer, citing the importance of the song's rhythmic character. “If the beat doesn't hit me, it's a miss.”
Nevertheless, he has no problem accepting input from others. Keeping track of the latest in underground retro-inspired tunes can be a bit difficult, especially given Felix's jam-packed schedule. With a new compilation in the works, several remix projects coming up (his recent treatment of Madonna's “Die Another Day” went No. 1 on the Billboard dance charts, and he hopes to follow that success by remixing Primal Scream) and plans to record the follow-up to Kittenz in January, Felix doesn't have as much time as he'd like to browse around. “Tommie's more into the hip electro sound,” Felix says of his record-shopping buddy. “He's always telling me about who's hot, who's new on the scene.”
On this particular cold, snowy afternoon, Felix tromps through the door with house producer and vocalist Harrison Crump in tow, followed shortly by Sunshine. After a hearty round of greetings, Felix starts digging around the Bpitch Control section but stops when Magas pulls out a stack of records from behind the counter. Felix takes his usual spot behind the record player and gleefully plows his way through Magas' and Sunshine's pickings, marking up the vinyl as he listens. At this point in his career, Felix is an established house producer with retro electronic leanings, but he does his best to avoid being typecast. Tracks by Legowelt and a DMX Krew record with a David Gahan sound-alike vocal get tossed in the reject pile for being “very cliché,” he says. “That's really shady for me to play. That's like stamping an 80 on my stomach!”
Another Side (Jack Trax)
The first single on this album came out in 1985. I was just a kid back then, starting to produce. It's one of my favorite house tracks of all time. It made me want to make vocal house. I need to pick this one up!
“Horses & Chariots” (Ersatz Audio)
When it breaks down, the people in the club are going to scream! This is tight. I really love the bass line. If I had a set between 2 and 5 [a .m.], I'd probably drop this around 3 a.m. I'd play this late for the art school fuckheads! There's no beat that comes back in, though. When tracks break down, the beat usually comes back in and the crowd screams — this one didn't do that. But I still like the breakdown because it's really twisted, and I think the people will react to that. I would have to mix it with something else — that's where it tests the DJ skills, to bring that kick in. It's going to be hard to match a kick with that because the kick is really low; you're not going to be able to hear it well through the headphones. I mix better off my headphones than I do off the system, unless I have a really kick-ass monitor.
Human League/The Future
“Dance Like a Star” (Black Melody)
This bass line is incredible! The bass line is just so thick, and it just catches you. Music catches me more — some people, the vocals catch them — but that bass line; I can hear it in a club already! Because people, when they're in the club, they don't pay attention to the words too much. They're listening to that beat, and then the words come later. That's how it is for me. I really like this record. It doesn't sound '80s to me. It'll inspire me in the studio, and I'll play it out.
“Was 1st Musik (Remixe)” (Kompakt)
I'm not digging the vocal, but I like the beat. I'm not into acid anymore — Pierre burned that bridge a long time ago! Every time you turned on WGCI, it was like acid, acid, acid! I was like, “I can't wait for this sound to die!” I like some, though. I like when they make it real bass-y, as long as they don't tweak it out too much. I go to the beat and the bass first. If the words don't sound too hot, I have to decide if I should still play it or not. This one barely made the “hit” pile, but I'll see if it grows on me. Some stuff I'll play even if I don't like it, just to get the crowd going. I'll compromise and get it. This is a good compilation track, too.
“Losing My Edge” (DFA)
I love that. Anything they do is gold to me. They can have just a fork going clink, clink, clink! And it's good. They're from New York. James Murphy is LCD Soundsystem. He's the brain; he's the core. His studio, his sound — he just takes the sound, and he gets groups and puts them on top, like The Rapture. Everything he does is more on the punk tip, but you can play it at a house party or an electro party. I was in New York, and [LCD Soundsystem] gave me a stack of records. I came home and thought, “This stuff is really different. I really like it.” And then I told Tommie, “They're hot!” And Tommie's like, “Of course — I've been trying to tell you about them!” So Tommie just confirmed their hotness. They're, like, my favorite label right now.
Lectronix Feat. Mann Parrish
Get Zapped! EP (Throb Disk)
I like [the “Tampopo Remix”] a lot — it's crazy! It has a dirty bass line like buzzz, buzzz. It'll go really good with the Pony EP by Vitalic. With that kick and that bass line — when you've got the analog synths where they don't sound acid-y, but the frequency and the resonance are really sharp — those really work good on the dancefloor.
Macho Cat Garage
“Freedom for the Macho Cat” (Viewlexx)
Tommie says this is the hot jam right now. I like the [Giorgio] Moroder feel. Anything with a Moroder-y feel or anything you can play in a house club, an electro-clash club or a techno club, I like. You know what this reminds me of? Old City Rockers. The vocal is beautiful. Listen to the keyboards! They're running it through a shivery-wivery thing! This is hot! Viewlexx is one of my favorite labels. They're based in Holland. Tommie put me up on them. They have a unique sound, also. Their stuff has a lot of melody to it, but you can play it out. I like melody, too — I don't like everything to be so dark and cutting-edge. I like more melodic stuff.
Famous When Dead 2 (Playhouse)
This compilation is a good reference to get ideas. Triple vinyl — that's going to run up my tab real quick, huh? Some of these songs are electronic with a house sound. It's a good source for listening, for chill-out. I'm going to use this as a reference just for listening to, because you've got some stuff you can chill to, then the chill stuff you can dance to. So I'm just going to listen to that whole compilation and figure out what made that compilation — that's why I bought it.