It's hard to pinpoint exactly how to describe former Chicago-based producer Chrissy Shively. After first finding inspiration in the midwestern rave scene, he started making ragga jungle tracks under the name Murderbot, later moving onto footwork and booty as Chris E. Pants under Planet Mu and finally emerging as Chrissy, the master of disco edits.
Nadia Ksaiba and Ella Hagi have invited him to London this Friday for a disco throw down at Emily’s Bar, so the pair have used the opportunity to sit down with him and find out how he got from juke to disco.
Let’s go in chronological order. Growing up in a place like Kansas, how did you get into rave music? What do you think you’d be doing now had that not happened?
I got into rave music mostly through my older sister, who was about 10 years older than me and into the club scene and rave scene in the late 1980s / early 1990s. I heard things on mixtapes from her and her friends around that time (mostly UK rave, top-40-leaning vocal house and Belgian / German industrial) and just really fell in love with the music. By 1994 I was collecting records and trying to learn to DJ, went to my first rave in 1995, started combing pawn shops and thrift stores for used gear, etc.
You’ve done two projects called My Year of Mixtapes and My Year of Edits — what was the thinking behind them?
The idea behind the Year of Mixtapes was mainly to get a chance to show people music I loved but didn't get to play at parties often, and reacquaint myself with my record collection (and of course do research and learn a lot more) and also just to see if I could hold myself to a goal of pumping out a full-length DJ mix every week for a year. The Year of Edits was pretty similar: taking songs I loved but couldn't really use on a dance floor, and reworking them so I could play them in front of other people, combined with that goal of doing it every week for a year just to show myself I could.
I think a lot of my best work is either when I am making songs with vocals (the Chrissy & Hawley stuff, or the two singles I've done with Miles Bonny, or the track I did with Shaun J Wright) or when I am doing remixes of other people's songs. But I'm a bad judge of it - sometimes I think I'm too critical of my songwriting; other times I think I'm not critical enough. And I tend to like different ones than the ones that sell the most. I've always been really focused on DJ culture and parties and that feeling you get from an audience, so my proudest moments are probably more tied to my DJ career and places I've traveled and people I've played with than any specific record I've put out.
Speaking of which, if you had to spend the rest of your musical years frozen on one of your many incarnations, which one would you pick and why?
Oh jeez - I feel like right now, after making jungle records, and footwork records, and disco and house, that I'm finally at a point where I can kind of genre-hop and feel comfortable doing whatever I want from one release to the next (or in a DJ set) and just being myself. So I guess I'd stay like that, but that answer feels like cheating! I hope I'm always growing and building my skills and trying to do cool new stuff :)
You used to be a teacher, and your knowledge of music is pretty scholastic. What are the similarities between the classroom and the dance floor?
Full disclosure: I trained to be a teacher (y'know, trying to be sensible and have a back-up plan in case music didn't pan out) but I hated it and could never wake up on time and barely taught at all before I realized it wasn't for me and got the fuck out of that career path. But I do think there are a lot of overlaps between the academic world and the dance music world. You're basically getting up in front of people and trying to keep them entertained while hopefully opening their horizons or showing them something they weren't aware of before...
You’ve been doing this for a while and have seen many a dance floor. What are the ingredients for the best party?
Good sound is nice, cool lighting is nice, a neat venue is nice as well, but what REALLY makes a party great for me is a crowd of people who want to dance, and who are respectful. Disrespectful partygoers are the quickest way to ruin a party - whether it's guys making unwelcome advances toward people, or somebody requesting songs from the DJ that make no sense in that DJ's set, or people hogging the toilet stalls to do drugs while a line snakes down the hall from the bathroom. Do your drugs quickly, people!!!
What are your most ‘Chicago’ traits as a DJ?
I started DJing in Kansas City but I really developed and grew and became a professional in Chicago, and I do think I've picked up a lot of Chicagoan traits along the way. I think maybe my most Chicago traits are that I tend to go through records quickly - usually only playing a couple minutes (or less) of a song before moving on to the next one, and also that I tend to like to play records outside of their 'normal' contexts: a 33rpm house record sped up to 45, or a 45rpm industrial record slowed down to 33, or an Italo Disco record in a deep house set, or something like that.
Every so often we get obsessed with certain record labels. What’s your label of choice right now?
As for new labels, I like Super Rhythm Trax, Local Talk, Polybius Trax, Naive, Shall Not Fade, Studio Barnhus, HNYTRX, Mental Groove, Rocksteady Disco, Twirl, and loads of others. As for older labels, I am perpetually obsessed with Reinforced, Matra, Basement Boys Records, Il Discotto, Megatone, Trax, Dance Mania, Underground Access, Suburban Base, Moving Shadow, Subway / Kaos, Underground Construction, and Direct Beat.
We are both big fans of radio. What's your fave radio show past or present?
I have no idea! What I love about radio is visiting a new place and being able to instantly hear what people are listening to there, or catching some pirate radio signal or fuzzy university radio station (or internet station these days) with some mindblowing DJ that pops in once a month or something. Nadia & Dan Beaumont's show is one of those, now that I think of it...
Going back to your many musical projects… I know there’s a new Cool Ranch record coming but apart from that, what's next in the pipeline?
The new Cool Ranch record (number 5 in the series) is in keeping with the previous ones - two sample-based jackin disco house tracks and a remix of each (this time the remixes come from Violet and Eddie C). I'm also working on an album that is more inspired by the early '90s rave records I grew up with - more on that as I figure out the plan myself! :)
Lead image: Bailey Greenwood
Catch Chrissy in London this Friday 25th May at Emily's Bar.