The Black Madonna Talks
The Black Madonna's first record, "Exodus" was a secret weapon for a concentrated pool of DJs, passed from person to person for nearly three years before it was finally pressed to vinyl in 2012. Within a year she would release four more EPs and debut in Europe at Panorama Bar.
The Black Madonna has since been remixed by The Revenge and Nicholas, while releasing a bestselling and now virtually impossible to find split EP with Chicago's disco master, Rahaan. Her catalog of releases/remixes now includes labels such as Classic, Freerange, Home Taping is Killing Music, Argot, Stripped & Chewed.
Along with Derrick Carter, Frankie Knuckles and NYC's Bunker event, she was announced as one of the new 2013 residents at Chicago's legendary institution, Smart Bar.
In 2014, she became the club's first ever female Creative Director in it's 30 year history and she's now embarking on her first ever European tour.
We thought it high time to catch up with the lady herself to talk her misconceived image in Europe, the Smart Bar ecosystem, the similarity between the US midwest and the UK's rural rave scene and the plans to start her own label….
Firstly I have to say I found it pretty amusing when I saw you saying that a lot of people in Europe had presumed you were black. I suppose that tells us a lot about people's preconceptions around image in dance music, and them making their minds up what you should look like without actually seeing you. Have you come across this a lot over the course of your career?
Absolutely. I think it's even harder to imagine that a white woman is playing this music, which is to be fair, black and gay. I can't blame anyone for thinking that maybe I look a certain way. The good thing is that music is for everyone. Real musicians have never cared what their counterparts look like. The record is either good or it isn't. As Duke Ellington said, "There are two kinds of music, the good kind and the other kind."
So you're coming to Europe for your first proper tour here. Excited? How long are you here for and what countries are you visiting?
I go to Romania, Germany, UK, Sweden. It's really overwhelming to finally visit these places that only existed in my imagination. I had barely even left the states as a tourist before last year. So it's a lot to take in all at once. But Im managing 😉 Europe is startlingly beautiful. I'm kind of in love with it.
You've been here before to play Panorama Bar right? How was it playing in a place like that and how did the crowd differ from what you're used to in the states?
The great thing about Panorama is that they're just like the very best Chicago crowd, except even more excited. Clapping, singing, dancing. They're all the way into wherever you're going. It goes to show that Larry Heard was right, house music IS a universal language spoken and understood by all people. So while it's a special room, piece of this room, this idea, this feeling, are everywhere. In every corner of the world people want to have this experience and this makes the world a little smaller in a good way. I am so happy to be back and honored to be in this room again.
Who's going to look after Smart Bar? Are they closing it down while you're here?
Haha. No Smart Bar never closes. Not in 30 years! I am just the keeper of the house at the moment. Some day someone else will be the keeper of the house (after they pry the keys out of my cold dead hands. Right now I've done all my work for the duration of the tour. We're booked 6 months in advance and my wonderful, brilliant, talented assistant/resident Olin is making sure that everything goes smoothly while I'm on "vacation." I don't tour too much so I can be there. It's a well oiled machine though. So I take my vacation days and tour and that's that. Smart Bar is its own ecosystem.
How important to you is Smart Bar? It seems like it's a hub for you and you've got a community of creative people and DJs there. It seems like a real home for you.
It's the center of the universe for me. There's no place more important, special or more like home. The team of residents is comprised of some of the greatest minds I know, people a lot smarter and more talented than me. Sassmouth, Hugo Ball, Innerspace Halflife. Those folks are my inspiration, so I just follow their lead. They're in charge.
Describe the atmosphere in Smart Bar when you're DJing there.
Loud! Smart Bar is in Chicago and we make a lot of noise there. There's a lot of call and response, crowd participation etc. If we play "Is It All Over My Face," The crowd yells, " Hell YEAH!" and that's Chicago for you.
As someone who grew up going to raves in the middle of nowhere and then moved to the bright lights and the big city I've got to ask you about the midwest scene you were part of. Tell us Brits who may not know too much about it how you got into that scene and what it was like.
I think it's maybe not so different than the Brit rave experience. We have enormous fields, sometimes where horses were at one time. Kentucky looks like the UK. There's a lot of crossover. We put big soundsystems in our big ass fields and went at it for days. Of all the places in America that also had raves, the midwest probably has the most in common w UK raves.
How do you think your exposure to that scene has shaped your outlook to music now?
I still have that egalitarian sense that comes w rave culture. I don't come from clubs. I come from an idea that's different. I value weirdos in dance music. Maybe a little plur is left in me too.
You're someone who grew up in the south of the US but now live in the north. We've got a good old north south divide going on here in the UK but I'm sure the dynamics are very different to yours in the states. How does the mentality/culture differ between the two?
I'm nicer and I talk slower and I make better biscuits and gravy.
Tell me about your approach to DJing. You seem to be pretty eclectic in your selections but have a strong influence from the Hi NRG and more up for it end of the disco spectrum?
Yeah I come from house but if you work your way back from house you get to disco. It's still all about drawing a line between everything. From house you get to disco, from disco to hinrg, from acid to techno, from techno to industrial. It's all connected. My job is to draw a map of the world. I play all of it.
I read somewhere recently that you like to buy whole record collections. You must have a big house to fit all of those records!
I do! My husband and I have a whole floor of our home dedicated to vinyl and studio stuff. It's a lot of space but it's worth it. We still have room to grow. Time to buy more records, I guess.
Are you also a discogs digger?
Yes, I also buy collections or large pieces of them on discogs. Often from retired dj's. God bless the retired DJs.
What's your plan vis a vis vinyl with you coming over to Europe? Have you got the jitters about the airline loosing all your wax?
I do it all w carry on! I brought my husband to help carry it. So we are safe. I usually bring two bags as carry on. I check my clothes. Im not letting anyone lose these records.
Are you planning to do some digging when you're here?
Already cleaned out Hardwax. Europe better watch out. I'm taking all your good shit home with me.
I hear plans are in the offing for your own label. Tell me a bit about that. It's for your own material right?
I want to do something w the Smart Bar residents. That's in process w Steve Mizek of Argot/Little White Earbuds.
And finally – if you had a magic wand what would you fix in the current electronic music scene
Less fashion. More sweat.
The Black Madonna plays Dance Tunnel 28th March