Ahead of his set at ARC Music Festival, the legendary DJ and hip-house pioneer pays a visit to Gramaphone Records
Ever since 1990, the year Mike Dunn debuted Free Your Mind, he’s stayed a fixture in Chicago’s music scene. More specifically, the DJ-producer pioneered hip-house, a cross between dance and rap that would unite the warehouses of his home city with the nightclubs of New York. Dunn grew up playing drum machines live, vocalizing over off-the-cuff beats—gaining an arts education between record stores and house parties, and cementing the eclectic sonic taste that would come to define his work.
Ahead of his set this weekend at ARC—the third annual iteration of the house and techno festival, staged in Chicago’s Union Park—Dunn got back to his roots, digging in the crates at Gramaphone Records. From Anita Ward to Fast Eddie to Loose Joints, he shares a few of his most-cherished tracks, calling on the nostalgia that characterizes a practice steeped in local legacy.
ARC Music Festival takes place between September 1 and 3 in Chicago’s Union Park. Tickets are available here.
“Ring My Bell” by Anita Ward
“My dad was into eclectic music. He listened to everything from Led Zeppelin to Count Basic to the Temptations. My mom was more into disco. She would take me record shopping on 43rd under the L tracks. She would go up to the record store clerk and say, ‘Okay, I need to hear what’s new,’ and pull out the 45s and play them. I remember this record so vividly; it did something different than the 45s. This one had a long intro, and before Anita even came in and started singing, I was just amazed. It’s very sentimental to me.”
“Is It All Over My Face” by Loose Joints
“If you’ve followed my career, I always talk about Loose Joints. I lived with my grandma in Englewood, and my friends used to go to the original Warehouse, 206. My friend John Campbell used to have these tapes he’d play while he was getting dressed—when he was getting jazzed up. This song was always playing. I was still in the early stages of high school; the Italiano stuff was getting ready to come around, and so this record was significant to me.”
“Devotion” by Ten City
“Everyone knows these are my guys. These are my brothers: Byron Stingily, Byron Burke, Herb Lawson, and, of course, Marshall Jefferson, who produced it. Me and Armando [Gallop] would go to [Barney’s Records] during the house era, before they [called themselves] Ten City—the original name of the group was Intensity. We were all coming into our own with house music. Marshall had a lot of records and a few tracks on DJ International, and Byron was throwing parties and things like that. The Isley Brothers albums were how I used to get girls, because I would copy the lyrics; it’d look like I wrote a love letter. They would say, You’re so sweet.”
“Let’s Go (Don’t U Want Some More)” by Fast Eddie
“Now, this is a re-press, but it has all the hip-house classics. I was into rap, too, you know—real heavy. [Fast Eddie] made it acceptable to rap on a house beat, so I was like, Whoa, okay, we can stretch out a little bit. [Afterwards], we ended up starting a group called the Renegades, but this is when I came into my hip-house standards.”
“Everybody Be Somebody” by Ruffneck featuring Yavahn
“This record was down the line when house became worldwide. The reason I like it is because of its lyrical content. It was one of my favorite songs when we were going to parties back in the day; we used to come up north to get this over the counter drug Rush. We would open them up and sniff them, and we equated the song with that [feeling]. As I became a DJ, I found out the song was Bostitch, and I wanted to know the lyrics: ‘Standing at the machine every day for all my life / I’m used to it and I need it / It’s the only thing I want / It’s just a rush, push, cash.’ It was talking about homeless people, and—you know—just trying to get a rush.
Going back to Ruffneck’s version, this was the perfect song. The internet was starting to come in—somebody says something, boom, you hear it immediately. I still play this song today, just for the fact that everybody wants to be somebody. It’s touching.”