It's a tad on the ole late side now but after his rather fine headline set at Secretsundaze last weekend, Ransom Note caught up with the polymath and legendary pioneer of Chicago House, Lil Louis, to discuss the state of modern music, the endless orgasm of French Kiss, transcending the visceral and House music’s first mobile museum….
R$N: When you started out as a DJ in mid 70s Chicago you played disco. What was the local scene like at that point and how were you received?
LL: I started in 1974. Actually before Disco. I played R&B for the first year or two, and as the tempo increased, it morphed into what is referred to now as Disco. The local scene was honestly, quite hostile towards DJs. We were not allowed to play what we wanted. That’s why I got fired from nearly every club I played at the first few years.
R$N: Your father, Bobby Sims, is a well-known and respected blues guitar player. With such musical blood, was the desire to play and write music there from a very early age? When did you first start making music of your own?
LL: I did not desire to do music, because I did not initially want to follow in his footsteps, but, you are correct. Music was in me, and so, I acquiesced.
R$N: Across the span of your career you’ve exhibited a real eclecticism in your music, from the abstracted minimalism of tracks like How I Feel and Jupiter to the organic warmth of tracks such as Jazzmen and Feels Good Just to Feel. Do you have distinctly different ‘modes’ that you get into when you go into the studio?
LL: No. I just see different colors, and then I use different means to achieve that color.
R$N: As well as being a musician and a dj you’ve run your own club, headed up record labels, written books and, I understand, you’re in the process of making a documentary on the history of house music. What is your focus on in the foreseeable future?
LL: Directing is my focus, but I am utilizing all of my experiences and resources, most notably, music to bring a different approach to film. This film will not be any before it.
R$N: You’ve also curated a mobile museum featuring the original production gear used by the pioneers of house music, is that right?
LL: That is correct. We have officially launched the World’s first House music Art Gallery and mobile museum. It features photographs taken by myself of all the DJs I’ve interviewed, as stated, memorabilia and gear from many of the pioneers of House music.
R$N: When you began producing yourself, what pieces of gear did you use?
LL: I actually want to reserve that answer for the film.
R$N: Your early works are quite starkly experimental in their sound. Did you feel like what you were doing was avant garde; or was it more visceral than that: a case of designing it for maximum physical effect on the dance floor?
LL: You know, I believe perhaps in part it was visceral, but a part of it transcended that. I allowed God to use me to paint certain things, by not thinking about it or focusing on an approach. I have taken that approach most of my life, and that is when the best art seems to manifest.
R$N: The huge success of French Kiss in 1989 must have brought you into a new world of fame and fortune. How did it feel at the time to suddenly have such a massive hit on your hands?
LL: It felt like a fated dream, a bit surreal at times, like a first orgasm that would not end.
R$N: We’re really looking forward to your set at Secretsundaze in London on June 3rd. The UK was quick to pick up on all these gloriously alien sounds coming out of Chicago in the late 1980s, and it sound tracked a major movement of warehouse raves and parties which created the foundation for the last 25 years of dance music culture in the UK. How aware were you at the time in Chicago of this explosion of popularity in the UK?
LL: Yes I was aware, and pleased to see the fruit of much labor.
R$N: Sharing the bill with you at Secretsundaze is the dj and producer Joy Orbison, whose music is influenced by the sound you initially pioneered all those years ago. Early Chicago house music is, once again, influencing a lot of exciting new underground music, and djs and producers alike are revisiting the sound for inspiration. You must feel proud of creating such an incredible legacy?
LL: I am. But the work is not done.
R$N: A lot has changed in the music industry since you first set out on your career, with illegal downloads, the availability of music making software etc. Do you feel hopeful about the future of music?
LL: I feel hopeful about the future of Art. Music has unfortunately devolved, but that’s where the inspiration returns from.
R$N: Finally, can you give us a sneak peak of what we can expect to hear from your set at Secretsundaze?
LL: No. I cannot, because I don’t know. Just make sure there are beautiful women there so I can align my tracks to their rhythm, then we can all make love (or perhaps just have great sex)
Lil Louis played Secretsundaze Jubilee Bank Holiday special.
Next up Secretsundaze Off Sonar on 17th June.
Full info here.