Most dance music is released on 12-inch singles, and most of them are sold to club DJs–the music has never really taken off with the buying public. Matt Adell–the brains behind Organico, one of Chicago’s most important dance-music labels–wants to change that. “I want to work hard against the disposability of dance music. The shelf life on a dance record is often shorter than the period of time it took for the artist to make it, and I just think that’s insulting. When I put out a record I never take it out of print. I only release records that I think people would listen to at home.”
Adell, an Evanston native, played hardcore punk in his high school band, Nadsat Rebel. But while attending San Francisco State University he worked in a dance-music specialty store in the Castro, and the dance scene became an obsession. When he returned to Chicago in 1989 he got a job at a local house-music store, where he met Derrick Carter, an innovative techno recording artist and a popular club DJ. Adell then spent four years working for the Wax Trax label.
But he’d always wanted his own label, and in 1994 he left Wax Trax to start Organico. “I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing now if it wasn’t for [Wax Trax owners] Jim Nash and Dannie Flesher,” he says. “Working for them gave me the belief to stop worrying about what other labels released and to just put out what I liked.” He’s already released 23 records, including three full-length albums, by artists such as Carter, now a house-music star, and trippy San Francisco ambient techno artists Dubtribe.
“I think most people who do their work in Chicago do it for the sheer love of it and less out of commercial desires. In New York and Los Angeles, especially for dance music, it’s like people have an idea that they think is perfect for that moment in terms of marketability–while in Chicago people have ideas that they just need to get out of their souls without concern for the market. I honestly believe that if I just work with people who speak from their heart, that’s all people really want when they listen to music–they want to feel a connection with the artist. I often work under the assumption that I’m going to release such and such a record as a way of educating people about the language these musicians are speaking, and further down the road people will understand and latch on to it.”
Adell, now 28, has grown increasingly interested in the connection between dance music and underground rock. “When I first got into dance music one of the things that was happening was the Manchester scene,” with bands like Happy Mondays, Stone Roses, and the Charlatans mixing rock and the wigginess of rave culture. “When I was into punk rock I was the punk guy that still liked Donna Summer and the Sugar Hill Gang.” Last year Organico released an expansive Dubtribe remix of the song “Ufonic” by space rockers Sabalon Glitz. In a few weeks the label will put out the first record by Designer, a dance-music project by recording engineer and former Liz Phair guitarist Casey Rice, and later this summer will come a record of Tortoise remixes by Dubtribe and Tranquility Bass.
Adell is also trying to broaden the range of music that can be heard in local clubs. He, along with Eric Uren and Collette, who produce the popular weekly house night called Material, has been presenting Organiclub the last Friday of the month at Shelter. Last month it featured the dancehall and drum-and-bass propulsion of the Deadly Dragon Sound System. This Friday it will feature a live performance by Ashtar Command, who play “droning psychguitar trance music with furious techno beats”; its lineup includes Chris Holmes (Sabalon Glitz, Yum Yum), Tim Rutili and Tim Hurley (Red Red Meat), and Mike Kandel (Tranquility Bass). Several local DJs will also spin. Friday at 10:30 PM at Shelter, 564 W. Fulton; the cover is $5. Call 409-4237.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Nathan Mandell.