In 2005, Czarina Mirani launched 5 Magazine to spread the word about the house-music scene she loves so much. Along with managing editor Terry Matthew and a pool of contributors, Mirani has published indispensable documentation of Chicago’s house history, including interviews with key players such as Frankie Knuckles, Paul Johnson, and Phuture’s DJ Pierre. Whenever I set out to write about Chicago house, I usually start my research on the 5 Mag website.
Mirani moved to the Chicago area from the Philippines to attend Northwestern University, graduating in 1993. She didn’t come here to launch a magazine, but because she’s a lifelong dancer, she ended up making a crucial contribution to house-music culture. She studied dance in school and founded the dance company Fivestar Boogie Productions, and ever since her undergrad years she’s been drawn to house music’s irresistible groove. Mirani not only publishes about dance music, she also practices it: she’s been DJing under the name Czboogie for more than a decade. She’ll spin at Smart Bar on Saturday, May 20, as part of a 5 Magazine party.
As told to Leor Galil
I am the editor, publisher, and owner of 5 Magazine, which is a house-music-slash-dance-music magazine. It was “house,” but all the classifications have broadened, so it’s “dance music.” We’re going on 18 years in August. It was a print magazine for the first 13 years. It was a monthly, and then it became a digital twice-a-month [publication], because print was losing its pizzazz. I sometimes dance—I had a dance company for many years—so once in a while we’ll do some shows, but not so much. I have a new show coming up called Cz’s House, which will be on YouTube. I DJ around the city; I throw parties. That’s about it.
I went to NU. Did the whole acting thing for a while, and when I decided I wasn’t gonna go to LA and try to pursue the acting thing, I decided to take my dancing more seriously. I was dancing with the Joel Hall Dancers.
My mom always listened to disco in the Philippines—that’s where I grew up. When I was training at Joel Hall Dancers as a dancer, Joel Hall was a big house fan. He loved Frankie Knuckles. Everything was house music in all of our dance classes, so he really bred that in us. Like, every day—whether it was jazz or ballet or modern—always house. So that’s what I got interested in. I danced for him; I danced for other dancers, other choreographers; I started my own dance company.
I did that for a long time, went to a lot of clubs, and was always on the dance floor. I was that girl who didn’t know the name of the song. I didn’t know any of the DJs; I wasn’t part of any cliques. I was just dancing. Then, eventually, in 2005, my business partner and I were like, “Well, why don’t we start a magazine?” He’s like, “You’re always going out; you’re always partying. Maybe we can do something with that.” That’s how it started. It was a ragtag crew of house fans that started it. If you look at the old 5s, they look like college zines.
We didn’t see any house-music magazines. You know when you go to Barnes & Noble, you get all the music magazines—DJ Mag, Mixmag, XLR8R, right? All that stuff. But I just wanted something for Chicago. Honestly, it was just kind of a general idea: “Let’s feature Chicago house,” or “just house.”
5 Magazine presents Tony Humphries, Czboogie, and Tommaso
Sat 5/20, 10 PM, Smart Bar, 3730 N. Clark, $20, $15 in advance, 21+
It started out, for us, with doing a lot of the Chicago people, because it’s important, right? Chicago is the foundation of house. So we hit up all of those guys first—we wanted to give them their dues—you know, the Steve Hurleys, the Farleys, the Frankie Knuckles. Then it just kind of morphed.
It’s funny, because I didn’t know anybody. I’m from the Philippines, so I didn’t know until later on [that people in the scene] were like, “Who is that girl from the Philippines trying to write about Chicago house? Who does she think she is?” I didn’t realize that there was a lot of gatekeeping. I think eventually, after the first couple years, everybody saw that our intentions were pure. We just wanted to highlight and document all these wonderful DJs—I just really, really did love the music. I know that sounds so cheesy, but I was like, “Hey Terry, it would be so cool to write about them—write about my heroes.” And that’s what we did.
So now, it’s kind of become its own beast. Now it’s international. We’ve featured all these Chicago artists, so we’ve gotten into more esoteric kinds of music too. It’s not just house. It’s trip-hop, garage, techno, all that kind of stuff. Downtempo.
I grew up in Manila. My dad’s East Indian; my mom is Filipina. I wanted to be a movie star, honestly. I went to Northwestern to study theater—that was originally my dream. But I just love music too much, and I really love to dance. The dancing brought me into the house community. Eventually, at some point, I learned how to DJ, and I still throw parties, so it’s all full circle. It’s good to be able to hit all the facets of the community, whether it’s community outreach, or DJing, dancing, throwing parties, or being on panels and spreading the word, or obviously journalism. It’s good to be able to do all of it at some point.
At some point, after interviewing DJs for so many years, you’re gonna get curious. I ventured into it with lots of trepidation. I started DJing in 2010. You know, there’s gonna be the eye rolls, right? “Oh, someone’s gotta DJ.” There was also gatekeeping in there, so I kinda was like, “Ah, I’m gonna change my name. I don’t want people to know I’m DJing.” I’m just really fascinated by the actual art of DJing—how do you do it? I didn’t expect to DJ out; I just wanted to learn the skill. But, you know, things happen, and now I love it.
My DJ debut was my birthday party. It was at Betty’s Blue Star. Oh, it was a disaster, but it was fun! I’m always nervous when I DJ, still. But it’s a gift, to be able to DJ to people.
I love the music. My ideal is to be able to play exactly what I want to play. Every party is different. You might be playing on the south side, and you kinda have to stick to classics. Or maybe you’re gonna play for a younger crowd—you might have to play a little bit harder.
I always talk about this, but Frankie Knuckles, Ron Carroll, and Steve Hurley, those were the first [to get behind 5]. I’ll never forget Frankie Knuckles—he was really one of the first to actually accept 5 Mag within the first year. That’s when [Knuckles’s team] bought advertising. They let me interview him, so that’s a big deal.
We’ve been around for so long, and we’ve covered everybody. Or tried to cover as much of everybody. I mean, how much do most publications that start last?
What keeps me motivated, actually, is seeing all the young collectives that are burgeoning here in Chicago. There are so many young groups of people—and when I mean groups, like, collectives—and they’re doing amazing stuff with house music. It’s a little bit different, the way they play it, the way they present it, and they’re in all these little bars and new venues. So I love watching them, and I’m really inspired by them. It’s great to honor classic Chicago house, but I am absolutely floored by all the new groups of people that are doing their own way of presenting house.