Jermaine Collins, aka Composuresquad, sits in a sunroom in a blue jacket and dark trousers, surrounded by potted plants
Jermaine Collins, aka Composuresquad Credit: Jermaine Collins

Chicago producer, DJ, and promoter Jermaine Collins, aka Composuresquad, has been part of the city’s dance scene for the past decade. He hooked up with local dance collective and record label Them Flavors in 2013, and the following year he joined the crew. In 2021 he issued his debut album, Auto D., through the Issa Party label. He also runs a livestreaming dance series called Club Initiative with Issa Party founder Christopher Santoso (aka Please). In December, Collins launched a monthly hour-long program for Beloved Radio, a brand-new hyperlocal Web-based station hosted on Mixcloud. His next Beloved show is Friday, January 27, at 1 PM.

As told to Leor Galil

My mom was married to an aspiring rapper when I was a kid. It was a short marriage, but from the ages of ten to 12—well, ten to 16—I was around a rapper and all his buddies, and he was making beats in the house and all that. I never really used any equipment, but it obviously left an impact, because it’s what I’m doing.

I never really had any interests besides music when I was a teen. I was a nerd about music, and I used to read a lot of Pitchfork in its heyday—during the 2000s. I didn’t really have any plans after high school, so I started producing beats and just working. That was when I was 18. My homie, Saint Icky, who’s like my brother, has also been simultaneously doing music since he was a teen—he was in hardcore bands in the south suburbs and transitioned to rapping. I think my stepdad influenced both of us, and it was what we were just gonna do.

I’ve known [Saint Icky] since I was ten years old. He was the first friend I made when I moved to the burbs. That’s really it, honestly—we’ve just been best friends. We lived a block away from each other when we were kids.

I started tinkering around in [music software] Reason a lot. I’m not sure what my process was back then. I know now I’m pretty good at looking stuff up, or enrolling myself in online courses. I really don’t think there was any manual or anything—I think I just fucked around in Reason until I started making stuff. I would read a lot too, about stuff related to making music, on the Internet. But I never really learned how to actually make music on a formulaic scale. I just kinda mess around with sounds I like until something happens.

Composuresquad’s Boiler Room set from September 2022

I think the first beat I made, it was basically a cover of—you know the song with Drake and Trey Songz called “Successful”? It was kinda like that. I guess [the process has] always been the same: I would make pop music, and I’d try to make dance music, but I don’t really do that. I have stuff that I was able to save from Soundcloud—old MySpace, actually. It’s like Andy Stott and Beyoncé, mixed together. The one I really like still—the Weeknd and Delroy Edwards—there’s a good blend I have from literally ten years ago. I think I’ve always kind of had the same idea.

In maybe 2011, ’12, we were living in a place on Ashland, and they would throw house parties. And I tried to throw a party, like, once, and nobody came. I was like, “Whatever.” But then I met the Them Flavors people in 2013. We worked for, like, three years after that—till like 2017—and threw 120 shows or some shit. I was more into the business side, and I stopped producing for a while. Once I was unemployed and I already had a following locally, I started making music again and actually releasing it.

[Them Flavors and I] were all into the same burgeoning club scene that was happening around that time, with Night Slugs and footwork taking off—well, I mean, it was already well established, but just the early club and footwork days. They were bringing stuff that nobody else was bringing that I listened to. When I was younger, I would lose my shit and really dance at shows, to the point where it was like—I wouldn’t say it was a spectacle, but [Them Flavors] knew me just from going hard at their shows. They sent somebody, like, “Yo, you should work with us.” We mostly started hanging first. I think one of the first shows where I was a member, they were like, “Jump on these CDJs.” I was like, “What?” I mean, I’d DJed in public before that, but it was to nobody.

I’ve always been chasing trying to make dance music or compete in that arena. I basically started out trying to make club music. I’m not really into, like, bridge-chorus-bridge or whatever the fuck. I don’t really do the formulas that you’re supposed to do when you make music, or dance music. I’m really into space, anime, and video games, and I think that really influenced a lot of stuff. That song “Blood,” with Perry [Lomax, aka Saint Icky], has two Sega samples. One is Sonic when he’s losing his rings. The other is from that game Shenmue—the lady was just like, “Calm yourself to realize the true nature of things.” I think my viewing habits and my other media habits, like Cyberpunk 2077 and stuff like that, really inform my music.

Composuresquad collaborated with Saint Icky on the 2021 track “Blood.”

[Christopher Santoso and I] do Club Initiative every month-ish. We try to do it at least once a month, but it depends on what goes wrong. We should have another episode coming out in a couple weeks. I have a lot of unreleased music I’ve been hoarding that I was supposed to release with Please again. I just made a pretty great track with Ariel Zetina. A lot of new music that I’m making doesn’t have drums, and it’s more like scores; I’ve been doing that, just writing more classical-sounding stuff. I’m just making new music for maybe a couple projects. There’s more shows coming for Club Initiative as well. 

It’s just what I do with my life, honestly. I have a really good job that I enjoy as well. But I wouldn’t be satisfied working just a job, ever. As long as there’s a music community here to connect with, I’m probably going to be doing it. It’s just the main way I connect with people.

A playlist of Club Initiative mixes by Composuresquad, sometimes in collaboration with other artists

There’s a lot of weird stuff going on in the dance community. A lot of the incoming young people are really brash and kind of disrespectful, so there’s kind of skating a line between trying to reach out to the younger people and then pulling back. Also there’s weird stuff going on with corporate sponsorships. Honestly, I’ve mostly experienced a lot of it over the Internet the past couple years, just ’cause of COVID. 

But there’s so much going on, honestly, which is great, even though all this bad stuff is happening. There’s more shows than ever—it seems like back in the 2010s, when we had all the Wicker Park stuff happening all the time. There’s a lot of stuff going on at the Clipper and Podlasie, so that’s really great to see. But I think there could be more actual looking into what we’re doing and the purpose behind it, versus just straight hedonism. Because that’s really what I see a lot. 

I’m just really into doing good business, paying people fairly, and representing people who are underrepresented—that’s basically it. I just don’t wanna be a promoter that underpays people, so I’ll try to stay ahead of the curve with that, all the time.

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