Beat Happening

“It’s taken a long time to prove to the world that dance music isn’t just a four-four beat, a couple of string pads, and some screaming,” says Larry Flick. “Dance music is as multilayered as any other scene. Real McCoy or Le Bouche, things that have a lot of pop success, are to hard-core people in dance music what Seven Mary Three are to alternative people. We look at them and groan.”

While Flick’s employer, Billboard magazine, concerns itself in large part with keeping track of the popularity contest that is the music business, dance music editor Flick has dedicated much of the last three years to bolstering what he thinks is the good stuff. He’s the brains behind Billboard’s Dance Music Summit, the third annual version of which will convene at Chicago’s Marriott Downtown July 17 through 19.

The event–three days of the usual panel discussions, seminars, and schmoozing, followed by three nights of dense performance schedules–is long overdue in coming to Chicago, considering that the city is generally regarded to be the birthplace of house music. House, which has become the foundation for most dance music, started pricking up the world’s ears 15 years ago, and while Flick’s summit is only three years old, the first two were held in San Francisco. “I always wanted to do it in Chicago, but the timing has always been off,” he says. Billboard has a number of other conferences to attend to during the year, and the only time periods open for his have previously been in January–not exactly the optimal time of year to club hop here.

Billboard’s three main showcases–Wednesday at Green Dolphin Street, Thursday at Crobar, and Friday at Vortex–are open to the public (although they’ll be packed with badge-wearing conference attendees), as are various affiliated, semiaffiliated, and unaffiliated after-hours parties. The Billboard programs include a profusion of chart-topping dance divas like Jocelyn Brown, Crystal Waters, Martha Wash, and Jennifer Holliday–Wash and Holliday previously sang together in the Weather Girls–as well as Georgie Porgie, a male vocalist from Chicago. The opening night’s “Clubland Unplugged” show, at Green Dolphin Street, promises to be the highlight, with singers like Byron Stingily, formerly of Chicago house legend Ten City, and Ann Nesby of Sounds of Blackness performing with live bands instead of the usual DAT accompaniment. Local acid jazz favorites Liquid Soul, who are in the midst of a fierce label bidding war, will also perform.

Most of the more progressive sounds will be heard during after-hours DJ sets at clubs like Shelter, Vortex, Stardust, the Dome Room, and Smart Bar. Detroit techno giants Carl Craig, Claude Young, and Kenny Dixon and New York new-school house artists Little Louie Vega and C.J. MacKintosh will spin at official parties, along with some Chicagoans like Ralphie Rosario and Casey “Designer” Rice. The line between official and unofficial after-hours parties at this convention seems nebulous; unsponsored sets by prominent locals like Derrick Carter and the Deadly Dragon Sound System will probably be heavily attended as well.

As often happens at its rock counterparts, the Dance Music Summit has garnered a mix of support and criticism from the local scene. Matt Adell of the dance indie Organico Records completely supports the event. He’s speaking on a panel as well as presenting a major unofficial showcase Saturday, July 20, at Metro with live performances by Derrick Carter’s Sound Patrol, Dubtribe, and Frequency Lab. Joe Dale, co-owner of the city’s premier dance music shop, Gramophone, also says he’s glad the event has finally come to Chicago. But he’s a little disappointed that local DJs are absent from the bigger after-hours parties.

“Back in late March and early April, we started talking to some of the club managers about booking some nights,” he says, “and we found out that all the major labels had been in during January and February and booked most of them already. But we still think the European contingent will seek out the local underground stuff.” (Europeans, of course, were the first to embrace Chicago house, and to this day the music prospers overseas while often facing indifference locally.)

Jermane Britton of Cajual Records, one of Chicago’s most successful and well-respected house labels, is not so positive. “Most of these Billboard parties don’t have any Chicago artists, even though that’s one of the main reasons all of these people are coming in,” he says. Rather than wait for Europe to come to Chicago, the label’s biggest act, Cajmere, who scored a massive hit with “The Percolator” several years ago, will go to Europe–he’ll be performing in Belgium instead.

Whatever the actual participation of Chicago artists in sponsored showcases, the city’s dance music heritage is undeniably crucial to the event. Registration is up, and Flick, who is based in New York, attributes the rise in part to the location. “I’ve had calls,” he says, “from people who sort of feel going to Chicago is a pilgrimage.”

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photo captioned “Cajmere and Jermane Britton/Welcome to Our House” by David Kamba.