The line outside the Town Hall Pub in Boys Town was filled with the young and aggressively fashionable last week, all anxiously waiting to get into the packed monthly dance party thrown by the local DJ duo Flosstradamus. The bar’s proprietor, a gruff white-haired man in a beat-up hat, was parked at the door, barking “no” at anyone who tried to hustle their way past him. People sent text messages to friends inside begging for help. After standing in the same spot for 20 minutes, a young bike messenger gave up, announcing “fuck it” to no one in particular. Even honchos from Vice Records and editors from Pitchfork stood idly on the curb, unable to schmooze their way in, while a crew from MTV that was barreling toward the door was told to queue up alongside everyone else.
The sweaty throng on the dance floor inside was pressed skin to skin and all hands were in the air. There were hip-hop headz, art-school weirdos, and queer crews, an equal mix of ladies and dudes of every race, and anyone trying to cut through them met the tightest squeeze this side of being born. One guy tried to launch himself on top of the crowd and wound up spilling a dozen people’s drinks. Two years ago most of these kids wouldn’t have been old enough to get into a bar; anyone older than 25 was most likely an A and R rep, a journalist, a publicist, or bar staff.
On a small stage in the corner, stationed behind a bank of turntables and laptops, were Curt Cameruci, aka Autobot, and Josh Young, aka J2K. Rick Ross’s “Hustlin” was booming out of the speakers and the party kids were screaming. A crowd surfer kicked a tile loose from the drop ceiling and Young quickly stepped out to put it back. The MTV crew, finally inside, flicked on their camera lights as Flosstradamus’s MC, Kid Sister, in giant gold earrings and a brace of charm necklaces, emerged onstage with a mike in her hand. “How y’all feeling?!” she asked, and the slick bodies in the crowd hollered back.
Young, 22, and Cameruci, 25, started hosting once-a-month events as Flosstradamus last fall, and it quickly became a full-time collaboration. The two DJs routinely sell out every party they play, have already cracked Urb magazine’s “Next 100” list for 2006, and recently hooked up with Biz 3 publicist Kathryn Frazier, who booked them on her agency’s stage at the Pitchfork Music Festival and brought Kid Sister–who’s actually Josh’s big sister, Melisa–to the attention of her clients at Vice. “I see a lot in them,” Frazier says. “I help them now, and later they’ll buy me a fur-covered, diamond-encrusted Rolls Royce.”
“We’d like to take what we’re doing and turn it into a worldwide movement,” says Josh, who now makes enough money DJing that he was able to quit his promotions job at the Metro. (Cameruci willingly hangs on to his job selling mopeds.) They’re heading out to the west coast for a few shows next week and are working on remixes for the Eternals, Jai Alai Savant, and Walter Meego, while Kid Sister is recording a mix tape with Kanye West’s DJ, A-Trak. She was also the draw for MTV, who decided to include her in the upcoming Chicago episode of My Block, featuring West, Common, Lupe Fiasco, and others. “I know Kid Sister is still about a year out from a solid release, but she’s got real star quality,” explains show producer Joseph Patel. “Kids like Flosstradamus are a new type of DJ. They’re not going off records, beat matching and mixing. They’re doing mash-ups, playing unreleased downloads and stuff off blogs, old stuff, new-wave records, and spitting it out from their laptops. That’s why all kinds of kids from all kinds of scenes are excited about what they’re doing.”
Josh and Melisa, who’s 26, grew up on the south side. She loved musical theater, which rubbed off on her younger brother; she once embarrassed him while he was in junior high by playing a tape for some of his friends of him singing a song from Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. In high school Melisa traded in her Phantom of the Opera tapes for juke-house mixes and Casjmere singles, and turned Josh on to them as well. “When I was in college, in like 1998, I would be up late cramming and Josh, who was about 15, would call me and play me beats, or music he was working on,” she says, teasing. “He’d be like ‘Melisa! Check out this freaky mix I did of J. Lo and the Charlie Daniels Band!'” Though her brother started mixing and making beats at an early age, Melisa only started writing rhymes six months ago, after Josh and Diplo, one half of Philadelphia’s Hollertronix DJs, encouraged her. “Her first song was bad–it was totally an emo song,” Josh says. “One day I’m going to leak that to the Internet.”
Three years ago Josh started DJing around town as a member of Life During Wartime. He met Cameruci, who grew up in Michigan and moved to Chicago to attend Columbia College, when they DJed the same house party last summer. They liked each other’s styles, and soon started mixing together. In September they put on their first event at the Town Hall Pub, which they simply called “Dance Party,” and it went well enough that they decided to do it the third Wednesday of every month under the name Flosstradamus. With heavy word of mouth the parties–originally called “Get the Fuck Outta Wicker Park,” later changed to “Get Outta the Hood”–started selling out almost immediately, attracting the sort of crowds Cameruci says would never be caught dead in the bourgeois environs of a “club club.” Nick Barat, who recently covered the duo for the New York-based magazine the Fader, says their early success wasn’t a lucky accident: “There’s nobody else in Chicago doing what they do, as well as they do it. You can flyer all you want, but dance parties only become successful through word of mouth. It’s happening for Flosstradamus because they know what they’re doing–they have the acumen.”
Flosstradamus’s MP3-heavy sets are always anchored in hip-hop, but last week’s included plenty of mash-ups, obscurities, and aesthetic curveballs. They followed “Cha Cha Slide” with a classic acid track from the halcyon days of rave, while chopped-and-screwed raps as slow as molasses were cut with double-time juke tracks. It was a mix as diverse as the crowd that came to hear it. “We want everyone to be able to come and feel welcome,” Josh says. “It sounds corny, but we just want to show people a good time. That’s our goal, and maybe that’s why people are hyped on what we’re doing. We got 1,724 plays on MySpace today,” he adds, laughing. “That’s ghetto gold!”
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Jim Newberry, Jessica Hopper.