Our Originators series explores specific, esoteric scenes through mixes of representative tracks and interviews with prominent artists, as conducted by Zak “SPF666” DesFleurs. The intent is to provide desperately needed historical context for these genres in the age of the Internet, a time when cultural objects are uprooted from their scenes and reworked, repurposed and reappropriated beyond recognition.
After a brief break, Originators returns with a feature on the stomping sound of Chicago’s hard house [Ed. note: Not to be confused with UK hard house.]. Its dancefloor-focused energy, sparse structure, and emphasis on percussion and sampling over melody dovetail nicely with the dance music community’s ever-growing infatuation with club music.
I caught up with DJ Trajic to discuss his career, the rise of hard house and the importance of preserving the raw grit of dance tracks. Plus, a mix of DJ Trajic’s hard house tracks follows.
What’s hard house to you?
House music, just a little harder. [laughs] But seriously, it’s a genre that’s simple, to the point and structured for the dance floor. Hard house is not about the melodies and chords of house: it’s got a big kick, more sampling, more fun, and a lot more grit. The dirt is what I’m about, the true raw sound. For me, hard house is truly the concept of “less is more” at work.
What was your introduction to dance music?
Classic 80s house music was it! I first heard that straight 4×4 beat while spinning the radio dial and coming across a radio station called 102.7FM WBMX. I was hooked ever since. As a kid, I would listen to every style of music out there, I think those diverse tastes are very present in my music.
So, how did that lead to DJing and production?
I got into DJing because I couldn’t breakdance back in the 80s. [laughs] My older brother Frank was in a breakdancing group in high school, so I tried to get into it. Unfortunately, spinning on my back and head was not my forté. I followed Frank to DJing, too. We picked cans to save up for two Technics 1200s and a crappy little Realistic mixer from Radio Shack. We felt like kings! My brother was a math whiz and taught me how to mix by counting beats and measures, I learned by listening to his blends. He soon later left to the Army and I continued to DJ locally.
I went on to win some competitions and eventually became the DJ for [90s Chicago hip-hop group] O.C.U.. I got the name DJ Tragic from Murder One of O.C.U., before that I was Carlos “Kool Kutt” Gomez, but that didn’t really fly with the gangster shit. [laughs] I later used the name DJ Trajic to differentiate my work in hip hop from my production career.
“We picked cans to save up for two Technics 1200s and a crappy little Realistic mixer from Radio Shack.”DJ Trajic
Production, on the other hand, was all me. I always wanted to create sounds and combine different drum kits to produce a certain sound all my own. When I was young, I remember fiddling with a dual cassette player that I found in the garbage and I would loop bits and pieces of songs to create a track loop. Never thought I was sampling — it wasn’t even really called sampling [back then]. Through my work with O.C.U., I got linked up with Peter Black. He was doing production work for Island Records, the keys mostly, and I began to hunt and cut samples on a reel-to-reel for his MPC.
Those roots in hip hop make a lot of sense, especially when your tracks switch up from four-to-the-floor to more complex and groovy patterns. How did that lead to the development of hard house?
It all really started with my track ‘Soul Patrol’. That was the track that first got the attention of Andy Adams a.k.a. DJ Attack who ran the Underground Constructions label. At the time, U.C.’s output was mostly just house, nothing really breakthrough. When he got his hands on ‘Soul Patrol’, that was it! Everyone wanted that track. Actually, another producer almost scammed me out of it.
What?! What’s that story?
The guy is a snake and doesn’t deserve mention. Someone I originally looked up to tried to take credit for my work, force me to license him my tracks and lied to me. I will say, to this day, he did serve as a kind of negative inspiration, I was gonna make it and it was going to be a big “fuck you” to him.
Well, it seems the motivation worked. So after ‘Soul Patrol’ came out on U.C., how did hard house develop and grow?
Radio played a huge part in building hard house’s popularity. Remember: this is the time before the internet. This one station, B96.3 FM, their mixmaster DJs would play my tracks all the time. This one DJ Bobby D practically “created” DJ Trajic. He’d play every single one of my tunes, just for the love of it. DJ Bad Boy Bill, too. He loved ‘Pants ‘R’ Saggin’! You were hearing it a lot in clubs, specifically this one club in Des Plaines, right outside Chicago. It was called The Hype, DJ Bobby D used to play there, B96.3 would broadcast from there on some nights.
What was that scene like? How did people react?
The scene was amazing. If you ask anyone that went to 90s hard house parties back then, they’ll tell you how much they miss those days. In the club, you could feel and see the excitement when a floor banger was played. The music just made people happy and go wild! People came to hear us, they didn’t give a shit about cover prices, and the promoters were mostly keeping the costs low anyway. There was some craziness. Fights could break out, occasionally you’d see some black and yellow [Ed. note: black and yellow are colors associated with the Latin Kings gang]. Actually, my track ‘Latinos in the House’ was actually banned in Boston after it caused a riot.
Well, when it was played, there weren’t just Latinos in the house! [laughs]
“My track ‘Latinos in the House’ was actually banned in Boston after it caused a riot.”DJ Trajic
On that topic, there’s clearly a strong presence of Latin culture in hard house: the track names, the sampling, and a significant portion of the producers at the time. The fan base, too. What’s your interpretation of the relationship between the Latin identity and hard house?
Well, Latin people are a huge part of Chicago’s soul. House is Chicago, hard house is Chicago, we are Chicago. We brought our passion and our intensity to hard house music. As hard house musicians toured and played, interest in Latin America grew, and we began licensing many hard house tracks to Mexico and South America for pressing and distribution. Many of the fans were young and heavily-influenced, and now when I play down there, they come out with their kids!
To this day, I receive fan messages explaining how hard house changed their life, or how it encouraged them to become a DJ or producer. Many of these people were kids back then and now successful DJs themselves. The Latin market is key for any genre that wants to stay alive for a long time. If you’ve ever DJed in Mexico or South America, you’ll know what I mean.
What about the relationship between hard house and other forms of house in Chicago, such as ghetto house?
Hard house is just an edgier form of Chicago house music. Like I said, we did lots of sampling and took many elements that influenced us from classic house music. Ghetto house to me used a softer kick, featured more repetitive vocal samples, flatter dynamics, and focused on different drums. They’re similar though, it’s like listening to Aerosmith and Metallica. Two great styles, but different at the same time.
What’s next for you? What do you have going on?
What’s “next” in terms of my music isn’t really my main focus right now. Frankly, I’ve accomplished what I’ve wanted to accomplish and I’m not chasing fame. I don’t need to. I’m at the point with music where I only have to make it if I want to, which is an amazing feeling! I struggled and fought to make my name in the beginning, I was hungry — I had to be. Now, I get booked to play shows of nothing but original tracks, which feels incredible. Producing without these pressures makes it more an expression of passion, my love for the art itself.
I put a lot of that passion into my mentoring, into giving back. My label, Nemek Music Group, is the platform where most of that occurs. We took the name from Dragonball Z, from this planet Namek, this accepting and open place — and we adapted the name to not get sued! [laughs] My label is a place to provide opportunities for younger producers to experiment, explore emerging sounds, and provide a constructive place for them to grow.
It’s wonderful to be in a place to help others now. I’m also a partner in my sister’s charity, Honeydrops for the Children of the World, which builds schools, community centers, and provides aid aimed at children in Africa and South America. I encourage you all to check it out!
Let’s finish with your top three hard house tracks.
1. Wasted Time (Basics EP)
2. This Dj (Noize Junkie Vol 2)
3. I Like The Way U Work It (Traxxxters EP)
4. Stomp (On Fuego EP)
6. I Feel U feat. Monica (Noize Junkie Vol 2)
7. I’m Feeling Horny feat. Anastasia (Sex Krazed Superstars)
8. Pants Are Saggin (Signature Series EP)
10. Booty Face (Trajic Society)
11. The DJ (Noize Junky)
12. Turn That Ass Around (XK8 EP)
13. Show Me Your Face
14. Mi Casa
15. Trajic Style/Fresher Than This (Signature Series Part 2)
16. Come Back (Back Trax Vol 1)
17. La Raza feat. Alex Peace & Dino Latino
18. Como Te Gusta feat. Dino Latino
19. Ponte A Bailar (Signature Series EP)
20. Jack Funatik (The Cannon Vol 1)