The south-side suburb Beverley has the greatest number of Irish pubs in Chicago, so it seems a little incongruent that house DJ and disco aficionado Jamie 3:26 hails from such an area. To the man himself, however, all of that fades into obscurity given the specifics of his childhood. "Growing up in Chi-Town," he says, "I was exposed to lots of different kinds of music. I come from a fairly musical family, so there were always records spinning. One minute there'd be jazz, then some blues and then someone else would get home and start playing some deep soul. Ever since I was a kid, I knew that was the real education."
Jamie's family, both immediate members and those somewhat on the fringes, had a formative influence on the diversity his music requires. "I remember my mother being really into disco culture, even to the extent where she'd throw disco splash parties at the house!" he laughs. "I guess it's natural that I ended up the way I did: as a kid I preferred records over toys as gifts. Mum kept me in good supply with that." But the kick towards broadening his scope came from a couple of tricksters in the bunch. "I had a cousin and an uncle who were teenagers in the 1970's, and one of them dug funk and rock, and the other was into disco and soul. They'd spend hours over at the house arguing back and forth about which was better. I decided to chose both sides, and then some more," he deadpans.
His household may have pushed him towards the masters - "James Brown and George Clinton taught me everything about timing," he says, and it wasn't long before he started looking further afield. "I started mixing around 1985, but I really didn't take it seriously until 1988. I spent a solid three years dancing my ass off at parties and getting girls' phone numbers, but the whole time I noticed that the jocks had control of the room," he says. "They had this amazing power: I'd see 'em drop a jam just right and the place would erupt. I wanted to know how to do that, so I spent years studying until I figured out that it was all about timing. You gotta know exactly when to switch the groove and create the moods."
Part of Jamie's education was being mentored by some of the kings of the Chicago house scene. He's collaborated with Boo Williams on a number of tracks, but it's his friendship with Dust Traxx Records' head honcho Paul Williams that facilitated rapid development for a then fresh Jamie. "I was coming up with ideas and Paul would just make them happen. I mean, the brother is a bad dude and a good cat. In the late 1990s, he taught me how to use a DR4 recorder to make digital edits, which was important because it showed me how to knock shit out and move on to the piece of production. Get this: way before he became world famous I remember going around to his mum's house and he had this full studio set-up, in her kitchen. Don't think she was too pleased," he cackles.
Things have changed a lot for both artists, with kitchen studios seemingly a thing of the past. Jamie now enjoys a devoted following throughout Europe and Japan, and makes sure that he continues evolving within the defined elements of his sound. "I really enjoy spending time in Europe," he says, "because it means I get exposed to other musical worlds and can seek out fresh sounds. The more you tour the more you realise that every scene around the world does things their own way. The trick is to be open to inspiration so you can add your own flavour at the right time. I'm thankful for the opportunities I've been given, because if I wasn't able to travel I would probably be a local DJ and going mad as shit."
Jamie's quick to state that his lifestyle has changed over time due to the variety of audiences he has entertained. "I used to think that I had to change my live set-up based on where I was, but now I just do what I am known to do - play good music and rock the party. I discovered that catering to folks too much keeps you in a pretty stagnated place, because a lot of this work is about the element of surprise. When folks know you for one thing, and you hit 'em with something completely different shit, it always fucks folks up. And I enjoy fucking folks up!" he laughs.
With the upcoming Australian tour his first trip to our shores, the Illinois native is "very excited to partying down south, and you know I'm going to give folks an experience. There'll be good times, and even better music because for me it's a spiritual and a personal thing. I love what I do, but won't force my tastes on you. So I got no doubt that we'll all be in the middle of the party and some lyric will come floating across to you, or the music will reach out and transport you back to when you first heard it, maybe even take you to tears. But not too many tears, because we're mainly going to be dancing!"
BY BENJAMIN COOPER
Jamie 3:26 [USA] plays the Croft Institute on Friday June 8.