My DJ Colette Mixtape

Image courtesy Colette Marino
Image courtesy Colette Marino

It’s 1996 and I’m traversing Interstate 80 somewhere in Illinois on the way to a rave in Chicago with my new friend Jonathan. We’re listening to my prized and well-worn DJ Colette mixtape. She sings “Rise up, riiiise…” over an expertly layered track when the tape seizes up in the deck of my Mitsubishi. I press pause, then eject, hoping to rescue the thing. For some reason unbeknownst to me, Jonathan grabs it, unspooling the magnetic tape, and hastily throws it out the passenger window. I watch in the rearview mirror as the spool unwinds behind us into the dividing line of highway and into the darkness punctuated by headlights. I mourn the loss of my prized analog artifact, and also silently curse my poor choice in litterbug passengers.

Fast forward.

2000, Seattle, Washington: As a contributing writer for San Francisco’s XLR8R Magazine, I interview the SuperJane collective (DJs Colette Marino, Heather Robinson, Shannon Ialongo or Dayhota and Darlene Jackson, a.k.a. Lady D) for a cover story touting the ladies as house music underground’s most promising new DJs and producers. This is the first cover story for the SuperJane ladies (it is also my first), and cements their celebrity status in the world of electronic music.

Fast forward.

2005, Miami, Florida’s Winter Music Conference. As WMC memories tend to blur together into an amalgamation of DJs, glinting disco balls, business cards, clubs, pool parties and over-exuberance, I can’t remember whether I saw Colette at a Red Bull mansion afterhours event or at some club. But I do remember the specific interplay of light chiseling her high cheekbones as she sang, lyrically lilting in alto, completely in the moment.

Pause.

In 2000, when the SuperJane article first appeared on the cover of XLR8R, the landscape of house music releases was relatively barren, as compared to today’s proliferation of labels, producers and releases. Production was expensive, access to affordable software was difficult, manufacturing and distribution were major roadblocks, and the space-time continuum still separated artist and label from fan discovery. Today, new house tracks are a MixCloud, SoundCloud, Beatport, Twitter or Facebook click away. Yet today, as always, the percentage of quality releases is far outnumbered by watered-down dreck. It’s rare to seize upon a house album that’s consistent, smartly produced and timeless.

Fast forward.

Last week, I met Colette at Aroma Café in Studio City, California. The house music maven has launched her Candy Talk label, and released a superlative album, When The Music’s Loud, spanning genres from acid house to classic Chicago house and Italo-disco. I love Colette’s new album even more than I adored that ill-fated ‘90s mixtape. She’s won various awards, including Best Song Used in a Commercial via DanceStar for her Motorola licensing deal, and her music has appeared in movies like The Devil Wears Prada. She’s married actor and rock music star Thomas Ian Nicholas, she tours on a weekly basis, and she has a son, Nolan. She’s preparing for the reunion of the SuperJane collective at Hollywood’s King King later that week, and also for the premiere of the Girl documentary, directed by Kandeyce Jorden and featuring DJs Sandra Collins, DJ Rap, DJ Irene, Lady D and Colette, among others. Our conversation spans topics from her production partners to DJing while pregnant.

Colette_WhenTheMusicsLoud_Final_600t

SC: How did your new album, When The Music’s Loud, come together?

CM: This record took about three years. I’m more of a singer-songwriter, so I collaborated with many different producers on the album: Tim K, Santiago & Bushido, Teenwolf and Nick Chacona. I’d either work with them in the studio, or swap tracks digitally back and forth. Tim K and I wrote all of the songs together, which was a first for me. Usually I write with many different people, but I feel like writing with one person made a stronger record. Even though the album is very diverse and musically travels a lot, having the same songwriting partner…

SC: Made the album more cohesive?

CM: Yes. Since Tim K and I wrote all of the songs together, I feel like they relate to one another even when musically they might be very different. The other great thing about working with Tim is that he introduced me to Teenwolf, who produced Ninjasonik’s “Somebody Gonna Get Pregnant.” I was actually pregnant during this time so the video was extra fun and funny to me. It was a very unique experience for me, too, being pregnant while writing…

SC: You have life growing inside you as you’re creating music! It must have influenced the creative process. Budding, growth…

CM: It was amazing! It was a very special and happy time for me. Even though the songs on the record are not specifically about my son, I will forever listen to this record and think about my first moments of becoming a mama.

SC: I wanted to ask you about DJing while pregnant. I have a DJ friend, DJ Sparatik, who’s 5 months pregnant right now and trying to organize a warehouse party event where she’ll be performing. She was discussing the party with one of her friends, and when she mentioned that she’d be DJing the party, he responded with, “Oh, I don’t want to see that,” meaning he didn’t want to see a pregnant woman DJ.

CM: I’ve had friends DJ up until their last trimester. I think the issue was more with your friend’s pal, and that’s unfortunate for him, because pregnancy is a celebration. Why wouldn’t you play music? I, and [the other SuperJane women] Darlene [DJ Lady D] and Heather all played during our pregnancies and got really positive feedback. I played a show in Mexico City where everyone wanted to take a picture rubbing my belly. It was very cute.

SC: That’s so sweet! How have you been able to balance everything? You tour often, you have a family, you produce music and have a record label…

CM: It’s challenging. Luckily, my husband is an amazing dad, and we also get a lot of help from his mom. Since we both have careers, we try to balance our family and work life as much as possible. We have a two-year-old named Nolan who has added the most amazing dynamic to our family. It’s incredibly fun and incredibly hard. There isn’t really a free moment, but that’s okay. It’s all worth it.

SC: Tell me about your label, Candy Talk.

I launched Candy Talk very quietly two years ago. When The Music’s Loud is the first album I’ve released on my own. It’s been six years since my last album, Push. I wanted to start a label so I could have complete creative freedom. I’m really happy to be releasing my own music, and not worrying about making a label happy. I compare it to the first time you drive a car by yourself just after getting your license. There’s this freedom that’s indescribable. That’s what this label feels like. It’s overwhelming, but at the same time, I’m really happy to work with people I respect and adore musically.

SC: Are you releasing When The Music’s Loud in different formats as well as digitally?

CM: Right now it’s available digitally on iTunes, Beatport and Traxsource. We’re releasing the physical CD in two weeks, and then the first single, “Hotwire,” will be released on vinyl. It’s my first vinyl release in eight years, which is very exciting.

SC: Right, you had several stellar vinyl releases. Weren’t you on the legendary Afterhours label created by Mazi, Johnny Fiasco, DJ Lego and Spero?

CM: Yes, I was on Afterhours. And, guess what?

SC: What?

CM: Moody’s coming back!

SC: YAY! Moody, DJ Bad Boy Bill’s classic Chicago house music label, released tracks from 1996 and then closed its doors in 2005, right? They’re back!?

CM: Yes. Moody re-released everything a couple weeks ago on Beatport, and now they’re gearing up to release new material.

SC: Good. The Moody house music mainstay is back at ‘em. I meant to ask you before we wrap this up: what are your top venues to play? I know that’s a difficult question…

CM: It’s a very difficult question! King King in Los Angeles has become my favorite spot hands down. In San Francisco, I really love Mighty. Lanai in Austin has a great outdoor space that I love playing at. I’m also a huge fan of Reflections in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. My favorite club to play in my hometown Chicago is Smart Bar. I had my first residency there in 1998 and it was the first club where I really learned how to DJ.

So what are you looking forward to in the coming weeks?

CM: I’m playing with SuperJane at King King in LA for our 16-year reunion. So much has changed and also stayed the same since we started Superjane in ’97. Some of us have moved out of Chicago and some of us have kids now, but our friendship and love for music has continued to be very strong.

We played a few shows together over the summer in Chicago and I was able to capture the footage for my new video, “Best Of Days.” It’s a special video for me as it highlights everything I love about Chicago and this group of amazingly talented women. The whole point of SuperJane was to have women playing music together and not make a big deal about it as music is not gender specific. People were always surprised to see a woman playing records, so we wanted to have a night where you saw FOUR women playing. That was always the goal. So it’s nice that, so many years later, even though we’ve all gone on different paths, that we can still come together. It’s been a long road, but we’re having a blast, and we’re gonna keep playing our music.

What I find today, as I did sixteen years ago at that rave in Illinois, is that Colette’s music is timeless. Had that mixtape survived, I’d still be blasting it on a boom box. Hers is a talent that’s survived evolving formats: mixtapes, to vinyl, to CDs, to MP3s; now vinyl again. Colette’s talent has not only survived changing formats, but also riveted generations of music lovers. And it will play on.

Stop. Eject.

Visit the Girl website for upcoming screening and show information. Visit Colette’s site or download her new album via iTunes. Also, you can download a few free singles from the album on SoundCloud.

Read the 2000 XLR8R SuperJane article.

Image courtesy Greg Cayea
Image courtesy Greg Cayea
This post originally published on Collective310.
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