Chicago house music is currently undergoing something of a resurgence. Funny thing about this supposed next wave of producers though is that many of them have been at it for years and are only now getting wider recognition. For Steven Tang and his Emphasis Recordings label this story fits all too well. The producer has been pursuing his own deep techno sound for over a decade now, drawing inspiration from equal parts Chicago and Detroit. Tang’s new release, The Verged Sessions, on Keith Worthy’s Aesthetic Audio is a prime example of how his sound has developed but also of how trends have caught up to where he has always been. Tang graciously took time for the below interview as well as providing a stellar mix that spans plenty of the aforementioned Chicago artists as well some other solid tracks.
Steven Tang – Energy Flash Mix
1.Obsolete Music Technology – End Pass – Machining Dreams (Unreleased, coming soon)
2. Keith Worthy – Rocket Science (Moments In Rhythm Vol. 2) – Aesthetic Audio
3. Daryl Cura – Waiting Room – Eargasmic Recordings
4. Space Dimension Controller – Journey To The Core Of The Unknown Sphere (Kyle Hall Remix) – Royal Oak
5. Kink & Neville Watson – Inside Out – Hour House Is Your Rush
6. Ron Trent – Urban Skylinez (Altered States Sampler) – Prescription Classic Recordings
7. Mr. G – Low Slung (My Crazy Neighbors EP) – Moods & Grooves
8. Zank – Vacuum Direct EP – Housedust
9. Dope Dog – Keep House Unda’ground – Touche
10. Hakim Murphy – Alkeme (Acid Basics EP) – Machining Dreams
11. Chicago Skyway – Acid (Wolfgang Hair EP) – Uzuri
12. Steven Tang – Aerial (Verged Sessions) – Aesthetic Audio
13. Patrice Scott – Excursions – Sistrum Recordings
14. DJ Kaos -Leopard Theme #1 Compiled by DJ Kaos – Skylax Records
Q: Can you describe your approach and equipment used for the mix?
A: My approach to this mix, or any other mix, is to first decide on its direction; in terms of the genre, i.e. house, techno, and sometimes all of the above. Then I just pick out the tunes and play around with them to see what sounds good together. Once I have my set, I play it through and record it in one pass. It’s a pretty basic approach I think to most DJs, if not all. The equipment I used for this mix is 2 x Technique 1200 turntables and a Pioneer CDJ 1000 MKII connected to an old Vestax PMC-17A mixer. For recording, I use an Olympus LS-10, and for mastering, I use Propellerhead RECORD and/or Cockos REAPER.
Q: I remember your first release on Emphasis and wondering who and where did this come from. How long had you been working on music before that release came to be?
A: I started building my studio and working on music back in 1996. Originally going in, I wanted to make banging hard techno tracks for the dance floor, the peak time stuff. But over time in the studio, my tastes had change. I remember not liking any of my harder tracks. I didn’t think they would sell and found them to be too repetitive, too minimal. I was also burnt out from hearing that style at raves during that time too. That led me to develop a deeper, melodic sound, tracks which ultimately make up the Windy City EP. I tried to license the EP, but had no takers. Since I couldn’t get signed to any label, I created Emphasis Recordings and released Windy City myself back in 1998. It was a leap of faith, but I really believed in those tracks. I pressed 500 copies before I even had distribution (don’t recommend doing that today). Sold the whole lot in a weekend through Watts and TRC and was paid in full a week later. Good ole days!
Q: Your sister is heavily involved in electronic music correct? Was music heavily emphasized growing up in your family?
A: Yes, my sister is involved in electronic music as well. Her name is Marina and she runs Alan Oldham’s Generator Records. Music was not emphasized in our household when we were growing up; education was, like most Chinese families. But I remember music always being in the background. There was always a radio on. I know my dad and his siblings like music. He even knows how to play a little bit of guitar and drums. Hmm, maybe music was emphasized, but indirectly. I’m sure deep down my folks wished me and my sister were young professionals. Well, now, (we) would be middle-aged professionals.
Q: You were born in Hong Kong and moved to Chicago which year? At what point did you hear house/techno and know this was something special?
A: When my family migrated to the US, we lived in New York during the mid 70’s up until 1981. That’s when we moved to Chicago. Now you can insert that Chicago DJ/producer cliché here. Ha! Joking aside, when we got to Chicago, my family lived in Hyde Park on the south side, a predominant affluent black neighborhood. I went to school with hip black kids and made friends with them. They were the ones that showed me Chicago house music. They told me what radio stations to listen to, so that’s how my sister and I got the bug. Instantly I knew it was something special because of the scarcity of it. To get my fix, I had to tune into the radio at certain times. And since I was only a kid, I couldn’t go clubbing to hear this new form of electronic music. This discovery definitely changes my outlook towards music. I saw the value in the good music, regardless of genre, and was willing to spend cash on it. Had I not discover Chicago house/Detroit techno on the radio during that time, I think I would consume music passively, like the majority of the public. I probably would be okay with just recording stuff off the radio and with the times, I would be okay with downloading free mp3s. One can hear popular music 24 hours a day for free. So why would I pay for it? Why would anyone?
Q: There appears to be more artists coming out of Chicago getting attention lately (Specter, Chicago Skyway, Hakim Murphy, Tevo Howard, etc.) What is the music scene like right now in Chicago compared to years past? Do you feel like there is anything remotely close to a Chicago sound now?
A: I think the underground dance music scene here in Chicago has been widely dispersed, and it has been that way now for a decade or more, compared to the scenes of the 80’s and early 90’s. That is my opinion. Back then, I felt and saw that the music was what brought people together. There was a sense of camaraderie, people getting along and on the same wavelength. I guess this happened because the music was new and exciting. But over time, things change and evolve. People change and evolve. Forces that we control and forces beyond our control cause the scene to stagnate and break up into little microcosm. However, I think we are starting to recover from that. The artists aforementioned and a couple of others here in Chicago are all on the same wavelength, doing their own thing or collaborating with one another, producing some great music currently. I believe this is the reason for the attention they’re getting and I’m glad for them. If we keep this up, we may spawn a new scene. And whether if there is something remotely close to a Chicago sound now you ask, I have to say yes! Clear example of this is Jamal Moss’s work and his Mathematics label. This and cumulative output from this new crop of artists IS the Chicago sound of today I believe, and it’s the closest lineage to Chicago’s house music past. These artists know their history, and you can hear it in their music.
Q: Your label and productions have always seemed to reference more of a deeper Detroit techno style yet your “label specializes in dance music influenced by the city.” More specifically where would you say your greatest influences come from, musical or otherwise?
A: That phrase, “label specializes in dance music influenced by the city” is part of the mission statement of Emphasis Recordings. It’s the essence of the label. And the music on the label represents everything I’ve experienced in my own personal environment in relation to the City of Chicago. My experience with the music, the culture, the people, my day to day, my desires, is what influences my productions. I heard my first Juan Atkins, Derrick May, Kevin Saunderson tracks here on Chicago radio. I bought their records here in Chicago. I experienced that Detroit sound here in Chicago. So no question about it, that sound has influenced me also, but just not the City of Detroit itself. That is why that phrase does not make reference to Detroit specifically.
Q: Have you any desire to explore more of your Asian cultural heritage within your music?
A: Yes, I do have a desire to explore more traditional Asian music, like old Chinese opera music, and possibly fuse it with electronic music. I won’t explore the popular stuff coming out of Asia though. It is no different from the music coming out of the United States. In fact, they emulate it! Major labels in Asia throw some stock hip-hop beats together and have someone rap in Cantonese, Mandarin, Korean, Indian, etc., over it. To me, that’s wack! I will leave that alone, thanks.
Q: The Verged Sessions was just released on Aesthetic Audio. How did you connect with Keith Worthy to make that happen?
A: The story kind of went like this, as told to me by Phillip Hertz at Crosstalk International (local music distribution company), and my former place of employment. Late last summer, Keith was visiting Chicago one weekend and he stopped off at Crosstalk. The company distributed Aesthetic Audio, so the reason for the visit was part social, part business. It was during this visit that Keith stumbled on to Emphasis Recordings. And when Phillip told Keith, the man behind Emphasis sat at the desk a few feet away from him, he was shocked! Keith didn’t know Emphasis Recordings was based in Chicago. Long story short, because he liked the label and the music so much, Keith wanted to meet me. So, Phillip forwarded my number to him. A few weeks later I got a call from Keith. We chatted a few times on the phone and he drove up for few visits. We hung out, got some food, some drinks. We got along, so he asked me if I would be interested in doing a single for Aesthetic Audio. I agreed of course and the rest, as they say, is history. I submitted the tracks back in February and here today, we have the finished product.
Q: What kind of responses have you been getting on the release? Are lots of new people just discovering you again?
A: So far, the responses I’ve received on the release have been all positive. Fans would say the record is great and they would name their favorite track on it; general things like that. There seems to be an air of excitement over this release. I feel it. With Keith, Patrice Scott of Sistrum Recordings, and others, bumping the white labels for almost 2 months prior to release date, it definitely helped fuel that excitement a little bit I think. Also, sample clips had been up on the web for while as well for fans to preview. I’ve had a couple of inquires about my older works already through this project. I anticipate that more will discover, or rediscover, my old catalog and will also keep an eye on what’s to come as well.
Q: What are the main differences between what you release under your own name and under your monikers, Obsolete Music Technology, Tang and Misguided?
A: Right now, I’m focused on music projects under my own name, Tang, and Obsolete Music Technology. Initially, with the alias Obsolete Music Technology, I wanted the focus to be towards what fans refer to as retro Chicago house; a jack trax type of sound, but making it modern. And with the music under my own name or Tang, I wanted the focus to be towards what fans refer to as futuristic, modern Detroit techno. Those are the differences between the monikers; while Misguided was an alias I used one time for music that focused on what I thought to be more experimental, and more ambient. I may bring it back at some point in the future.
Q: You featured a new Obsolete Music Technology track on the mix, when do you plan on releasing it and what is your future plans for the label and yourself?
A: The new track featured on the mix is signed to Hakim Murphy’s Machining Dreams label. It will be on the single; entitled, “Relapse.” My educated guess is that it should be out in a couple of month, give or take. I also have another future project with Aesthetic Audio, plus two finished projects with Eargasmic Recordings. As for my label, I plan on doing a collaboration with Keith Worthy, plus release new music by Chicago artist, Parrish Adams, a.k.a. Intrinsic, and Italy’s Piero Russo, a.k.a. E.S.O.M. Coinciding with the music projects, I hope to get out and DJ more; ultimately plan some kind of European tour to promote my music. Starting things off is my in-store appearance at Gramaphone Records in Chicago, on August 7th.