Chicago’s Marshall Jefferson is one of the founding fathers of house music. A pivotal figure in the city’s explosive house scene responsible for seminal house anthems such as ‘Move Your Body’, ‘7 Ways To Jack’ and Ten City’s ‘Devotion’.
Having mixed down the supposedly first ever Acid House record “Acid Tracks“ by Phuture, he was also responsible for helping launch the successful careers of fellow Chicagoans, from Ten City to DJ Pierre, Kim Mazelle to Ce Ce Rogers.
As far back as 1987, he was part of the House music tour with Frankie Knuckles, Steve Silk Hurley, Roy Davis Jr, Felix Da Housekat and Lil Louis, which catapulted him into a long-lasting relationship with Europe’s dance scene, especially in Britain.
This weekend the musical pioneer returns to the UK capital for an extremely rare disco only set alongside Joey Negro, Moodena and Sartorial at Night Tales in Hackney.
Ahead of the show we caught up with the man himself to discuss his love of disco
There is a large number of people that refer to you as the ‘godfather of house’ however we have been told that you have an unfathomable knowledge of Disco as well. How often do you get to showcase this alternative side of Marshall Jefferson?
Not very often but I often play disco records in my set as disco and house are interchangeable where I come from in Chicago, and the same can be said for New Jersey, New York, Atlanta, New Orleans and other US cities. All the house heads listen to disco alongside their house. I love playing disco so I’m looking forward to playing the Tropical Disco party this Friday, June 21st alongside Joey Negro and label stalwarts Moodena & Sartorial.
When I got into disco in the 80s, DJs like Ron Hardy and Frankie Knuckles played lots of disco alongside house and these sounds continue to work their magic on the dance floor.
Is there a Disco record that stands out above any other?
Not really as there are so many good records but probably if I had to go with one it would be the First Choice ‘Let No Man Put Asunder’ Frankie Knuckles mix. It’s the first song I heard Ron Hardy play at the Music Box and it got me pow as he was banging it on the incredible sound system. It was huge in the clubs.
Good gigs are easy, but not every gig is a good one. How do you handle the bad ones? Do they get to you?
The good ones get to you and the bad ones get to you if you care about your artistry. Sometimes it’s the club, sometimes it’s the crowd, sometimes they want you to play another sound…techno, trance, which is not what I play. it’s very very rare in all the house clubs that the crowd are going to dislike my set.
What would you describe as the most important lesson for you in your career?
You’ve got to play to the people and rock the party by any means necessary. You want to make people dance and you can’t be selfish. This applies to producing too.
The early era of dance music still fascinates us greatly. Illegal raves, warehouse parties, pirate radio. When you look back, what would you say has been the most significant change to the scene for better or for worse?
The most significant change to me seems to be how quick they are to format the music. These days most people stick to a format in what they play. If a new sound came out today nobody would play it because it doesn’t fit into the existing formats. This really has to change for things to evolve…the dance floor hasn’t really changed in the last 20 years and if anything its become more rigid.
and I guess to go full circle… how do you see the scene progressing over the next few years?
As I said it hasn’t really progressed over the last 20 years and to move forward it has to expand the genre. The problem now is it’s really crowded with releases and when I first started there was about 25-100 new records released each week and Beatport alone are now putting out 65,000 tracks every week and that;s before you factor in the other sites likes Traxsource, Juno, iTunes etc. Thats easily 100,000 songs a week and people can’t look to innovate in this environment and the Djs play styles like tech house, deep house or any other genre all night long and therefore the music doesn’t evolve and expand in a more organic fashion.
Every time I make music I want to do something different and be creative. But labels and people often say can you make something like your old records and sound or can you do it like this. To me, it’s standing still but I could be wrong but it seems like that for all kinds of music over the last 10 years including pop.
In the past, independent labels came out with a new style of music and killed all the major labels and then new major labels would come up. These days the majors have put safeguards in to ensure their artists and sounds dominate and in its everything from giving away free records to radio and video plugging.
I experienced this first hand when Ten City’s record ‘Devotion’ came out and I had a friend who ran a record shop and was also a Billboard reporter and she told me our tune was out-selling everything that week but she kept getting calls from the distributor saying was she going to chart Madonna, and she said not sure. They would offer to give her 300 free records or 500 and obviously she wanted to make money and that is just one example so you can imagine the bigger picture.
Such tactics keep independents from popping up.
The introduction of electronic music and the counter culture movement that followed was the biggest change in youth culture the world has ever seen. In your opinion why do you think it resonated so much with Youth at that time?
If you go back kids always want to listen to music that their parents don’t like or approve of. From Swing to Elvis, the Beatles to Alice Cooper, Bowie – that was always the basis. If its pi**ing off your parents and its good music then it’s a double hit.
Do you think dance music has a role to play in delivering social, economic or environmental change today?
Yeah, that’s up to the artist and the exposure they receive. Its all diluted these days with all the releases coming out and less exposure for all artists. When did you last see a house record out of those 100,000 records break out and become a chart hit? And the culture’s wrong these days as a DJ will play a record and keep playing it until he hears another DJ play it and then he doesn’t want to and moves on to something new. People look down at you now if you play the same record twice in your set and yet Ron Hardy and Larry Levan would play their big records at different times during the night and even 15 times in a row. You got hooked on the record though and would come out of the party or club thinking you had to get that record. DJs don’t seem to break records in that way and you can even be accused of not knowing how to DJ!
What are you most proud of in your life to date?
Creating a few different genres and setting templates down that producers and artists after me would often improve on. With Sleezy D (who recently passed away) I did ‘i’ve Lost Control’ on a TB303 which was one of the earliest acid house records. The next one I produced was “Acid Trax’ for DJ Pierre and with the sound the term ‘acid house’ was coined.
Then I did the ‘Virgo EP’ on Trax Record which was a different deeper house style and they were songs Ron Hardy used to drop in the Music Box. As I said people coming after me often improved on the sound and did it better and I remember Larry Heard’s incredible ‘Can You Feel It’ and ‘Mysteries Of Love” following on 6 months later.
Then came ‘Move Your Body’ with all that piano and then putting the piano on house music records became a thing. After that I started working with some extremely talented artists such as Ce Ce Rodgers – we did ’Someday’ together, Ten City – all their hits, Kym Mazelle -‘Useless’ and Paris Brightledge on Sterling Void’s ‘It’s Alright’ anthem. This was my vocal song aspect and lots pf people came after me who did it better or more evolved than me…people like Masters At Work but I feel if I hadn’t made what I made then they wouldn’t be making the records that they did and what came after mine.
Finally, if you could play b2b with any DJ in the world past or present who would it be and why?
I don’t like playing back to back with anyone – lol 🙂 It ruins my vibe- especially if I throw on a smash and then have to give up the decks and you know how you feel when you get on a roll behind those decks you just gotta roll with it.
However, I’m going to give you my dream DJ Line up dead or alive instead which would include Ron Hardy, Larry Levan, Danny Rampling and Mike Dunn…although I really like Tony Humpries and Frankie Knuckles too. Any time you put these DJs in front of a crowd they’re gonna turn it and rock the house…they’re committed to giving people a good time and in my own way I try to channel that feeling
Follow Us on Spotify