Not everyone understands house music. So the old anthem goes. Nearly three decades after its post-disco implosion in Chi-town’s Warehouse club, the genre has lent itself to global ab-fab (read: absolutely fabulous) soirees, massive desert raves and, let’s face it, awful aerobic pop renditions.
From commercialism comes the need for quality control. For crying out loud, it’s not trance, nor is it techno; and if not spun by a Chicago great or someone with equal respect to its origin, then you might not have heard it properly at all.
One of the few left who values the true-blue gritty Chicago sound is the legendary Mark Grant. With production credentials matching his seamless three-turntable mixing prowess, this modern-day maestro has blessed dance floors with his sexy, soulful sets for 20-something years now.
Grant makes self-proclaimed music snobs happy to pay the cover, gives young-ins plenty of aural education and has enough cache with the white boy house-head ciphers to champion that sound for new generations to bump.
“I just want to continue what I do, branch out and keep that feeling I had when I was 12,” he says.
It was at this tender age, when his brother and his friends gave him a mixed tape, sparking an initial passion that eventually led to the production of 1990’s classics “Gotta New Love Thang,” “House Music Will Never Die,” “Dancin’” and a slew of highly-coveted remixes under the Cajual label.
This relationship resulted in the label’s 1997 mega-compilation, A Taste of Cajual, which put Grant above the international radar and in the same company of his early musical heroes. In 2001, he released Sound Design/v2 under San Francisco outfit Om Records, which found its way to Rolling Stone magazine’s list of top 15 records for that year.
“It’s hard to say how I got hooked,” says Grant. “It was the chemistry of everything—the fact that my brother and his friends introduced me to it. I remember not being able to go out because I was too young. I would listen to the radio until late and was playing records at home. It was a Chicago-based sound and it was new.”
The aforementioned radio show, an orientation of sorts, was Hot Mix 5 and featured house pioneers, Scott “Smokin” Silz, Ralphi “Rockin” Rosario, Farley Jackmaster Funk, Kenny “Jammin” Jason and Mickey “Mixin” Oliver. Grant took in the fusion of disco, electro, hip-hop, jazz, funk, soul and blues into a 4/4 beat like fish to water.
Three snaps and a soul-clap later, he scored his first job at his very own grammar school for a whopping 15 bucks. Paying dues was not too bad though, especially when your dad is your personal roadie.
“I have the best parents in the world,” says Grant. “They might’ve not exactly known what I was doing but from the very start, they supported me all the way through. I am so grateful because not everyone can say that.”
Mom bought him his first set-up, spacing it out between his birthday and Christmas. Grant also recalls his father tirelessly helping him break down equipment at five in the morning, driving him at night from one gig to another and then dropping him off at the airport the next day.
While bookings for Grant are world-wide, he can still be found once a month at house music haven Boom Boom Room located at Chi-town’s Green Dolphin club, where the genre’s most discerning audience could be found.
With the recent upstart of his own record label, Blackstone Recordings, a couple house gems are slated for release this year—“Shame” featuring hometown vocalist Swaylo in mid-June, and “Guessin’ Again,” with Chicago Idol’s Russoul by early August. Grant previously worked with Russoul on “There 4 Me,” currently his favorite club track.
“It has different elements and textures in one song,” he says. “I like it funky, soulful and energetic and I feel like I hit it on the nose with this one. I get the thrill of creating as an artist and producer and then playing it as a DJ.” MTW