The Chicago House God still enjoying the ride with an amazing tale to tell
A veteran of house music since the start, DJ, producer and entertainer K’Alexi Shelby has been a leading light in the scene for the past twenty years. Known as one of the founding fathers of Chicago house, K’Alexi was just twelve years of age when he found himself moving in the right circles with the likes of Ron Hardy and Frankie Knuckles. He frequented all the classic clubs of the day including The Warehouse and Music box whilst taking inspiration from artists such as Stevie Wonder, Curtis Mayfield, David Huff and a mirage of other musical genres from the 70s and 80s that still shapes his sound today. Like a true pioneer, early success came in 1987 with his first release Essence of a Dream under the moniker Risque III which established the name K’Alexi with all the other well-known house producers at the time. The single enabled him to collaborate with fellow Chicago legends Marshall Jefferson, Mr Lee and Mike Dunn. The 1991 EP It’s Me/Club M.C.M did equally well and became an instant club classic, appearing on numerous compilations including albums by techno DJs Laurent Garnier and DJ Hell. Over the years, K-Alexi has collaborated with a diverse range of artists including Derrick May, Dave Angel and Felix da Housecat. He has also provided remixes for The Pet Shop Boys and Will Smith. As a DJ, K’Alexi has played a just about everywhere and still continues to do so today playing a healthy selection of house, disco and TecSoul, the latter genre being his own creation and label name also.
Words: Pete Rann
You were back in Berlin last year and also played some other parties around Europe, how were they?
"Berlin was wonderful and just a non-stop place to party. The people always treat me like a family member each time I visit, so hope to be back real soon. The other parties were also great fun too."
You’re often cited as one of the Godfathers of Chicago House, how does that feel?
"It's odd to be a part of something so big, yet I also love being part of something that can't be taken away. I did it; I was there, now it’s time to do more."
Are you still running your label TecSoul? Are there any forthcoming releases to watch out for this year?
"Yes, there is plenty of new music in the pipeline, check the TecSoul website for further details. ANYTHING I do for the label must involve my production team the 5King's. So, much more to come from myself and the 5King's!"
Do you have any other releases in the pipeline?
"Yes, firstly there is a 3 track EP I’ve done for Paris based label Syncrophone called Klassic K’Alexi Volume 1 which is out now. I’m also in discussion with Derrick May about new EP for Transmat. There is also a wonderful vocalist out of Russia named Rona Ray who I’ll be working with shortly. It’s also worth noting that Robert Armani is now part of 5King's and we'll be doing a track together in Belgium around April time under the moniker Cherry Moon."
Do you have any plans to tour this year?
"Robert Armani and I are doing a bit of running around and hope to show the world how it’s done..."
How do you feel the music has changed over the last twenty years or so? What has kept you in the scene?
"I feel technology has made it so easy for anybody to just pick up music production and try their hand at it. In my opinion, I feel that's both good and bad. To any up and coming artists, all I can say is whatever you do just stay true to game and don't think about the money too much, although I appreciate it is a factor for many people. As for what keeps me interested, well that's an easy one. Of course it’s the music and many friends I have made around the world over the last twenty years. I’m not just old, I am classic!"
Listening to your DJ sets, I can hear a mix of old and new, even some 80’s synth pop. Tell us more about you as a DJ and what the fans can expect to hear.
"When I'm playing a set and headlining, I can take my time giving you the best music of my life and hopefully yours but when there are too many DJ's on a given night that makes me have to bang you out smooth and sweet! There is NOTHING like a sea of people calling your name and that of your city saying how much they love you. I am and always have been one with the people and one with the flow."
You’ve played all around the globe. Are there any favourite destinations/venues that you look forward to going back to?
"There are so many, at one time Ibiza was my spot but now seems way too trance. So, places that I've played at and can think of right off top of my head are Chicago of course, New York, Japan, Geneva, Berlin, Hamburg, France, UK and how can I forget Detroit!"
You’re now head of international A&R for the label DJ International. Tell us more.
"Yes, that’s right. In regard to DJ International, I also have a new ‘TV’ show called Mr K-Alexi’s in the live which is project in conjunction with the label. Expect to see interviews with fans, DJs and even the club bouncers. The concept is to look at the history of house music from the past right through to the present."
You’ve been in the game for over twenty years, tell us some memorable moments or career highlights.
"It feels great to have someone tell me that my music has changed their life and being told that it has made a difference to their day if only for a moment. Then there was a party I played at for Loleatta Holloway whom I met and now miss so much. I also really miss playing at The Warehouse in Chicago every Sunday evening and Ibiza in the 90s.I can remember playing with Robert Owens at a gig for my birthday in Zurich and Yellow in Japan. Going on tour with Paul Johnson and DJing at the Exit festival was fun then there were the talks with Derrick May, living with Fast Eddie, deep conversations with Larry Sherman at Trax Records, the family unit of DJ International, dinner with Dave Angel at home with his family, living in the same house as Mike Dunn, Marshall Jefferson and Bam Bam, having teachers like Ron Hardy, Frankie Knuckles, Larry Heard and Robert Owners allow me to observe true masters at work; things I will never forget! Last and best however has to be my 16 year old son asking me more and more about the ways of the flow…"