Interview | Resident Advisor + Smart Bar Chicago
Two Dance Music Cornerstones Come Together for a Month-Long Party
by Joshua P. Ferguson
Stepping out of my UBER in front of Smart Bar, Chicago's historic underground dance music venue, I'd never seen a crowd queued up quite like this one. The line was massive, those in it were both eager to get in and when we did, we were greeted by a sea of bodies—more than I've ever seen in my 10-plus years of descending into Smart Bar's basement shenanigans. The cause for this groundswell of party goers? DJ Harvey and the Black Madonna, two plot points that do a damn good job of bookending the past, present and future of leftfield disco.
This pairing wasn't some random occurrence. It was the third in a series of four parties in a collaborative partnership between leading online electronic music resource Resident Advisor and the iconic club. The month had already seen sets from elusive Japanese techno highlight DJ Nobu, prolific German producer Roman Flugel and supporting acts that include a who's who of regional talent and, of course, Smart Bar residents. With Harvey and Black Madonna's night on the books, legendary NY house duo Mood II Swing close out the festivities.
The series, called In Residence, sees RA partnering with outstanding clubs in outstanding cities to pay homage to 12 of the world's best dance floors. Smart Bar had the honor of going first. In addition to the club nights themselves, the online outfit did an amazing tribute piece that outlines the Smart Bar's history, its residents and the music that defines it.
In conjunction with our weekly podcast outlet Abstract Science, we got in the spirit of the Chicago-centric celebration and sat down with Smart Bar talent buy Jason Garden (known around dance floors as Olin) and Resident Advisor's events head honcho Ryan Miller, to get the low down on the series as a whole, Smart Bar as its inaugural destination and more on the artists featured therein. Here's what the boys had to say.
Ryan, you have a year long party series you're doing for Resident Advisor called In Residence. Can you start off by mentioning a quick, what is Resident Advisor for those who may not know and then tell us more about what's going on with In Residence around the world.
Ryan: Resident Advisor is an online underground dance music magazine. That's probably the best way to put it. It's a listings site as well as a ticket marketplace and it's got this whole ecosystem around it of users reading reviews and commenting and stuff like that. I look after the events and this year we've just launched the In Residence series because it's 15 years for Resident Advisor. What we're doing is each month we're taking up a month-long residency at 12 of the best clubs around the world. At each club, we get to program four killer parties with line-ups featuring the likes of Jason and such. And once we're in the cities, we're hanging out doing radio shows and record-shop in-stores and meeting the local scenes that make these clubs so special.
Before we talk about Chicago specifically, tell us more about some of the other venues that are being featured.
Ryan: It was a long process figuring out which venues to choose—quite a laborious one, but it was obviously crucial because there are only 12 of them. Next up after Smart Bar is Concrete in Paris, which is a barge that started as an after-hours venue and now it runs every Friday, Saturday and Sunday—with Sunday being the most notorious day there starting at 7am and running all the way through to 2am on Monday. We're there for the whole of April and have Move D and Veronica Vasicka playing for us. Then we move over to Robert Johnson in May, which is a venue in Offenbach just outside Frankfurt. It's an incredible room and incredible soundsystem, it's just like one big sweet spot in that entire room. There's something really special about Robert Johnson, which a lot of people will tell you.
Then we move on, I can't announce the other venues just yet but we've got another nine under our belt which vary in size and shape but the key for every single one of them is that there's a whole mass of people around them where that venue's in their heart and it means a lot to a lot of people and that's one of the key things we're trying to find when we choose these venues that we're including in the series.
Just picking up on what you've been able to announce so far, the other half of the equation with the venues is the talent itself. Can you tell us more about how you picked the talent for these places?
Ryan: It's a combination of things, as Jason will tell you. Booking a nightclub is difficult because of political things and DJs around at the right time and stuff like that. We had quite a lot of time to book this so the first point was Jason and I talked. I sent him a list of acts that I thought would be really cool at the venue and Jason would respond with guys who have never played. The way we try to work it is a middle ground between people who have never played the venue before and someone who both Resident Advisor and the club feel represents them and who they book—what the club is about really. That's why the Smart Bar line-up is varied across the month, from techno to disco, but there's something in every one of those guys who ties the line-up together nicely.
Jason: The way this one goes, it was on purpose from both sides. Smart Bar to me—and I think a lot of people will say this—there's certainly no one particular sound. So the first week is straight hypnotic techno from DJ Nobu, but then there's that middle ground with a bit of the European sound and the acid from Roman Flugel and then DJ Harvey and Black Madonna, and then Mood II Swing. So whatever your taste in music you can find it in the series and at Smart Bar more generally.
Ryan: One of the main things for me as events programmer is when I'm booking these events for Resident Advisor is working closely with the editorial team about artists that they support and how wide the editorial breadth is. We need to make sure I can bring that into the real space and bring it to life.
What was it that went into picking Smart Bar specifically?
What was it that went into picking Smart Bar specifically?
Ryan: Well, that's a big question. A number of things. Smart Bar and Resident Advisor have had a long relationship and when it came to choosing which venue we were going to launch at for the first phase, this one was the one where it was like, alright then. It felt a very natural thing for what we were trying to do with this series, to work with the guys at Smart Bar. We enjoy working with them, which is very fundamental we need to factor in when we're promoting them everywhere we can.
Jason: That's not always the case as it turns out. I can definitely echo the sentiment that it's much easier to already be on the same page in the editorial sense than to have any kind of nebulous or worse adversarial relationship with any entities.