Chrissy Murderbot and MC Zulu know Chicago and -- more importantly -- Chicago knows them. An expert on the Midwest house music scene, Chrissy Murderbot began DJing in Chicago in 1995 and has since dominated dance floors at over 400 events in more than 15 countries. Chrissy draws fans in with his unique rhythmic style, which he describes as 'booty-rave-jungle-house-bass-bashment-ghetto-garage-core' and his collaborations are just as diverse as his sound -- he's remixed everyone from Delorean to Lemonade to Nate Mars to Noise Floor Crew. Chrissy's most recent partnership has been with reggae artist MC Zulu, and together they blend Jamaican dance hall and disco into remarkably shakable beats.
The opening act of the second day at the Pitchfork Music Festival earlier this month, the duo managed to ignore the humidity and blaring sun to create a midday dance party like no other. Out chatted with Chrissy Murderbot and MC Zulu about mainstream success, dental plans, and why Chicago's drama is all about the neighborhoods.
Out: The Chicago dance scene has been around for quite a while. Why is it such a big deal here?
Chrissy Murderbot: Dance music is a part of this city in a way that it is not in other parts of the country. New York has hip-hop and L.A. has West Coast rap. Here we have house music. That is what Chicago invented and that is our urban music that transcends. It goes through a bunch of different scenes -- whether that is white people or black people or Latino people or straight people or gay people or whatever. It is for everyone! As a result of that, people take it more seriously and it persists. We also have this next generation of kids inventing hard house or juke or ghetto house. We always have this generation of 15 year olds inventing the next style of house music and dance music.
MC Zulu: He's actually an authority on this music. There are people who I knew personally, because I did house music before I got into reggae, and I did studio sessions with a lot of these people and he knew the kind of music and work they did. He has done his homework and gotten his credentials at the same time.
Chrissy Murderbot: I appreciate that!
MC Zulu: That is how I am for reggae. I live in Chicago but I was born in Panama and I am more of a fan of reggae than anything. I got my credentials listening to it and imitating. I wasn't part of the establishment and that is why I have no problem playing with a DJ.
Chrissy Murderbot: What's nice is being able to work on something that is a hybrid of sound system culture, Caribbean dance hall culture and Midwestern Chicago house. When you bridge them, then you have the biggest tunes and biggest bass and greatest crowd participation.
MC Zulu: It takes a certain level of expertise to know what is enough reggae and what is enough house music.
Chrissy Murderbot: It is all about mixing them in the right proportions.
Is the scene determined by the audience or the DJs?
MC Zulu: The only time I see a scene ever is when we play a show. That crowd becomes the scene but then it dissipates. I know that in Chicago there are a number of different scenes all over the place. It is a field of wildflowers.
Chrissy Murderbot: The scene here is great but it is completely fragmented. The footwork scene is determined entirely by the audience participation. The dancers are more important than the music. The traditional house scene is reliant on the DJ who sometimes picks up on crowd responses. There is so much diversity in this city that it can't be summed up.
A lot of interviews I read called you a contradiction because you are white. This seems like a completely outdated notion.
Chrissy Murderbot: Yes!
Do you still witness race dynamics on the dance floor?
Chrissy Murderbot: Anywhere in the world there will still be ignorant motherfuckers. You run into less of that in Chicago because people who come from the house music tradition will expect black, white, Latino, gay, straight, male, female, everything! This scene has traditionally had so many people participating in it from all walks of life. The city is very segregated so if you go to a segregated part of town you might get, 'What is your white ass doing here?' It's not so much about the music; it's more about a white kid coming all the way down to 87th street.
MC Zulu: That is unfortunately a huge part of Chicago culture --
Chrissy Murderbot: The segregation.
MC Zulu: It goes back to the Pullman days. They tried to keep workers and 'normal citizens' to specific neighborhoods. It is still part of the culture and you can see it in the party atmosphere. They have managed to keep it that way. The Burning Man crowd is the crowd that has been the most successful with integrating all the people. They come together and get music: black, white, Asian, gay, everyone is there.
Chrissy Murderbot: The actual diehard house scene is also very integrated. All that segregation is not about black music or white music. It is more about the part of town you come from. It's more about why would you drive 15 miles to go to a party when there is a party in your own backyard. It's unfortunate but a lot of people want to stick to what they know. New York doesn't have that because it's too expensive. You better take whatever fucking apartment you can get even if it is a neighborhood full of people who are different than you. Segregation dies because of the fierceness of the apartment market. It's too cheap here! If rent were twice as expensive here than segregation would die in sixth months. People would not have the luxury to stick with their kind. If a Mexican could save 600 dollars a month living in a Korean neighborhood, or vice versa, then segregation would go out of the window real quick.
I'm just starting to learn more about the Chicago scene.
Chrissy Murderbot: It's not like New York. Let me put it this way -- in New York house music is for thick-neck white guys or gay Africans and Puerto Ricans. If a heterosexual black person walked into a house music event in New York and he wasn't the DJ that would turn heads! That person doesn't look gay. Why is he black and here? It's fucked up! That shit doesn't exist in Chicago.
Location judgment but not cultural judgment?
Chrissy Murderbot: It's all neighborhood drama.
MC Zulu: That's very true.
Chrissy Murderbot: It's refreshing that there isn't color attached to music scenes.
To be a successful dance music artist you have to attract a loyal fan base of local followers. Because of this, how does fame translate overseas?
Chrissy Murderbot: I think we do a lot better overseas especially in England. England picked up house from us and then there are so many Jamaicans and people from Trinidad and people from Caribbean descent. That is what we do: the bass from the West Indies and the dance music from the Midwest merged together. They get it. They understand it.
MC Zulu: They know we are capable and good at what we do.
Chrissy Murderbot: Both of us developed a reputation and following in Europe. I love going over there. They are so supportive.
If you were to outgrow the local haunts you used to play, do you think people would still show up to see you at bigger venues?
Chrissy Murderbot: If you are from Chicago and you get booked at The Congress Theater or one of the bigger venues in Chicago, people will show up. They will come to see this local act play at this large theater. If you move to New York and then you get booked to play in a bigger venue, people will think, 'Oh that motherfucker think he fancy!' You got to keep the 606 zip code or there will be a lot of hate. Oh, he moved to L.A. and think he famous now!
MC Zulu: They will still come out to support you.
Chrissy Murderbot: Yeah, they will just talk shit in the back!
MC Zulu: I am going to switch everything up and move somewhere random.
Chrissy Murderbot: The South Pole! You can play at the space station that the Russians have.
MC Zulu: I will have a fortress of solitude.
What is your definition of mainstream success?
Chrissy Murderbot: Paying the bills! Health insurance! I want mainstream success with a dental plan. That is what I need.
MC Zulu: I have a day job, so I am not too worried about that. I am more worried about leaving a legacy and evidence that I was living. Every song I make might not achieve mainstream success right now, but someday something might illuminate that and everything we have done before. Then it becomes mainstream. If you obtain what they consider to be mainstream success -- and by 'they' I mean the establishment -- and you have a track record to substantiate that then you won't be a flash in the pan. Believe it or not, if you look at a mainstream artist like Lady Gaga, she has so many songs that were ignored and then she finally made it.
Chrissy Murderbot: Back catalog!
MC Zulu: That's why people talk trash about Lady Gaga but I love her and what she does. She's just like us: an artist who knows to do what we do but puts a little twist on it to achieve marketability. Pay attention to what you like and not what everyone tells you to like.
Would you rather play to a crowd of loyal fans or people who are new to your music?
MC Zulu: I don't care.
Chrissy Murderbot: I would play a very different set to each. I love both. It depends what mood I am in.
What about during daylight hours -- is it harder to make people dance?
Chrissy Murderbot: There were people out here [at the Pitchfork Music Festival] who were ready to get down! I thought it was going to be harder but it went over really well.
MC Zulu: Sometimes artists force their art on the crowd and it never works. That is why it is good to work with a DJ.
Chrissy Murderbot: You always have something to fall back on.
MC Zulu: You need to know when to stop.
Chrissy Murderbot: Especially with a crowd that isn't familiar with your work. You have to give them something they know and can process. You drop the weird shit on them to expand their horizons a little bit. It is a back-and-forth where you push their boundaries and then bring them back in.
MC Zulu: That is why I work with him. That is the talent. He doesn't come out and say that he is going to play what he wants to.
Chrissy Murderbot: MC Zulu understands how to work that and work with a DJ. He knows how to hype and get people into it. I couldn't be happier with how this performance went.
What was the last live performance you saw that really blew you away?
MC Zulu: Toots & The Maytals. I am glad I got to see them. I learned a lot.
Chrissy Murderbot: I saw Terra Danger at the Boiler Room in London a couple months ago. That was amazing. There is also a band called Elecktro Guzzi from Austria and they are the best live act I have ever seen in my entire life. They are these Austrian dudes that make minimal techno but it's a drummer, a guitarist and a bass player and they have a shit load of effects pedals. The drummer is so good that he sounds like a drum machine and the bass player and the guitarist are doing scratch guitar sounds that sound like synths. They are playing the effects more than the guitars. They do it all live with real instruments.
MC Zulu: I like straight up punk. It's raw energy. If you ever watch a punk rock show they just do their thing. If the crowd joins in that is cool. I will never stand up there and be Richard Simmons, 'Come on everybody! Get together and clap clap clap!' I am going to have a good time and you should have a good time. I tell you what, if you ignore me then I will jump into the crowd and dropkick you motherfucker.
For more on Chrissy Murderbot and MC Zulu, including upcoming tour dates, click here.