Waveform 039: DJ Hyperactive

This week’s Waveform DJ mix comes from a true legend of Midwest techno; none other than DJ Hyperactive himself. The Waveform Transmitter’s Simon Huxtable presents.

Chicago saw the rise of acid house sweep the city with its infectious energy throughout the 1980s.  Artists such as Ron Trent, the Hot Mix 5 and of course, Frankie Knuckles were solidifying the cities notoriety as a birthplace of a youth movement that would eventually cross oceans and bring disparate groups of people together like nothing before, and listening on the radio were clubbers, music fans and future stars like DJ Hyperactive.

Influenced by Steve ‘Silk’ Hurley, Farley ‘Jackmaster’ Funk and others, DJ Hyperactive (real name Joseph Manumaleuna) quickly evolved from occasional clubber to DJ and producer working closely with DJ Sneak and the Hip House record store guys to grow his own brand – a more technofied sound more in common with nearby Detroit than his own city’s infatuation with the disco sounds of the 1970s.

Growing in stature through his incredible mixtapes, his label Contact, and an ever-increasing DJ diary, DJ Hyperactive left home base to relocate to the West Coast hooking up with DJ Dan and others in the 90s.  Today, after a lengthy hiatus, Hyperactive has returned as popular as ever, gigs are abundant and his passion for the music as tangible as always. We sat down with Joseph to chew the fat on any incredible career spanning some 30 years, the early days, the productions and much much more.

Hi Joseph, so great to have a chance to chat. How are you today? 

Doing great.  My label 4trk is back in gear having just released my own EP titled ‘Vis a Vis’, I’ve slowly started to get my ass in the studio again, moved to a new studio space.  Spring is here in Chicago, and tons of shows popping up all the way out into August.  Cannot complain.

We’ve so much to cover as I’m sure you’ll appreciate, but first I wanted to flip the script for a second and ask you if you wanted to say anything before we get going?  Things that annoy you, inspire you, a shout out, you know…

Nothing to report at the moment, other than a big shout out to the stateside promoters and music heads still fighting the good fight.

Okay, let’s rewind the clocks way back to your High School days, where the radio is the main source of music for you.  What do you remember of the music scene in the country at large at that time and how much of an impact did early House music have to you and your classmates back then?  

To some degree, all I could feel and want to hear about is what was going on in Chicago.  Chicago’s two main radio stations in the ‘80s rocked the airwaves Friday and Saturday eve into the early morning.  It was some of the most anticipated events you waited for each weekend.  I almost couldn’t get enough. You were on the edge of your seat waiting for each jock’s mix to see what new tracks would be played.  A beautiful time to grow up in Chicago.  

Entering HS right at the launch of House music and the whole B-Boy culture was everything to me.  Sensory overload of things you had not seen nor heard before will forever have a permanent and ever inspiring impression on me.  Hard to find the words to describe it all.  Chicago was on fire, and I wanted to be everywhere everyday back then.

Can you remember Disco Demolition night?  What was the city like to live in at that time?

I remember seeing it on the news and hearing about it but I was really not paying attention to it.  I was 10 when it happened so it didn’t really symbolize anything to me then.  It does more so now but that is a much longer story.  Let’s leave it at that.

The beginnings of House music center on Chicago’s ‘Southside’.  A real melting pot of creative energies and yet, as with much of history, there is still some disagreement with the finer details.  For Instance: some say LLRoy (mainly him!) invented the name ‘House music’ back in 1981; others assert it was Frankie Knuckles talking about ‘Warehouse Music’ after his DJ style at the club he played.  As someone who was there, what’s your take on things?

I’ve always heard Knuckles and house got its nickname from the Warehouse.  I hadn’t been to the Warehouse or Music Box but I wish.  This was right before and the early early part of my HS years.  I was a shorty with no ride and no moolah.

As a native Chicagoan, House music was all around you.  Working with DJ Sneak and seeing his Ghetto House style as well as others developing must have been pretty inspiring; the whole scene so fresh and new.  Did you have a sense then that this music would be a global thing? 

At the time we were hungry, and Chicago wanted more and more.  Not until I started traveling overseas did I get a larger dose of what was going on in more of a global sense and how much it caught fire.

So given the scene was so focused on House in Chicago, at what point did you begin to identify more with the Techno coming from across the way in Detroit?  Did you feel much of a backlash at all, people saying you’d turned you back on the city – you know how tribal folks can be…

I never really got too hung up on the genres and who was making what and where they were from.  I played tracks and if it was Model 500, or Blake Baxter, or Farley, or Chip E… it really didn’t make a difference.  If it was 4/4 and had some run way to cue up and a break, it was getting mixed.  I don’t recall much backlash really.  I came up and got my popularity through the Rave circuit.  That is where I had been associated largely with back in the early 90s.

Before we move on, I just wanted to ask about clubbing.  You’ve mentioned in an interview with Resident Advisor that house parties and impromptu gatherings were happening a lot then: all very low key, underground things.  But you did attend a few clubs such as The Shelter back in the day.  I wanted to get a sense of clubland for you then as our experience differs in the UK, with clubs becoming very much the focus very early on in our Acid House experience.  Were there off-the-beaten track clubs you could go that were only known to a few hard core House heads or was The Warehouse/Music Box and The Shelter where is was at?  

There was a point early on that I was tired of going to clubs and said I need to straight-up make the music that was being played being just a clubber.  That was a quick transition after I had turned 21 which has always been our legal drinking age.  I was a resident at Shelter right up to the end of ‘97 and then I headed West to LA.

Okay, lets move on.  Enough history lessons… After moving west and taking a break from the scene, about five years ago you decided to return.  I guess the obvious place to jump in is what was the genesis of that decision and what have been your impressions of the music scene now fully formed?

I needed/ wanted to return to Chicago, my daughter was heading into her 2nd year of college, I had been divorced for a while by then, and I missed home.  I missed my family dearly and it was the right time to return regardless of what was happening in the scene.  Many of the OG clubs had closed, raves were pretty much gone, and all the new clubs had risen and the scene basically had already turned the corner.  For better or worse, I was coming home.

As a DJ, you’ve always pushed the limits: mixing on 4 decks back in the day for instance.  With technology taking up a lot of the slack now, has it been easier to be creative or does that need to see what’s possible become a burden?

This is one debate I try to veer from.  As long as you can be creative and expressive that’s all that matters.  If you can rock a crowd on whatever you are using, then so be it.

Woody McBride played a large part in your development as an artist.  For those unfamiliar could you give us an idea of him as a DJ and a mentor?  Have there been DJs coming up that you’ve been able to mentor like he did for you?

By the time I met Woody I was already on the production expressway and Woody played a large part of kickin’ off my travel overseas and solidifying my involvement in the Midwest Rave scene.  I had released a few projects on several of Woody’s many labels he was juggling at that time.  Seemed like there was 10 or more…lol.

We understand that when you moved West, you had a family.  If we could we ask about them, I wanted to know if your kids have followed you into dance music?  And whether its been difficult to be supportive as their dad knowing what you know about the inner workings of the music business? 

I have one daughter and she is not really in the mix in my music scene but has been to numerous events over the past recent years.  She was too young and I had shielded her from the crazy days of the ‘90s.  She’s mad supportive of me now that she has a choice to attend.

In the RA interview you quip that “DJs were a dime a dozen even back then.” Given how DJ culture has developed, do you stand by that statement and how do you feel about the way DJs are now valued like sport stars.

It is a different game now.  Back in the day it applied more.  There’s so many rising stars now I do not know a lot of their back story.  I still think the marketability of a DJ comes from being a DJ + producer.  I am not the judge though.  It just seems to make the most sense frankly.

Let’s talk about mixtapes.  I LOVE a good mixtape, there’s something truly mystical about making them; pouring your heart into the track selections, making sure each transition is just so and finally the artwork for the inlay card.  Do you think we lost something along the way when recording a mix moved onto a digital format?

I think the touchy/ feely part of a tangible piece of wax, or CD, or even cassette was a great period as a music lover and producer.  You could argue we lost something, definitely.

Other than your own, who makes a good mixtape? (any genre)

I never bought anyone’s mixtapes but the ones I did hear, Mark Farina had some nice early Mushroom Jazz mixes.  Terry Mullan had some dope classic mixtapes.

As a producer, you started out with a Roland 606 and a keyboard (remind me, I forgot the brand).  And like a lot of acid house pioneers, you learned everything from the manuals and trial and error.  It must have been hard in those first few months, did you ever consider quitting out of sheer frustration? 

I did not have the manuals for the majority of the early gear I had except for the Ensoniq EPS.  I was somewhat forced to read it unfortunately.  I do not like digging through manuals, and menu diving I am not a big fan of.  The more knobs it had the better I reckon.  I wanted to quit when there was this transition from hardware to s/w.

Tell us a bit about the 606.  It’s not a drum machine that many really know.  Did it work in the same way as its big brothers 808 and 909?

The track write/play was basically the same as the 707, 727, 808, 909… Step sequencing and you’re on your way!  Simple.

You’ve talked before about adopting computer software as part of the production process pretty early on.  What do you use these days and how do you compare the making of music now which can be totally in the box?

I use Ableton now, and I have come a long way in the realm of s/w.  It was a rocky start but I am comfortable now in the workflow in Ableton.  It makes sense to me and I keep learning things even now.  I have a hybrid rig and more and more hardware is filling my space.

I wanted to finish off talking about record labels.  Yours is 4 Track now, but it’s not your first.  Can you talk us through how the whole label experience has changed for you?  From the old days of rigorous A&R, finding a mastering house, promoting, selling, getting a good deal to now where its a few clicks of a mouse and your a record label owner.   

I pressed the first couple of projects on my own and that was a pain in the ass.  I had a P&D deal for Contact Records, and all I had to do is get it mastered locally in Chi, and pressings were done at Sony.  It got easier over time, but then poof… You know the rest of the history.

I think that’s a great place to wrap things up.  It’s been an immense pleasure to meet you,  Joseph and chat, really interesting stuff.  Thank you. I wonder if I could be a little cliche in closing and ask you for your top 3 pieces of advice to give new artists…

  1. If you have a minimal set up, learn/love it.  Make the most out of what you already have.
  2. Get out and listen to DJs and get exposed to the sounds you lean toward.
  3. Stick to your style if that’s what your heart is telling you!  Tune out the other noise.

Author: simon huxtable

Jack of all trades, Simon likes long walks on the beach, strong alcoholic drinks and dancing all night long. Most of all, he enjoys writing in the third person and Progressive House. Sometimes at the same time.

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