Totalizing more than 350 remixes, Chicagoan producer Steve Silk Hurley is to be remembered as the most prolific remixer of the 20th century. With artists like New Order, Crystal Waters and Ten City. But also Roberta Flack, Kym Sims and Inner City. Not to mention Lisa Stansfield among many others in his client list… There was hardly a week without hearing from the man. From the second half of the 80’s until the end of the 90’s. Apart from a little period in the mid-90’s which would see him eventually flirting with R&B. Hardly so to say a week without discovering a Steve Silk Hurley remix!!!
“I’d come to a stage where I saw myself sort of mechanically working”, he said to me back in 1996. “Remix after remix, one production after another, and nothing else! I’d nearly forgotten about my family, my friends. I’ve taken advantage of this sort of break to put my things back in order…” Somehow saturated by the countless sollicitations from the record industry to get a bit of his sound. Beginning with these distorted sound parts, for much on his trademark for some time…
“I ceased using this. Probably because everybody wanted it almost each time. With the funny thing being that when I decided to stop, many other people started doin’ it. I don’t think I’ll ever come back to it as it had become like a cliché since then. Besides, I’m pretty much like in search for new sounds.” Just the way he got himself famous as well behind the decks. Blending elements and tricks quite unusual for a said House Music DJ, such as things inherited from the Hip-Hop scene. Not to mention a natural penchant for R&B. An inclination that brought him to eventually collaborate with artists like Ann Nesby (the fomer lead singer of Sounds of Blackness). But also Chaka Khan and Aaron Neville…
“I used to listen to R&B before jumpin’ on the House wagon. Parliament, Con Funk Shun… Chaka! R&B is what I used to play when I started spinnin’. Not only things to make people dance. But things with a meaning including Disco with some R&B edge like Teddy Pendergrass. And almost everything from The Salsoul Orchestra, back in 1979…”
From Disco to House Music, there would go Steve Silk Hurley during the following decade. This in a mutant Chicago scene that saw the arrival of new comers. People like Farley Jackmaster Funk, Fingers Inc., Lil’ Louis to name a few. And, in the meantime, the establishment of the first local labels like DJ International, Trax and Alleviated Records. With an ever growing competition in the clubs of the Windy City where everybody would try to program things nobody could hear anywhere else with the will to release them. And House Music was born…
The budgets were low, with the home studios replacing the musicians. Steve Silk Hurley recorded his first single along with singer Keith Nunally under the JM Silk guise. A cut titled ‘I Can’t Turn Around’ which is a readaptation from Isaac Hayes. Itself given another version – Love Can’t Turn Around’ – 2 years later by Farley whom Steve would soon after sue for plagiarism. Eventually before takin’ on DJ International to get his payment due for the classic ‘Music Is The Key’…
“I’d recorded ‘I Can’t Turn Around’ back in 1983 (although it would officially see the light 3 years later on RCA). And I heavily played it in the clubs and on the radio. It became really popular, but I didn’t know how to put it out. Nor did I want to launch my own label back then.” This explaining how he came to sign a deal with DJ International label head Rocky Jones to release ‘Music Is The Key’. The latter ending up on a fiasco which would lead him to sign soon after with RCA.
Alas, and like all his pairs (Lil’ Louis, Mr Fingers, Ten City), the first half of the nineties would mark the end of the honeymoon between the House artists and the major companies. With Steve Silk Hurley makin’ no exception…
“The record industry has never invested in House Music the way it has in R&B or Hip-Hop. House Music has always engendered mixed if not hostile reactions for many different reasons. Firstly because that it has been essentially perceived as a music for the minorities. And most likely for the Gays. But also because of its lyrical content, on most cases totally senseless.
Back in the day, House was a Black music strictly made by the Blacks. Then, along with time, it has been progressively picked up by Puerto-Ricans, then White people. Most of the radios programming House Music Stateside were owned by Latin and White people and destined to a Latin and White crowd. This most likely explained the arrival of a tentatively Poppy House, although away from the initial substance of the genre.
People don’t care about the lyrics in the clubs, as opposed to whenever coming to listen to the radio. The crowd goes clubbing for the energy and the fun. This being why the DJ’s tend to play dub versions and instrumentals. I didn’t have to get into that when I started coz’ the records back then had that essential energy along with a meaninful lyrical content.
No wonder why House Music never got in the streets, as opposed to Hip-Hop. House Music has never been properly structured in terms of conception, nor more than in terms of lyrical content. It has helped maintaining a certain spontaneity on one hand. But further thinking would have been much of a help, I suppose.
How would you ever have an A&R accepting samples like ‘Jack, jack, jack’ in a project we would ask him to destine to a wide audience? It may be good for the clubs, but no more than that…”
I recently stumbled upon a very informative article by the likes of Ronda Racha titled The Divine Creation of Chicago House on Cuepoint [Check it out for more…]
Steve Silk Hurley (as JM Silk with Keith Nunally) – Hold On To Your Dream (RCA)
Steve Silk Hurley – Work It Out Compilation (Atlantic)
Interview: Steve Silk Hurley
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