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Keeping The Beat Alive: An Interview With Phives

By Katie Karpowicz in Arts & Entertainment on Oct 2, 2014 7:00PM

Phives. photo by Matthew Reeves

When considering house music's relationship with Chicago, it's important to remember that we're now three decades removed from its earliest origins in the city. Many of the forefathers and first generation tastemakers are no longer behind the tables, having since handed the reigns over to a new class of artists.

In music, time also brings evolution, that's what local DJ Phives (real name Fei Tang) believes. Despite the fact that electronic music has morphed many times since house was born, the foundations will always be there.

Best known as a core member of Porn and Chicken (a raunchy Monday night affair at Evil Olive, rated the best weekly party in Chicago by multiple outlets), Phives' diversity as a DJ is best discovered by digging deeper into his side projects. The musical minds behind Porn and Chicken (also made up of Dom Brown and Orville Kline) let loose mainstream bass music on a regular basis but Phives' new side project with Brown, Black + Yellow, explores deep house beats and his solo work often touches on trance and other early offshoots of the house genre.

After wrapping up a sweaty North Coast Music Festival performance with Porn and Chicken over Labor Day weekend, Chicagoist had a chance to sit down with Phives and discuss the state of house music in Chicago today, two or three generations down the line.

CHICAGOIST: Most people know you from Porn and Chicken, which is definitely a different style of electronic music from house, but when I listen to your solo work it sounds like you have a background in house music. Did you grow up with it?

PHIVES: I actually grew up on trance music. I took a break [a while back] but when I got back into nightlife, to be perfectly honest, I wanted to find a venue that I could work at that was different from all the downtown clubs. They're more commercial, pop Top 40. Not that there's anything wrong with that. I just wanted something different and at that point I was introduced to Evil Olive where I met these DJs that really changed my perception on what music really is and what house music really means to Chicago and the world.

These guys are Zebo, Knife Fight and a bunch of older DJs that really paved the way. They all really knew house music and had a foundation in it. They educated me and kind of sucked me into their world. I was finally taught that it was okay to listen to other kinds of music. Being able to have that experience is really rewarding.

C: And now you're putting that education to use with yours and Dom's Black + Yellow project. I really enjoyed your set at Riverwest [Music Festival].

PHIVES: Thank you. We appreciate that. I mean, obviously we have Porn and Chicken which is the bangers and and what all the kids want but everyone plays a little bit differently. That's why when we come together it's so unique. But Dom and I kind of veer away to our roots. He also dipped into trance when he was younger but both him and I really enjoy tech and deep house. Being able to have the opportunity to pair up and make deep house and the stuff that we listen to outside of Porn and Chicken is really awesome.

C: Nice. I feel like there are so many subgenres of EDM right now and I'm sure someone like yourself is able to see how it all fits together better than me. How do you see Porn and Chicken playing into house music's origins in Chicago?

PHIVES: I don't think we can ever be like, "Hey, we're trying to recreate house's origins." But we'll pay homage to the genre and the fathers that kind of paved the way for all of us. I feel like it's just kind of a natural evolution. We're giving the kids what they want and at the same time slowly educating them. I hate to say it but most people are kind of shaped nowadays. Most people that claim to be "EDM fans" don't even know what the fuck EDM is. I'm not saying we're the most versed in dance music but we're actually able to pay homage to the people that started house music in Chicago. We have Gene Farris and Diz on Monday nights at Porn and Chicken now and it's really humbling to be able to do that.

C: They're both residents now?

Photo courtesy Phives
PHIVES: Yes, they're there once a month so we're also able to bring Derrick Carter in and a lot of people that we have a ton of respect for. To be able to have a platform to also educate the younger kids about those artists is a really rewarding experience for us.

C: That is great. One of the biggest criticisms I hear about EDM lately is that it's eclipsing house and electronic music in its purest form. Do you think there will ever be a time when Chicago's nightlife scene forgets about house music?

PHIVES: To me, music is just a natural evolution and a cycle. I mean, shit, now days kids don't even know what a Walkman is but at the same time you can go to a record store and still buy vinyl. So there will always be that foundation and people that live to, I guess, perpetuate it and educate the younger crowds.

C: Do you feel like today's dance music community still perpetuates the same inclusivity and acceptance that house music was founded on?

PHIVES: Back then it was much more like people were big fish in a little pond. Now with the oversaturation of the EDM market, it's like most people are little fish in a huge pond. So, it's a little more difficult [for artists] but honestly that's the natural evolution. I feel like that's the way it has to be eventually. There's no other way for music to grow.

C: I definitely want to talk to your wife [fellow local DJ] Dani Deahl for this series as well because I'm sure she'd have a lot to say about being a woman in the industry but I would guess that you have a lot of thoughts on it to. Do you think they face more challenges in today's market?

PHIVES: My personal view is that everyone is equal. If you put out good music, you put out good music. I knew Dani and her music and her blog way before I even met her. Then we had a chance to book her at Porn and Chicken. To me everyone is on an even playing field but as with every profession and industry, it's always going to be difficult for women to overcome certain hurdles. Music is unfortunately bro'd out and buddy-buddy at times so they do face challenges but I feel like in this day and age it's a little bit easier for them to get recognized and noticed. They really need leaders like Dani and like the ones that paved the way for her like Lady D.

C: Who are some of your favorite house artists in Chicago, past or present?

PHIVES: I have a lot of respect for Gene Ferris, Derrick Carter and Diz. These guys are the ones that really embraced our brand and me personally knowing that I never really had a huge background in house music. Even as such, when I first met them they were open and welcoming. Even to this day, they're willing to come play our party. They're there to coach me through certain things. They're never like, "Hey, I'm older. I should be treated a certain way." It's a mutual respect and there are no words for how thankful I am to have that.

C: It's cool to hear that the strong sense of community still exists.

PHIVES: Absolutely.

C: I know it's already been a long day so I won't keep you much longer but I have to ask if you plan to do more Black + Yellow stuff. I haven't heard much on that front since the Riverwest set.

PHIVES: Yeah, I actually just got back from Barcelona with my wife. Dom did a show as Black + Yellow by himself at Chicago Fashion Fest which went really well. But obviously we had North Coast coming up so we didn't want to detract from that. Once everything calms down Dom and I will get back to it and be able to work on our side project again.

C: I'm sure things must slow down a bit once festival season is over.

PHIVES: Yeah, absolutely. I'll be doing some random solo stuff, too, just to deviate and provide a new sound that's unique to Porn and Chicken and Black + Yellow.

C: The Monday Morning mixes were some of my favorites. Do you ever plan to start those up again?

PHIVES: Well, originally that's when I started doing trance and a little deep house so now I'm trying to separate everything. Now most likely those Monday Mornings will transition into our Black + Yellow mixes. We have one coming out soon. And then Phives will have a new sound too that you can hear on my Soundcloud page.

C: Nice. A new sound in which direction?

PHIVES: An interesting one. It's something different for sure. You'll have to look out for it.

While we wait for for Phives to reveal this new direction, he was kind enough to put together a mix exclusively for Chicagoist. Stream and / or download it below!