Hailing from Chicago, Amy dB is taking the worldwide progressive house scene by storm
There are a few things you probably associate with progressive house: Sasha & Digweed, epic intros, labels like Bedrock and Guerrilla, Frisky Radio, maybe even (if you're old enough to remember) motorcycle boots and Destroy shirts. And then there are some things you probably don't associate with progressive house, like the city of Chicago, Joe Smooth or, sad to say, female DJs.
Well, forget all that. Because currently one of the fastest-rising stars of the progressive house scene is Amy dB, a young woman who grew up in the Windy City but whose musical tendencies are more 'northern exposure' than 'southside warehouse'. She's the only female DJ to hold a regular slot on the influential Frisky Radio, while her shows on Ibiza White FM have been streamed over a million times.
She's made several appearances in the Beatport Top 10 - the overall one, not the genre-specific ones that your mate's Auntie Meg was No 1 on for three weeks back in June - and she co-owns the Cream Couture label, where she's in charge of A&R. She's also got the seal of approval of original Chi-town legend Joe Smooth, who's now her manager - a role he's never taken on for any other artist.
So get to know...
I gather you've just got back from ADE... how was it for you? Was this your first time there or are you a regular?
"I've been 10 years in a row! It's always a good conference to network, see my dear colleagues' faces from all around the world, talk about collaborations for productions and look at new gear and technologies, this year from Roland and Pioneer. It's a nice way to showcase my new productions, too - I played with my manager, Joe Smooth. It was nonstop meetings and interviews - fun, but exhausting!"
It's been quite a big year for you... talk us through some of the highlights?
"Yes it has! I headlined several shows for WMC 2017 as well as at Miami's newest festival, Rapture, where I played alongside Nick Warren, Dave Seaman, Hernan Cattaneo, Way Out West, Guy J and Henry Saiz - that was wicked.
"Also, during WMC, my EP Redemption, Oh Yes! ft Carl Cox Vox hit No 1 on Beatport's Tech Chart and No 2 for all Beatport releases - I was stoked to see this! My next EP on Outta Limits called The Revered/Ibizaaa was released in October and hit No 2 on the overall Beatport Chart and was the top EP release for Beatport's Progressive Chart – it was played more times than I can count all across ADE!
"I've also started some talks on some very exciting projects, but I can't speak about them yet. Oh, and of course that the legend Joe Smooth became my manager in late April. That too was incredibly surreal."
How did that come about?
"I've known and respected Joe for over a decade, I call him my music uncle! He'd watched my career, DJing at festivals and clubs and knew of my production. We started chatting about how the industry compartilisation of music changed the scene, and in our opinion, not for the better - it was becoming more about the ‘brand' than the music.
"Joe saw my passion for music and talent in harbouring a music soundscape that was different to the classic house DJs or popular techno DJs. He said my sound and musicality reminded him of a young Paul Oakenfold, or rather, a Sasha and Digweed duo from the late 90s and early 2000s - the "perfect underground melodic journey", in his words. He told me that he hadn't seen such novelty in a female DJ or in DJs in general over the last decade.
"I took this as a huge, humbling compliment of course and started telling him how I wanted to redeem the scene back, artist by artist: pushing the artist, the music above all else. Also, we wanted to bring redemption back to Chicago where we both felt lacklustre regarding the last decade there. So, he asked me if I would be interested in him managing me, and I was just floored. Of course, I said yes!"
I've heard many Chicago residents say the music is under-appreciated in its home town. So what was your early exposure to house music growing up there?
"I was a small child when I first heard the likes of Chip E, Frankie Knuckles, Larry Heard and Joe Smooth on this experimental radio station called WNUR. I loved how jazzy, soulful and catchy the beats sounded. It reminded me a lot of the disco my parents loved playing from Gloria Gaynor, Al Green and Donna Summer. It just ‘rang' with me. I also studied music performance and theory at such a young age, so music has always resonated with me.
"House is truly a feeling that I couldn't describe when I was young, but I know it was a feeling that permeated within me from the get-go. Eventually it led me to seek out records and cassettes from all over: Gramaphone Records in Chicago, to shops on Brick Lane in East London, or Takashimaya Mall in Singapore. I just started collecting them. My favourite tracks at the time were Can You Feel It? by Larry Heard aka Mr Fingers and I'll Be Good by Rene and Angela. Classic, deep house."
How do you think being based there has shaped your own music, if at all? As I listen to it, European rather than US influences seem the most readily apparent…
"House was already in my blood by a very young age. I travelled constantly with my family and began to collect and get acclimated to the fledgling house and electronic scene around the globe - Kraftwerk, Kruger & Dorfmeister, Tenaglia, Oakenfold, you name it. While my friends were listening to New Kids in grade school, I was listening to progressive, trance, breaks and electronica.
"I then attended the release of Oakenfold's Tranceport live as an underage kid and I was smitten! Then I started listening to Paul Van Dyk's Vorsrpung Dyk Technik, the TranceNation Ministry of Sound mixes, Northern Exposure by Sasha & Digweed, the Global Underground series and the Renaissance series with Seaman, Warren or Cattaneo.
"Later, I consulted the top recording and production studio under Vince Lawrence (who co-wrote one of the first house tracks with Jesse Saunders, On & On) where I ended up singing for him, doing A&R and artist recruitment for the studio and his label where I learned to use DAW programs too. I went on to become Music & Nightlife Editor of Chicago Scene magazine, covering events like Spundae and Godskitchen.
"All of this is really what shapes my sound today: the deep house groundings with the melodic, aura-infused ambiances of progressive and trance."
If you could 'keep' just one piece of advice you've had from Joe, what would it be?
"Believe in yourself, live out your passion and ignore the naysayers for they will always be there!"
You've got a weekly show on Frisky Radio as well. Tell us about that...
"I've been on the station since the beginning of July. Each week I host a guest artist, someone from the global scene who may not necessarily be ‘famous' but someone that is respected for their work. I learnt that my show has become one of the Top 10 shows out of all three channels of Frisky, and for that I am grateful."
You're the only regular female host on the station. Are doors finally breaking down for female DJs and artists, do you think?
"It's an honour to be the only weekly female host on the station, among people like Nick Warren, Dave Seaman, Way Out West and Quivver. I'm not aware of other female artists joining, but I'm most certainly trying to pioneer it in that direction, to give voice and opportunity for female artists in my efforts on the show and in my path overall."
You're also co-owner of Cream Couture Records. What's going on there in terms of upcoming releases etc?
"We are excited to release our first TrancenDance compilation featuring some of our top pre-released tracks. Expect to hear from Thomas Gandey, Paolo Mojo, Kolombo, Depaack, DuPrere, myself and many more. It's an awesome selection of sexy deep house, UK bass, and deep progressive coming out end of November.
"Also, I'm releasing an EP on the label with tracks from Thomas Gandey and Miss Luna (owner of Ibiza Live Radio) who is doing a deep house track featuring myself on vocals. I'm very excited about this project. It'll be released on vinyl too."
Finally – what else do iDJ readers need to know about Amy dB right now?
"My next production will be a collab with Joe. We've got some quality names on board for the remixes but I can't say who just yet so stay tuned! Light and music always..."
Words: Russell Deeks