Once a well-regarded bass music specialist, Chrissy (formerly Chrissy Murderbot) abandoned his thriving career to return to his eclectic, rave-era roots. Now he's produced a retro-futurist rave album inspired by the turbulent times we live in…
Few successful DJs and producers would ever think of 'burning' their career in order to start afresh. Yet that's exactly what Chrissy Shively did earlier this decade: turning his back on the Chicago juke and footwork scene and effectively shelving his best-known alias, Chrissy Murderbot.
"It was a scary process but I think things are finally paying off," Shively says of ditching the 'Murderbot' suffix and moving away from the distinctively Chicagoan style back in 2012. "Let's be real: if I was making millions of dollars, it would probably have taken much more courage to do. At the end of the day I do this because I love it, and I'm very lucky to be able to pay my bills from it at the moment. But I'd rather do this as a hobby I love than do it as something that makes me miserable and allows me to scrape by."
Millions or no, it couldn't have been an easy decision to make. Shively had already been DJing for close to a decade when he moved to Chicago from his teenage home in Kansas City, mostly playing what he describes in his bio as "silly party music" based around house, disco and vintage rave. He arrived in the Windy City just as the footwork scene – and the high-tempo, bass-heavy music associated with it – was beginning to thrive.
"When I was playing and making that music [in the mid to late 2000s] it felt like a really vital, interesting, quickly evolving, important thing that people outside of the Midwest weren't aware of," he remembers over the phone from his Californian home. "But at a certain point I began to feel that I wasn't getting the opportunity to play all these other sounds and styles that I loved equally, and I was frustrated by that. I also felt that footwork had become a formula and settled into a sound. That's fine, but I didn't feel like I had anything to add to the conversation at that point."
The masculine make-up of club crowds and aggressive attitudes played a part in his decision, too. "They crowds were more male, straight and less diverse than what I got into this for," he admits. "I was playing to rooms full of macho attitude, rather than ravers and people from the LGBTQ scene. It didn't appeal to me and just didn't feel like my scene. It's improved since then and there's now an interesting pocket of the bass music scene that's diverse and includes more LGBTQ voices. I wish that had existed when I was into the scene."
Since he made that momentous decision earlier in the decade, Chrissy – as he's now officially known – has flourished. As a producer, he's released a swathe of records exploring his long-held love of house and disco for a variety of well-regarded labels (including Classic, Freerange, Super Rhythm Trax, and the Cool Ranch and Nite Owl Diner imprints he co-founded with Alex Burkat), while as a DJ he's in demand to play deliciously diverse, dancefloor-focused sets that showcase every nook and cranny of his epic record collection.
"I think there's a thread that flows through everything I play," Shively says. "I like things that are fun, energetic and memorable from a songwriting perspective. I like things that are catchy and tend to gravitate towards things with vocals or big melodies. The vibe is going to be similar whether I'm playing house, disco, jungle, rave or footwork."
Supporting evidence recently arrived in the shape of Resilience, his first album under the Chrissy flag. A giddy, joyful affair that sparkles from start to finish, it fuses his love of all things rave-related – think hardcore in all its forms, jungle, acid house and bleep, for starters – with audible nods towards mid-80s NYC freestyle, disco, Chicago jack, DanceMania style ghetto-house, dancefloor synth-pop and much more besides. Released by ChiWax at the end of February 2019, the album feels like the triumphant distillation of almost 30 years worth of experiences, influences and inspirations.
"I'm glad it sounds that way, because it does feel like that to me," Shively says in response to iDJ's theory. "It's like the culmination of something, or the weaving together of all these disparate threads of who I am. Putting them all into one record is, I hope, a statement of sorts. It's an introduction for people who don't know me, and a re-introduction to people who know my previous work."
Interestingly, Resilience was born not out of sporadic, slightly random studio sessions, but a desire to make an album inspired by two things in particular: Shively's own journey through dance music and what he sees as worrying political parallels between today and the original rave era in the late 80s/early 90s.
"I was thinking about how much of our politics now feels like the George HW Bush and Margaret Thatcher era," he explains. "You have these ultra-conservative governments that are further stripping away the social safety net. That insane duel message of austerity and 'fuck the poor', coupled with xenophobia, anti-semitism, racism and Islamophobia. In my mind, it feels worse now than it was back then. I remember feeling like the rave scene was a response to that and a rebellion against it."
Shively's answer was to produce something overflowing with positivity, whose inclusive lyrical messages are designed help foster the same spirit of "dancing on the thin line" (as Coldcut's rave-era house anthem People Hold On once put it). In these terms, Resilience is therefore a clarion call to action as much as it is a misty-eyed invitation to dance all night with a goofy grin on your face.
"Now dance music feels like it's finally getting political again," he enthuses. "Yet dance music is still also very serious, dark and hierarchical. It's not fun, punk or rule-breaking any more, so I wanted to do something that hopefully touches on these themes of positivity, unity and perserverence – something that sounded like the kind of dance music scene I think we should be working towards building, In some ways we are, but in other ways we're falling short."
Words: Matt Anniss Pics: Bailey Greenwood (main), Ricky Kluge (diner)
Resilience is out now on ChiWax