OK, it didn’t seem like our best idea at the time, but getting a penniless backpacker with a heavy Glaswegian accent to interview a millionaire house DJ from Chicago proved to be a stroke of genius. It turns out some languages are universal as British Balls’ Paul Collins talks to Felix Da Housecat about his secret love for Scotland, Chicago boy done good Barack Obama and the fine line between being commercial and being successful. Just don’t ask him about DJ Paris Hilton …
IN most cases, the hardest part of interviewing an international superstar DJ is finding some common ground to spark the conversation into life.
After all, what could I, a humble backpacking magazine writer, have to offer Felix da Housecat, a millionaire DJ and producer who has pushed the boundaries of house music for 20 years, a man capable of selling out venues in almost any country in the world and who, as if to emphasise his jet-setting lifestyle, is calling in today from Rio, Brazil, after another packed show.
Yet, to my surprise, I pretty much had him at “hello”.
You see, Felix starts off perplexed, unable to understand a word I say, but following these teething problems, his deep Chicago drawl turns excitable as soon as he establishes exactly where I actually hail from, providing an instant, and ideal, ice breaker for the conversation.
“Shit man, I was playing your hometown when you was in diapers!” he declares with a mix of pride and embarrassment.
“Forget London man, I remember every show I ever did in Glasgow. The Arches (a Glasgow nightclub), man, that’s where it at.
“My manager knows never to turn down a show there, it’s crazy, the same guy has been doing lighting there since I first played 20 years ago.
“I’ve been playing with the Slam Boys there for years and every time I play the crowd are mad as hell, jumping up and down and trying to destroy everything, I love it man, they know how to party.
“I even made a song about it called Cashback. It’s the coolest city in the UK and I’ll keep coming back ‘til the day I give it up, for sure.”
Pleasantries aside, Felix is well placed to judge the merit of cities having played every major venue the world has to offer in a career which has spanned more than 20 years.
A DJ and a producer, his upbringing in Chicago, the undisputed birthplace of house music, gave a young Felix the perfect grounding in the industry, and, after releasing his first single Phantasy Girl as a raw 15-year-old with Acid House pioneer, DJ Pierre, he has consistently been one of the genre’s most innovative performers, able to embrace new technology and competition to remain edgy.
As a result, he’s one of his city’s most treasured sons.
Yet to my surprise, Felix confesses a career in music wasn’t necessarily the path he would have chosen first.
“I didn’t want to learn keyboard, I didn’t want to learn clarinet, I just wanted to draw,” he admits. “I was the man for grafitti for a while in Chicago, I used to draw wild style battling and that stuff was the shit.
“But Chicago was the place to be for house music and soon enough I started getting into it.
“With the Hot Mix 5 and my dad playing the keyboard it was in my blood – I just did what people told me and I’m still doing that now.
“There’s no doubt I wouldn’t have got into it had I grown up somewhere else but it’s not the home no more. You got great acts coming out across Europe, particularly France, Holland, Belgium etc … and to be honest I don’t really go clubbing for fun in Chicago now.
He added: “I did make sure my manager didn’t book any shows for the election, there was nowhere else I was gonna be that day other than home.
“I had to vote for my Chicago boy, Obama, and I’m glad I’ll be going back to a happier place. “I think the whole world’s happy – apart from the rednecks but, you know, fuck ‘em.”
Of course, one of the downsides of the notoriously fickle DJing world is the inevitable cloud of disdain which lingers over any act that starts to creep into the mainstream.
It’s something Felix has rarely had to worry about, but he did suffer something of a minor backlash from some house music enthusiasts, who deemed him too mainstream a choice for a recent Global Underground compilation CD.
“That shit don’t annoy me,” he declares. “That’s just DJs trying to punk other DJs, it happens all the time. I don’t wanna get anyone into trouble but I would say a guy like Eric Morillo or someone is what people would think of when they think commercial. I got money in my pocket and I’m paid a lot to party, but there’s a difference between commercial and successful.
He added: “But it does annoy me how, you know, Paris Hilton is a DJ, yet you can get a Joe Smith with loads of DJing talent and nobody will take notice. It should never be about acting skills, it should never be about anything other than the DJing.”
And its precisely because of this attitude Felix looks forward to every single one of his shows in Australia.
Showcasing the best established and upcoming acts in dance, the Global Gathering Festival and Felix have gone hand-in-hand for some time and last month he once again stole the show.
“I ain’t played one in Australia before but they’re always cool,” he said.
“You know, I love playing Australia, I really do. I go to Chicago and everyone’s too busy trying to claim me as their own, I go to New York and everyone’s so straight-forward and straight talking, in a good way, but they’re so spoiled you gotta be on the top of your game constantly or you don’t get no love.
“But it’s never hard playing Australia. It’s always a lot of fun and the crowd are among the coolest in the world.”