Raised in the house music capital of Chicago, Illinois, Amy dB is a name you’ll be hearing a lot more of. Her emotionally stirring and infectiously groove-driven productions have been riding the top spots of the Beatport Charts, including her most recent EP, ‘The Revered / Ibizaaa’ on Outta Limits. Interestingly, she’s managed by house legend Joe Smooth and has won an army of fans in Erick Morllo, Paul Oakenfold, Hernan Cattaneo and Robert Babicz to name a few. We thought it was time to get to know the woman behind the tunes. Here Amy talks about how being raised in Chicago influenced her career, being the only female artist to have weekly show on Frisky Radio, and how her working relationship with Joe Smooth came about…
Hi Amy, thanks for taking the time to talk to us. As a Chicago native, what does it mean to come from ‘the city of house music’?
I am proud to be from the city that gave the world the fundamental basis of house music. I owe my artistic influences to everything I grew up around, be that the famed Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the operatic Lyric Opera house or the variety of museums and the Art Institute. As a small child, via a radio station called WNUR, I was listening to the experimental genre of house literally as it was being created. Even back then, I knew house music would be a huge part of my life. Ironically, I ended up being the first female to have a show on WNUR where I brought the experimental sounds usually heard post 11pm, to a primetime slot.
Congratulations on the release of your new EP ‘The Revered / Ibizaaa’ on Outta Limits hitting #2 on the Beatport Progressive House chart. It also picked up some nice support from Erick Morillo, Robert Babicz, Hernan Cattaneo, Brian Cid, DJ Chus, and a load more. What’s your approach to production and what inspires you?
My approach is a combination of things – a foundation in classical music combined with my passion for transcendent, soul grasping music. I am classically trained in piano and vocal performance and have sung all the great pieces by Beethoven, Puccini and Bach, but also listened to alternative rock in the 90s: Depeche Mode, The Cure, Duran Duran and Kraftwek. I then went on to discover progressive and progressive trance in the mid-90s from the likes of Tenaglia, Seaman, Digweed, Oakenfold, Warren, Sasha. I was lucky to have travelled to 90 countries by a very young age, and being of Mediterranean Arabic descent, I was inspired by the ethnic sounds since the beginning of my life, really.
Your manager is the legend Joe Smooth. How did this relationship come about? He’s never managed any artists before so what do you think it was about you that encouraged him to adopt a managerial role?
Legend, he is. He was one of the first DJs, like Frankie Knuckles, but was much younger and underage. Frankie was DJing in the Southside, whereas Joe was DJing at the globally-renowned Smartbar in the Northside of Chicago, which still exists today as Chicago’s top club. Joe knew my history, my knowledge of the music scene and my musical foundation as a classicist. More than anything, I think it was my passion and my unwavering desire to sacrifice it all, for, and in the name of, music…
Looking back at your releases, such as the Beatport Tech Chart #1 ‘Redemption, Oh Yes! ft. Carl Cox Vox’, you don’t produce one sound, rather across the board of electronica. How do you position yourself as an artist when your music appeals to so many different people?
I feel like nowadays, everyone wants to compartmentalise their sound because it is sadly more a brand thing. For me, it is a music thing. I ask myself, how can I create one sound when music has depths, vicissitudes, nuances, dynamics, and layers? I just can’t. The greats like Cox, Oakenfold, Babicz, Joe Smooth, DJ Chus, all have varied their sounds over the years and this is what separates art from industry – two very different things. I myself, live for the art.
You seem to have a great relationship with Robert Babicz, he called you “a prophet of music”. What does this translate as to you?
He is my soulmate in music. I have helped push him to become more ‘aggressive’ with the changing industry of brand and social media etc., and he has always been my inspiration from the creative and artistic side. For such a talent to name me a prophetess, was the most monolithic compliment that anyone can receive. To have me be his DJ guest for his annual huge birthday bash, where Sasha, Solomun, Guy J all were guests, speaks louder than words.
Your relationship with music started at an early age, playing piano from the age of six and then singing in Chicago state choirs. Who got you into this – did any family members guide you this way?
Music has always been in my family. In my Mediterranean Arabic background, music is the language of love and passion. My father and his brothers were all singers with gorgeous voices. It was mandatory by my family to study and perform music from an early age. I kinda hated it at first, but I’m glad I stuck by it, since it really is what gave me the edge to know and produce music.
Do you recall the moment that you fell in love with electronic music? And when did you decide it was something you wanted to make a career out of?
There are a few moments. Listening to the release of Oakenfolds’ ‘Tranceport’ whilst underage and seeing him perform it live was a defining moment. Listening to Paul Van Dyk’s ‘Vorsrpung Dyk Technik’, Kruger & Dorfmeister, Ministry of Sound ‘TranceNation’ mixed by Tenaglia, and of course, ‘Northern Exposure’ by Sasha and Diggers. Three Drives On A Vinyl ‘Greece 2OOO’ was the track that made me think, I can make this sublime music.
You host a weekly show on Frisky Radio, a station where you are the only weekly female presenter. It’s an age old question, but why do you think there are so few women in electronic music?
By socialisation, and on the whole, women think that anything technically oriented is a taboo. There’s also still an undercurrent of the music business being sexist and ageist. Couple that with the nightlife part of DJ culture, where your days are your nights and the nights are the day work hours – and the stigma of drugs and sex playing into it – it’s a scary industry that’s not for everyone.
Your talents aren’t just limited to the studio. Tell us about your most memorable gig. Do you also remember your first DJ set – when and where was it?
My most memorable gig was playing at Robert Babicz birthday bash at Gewöbe in Cologne, Germany. Solomun had played as the guest the year before, and Sasha the year prior to that, and it was Guy J who followed my appearance – a wonderful series of guests! My first gig consisted of two sets in one night at the famous Martini Ranch in Chicago and at Crobar. I was like a train wreck, totally screwing up out of pure nerves! I actually went on to be a resident DJ at Martini Ranch, it was a special club. Its other residents included Joe Smooth, Frankie Knuckles, Derrick Carter, Ron Trent, Maurice Joshua… I was has honoured to be the last DJ ever to play there.
Where can we catch you playing next?
I am taking some time off to produce another EP, this time in collaboration with my manager Joe Smooth and I’m super excited! I will be playing in Lebanon at a new club opening in December and at SmartBar Chicago, also in December. I’ll be touring to Sri Lanka thereafter, I cannot wait.
Tell us 5 things that we need to know about Amy dB.
I have degrees in economics, languages, music and religion.
I can drive a race car.
I sing opera and like to spontaneously sing on live sets.
I love TV shows on ancient aliens, astrophysics, and religion.
Food is another of my passions – I’m told I cook very well!
And 5 tracks that are big in your box, right now…
Brian Cid – Pluto
Stan Kolev – Arpeggios
Nick Devon – The Poem
And I have to put in my latest tracks!
Amy dB – The Revered (Original Mix)
Amy dB – Ibizaaa (Yuriy from Russia Remix)
Many thanks for your time, Amy.
Thank you! Music, love and light always
Amy dB ‘The Revered / Ibizaaa’ EP with remixes from Stan Kolev and Yuriy From Russia is out now on Outta Limits Recordings.