When the Bronx-born Chicago house legend Frankie Knuckles passed away last year, he left a big empty void behind. Of course, the music he made will never be forgotten, but now it’s looking like his legacy will be taking some other forms as well, particularly in his adopted hometown. For one thing, the new Stony Island Arts Bank, a center for African-American art on the city’s South Side, will be the new home of the house pioneer’s vaunted vinyl archives. The Arts Bank’s founder has said that the center, which is scheduled to open its doors on October 3, will be “a hybrid gallery, media archive and library, and community center.”
Meanwhile, elsewhere in Chicago an effort is underway to recreate the Frankie Knuckles memorial mural that was just removed from a building in Logan Square due to water damage sustained by the structure. Word has it that the mural may be duplicated in Rogers Park. The public art organization Mile of Murals may be involved in the project, which has been successfully crowdfunded to the tune of $2,000. So Frankie Knuckles’ corporeal form may no longer be in Chicago, but it seems clear that the spirit of his music will continue to be celebrated there for a long time to come.
Currently dividing his time between New York City and Paris, and living the musical life he dreamed about when he was an aspiring musician growing up in Japan, I ask Satoshi Tomiie during an afternoon Skype session about what inspires him. Since breaking big on the global dance floor in 1989 with his timeless track “Tears” cut with Frankie Knuckles and Robert Owens, the man who has risen to artistic sensei doesn’t think twice about his reply.
“I love what I do. I love making music and discovering,” Tomiie says. “I make what I want to make and it’s personal. After more than 25 years, I find music really interesting. It’s never tiring. That’s the music force for me: to keep doing it everyday.”
Having taken time to build his dream project studio after issuing his 2000 full-length debut Full Lick — which featured his massive crossover hit “Love In Traffic” featuring Kelli Ali from Sneaker Pimps — his meticulously crafted second full-length album, New Day, isn’t afraid to think beyond the dance floor. During our conversation, Tomiie spoke about the long and winding road to realizing New Day, why creative innovation is important and what led him to release the album on cassette. That’s right, cassette! Continue Reading →
Over 25 years ago Frankie Knuckles met a young Japanese producer in Tokyo named Satoshi Tomiie. Add legendary Fingers Inc. vocalist Robert Owens into the mix and the house-music classic “Tears” was born. In the annals of house music, few songs are as impactful and impervious to the test of time as “Tears.”
Talking to Tomiie about the details of his upcoming second album, New Day, due out May 20 on his Abstract Architecture label, Tomiie recalls how he learned about the Godfather’s passing a year ago today.
“I was at my friend’s house in Buenos Aires just chilling out,” Tomiie remembers of the say day. “Hector [Romero of Def Mix] called me. Nobody really calls me on my phone, except for a few people. I thought it had to be something urgent. The news was quite shocking.”
How did Tomiie deal with the loss of his mentor? “I didn’t,” he says flatly. “I couldn’t deal with it, basically. There was no way. It was impossible. I hadn’t spoken to Frankie in years, and that made it more difficult. Nobody expected this news.”
The globetrotting Tomiie says putting together an event last May at Air in Tokyo allowed him to keep busy and pay tribute to Knuckles in his own personal way.
“One way to ‘deal with it’ was with the party I did in Tokyo, which is where I met him,” Tomiie says. “His performance in Tokyo changed everything for me. I wanted to do a party in Tokyo to pay my big respects for what he’s done and what he did for me. He changed my life.”
Tomiie called upon DJ friends DJ Nori, Ko Kimura, Kenji Takimi and DJ Kent to spin at the party. Robert Owens, who also played a pivotal role in Tomiie’s early career, flew in to perform with Tomiie. (Listen to a podcast from the event here.)
“Some of the classics I listened to at his first performance in Tokyo from Fingers Inc., well, nobody had the instrumental,” he says. Tommie spent several days recreating the songs so Owens could perform the songs at the event.
“It was a part of the process of dealing with it,” he estimates.
All these years later, how does Satoshi Tomiie, who went on to craft future club classics like “Love in Traffic,” look back on “Tears” and the impact of his debut single?
“It’s my first record and my starting point. It came out in 1989, 25 or 26 years ago. My attitude to music is to look forward and do new things. I’m not someone who looks back a lot but this was a whole different time to make music. It’s a symbol of when house music was introduced to the world. It was a symbol of a good time for that style.”
Look for an in-depth interview with Satoshi Tomiie about his second full-length album publishing next month. Listen to Cevin Fisher’s exclusive Big Shot Guest Mix tribute to Knuckles here.
On March 31, 2014 our heart was broken. Frankie Knuckles, the Godfather of House and one of the nicest men to walk the earth, left us. He was 59, and he passed way too soon.
In the weeks leading up to the first anniversary of the Godfather’s passing, I thought about how best to pay tribute to this amazing man, one who I had the pleasure of interviewing many times over the years. How do you pay homage a DJ/producer giant who toured the world for much of his life, bringing joy to so many people at clubs and festivals? The answer was right in front of me: You celebrate his eternal spirit by honoring the legacy of the music.
Enter Cevin Fisher, the famed NYC house DJ/producer. Back when I was running Mixer magazine, I cajoled Cevin into mixing United DJs Of America Volume 11. It was Cevin’s first mix CD — a deep session of soulful, energetic house that still holds its weight since its release in 1999. Since Cevin took a few musical cues from Frankie, I reached out and put forth the idea of him creating a commemorative DJ mix of Frankie’s seminal tracks. Cevin immediately and enthusiastically agreed.
“I honestly felt like Frankie was in the room with me when I did the mix…. At some point the sadness turned to happiness. Frankie’s music does what music is supposed to do: It’s beautiful music, so when I hear a song by Frankie now, I just smile.”
“I was in the studio when I logged into Facebook and saw the news,” Cevin remembers of that sad day one year ago. “I was devastated. I just sat at the computer and looked at all of the messages about Frankie. I felt so bad for David Morales, Judy, Hector Romero and the whole Def Mix crew, because I knew this was a tough loss for them as well as for the whole music scene, especially for the dance music community.”
“Frankie was a huge inspiration to me and definitely a big influence,” Cevin continues. “Frankie’s music and DJing style inspired me in a soulful, gospel, hands-in-the-air shouting kinda way and his productions were always crisp and polished. There are very few DJs where I can tell who it is playing before I even see them, and Frankie was that kind of DJ. He was 100 percent unique and his music will live on forever.”
Listen to Cevin’s brilliant tribute featuring classic Frankie Knuckles productions and remixes including “The Whistle Song” and “Tears.”