Fresh from his win for Best Emerging Talent in the 3rd Annual CHOICE Awards, we decided to dig a little deeper into the story of Chicago’s Julius the Mad Thinker. Spinning for more than six years and inspired by the spirit of the dance, he is fast becoming one of house’s hottest names with countless ecstatic parties to his credit around the country. But just who is this young new talent for whom world domination seems a mere dance beat away? Meet him in these 5-Answers – plus one more, where we find out how 3degrees Global came to be, what got him punished for an entire summer (boy, do we know the feeling on that one!) and what’s next from this burgeoning dance producer on legendary label, WEST END.
1. Let’s start with your basic bio; were you born and raised in Chicago and how did you cut your teeth in club-land?
Julius the Mad Thinker: I was born November 28th 1972 @ 9:01pm, in a city 45 minutes west of Chicago named Elgin. In 1984, I was introduced to house music through radio while I was in 6th grade. My teacher, Mrs. Larson used to let us listen to the lunch hot mixes every afternoon. There was a kid named David Sivila who’d just moved from Chicago, who asked of Mrs. Larson this favor. At that time, rap music and scratch mixing was also popular. I remember going to my cousin’s house on the weekends, and we would take two boxes (transistor radios), play a part of a song from one and record, then pause, and then do the same thing again until we filled the entire side of a 45-minute cassette tape. We were trying to copy what we heard on the radio. Back then you would hear rap songs and house songs together in one mix. The music was cool, but I figured every kid was doing the same thing, so it was what it was.
Four years later, in 1988, I was introduced to house music once again, but through the art of dance. I was a
sophomore in high school when one day I walked by the auditorium and saw these two guys (Orphy Dejournette and Randy Outlaw) practicing dance moves on stage for an upcoming school talent show. I remember walking down the long isle totally drawn to the way their feet were moving. I sat down in a chair and watched them for the rest of the period. I’d seen similar dance steps, like what Michael Jackson was doing, but the music was totally different. I asked them what kind of music it was, and they replied with this prideful half smile, “deep house.” I was like damn! This is pretty dope! They said all the songs were deep house, but the particular song I’d asked about was Gherkin Jerks. I found out just three years ago that Gherkin Jerks was an alias for the legendary producer Larry Heard a.k.a Mr. Fingers. They fast forwarded the tape a little bit and were also referring to some of the music as Acid or “Acid tracks”. [I thought] it was somewhat rigid, but atmospheric at the same time.
It was at that point that I became instantly fascinated with deep house music and what was known as Acid tracks! Three weeks later, I was introduced to my first teen dance nightclub named Discovery. For eighteen months, I frequented teen clubs and basement parties. I’ll never forget my junior year of high school in 1989 – the first night I stayed out dancing till 3am. My mother almost lost her mind. When I told her I was dancing, she didn’t believe me. Needless to say, I was grounded for the entire summer. Unfortunately, but fortunately, I didn’t learn my lesson because the next year, 1990, I was introduced to Chicago’s legendary nightclub Medusa’s run by Dave Medusa. Medusa’s led to Ka-Boom!, then Shelter, then the China Club, and on to Crobar in 1993. I’ve enjoyed nightclubs ever since!
2. Alongside New York, “the windy city” is another influential home of house but what is the scene like there now for the industry/parties/stores/etc.?
JTMT: The nightclub scene in Chicago is recovering just as every other industry is since the events of 9/11/01. However, I can say that there is a much greater sense of community post 9/11, partly because of what happened, but mostly because of a weekly event known as 3degrees Ultra Lounge.
3. 3degrees Global is a unique way of thinking about a community concept… how did you come up with it, who’s involved and what’s next? Details, details, details…
JTMT: Well first, 3degrees Global is a [worldwide] network of friends, connected by a shared love of soulful house music. Our organization is dedicated to providing forums where our members can naturally innovate, cultivate, and share each other’s creativity. As in most industries, the Chicago nightclub scene was and still is somewhat plagued with politics. In 1999, six of us, Monna (current Partner), Julian (former), Jeremiah (former), Bobby (former), Del (former), and myself (current Partner), joined forces to create a unique event called 3degrees, a name coined by Jeremiah Seraphine. Later on, I tagged on the ‘Ultra Lounge’ with the hope of creating the ultimate consistent event. The goal of the night was to have a home for all our friends, to create a sense of unity among the nightlife and to set a standard for hospitality given in a nightclub.
The name of the event, 3degrees, was inspired by the concept of six degrees of separation, the idea that everyone in the world is connected by at most six different people. It is our belief that like-minded individuals are actually separated by three people. Soon after we started 3degrees, we noticed that all walks of life were enjoying each other’s company – from nightlife industry employees, club owners and bartenders, to DJs and promoters. Experiencing others in this new-found environment was very exciting. To date, 3degrees Ultra Lounge serves as a neutral forum for house music nightlife here in Chicago. We now see more promoters, DJs, and even club owners cross promoting each other’s events. The goal is for the entire city to become a neutral forum, where everyone feels welcomed at all the venues, not just 3degrees and other small venues.
As the 3degrees concept has shown unbelievable results, we’ve started to implement the idea in markets such as San Francisco, D.C., and Montreal. New York is in the works as we speak. 3degrees Ultra Lounge turned five years old Wednesday, October 20th, 2004. It’s now run by Monna Samuka (Co-founder, Partner), Priti Gandhi (Partner), Alex Gray (Partner), Felix Cuevas (Partner), Ed Dun Jr. (Associate), & myself (Co-founder, Partner). Our plans are to authentically replicate this event in every major metropolitan city in the world. My travels have led me to believe that every market to this day suffers from politics; politics that are stunting the growth of all of our communities. In the near future, I believe that 3degrees will serve as the catalyst in unifying house music communities across the world, one city at a time. Hip-hop will be next!
4. As a retailer, dancer, DJ, observer and participant in the scene, which roles do you like the best and the least?
JTMT: This is a tough question because every role serves a great purpose that is irreplaceable to the whole. Well, dancing is the art form that prompted me to participate in house music. DJing is my passion. I approach this industry as a student, so I’m constantly observing, and as a retailer, I work at the legendary Hot Jams Records (located at Archer & Pulaski Sts) under house music connoisseur Andres Lopez. I absolutely love to present the records that I love to consumers. In addition, I like being partly responsible for pushing the music – it’s producers, labels and artists. This cycle is what enables us all to continue. However if I had to choose, DJing is what I enjoy the most, and observing is what like the least. I enjoy DJing because I have the opportunity to present the music that is blowing my mind. I like observing the least because I can’t cause change in the areas that are insufficient in the industry. There is no action in observing. I firmly believe that one should take action in the areas he or she is interested. Observing doesn’t cause change, but action will.
5. ‘The Mad Thinker?’ This we’ve got to hear…
JTMT: Most all my friends seem to think I’m very analytical, and that I have a tendency to break everything down. Nevertheless in 1998, I was co-producing a hip hop album (LONELY PEOPLE by Rec Center) with my partner Eric (DJ Emmaculate Aid to the SouLLess‚ Conglomerate) Welton. We were discussing the video concept for the song “Lonely People” with the artists (there were ten total artists). Shortly after hearing everyone’s ideas, I then went on to share my vision of the video. When I was done, there was total silence and everyone was just staring at me. One of the artists, Damen Blalark a.k.a Miles Bentley then said “Damn, the Mad Thinker!” After I heard him say that, it just made sense to carry that description of me over as my DJ name. Later on that week, I adopted the name and was totally excited. I started to share my new name with all my friends, and with the exception of Eric and Monna, most all of them disagreed and wanted me to change it to something else. Obviously, I decided to keep it. It was somewhat tough in the beginning knowing that my friends didn’t like my DJ name, but over time they got used to it. Now, they call me nicknames like ‘Thinker’ or ‘tMT.’ There was also a point when I would have gotten booked in Toronto had I changed my name. The promoter said that I sounded too much like a rave DJ, so the only way she would book me is if I changed my name for the gig. I turned the gig down. It’s pretty funny when I think about it now.
Bonus: You recently won your first UA.com CHOICE Award for Best Emerging Talent – congratulations again! What’s coming up from you this year and beyond, and how do you intend to keep the community’s interest?
JTMT: Let me say 'thank you' once again to my family, friends, 3degrees partners, the 3degrees members, the Usual Suspect family, the Yelton Manor family, John Davis, Kervyn Mark, S.U.M.O, Juan Valentine, and all those who have supported me over the years.
What’s coming up for me? I have quite a few projects on my hands including themadthinker.com. For the rest of 2004, I’ll be completing three CD projects. First, I’ll be mixing and arranging 3degrees’ first double-CD compilation entitled SOME CALL IT HOUSE, WE CALL IT HOME along with my fellow 3degrees Ultra residents Monna and Felix. Then I’ll be completing my first solo CD project entitled BEAUTIFUL ONES for the [Re]sound project on Ramp Recordings out of the UK, and I’ll also be completing another solo CD for Chicago record label Dust Traxx entitled tMT’S CHOICE.
In the Spring, my first record “Sunshine In The Pouring Rain” feat. Latrice Barnett will be released on WEST END RECORDS under my production team Aid to the SouLLess (DJ Emmaculate, DJ FLX, the Mad Thinker). This Fall and Winter, we will be finishing up four EPs, “Our Dreams” feat. Erro, “Jammin’” a duet feat. Latrice Barnett & Erro, “So Special” (Vocalist TBA), and an untitled project feat. Khahil El Zibar.
As for DJing, besides playing at my favorite place in the world, 3degrees Ultra Lounge, I look to make trips to San Francisco, Toronto, Montreal, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Seattle, New York, Vancouver, Boston, Phoenix, and Dallas. Early next year, I look forward to making my first trip to Europe during MIDEM, making up a rescheduled Egypt date, and of course the M3 and WMC in Miami. I can’t wait for the start of the 2005 Some Call It House, We Call It Home North American Tour and the 4th annual Get Large music party.
As for events, 3degrees has a few big ones lined up. Some Call It House, We Call It Home tour on Wed. Nov. 24th in Chicago, and Sat. Dec 4th in D.C. Also in Chicago, we are solidifying the last of the details featuring Lil Louis on Christmas day, and then of course the annual 3degrees New Years eve.
Lastly, I’m honored to be working with my production partner DJ Emmaculate on a very promising independent hip hop record label named CONGLOMERATE. Our first project will feature a release from a Chicago phenomenon, who stands to be the next biggest hip hop icon in the world, J.U.I.C.E. Yes, I know those are large words, but remember this, look out for J.U.I.C.E. and his 2005 debut album, WINNER TAKES ALL.
Alright everybody… take notes because you heard it here first!