For several years, John Chamie has been one of the leading personages in the Denver-Boulder dance-music universe. But lately he's broadened his scope. Now he wants to bring the sounds he loves to the rest of the world--and the quality of the early releases on Terraform Records, the label he runs along with fellow producers Jeremy Golden and Eric Gerd, find him taking big strides in the right direction.
The first of these offerings, a vinyl compilation called Systems E.P. 1, was issued last year, and it's an indication of Chamie's ambitions. The platter finds four area acts (Red Shift, Ether, Escape Artist and Constants of Nature) surveying various modern dance sounds--there are touches of everything from jungle to ambient--in an intriguing, forward-looking manner. Even more impressive is a more recent twelve-inch single from Kid Sonic, a Westword profile subject whose skill at manipulating beats and other assorted electronic gadgetry is extraordinary: The two tracks on his platter ("The Sandman" and "Enceladus") are among the finest dance-music derivatives I've heard this year. Obviously, other dance-industry types agree: For instance, Joi Caldwell tabbed the Kid to provide keyboards and extra production to You Got to Pray, remixes of the extremely popular club track released under the Eightball insignia.
Chamie hopes these early successes are just the beginning for Terraform, which he sees as a platform on which to showcase Colorado acts that haven't received their due. "I knew there was a lot of talent in Denver, but there wasn't anyone pushing the electronic scene," he says. "So that's what I decided to do."
Born in Cordoba, Spain, Chamie moved to the Miami area with his family when he was four years old. He subsequently relocated to Denver while in his early teens, and within a few years he was absorbing the eclectic influences on display in the city. He was part of a punk band called Taking Liberties (named for an Elvis Costello album) and later performed with a popular synth-pop combo, Bethnel Green. But at the same time, he was observing disc jockeys and making his own tapes and dubs at home. "I also listened to a lot of early hip-hop and techno, stuff coming out of Detroit, and a big dose of disco and reggae, too," he notes.
When Chamie started hosting his own parties and raves at the dawn of this decade, his eclecticism set him apart from his peers. Whereas many turntable jockeys of the era concentrated on specific styles and approaches, he found a way to blend different genres into a single, very personal sound. At the same time, he spent his extra cash on odd instruments and recording equipment that he used to create his own music--and when he slipped the fruits of his labor into the mix at clubs and raves, he was pleased by the response. "I started hearing people asking me about my stuff, and then I'd find out that they were doing stuff, too," he recalls. "So we'd start working together. And from there it snowballed to the point where we knew we needed to have our own record label."
In the months since this decision was reached, Chamie and his team have hooked up with a dizzying array of area performers, including D.B.O., a trip-hop combo featuring vocalist Adriana; rappers MC London and C1; Timeworx, a jungle collective; house music aficionados Rhythm Society and 5280; and flamenco guitarist Manuel Madrid. Chamie is also a member of a dub-reggae unit that's known alternately as Lush Life and Boom Stepper; he's joined in the ensemble by Phil Corbin, Daryl Stubbs (another Bethnel Green survivor) and Brian Bean, one of the driving forces behind Pulp magazine. "We've only played live a couple of times," Chamie says, "but we're hoping to get out there more often before long."
Needless to say, Chamie also intends to formally record his band, as well as the aforementioned entertainers. But additional productions will have to wait for the next two Terraform projects, scheduled to appear in a matter of months. The first is Systems E.P. 2, a followup to the first Terraform compilation that will echo the formula established by its predecessor. Afterward, the company plans to put out a more ambitious double-CD package. "It's going to have all the tracks we've done over the year on one disc, and the other disc will be mixed DJ-style," Chamie notes. He adds, "We've been talking to Astralwerks Records, out of New York City, about them licensing some tracks from us. We're working on a project for them right now that they might pick up, but nothing's been signed yet."
There's no question that Chamie has a lot of balls in the air: On top of his Terraform duties, he's manning the wheels of steel at Club America on Fridays and Rock Island on Saturdays, putting together occasional dance programs that are aired on KTCL-FM/93.3 with the assistance of air personality Dave Granger and hosting the occasional dub-reggae night or rave. "The rave scene is as big as it ever was," he reports. "I thought it was going to die out, but it never really has. It just changes and marches to different things, just like the music does."
Over the years the Denver dance community has been derided as backward and insignificant; in an interview that was printed in this very publication earlier this year ("DJ Keoki, Superstar," July 18), recent Colorado immigrant Superstar DJ Keoki largely dismissed the scene. Chamie chooses not to dis Keoki--"He's making a lot more money than I am, so he must know something," he jokes. However, he respectfully disagrees with Keoki's opinion. "A lot of people don't realize what's happening around here," he says. "It's really a growing monster, as far as the electronic scene, with DJ Dealer and people like that. That's why we're so excited by Terraform--and we think it's going to keep getting better and better."
Singer-songwriter Beth Quist, another individual profiled recently in these pages ("The World According to Beth Quist," August 29), is hitting the high road. She's signed with Original Artists, a New York-based management company that also represents folks such as Laurie Anderson, Cyndi Lauper, David Byrne and Bobby McFerrin (with whom Quist recorded in June). But instead of relocating to the City That Doesn't Sleep, she's moving to Marin County, California, to study Indian raga. Makes perfect sense to me. Once Quist begins touring again, she promises to make Colorado one of her regular stops.
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Wait: Details is another magazine. On Thursday, November 7, juju-music expert Sir Shina Peters makes his triumphant return to the Mercury Cafe, and the Damn Shambles tidy up at the Skyline Cafe. On Friday, November 8, the Mood Express celebrates the release of its new CD at the Sloan's Lake Event Center, 2045 Sheridan Boulevard; the Snatchers and the Rok Tots count on Area 39; and D Mama's Lava pours at the Mercury, with Mucis. On Saturday, November 9, Trickett, Bok & Muir reveal their first names at Cameron Church, 1600 South Pearl; Grant Lee Buffalo charges to the Fox Theatre; and Marshall Crenshaw appears some day, some way at Herman's Hideaway. On Sunday, November 10, the LaDonnas and the Hectics storm the 15th Street Tavern; Leo Kottke and the Del McCoury Band visit E-Town at the Boulder Theater; intriguing new popster Jason Falkner joins Suzanne Vega at the Bluebird Theater; and George Clinton & the P-Funk All-Stars begin a two-night run at the Fox. On Monday, November 11, Los Lobos howls at the Ogden Theatre, with the Wild Colonials. And on Wednesday, November 13, Alias Records signee Trunk Federation previews its upcoming CD, The Infamous Hamburger Transfer, at the Lion's Lair. Sounds delicious.
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