“I think that electronic music being recognized in America is a great thing,” says dance music legend Felix da Housecat. “I think that DJs getting booked off of their Facebook likes or YouTube views; that’s something completely different.”
Felix da Housecat may be many things to many people, but one thing he isn’t is shy. He’s not shy about his opinions on house music or current state of EDM around the globe, nor does he shy away from talking about his personal journey to overcome his wild party-boy ways, including alcohol addiction. After nearly four years off the map, a band of promoters from Cleveland and a new management team ear-boxed him back into the studio last year. Now he’s sitting on a mound of nearly finished material, including an album with reggae master Lee “Scratch” Perry, and is preparing to release his first new music since 2011 — “Sinner Winner,” a three-track EP (Pre-Order via iTunes) of electro-house evangelism on No Shame/Rude Photo, out March 18. Check out an exclusive stream of the title track, as remixed by another legend, Green Velvet (which will be released exclusively via Beatport on March 25).
The DJ/producer born Felix Stallings Jr. came up via the Chicago house scene of the ’80s and ’90s under the wing of DJ Pierre, and released seminal tracks as Aphrohead, and many other aliases tied to specific genres. His work — a combination of Chicago chunk, 808 squelch, and his own unpredictable quirk — has always stood apart. Perhaps that’s why his 2001 album with Miss Kittin, “Kittenz (And Thee Glitz),” which was supposed to kick-start the electroclash movement, ended up standing almost alone, an artifact from a movement that never really happened. In the last few decades he’s introduced artists like P Diddy and will.i.am to the sound, culture and party style of the house scene, and remixed a classic Nina Simone track (“Sinnerman”), which was featured in a notable HTC TV spot.
We Skyped with Felix, now living to London, to chat about “Sinner Winner,” his mezcal-fueled heyday, why he decided to sober up, and more. Read on, househeads.
Why did you made the transition from the U.S. to the U.K.?
I was living in England when I met my wife and I reached a place where I needed to get out of the States and come back to London so I could get motivated again, which worked. I was always able to be around amazing musicians and producers in London. Don’t get me wrong, I got my break in London, but I was born in Detroit and I’m from Chicago, so I love playing in the States. But I was pretty burnt out from partying after “Kittenz.”
You’ve collaborated with a diverse crowd of musicians throughout the years — Diddy, will.i.am, and more — and still stayed true to your craft. What goes through your mind when you collaborate with people? How do you stay true to your own vision?
The Puffy situation was funny, and it came about through [producer] Nellee Hooper who introduced us. Nellee told me I should work with him, and I was like “That’s crazy!” Nellee said that’s why I should do it. So I flew to New York. Now I look at him like a big brother. He’s so open-minded. That was the first time that anyone on that level did something on the underground. There wasn’t a hint of commercialism in it. It was so raw. I credit more of that to Puffy, as he wanted something “dirty, grimy, and nasty.” He was telling me that I was sounding too commercial!
The will.i.am song was interesting because I knew Will before he was even interested in EDM. We met in 2002 in Australia on his Big Day Out tour, then ran into each other three years ago in Dublin. [Our track] came out three years later, which was frustrating, because it was delayed and now it looks like I’m not leading, I’m following. Will wanted the record out but had other obligations to fulfill.
So, you stepped away from the scene for about four years after recording with Will. What caused you to take that step back?
That four years… I was fighting myself. I was fighting the mezcal as I was a mezcalateer, and mezcal makes you hallucinate. I was fighting a battle within myself as I got so consumed with the partying and the drinking that when I looked in the mirror I didn’t recognize myself. My wife didn’t recognize me. It was scary.
The beauty of it was that these kids from Brooklyn called No Shame, they helped me come out of it. You’re the only person who knows this story, by the way. They booked me to play in Cleveland. I was like “OK, Cleveland has a scene?!” No diss to Cleveland, but I’d never played there. So I showed up and asked the guy Carlos “OK, where am I going? Where am I playing?” Carlos told me that his partner, his friend, had a younger sister who was graduating college and that she was a huge fan of mine. I was the surprise guest and DJ-ed in front of like, five people.
When it was all done I told Carlos that he had big balls to do something like that and asked him what he did, and he told me that he had a label called No Shame, but warned me that they were small. I told him that we should hook up for something, as I thought it was better that they were underground. They put me in a huge house in Manhattan and the journey started from there. I started making fresh music, and ended up hooking up with Lee Perry. Now I’m back in London.
So tell us about “Sinner Winner.”
It all started with my new management [Roo Farndon of Rood Media and Jay Pidgeon of Jay Pidgeon Management]. They listened to me when I said, “Just put me in a studio, don’t bother me, and we’re good.” I asked them for a couple weeks and now I have a few albums worth of material and like eight LPs lined up.
The reason I went with “Sinner Winner” first was because everyone was reacting to it. A friend of mine that I was working with asked me to give him the track to play out, and I told him it wasn’t done. He played it out and told me that people were going crazy. I said “I doubt it, it’s not finished,” and he said, “Take this edit and play it out.” So, my brother played it to my 13-year-old daughter and they both told me that I had to put it out. Then, I took the song and played it at Avalon in L.A. and everyone lost their minds. It was the craziest thing I’d seen since I made “Silver Screen” [Shower Scene, lead single from “Thee Glitz”]. I thought that it was beginners’ luck, so I played it a few more times and people went crazy at the same parts. And that was it.
What’s your take on how the scene has evolved, and how EDM has grown globally?
I think the scene has become over-commercialized. It’s one of those things… You stay true to your art or you sell out. I’ve never sold out, and I don’t plan on selling out. I was just like, “I’m just going to get the hell out.”
At the end of the day, people are going to get tired of hearing the same shit, and they’re going to dig deeper to find out where it all came from. They’re going to try something new and that’s where it resets back to the underground.
Ultimately, I’m happy to see it being recognized. EDM had a moment in the early ‘90s, but then it disappeared and the focus went to Ibiza, Berlin, London and Barcelona. I’m happy that it’s finally coming around that’s a good thing. But to see it be used and abused with no culture, it’s pretty sad. It was a movement – Chicago, New York. And that was really cool. I just wish it could be a bit more interesting.
Felix comes back to the States this month for a hometown Chicago gig and Miami Music Week. He’s scheduled to return to Chi-town in June for the Spring Awakening festival.
March 16th – The Mid, Chicago
March 21st – WMC Subliminal Pool Party, Shelbourne Hotel, Miami
March 22nd – WMC Hard Pool Party, Raleigh Hotel, Miami
March 23rd – Sinner Winner EP Release Party, Bardot, Miami
June 16th – Spring Awakening, Chicago