All photos by Hannah Cole
In the early 1980s a new style of music started to emerge in the underground of Chicago. Similar to disco but with more repetitive beats and synthesized baselines, this sound came to be known as house music and became the driving force in the city’s dance community. Thanks to support from local DJs on the radio and at parties, house music rose to international prominence and remains a fixture in the club and electronic scene today. The parties that highlighted house music were promoted with flyers that noted the date and location of the event and the DJs slated to play this new sound, and were distributed at schools, record shops, on the street, and other locations frequented by those “in the know.” Flyers were commonly lost or tossed away once the party was over, so any collection of them from this time is rare. This summer Almighty & Insane Books published over 70 flyers from this era from the collection of Mario “Liv It Up” Luna in a book titled Beyond Heaven: Chicago House Party Flyers from 1983-1989. The Dikeou Collection invited Almighty & Insane Books Founder Brandon Johnson, DJ Brett Starr, and DJ/Producer/Designer Steve Berumen to Dikeou Pop-Up: Colfax for a discussion on house music, its origins in Chicago as documented in the book, as well as Denver’s own dance music culture.
Occupying what was once Jerry’s Record Exchange, the Dikeou Pop-Up: Colfax was a fitting venue for this event because of its ties to Denver’s music scene. Thousands of records line the walls, and, if given the time to look, you can find some classic house gems and many records containing highly sampled tracks. Mario Luna is a house DJ, so before the conversation we had one of his mixes playing on the hi-fi as people started to arrive – it set the tone perfectly. Brandon opened the conversation by scrolling through a handful of flyers and providing an overview of some of the originators of house music like Frankie Knuckles and Ron Hardy and how they pushed the sound at parties and on the radio, WBMX being the main station to do this. In addition to DJing, Mario was part of a party crew called UPC and helped organize and promote house events, underscoring how people often took on multiple rolls to help this movement grow.
Brandon Johnson, Steve Berumen, and Brett Starr
This kind of full ingratiation in the scene is still very much in practice today, and conversation participants Steve Berumen (a.k.a. Steve Synfull) and Brett Starr are perfect examples of this. Berumen first started DJing in 1997, is the founder of a monthly underground house night in Denver called HOUSE GUEST, and he is also Director of Design & Branding at SoCo Nightlife District. Starr has been a DJ for 20 years and plays music from across the spectrum of house music and has performed with legendary DJs, held multiple club residencies in several states, and has released original productions on a number of house labels. Both of them embody the dedication that has made house the touchstone for dance music today.
Brett Starr DJing after the conversation
The phrase “house is a feeling” came up multiple times during the talk, which is from the lyrics to a 1987 track called “My House” by Rhythm Control. This “feeling” represents acceptance and freedom to those who are often marginalized in society. The groundwork for the house scene was laid by the black, Latino, and gay communities in Chicago in a time when America was chanting “Disco Sucks!” and dance music and its cultural proponents were pushed back underground. But that dedication to the music never faded and today house (and many other genres of dance music) is more popular than ever. And while they are mainly disseminated digitally now, the flyer remains as the first point of contact from the promoter to the audience, and that flyer needs to be enticing enough to make someone want to buy a ticket and attend a show. Brandon said that title of the book, Beyond Heaven, represents what the flyer promises when you attend house event. It is the entry point to a night of musical bliss, “and when you feel it you will understand.”
Copies of Beyond Heaven: Chicago House Party Flyers from 1983-1989 can be purchased here
- Hayley Richardson