In Conversation: Shaun J. Wright, Alinka & Kim Ann Foxman
On the brink of its third anniversary, Twirl Recordings brings its thirteenth release, coming from label runners Shaun J. Wright & Alinka.
Continuing the fiery streak they’ve been on for the past couple of years, Wright and Alinka’s ‘The Romance EP’ opens with ‘Romantic Friend’, a sensuous, pop-esque dance tune reminiscent of the mid-80s Minneapolis sound. Balancing the release is the poetic ‘Pull Me In,’ which you can stream below, perfect for anyone desiring to delve into the depths of romantic escape in their home, lost in their headphones, or on the dancefloor during the peak of night.
With the release out now, we got Shaun J. Wright, Alinka, and one of Twirl’s earliest featured remixers, Kim Ann Foxman, to go “In Conversation” on all things House Music, influence, and ‘The Romance”…
“It almost felt like an alternate world.”
Alinka: Hi Kim Ann, Hi Shaun! Excited to chat with you guys today!
Alinka: So let’s talk about house music, when did you first discover it, where were you, and what were you first listening to?
Kim Ann: Growing up in Hawaii, we didn’t have much exposure to underground music. I listened to a lot of Latin freestyle music and Miami bass music which is all very drum machine based music which I was really into. My first exposure to club music was stuff on the radio, like Technotronic, Snap!, and some hip house.. Later, I received a techno compilation in 1992 which made me real curious to know more about underground dance music. There were not many options for hearing underground music in Hawaii but there was a small rave scene which I became a part of. My mom was very strict on me staying out late so I got smart and got a job when I was in high school at an all ages club called The Access in 1994. I worked behind the bar serving non-alcoholic drinks and making smoothies for ravers. One of my most memorable nights is when Deee-Lite came to play there live.
In 1995 I moved to San Francisco to go to college where I really dove into the rave scene and also started to actively collect records and rave tapes which I still have today. Those were the most informative and inspiring years of music for me and some of the best times ever! San Francisco was such an amazing place to be in the mid 90’s!
Shaun: My early exposure to underground dance music was quite the opposite to yours Kim Ann. House music was ubiquitous while I was growing up in the 80’s & 90’s in the west suburbs of Chicago. It was played alongside mainstream music on the radio, at cookouts and choreographed to for grade school talent shows. I didn’t have any real understanding that though the music was an international phenomenon it was still considered niche or a novelty in many American markets.
I began to realize how unique my cultural upbringing was in Chicago after moving to Atlanta for undergrad in 2000. There I was deeply immersed in a plethora of black American cultures that spanned across the U.S.A. and the Caribbean. Before this experience I only thought of our cultures as two monoliths, the northern and southern. In Atlanta, I was able to witness the nuances of so many different cities because it was considered a black cultural mecca where black folks from all over were migrating to. So, for example, I learned that Baltimore’s relationship with Cajmere’s pivotal song ‘Percolator’ was similar but different to how it was positioned in Chicago. The dance moves it inspired were different. How it shaped subsequent tunes in relation to Baltimore club music vs. Chicago house was different. The interplay it had with D.C. gogo music vs. Detroit jit and ghettotech and those ensuing conversations were different. This realization helped to expand my understanding of the music and the cultures that it inspired in a more global context than just Chicago, NYC, Detroit and London.
Alinka: I think that’s what we talked about when we first met Shaun! Cajmere and Cajual over everything J I actually remember hearing Perculator all over the radio as well as DJ Funk tunes and Bad Boy Bill mixing when I was a kid in Chicago. I really had no idea what I was listening to at the time but I knew I loved it and I used to make these mixtapes for my High School basketball team with all those tracks. I fell in love with it properly and became more knowledgeable around 99’ during my first year at University two hours south of Chicago. All the kids were joining frats and sororities and I went to a club that weekend instead and saw a DJ and it literally changed my life. Spent that whole year raving and buying records and doing endless music research. I worked that whole summer at a swimming pool so I could save enough to get my first turntables, and went back to Uni with a full set up and basically stopped going to class and practiced DJing all day and night until I got my first gig at that same club a few months later.
Shaun: Who were some of your early influencers?
Kim Ann: My early influencers were DJs at parties in San Francisco such as; Solar from Pacific Sound Sunset Parties, all The Wicked Crew DJs who I was huge fan of, and Tony Hewitt from The Gathering. They were all very prominent in SF at that time. And all the rave mixtapes I collected from all kind of DJs.
Alinka: For me it was Derrick Carter, Superjane, Justin Long, Diz, Cajmere and a lot of the local Chicago DJ’s that I first fell in love with. I spent a lot of time in DJ booths around the city just watching them mix and seeing the crowd respond to different tracks. As far as music makers there’s too many to name but Daft Punk/Bangalter, DJ Sneak, Freaks, Jamie Principle…All the stuff on Classic Music Co, Mff, Cajual those had their own sections on my record shelves.
Shaun: My first major influences were Cajmere & Dajae. I loved everything they touched. I distinctly remember riding my bike across town to Reimer Records in Maywood to purchase “The New Chicago House Sound” on cassette with my very small allowance. I cherished that tape so much and would listen to it repeatedly while studying the artwork. I was no older than thirteen and everything about that compilation and Cajual Records felt so cool and otherworldly. Jump “Chico” Slamm’s ‘Feel Free’ especially resonated with my young, queer self. I imagined the song was made for my liberation and I felt understood.
I was also a footworker and joined a local dance troupe called Mega Sweat during my freshman year of high school. DJ Funk, Waxmaster, DJ Slugo, Jammin’ Gerald and DJ Deeon reigned supreme for us. I remember acquiring the metallic foiled cassette mixtapes loaded with Dance Mania tunes and rehearsing for hours for performances and battles with rival crews like House-O-Matic, Main Attraction and U Phi U.
My last major early influences were Masters At Work and Tribal America Records. I devoured any and everything that MAW created from Nuyorican Soul to the Bucketheads. Their output still counts as some of my favorite. Tribal America and Danny Tenaglia’s mixes for the label exposed me to such a wide breadth of house that I wasn’t hearing yet in Chicago (before I started sneaking into clubs).
Alinka: So at what point did you know you wanted to make this a career and was it a natural process or how did it come about?
Shaun: I think from my early teens I dreamt of being a DJ specifically. However, that thought was very intimidating, especially growing up listening to all the incredible, almost supernaturally talented DJs throughout Chicago. Something about DJ’ing felt very mysterious and not economically viable. Like, my limited hustling skills didn’t allow me to imagine that I could own a pair of turntables and practice so that I could become good at the craft like you did Alinka. College was my planned escape and I thought a traditional education would be the path to my success. Also, I didn’t quite have the language or consciousness at the time to recognize that insecurities around my non-binary gender expression left me feeling doubtful that I could partake in what I viewed as a very masculine DJ world. Fortunately, I knew a few DJs who allowed me to practice on their equipment throughout the years and this really boosted my confidence. It was after parting ways with Hercules and Love Affair that I made a concerted effort to place DJing at the forefront of my artistic practices. I love making music and singing is fun but I feel most free when I DJ.
Kim Ann:In the late 90’s I was in a little, two-man electronic band and that was my first intro into production and I got my first drum machines, sampler, and a synth. Ever since then I’ve had a love for making, experimenting [with], and playing dance music. When I moved to New York I started DJing out a lot at a lot of local bars and venues. But, I never knew I would get the chance to really do it full time as a real career on such an international level. I had a very natural and slow process just following my passion. Then getting involved with Hercules and Love Affair kinda fell into my lap and that became a great platform for me to be more visible as a DJ and artist as well. When I left to choose my own adventure I started DJing even more seriously and concentrated on my own productions. All that led me to the path I’m on today in my career.
Alinka: I kinda of knew straight away once I set out to get my turntables and started collecting records. I’m a bit OCD so once I get my mind on something there’s no stopping me. I ended up leaving school after my second year and moving back to Chicago so I could pursue DJing fully. It felt like I wouldn’t be happy doing anything else in life.
Shaun: Community plays an important role in creating the foundations of house music. How and where have you found your current communities that support you and your work?
Kim Ann: San Francisco had a really great community which always felt very inclusive of everyone. It was all about the music and I loved how free it was. There were so many characters and freaks that loved house music and rave culture. So many kinds of styles, genders, and sexual orientations from such a wide group really. It was so extremely diverse. It almost felt like an alternate world. I miss how much people really expressed themselves as unique individuals and how present everyone was. This was my experience and foundation and inspiration which led me to where I am today.
Now, being on the other side of the fence and so many years later, it feels really rewarding to be able to receive a lot of love and support from people of all kinds of communities and cultures from all over the world. And, I feel really grateful for that and being able to do what I love and make people dance for a living.
Alinka:I was extremely fortunate to have some amazing people take me under their wings in Chicago early on but also never take it easy on me and always push me to do better. They taught me to be humble and not really talk about what I’m doing but just do it and work my ass off. It was a really important lesson to learn early on as this business is obviously a constant roller coaster with no guarantees and having supportive and honest people around you is vital. I would say I owe a lot of my current community to Shaun as meeting him brought so many amazing people into my life. I’ve been very fortunate and am forever grateful for the friends I’ve made from this music.
Shaun: That’s so sweet Alinka! I’ve been really fortunate to have a consistent string of connecting dots, especially since returning to Chicago post-Hercules. The relationships that I built internationally while in that project really expedited my growth as an artist and opened doors that may not have been as easily opened if I didn’t have that exposure. Kim Ann Foxman and Aerea Negrot have consistently been in my corner and I adore them immensely. They are my sisters for life. Of course, working with & becoming family with Alinka & Stereogamous has been a catalyst for me to expand my knowledge of musical theory and production and really assert myself as a songwriter while learning more and more production techniques AND applying that knowledge. Chicago outfits Men’s Room & Banjee Report are my family touchpoints. They keep me grounded and feed me with inspiration. There are so many tremendously talented peeps doing their thing that I’ve been able to bond with beyond the music (The Black Madonna, Carry Nation, Batty Bass, Honey Soundsystem, Kiddy Smile, the Norway Detroit crew, etc) but I would be all day speaking their names.
Alinka: What advice would you offer to someone just entering the music industry?
Kim Ann: I would say stay true to yourself and the music you love no matter what people think. That way you can develop your own sound and really find yourself in music. Also, ego is a monster you don’t wanna mess with. So don’t let things go to your head and don’t get wrapped up in feeling yourself too hard. Stay humble, be patient, and work hard because things can take a long time to get off the ground. Keep learning as much as you can. There is always room to learn more.
Shaun: I emphatically agree with your point that progress in your career takes time Kim Ann. I would strongly suggest letting go of any false hope of immediate success. It may happen but it’s highly unlikely and it will be difficult to sustain without the right support apparatus. This is a marathon not a sprint so you must be consistent, patient and dedicated to the craft more than anything. Most importantly, be mindful of your reputation amongst promoters and peers. Be kind and polite to everyone you encounter. Be punctual and respectful of the effort everyone puts into creating a successful event, the making of a record, arranging and managing your gigs, etc. Word spreads about your attitude and behavior, good or bad, QUICKLY!
Alinka: Take the time to find yourself and develop your sound, it’s about leaving a legacy, not being a trend that passes. Keep working even at your lowest point and especially when you feel like you’re not getting anywhere. It took me 3 months to release my first record and 10 years to like the music I’m making. Stay inspired, be yourself, stay humble. Don’t have a false sense of what it takes or what it’s like to reach a certain level of success because you never see what it took to get there or even what sacrifices are involved. It’s a difficult business at all phases and can be pretty heartbreaking. No one is entitled to success no matter how talented. Always treat everyone you meet with the same level of respect you expect back because that kid who you’re an asshole to may be that promoter that you need to book you in 5 years. Don’t cheapen yourself and know your worth.
Shaun: Where do you see yourself in five years? The future of dance music in five years?
Kim Ann: In five years I still see myself making people dance for a living for sure. I will continue doing what I do as long as it makes me happy. The future of dance music will keep evolving however it will over time, especially because of technology and it will go through its various trends. But, I think dance music is deeply rooted and it is a real lifestyle, so there will always be a sense of community. It will continue to gather people together, creating new communities and keeping minds open, inspiring and changing lives like it did mine.
Shaun: If the past five years has been any indication I think I’ll be living a whirlwind life filled with even more adventures and overflowing with joy. Dance music, I hope, will be more diverse, more risky and less formulaic. I’m also praying for the return of the vocal anthem like in the 90s. The voice will no longer be ignored or treated as superfluous.
Alinka: I’ll be in Berlin surrounded by beautiful, inspiring creatures and working with you (Shaun) always and forever!
“The Romance” is NOW AVAILABLE on Twirl Recordings BUY