Bad Boy Bill Shares Insight on the Past and Present of House Music
House music has been quintessential in creating a sound in which people of all cultures, class and identity can come together. Pulsating out of a post-disco era driven by the yearning for liberation from the oppressive structures in place, House music birthed a platform for expression and freedom. Freedom from the disheartening realities of our culture and the ability to explore personal expression without judgement.
I had a chance to speak to one of the Chicagoan pioneers that helped spearhead the House music movement into what it is today. William Renkosik, also known as, Bad Boy Bill, has played a massive role in the infrastructure of House music today. From influencing the standards for what we know as a mixtape to cofounding Beatport, SKAM Artist Bad Boy Bill has dedicated his life to building the sturdy pillars of what we call EDM.
IEDM: You have been in the music scene a long time. Tell me about the progression that you've seen from the 80s, 90s, 2000s until today.
BBB: I mean, it's been crazy. It started out where the DJ was tucked away in the corner at a nightclub or an event and now the DJ is center stage, big stages, and now is the highlight of everything but musically I think it all stems from house music and where I started here in Chicago through its various forms, whether it's tech house or bass house or acid house. All these different genres. But at the end of the day it all comes back to house music for me.
IEDM: I was reading that you were involved in the licensed mix movement. Can you tell me more about that and your involvement?
BBB: Yes, so it started out when the main radio station that we were mixing on at the time changed ownership and cut the mix show so there was no way to hear electronic music on the radio anymore. One of my friends, Andre Lopez, had the idea for me to keep buying records and doing mixes. So, every month or two I would do a new mix and basically sell them out of the trunk of my car to different record stores around Chicagoland and it got really huge. Pretty soon just about every DJ in Chicago was selling their mix cassettes and CDs, and so I decided, "You know what, I want to start a company to license everything legally." I started Mix Connection with my friend Michael Ryden and we licensed the songs and put out mixtapes and CDs. We also started a record label that we were signing new music to and nurturing up and coming producers as well.
IEDM: What was it like starting your career in Chicago? Do you view Chicago as the house capital of the country?
BBB: I mean, I believe it is. I think New York or some New Yorkers will say they started house music but I feel we started it in Chicago. But you know, there was a lot going on with just being from Chicago where you could turn on the radio and hear mixes with these new songs being produced in Chicago that nobody had really heard before. I mean it was so unique and I think it just took over. Then Chicago House Music actually got embraced in Europe even more than it did in America because songs that were getting released in Chicago on these little independent labels were going overseas to England and hitting the Top of the Pop charts and it was insane. It was this new sound by DJs and producers making tracks in their bedrooms and basement studios. It's amazing to see how far it's come.
IEDM: What do you think about these heavy bass styles coming out of labels such as Dirtybird Records?
BBB: Yeah, I love Dirtybird. I mean, all their stuff is dope and I think it's cool because I think they've embraced a lot of the ghetto house music that came out of Chicago. And that's not a derogatory term, the producers of the style call it ghetto house. It's a more raw and aggressive form of house and I know that style was originally really fast. A lot of it was 135 beats per minute and higher but the Dirtybird guys have slowed the tempo down a bit which helps more DJs to be able to fit the tracks in their sets, and they still keep that ghetto house edge which I love, so it's really cool.
IEDM: While you're driving in your car what do you listen to?
BBB: I listen to everything. Hip hop, I listen to house, I listen to chill, I listen to all styles of music. I really don't listen to country but I listen to basically everything else. I listen to so much stuff. I mean my car has satellite radio so I'm constantly switching between various stations on there. I'm always trying to hear new stuff so I'll be listening to different playlists and stuff from the global top 50 or different playlists on Spotify and I’m always in search of new music as well.
IEDM: You play clubs all over. What are your favorite places to play at and why?
BBB: I think I like anywhere it's sunny, warm weather. Especially coming from Chicago. So, when I get a booking in Hawaii and it's the middle of winter, I'm like, "Yes, I can play. I'm so excited." There are some great clubs all around the world. I've played a lot in Germany, some really cool clubs out there. There's huge festivals out there like Love Parade. There are really cool clubs in Asia. In Seoul, Korea, I played at a club called Octagon which had these amazing big LED flat panel visual screens way before any clubs ever had that type of set up.
In American, we have Beta in Denver which is one of my favorite places to play, Sound in LA, which I just played a couple weeks ago with Richard Vission for our Digital Versus Vinyl tour. We are bringing the tour to Beta next month. The cool thing about Sound and Beta is they really focus on the sound system and they really focus on the DJ. They want you to be able to express the music and have the audience hear it the way it should sound. A lot of times with club owners, the DJ and sound is the last thing they think of, all they care about is how much money they are going to make off the bar. But Sound and Beta really focus on making sure the sound and lighting is the main priority and it is always on point.
IEDM: Not only are you a DJ but you're a scratch artist. How did you get into scratching?
BBB: I used to watch all the hip hop DJs in Beat Street and all the old school break dancing movies and I always thought it was the coolest thing ever. I was like, "Wow, that's so awesome how they are scratching." I was blown away just by the technique and there was a guy on the radio in Chicago, Farley Jackmaster Funk, he scratched a lot and another guy that I grew up listening to is Julian Jumpin Perez who scratched as well. So, I was just listening to those guys on the radio. At that time there weren’t any “Scratch Academy” schools so I never really had anybody to teach me but I bought a couple turntables and I was trying to do whatever I could do to figure it out but I just thought taking two copies of a record or just having a scratch record and being able to scratch over another song was the most fun part of DJing and being able to just create new sounds with a piece of vinyl was so cool.
IEDM: You have played a couple years at Movement Festival. Can you describe that event for somebody who hasn't been?
BBB: It's been a while now but I remember playing the Beatport stage one year. It's an amazing festival. It was started by Paxahau and some of the guys who created the techno movement, Juan Atkins, Carl Craig, Derek May, Kevin Saunderson. Those guys are legends in my eyes, and they were coming out with their Techno sound when Chicago was coming out with our house sound so we've always kind of been kindred spirits in that regard. But yeah, it's an amazing festival and they always feature really great DJs.
IEDM: You've done a lot of collaborations and back to back tours. Who are some of your favorite artists to work with?
BBB: Richard Vission and I always have a lot of fun together. We've done The House Connection Mix CDs, and we've done tracks and remixes together. We actually have a new track coming out early next month. I collaborate a lot with guys out of Chicago as well, like Gettoblaster, Nick Rockwell, DJ Bam Bam, and Steve Smooth. Guys that I kind of grew up with and have been part of my label. I'm also working with some up and coming artists that people haven't heard of yet but they're definitely going to bug out when they hear some of the beats on these tracks. The up and coming producers have no rules and they have no limitations in their mind. They'll just do anything and I think that's what makes it so interesting to hear.
IEDM: That's exciting! Leads me to asking, what other projects have you been working on? Anything you can share?
BBB: Right now I’m really focusing on this tour with Richard. It’s called Digital Versus Vinyl and it's the follow-up to the Back To Vinyl Tour we did that really bugged people out because we actually printed up new pieces of vinyl with current songs on it just for the tour. Basically, we wanted to play vinyl but we didn't want to play old music. We were like, "Let's play the music that's only available right now on download but put it on vinyl so we can actually do our entire set on vinyl." So that tour was so much fun and we were having a blast going back to our roots and DJing with vinyl. It's where we both started and a lot of the younger audience had never seen a DJ doing an all vinyl set, especially with new music. There may be an all vinyl night at clubs here and there but it's usually old songs.
What we decided on this new tour coming off the Back to Vinyl tour is doing digital versus vinyl. For the setup, we have two turntables so we'll still be able to play vinyl records but then we also have two CDJs on the far ends so we can also mix in digital music. This gives us the best of both worlds. I even tried something really crazy at Sound in LA where I was doing a repeat of one of my songs and I was going in between the turntables and the CDJ so that was really a mind boggle. Just to be able to do tricks between the two different formats. It’s all about uniting the past and the future and having fun with it.
IEDM: Is there anything else you'd like to share?
BBB: Thank you for taking the time to talk to me. I’m always in the studio staying busy working on new tracks and new music. Be on the lookout for that. Also stay tuned for upcoming episodes of my Behind The Decks Radio Show and hope to see everyone at a future tour date.
Bad Boy Bill has kept steady momentum as he continues to tour all over this planet. Catch this legend on tour near you as it doesn't look like he is slowing down anytime soon and check out the rest of the DJ roster at SKAM Artists.