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DJ Pierre: Thinking (& Living) Outside the Box (interview)

Reported by JontySkrufff on November 12, 2010

“I was lying in bed with my wife one night talking about how I was being boxed in whenever people requested me for gigs. They would ask for either an old school acid set or a more housey set and I've never enjoyed playing just one style all night.” 

20 odd years after a happy accident with a Roland 303 led him and Spanky to inadvertently invent acid house, Chicago legend DJ Pierre found himself isolated and increasingly marginalised by the dance industry he’d helped create, hemmed in by the expectations his earlier success created.

“I remember we were talking about how hard it is to be me: being judged on the tracks I’d made, and how that meant nobody wanted me to venture too far away from what they knew me for. But I had grown as an artist . . . and no one wanted to hear that,” he sighs.

Three years on, his DJ- and production profile is higher than ever after he took control of his own destiny to launch Afro Acid, a label, promotion, radio and now merchandising company he’s happiest describing as a ‘movement’. 

“I thought about creating something that could benefit myself and other artists who were going through what I was going through: I thought about combining what I'm known for and where I came from musically. I thought about my roots,” he recalls.

“There is a certain soul that comes with deep house/garage and I wanted that to be a part of the concept. That is the ‘Afro’ aspect, representing the more housey, deep styles. Then I thought about what ‘acid house’ is and I just stretched it to include all the techno, electro, and harder house cats. So at that moment Afro Acid was born, in bed at 2am in the morning,” he smiles.

From dreaming up the concept, however, he faced more than a few initial obstacles including rejection from some of his closest up until then friends and colleagues. 

“It was tough because some people did try to hold me back. Some people felt I was ‘washed up and over’, one guy who I helped build his career actually said those exact words,” he says.

“I had what I thought was a solid loyal relationship with this guy and he turned on me and I mention this because his attitude is the same mentality that is like a disease that afflicts our industry. Good talent are locked out because one person takes it upon himself to decide who is over and who can and cannot get a start. If he is judging me, he should look at himself.”

A born again evangelical Christian, Pierre holds no grudges. 

For him to say that was . . . well deep. And if he felt that way I'm sure there were others who felt the same too for whatever reason,” he considers, “But that's all good. I sincerely wish him only the best’.

“Afro Acid began with me and what I experience. I gotta’ keep it real because this industry can be hypocritical and bipolar, man, it may also have a case of dementia,” he muses.

“But it can also be very rewarding. It’s created a lifestyle for my family and I and I am living my dream, so for that, I'm grateful. My views are balanced. You need that balance to survive as long as I have and make a living successfully. If you are not balanced you will be like a ping-pong creating someone else's vision. I fell victim to that a little. I tried to do it their way

They said they wanted the Pierre sound and when I gave them what I thought they wanted they said it was not cutting edge enough or it wasn’t the ‘right Pierre sound’. So, then I was feeling confused, but thank God I didn’t remain so. I decided I wanted to create something to free myself first from all that and just create. It started in my mind first. Take it or leave, dawg. God got me . . . you don't. That was my mentality. I wanted to then open the door for other artists who may never get a chance because they are not DJ Pierre or some other cat who got a chance. So Afro Acid was born in my mind and it manifested into the labels and events.”

Since launching Afro-Acid, he’s hosted parties all across the planet and collaborated with the likes of DJ Hell’s Gigolo Records’ and Justice from Pedro Winter’s Ed Banger stable vindicating his decision to trust in his own judgement.

“One thing which was encouraging during that time three or four years ago were the people who truly understood me. They were telling me I was ahead of my time,” he recalls.

“Even today, I still hear that all the time. So I just used that to push ahead and basically say to all the negative people; ‘you know what, skip what you think. I'm gonna’ just do what I was divinely put here to do’. To be free and create and hopefully have an impact on people's lives in a positive way. One guy emailed me a while ago and said my track ‘Muzik is Life’ literally saved his life. He went on to name his company after that song. So if I only managed to reach just him, then mission accomplished-though I have met tons of people saying similar things. I read somewhere that Michael Mayer from Kompakt, said I saved his life-twice. So I use all that to motivate myself to move ahead and do what I do.”

Hosting a weekly radio show on the UK’s massive net station Pushfm.com every Saturday night (from 10pm-midnight GMT) he’s also just released a new single ‘The Spirit’ (with Dawn Tallman) and is soon starting a series of monthly Afro-Acid parties in Germany. However, rather than opting for Berlin (where he’s become a regular headliner at Berghain in recent years) he’s opted for Munster, one of Germany’s key clubbing cities.

“Why did I choose Munster instead of Berlin? It all started when I played Fusion (Festival) last year,” he explains.

“Gigolo booked me for Fusion and it was crazy. The crowd loved my set and I loved their energy. They didn’t even know who I was, they just loved the music. They seemed ripe and ready for the picking,” he smiles.

Munster is a student town. Not the big city like Berlin. I feel if I want to really get my brand message across then I need a fresh innocence that I can mould. Munster provides that. Berlin is great and they have been good to me there but I think the youth and innocence of Munster is a good challenge and if we do it right it will pay off.  So we decided it would be good to do Afro Acid there with me as a resident and bring out talent, new, young, old, known, unknown from all sorts of backgrounds: keeping true to the Afro Acid motto and beliefs.“ 

Skrufff (Jonty Skrufff):  How much do you see Germany/ Berlin as the global centre of dance music now (as compared to London: which territory is more important for Afro-acid: in terms of business, in terms of influence?

DJ Pierre: “Germany definitely has been my home musically for the last three years. I've been to Germany more than I've been to any other country during this period and that was not the case 5 years ago. So something is definitely is going on in Germany man. I think Tyree Cooper lives here, and it’s great for artists, tax wise. BUT Afro Acid does not discriminate, it goes where it’s needed. So I can't say one territory is more important than the other. What is key is people's openness to the concept. I envision a stage where you could have some Paul Van Dyke fans mixed in with some Frankie Knuckles, mixed in with some Simian Mobile Disco: all together in one room. It's an open concept stretching the idea of a routine club night.”

Skrufff; The last time we did a full Skrufff interview two years ago, you chatted about how the hard it was when the established dance labels weren’t interested in your album in 2007: how hard did it get financially during that period?

DJ Pierre: “Well it did get a little tight because in 2007 I had just put down US$80,000 on a new house, I had a newborn baby girl, I had just gotten married to my new wife and had to pay my ex-wife a huge (six figure) divorce settlement. The worst part was probably the fact that my management company (Maison Muzik) who I was with for years had broken up a year before. So 2006-2008 I was like a fish out of water.  People just couldn't find me so I didn't get booked so often. So my wife noticed this problem and saw the need to get involved so she became a part of the booking process. She quit her corporate job in marketing and did a crash course in the industry and somewhat became my manager. So we just built this new project together and got back going again financially. It didn't shake my confidence though. By then I was learning a lot and growing spiritually so for sure: that kept me focused.” 

Skrufff: How long did it take to turn things around, from starting afro-Acid?

DJ Pierre: “Well Afro Acid was initially just a concept. I toyed with it in my mind, then my wife and I decided we should brand it. And we started the labels and did some small events here and there and it took off immediately. We then did the T-shirts, which we called PLUR (peace love unity respect) and put out a test design with me on the front and fireworks coming from behind me. It sold out. We used Bewol out of France as the distributor. Push.FM then called and offered us Danny Rampling's old spot on Saturdays so we called that Afro Acid and that's how the radio show came into play. 

So even if people didn't know about it on a large scale we were developing a following and we were testing out the boundaries and growing. People were saying "Afro Acid" to describe my style and using the words in their mixes etc. So I think that kept me busy and kept my name out there and my personal gig schedule picked up to where I was playing at We Love Space Ibiza three years in a row and getting some other high profile gigs all over. And then some guys you may know, XMIX, home to felix and armand, came on board for management in 2010 and I have a team of people now helping me run Afro Acid. We are looking to do a monthly in London soon and working on one in Amsterdam as well.”

Skrufff: ‘Acid’ for many people- and the smiley face logo, refers to LSD: how much do your religious beliefs cause you discomfort if/ when you find yourself in environments where people are openly doing drugs?

DJ Pierre: “I believe we give power to words: and words have the power to create things as well. So when we created Acid Trax it was completely drug free in thought and action. We-Phuture- never did drugs. To this day we have never gone there and I can speak for Spanky and Herb. So when I see the smiley it represents a drug free lifestyle the opposite of what it stood for in mainstream. That's why I took the smiley and added an afro and a peace sign hair pick. I am taking it back and adding my definition to it. So "Acid" to me is about peace, love, unity and respect. 

Me personally have never done a blunt but I am around it all the time. I grew up around it in the clubs. I've been offered cocaine and ecstasy countless times and I never get offended. I just simply decline. I do pray that the substance is not controlling the people I see taking it and offering it, and a part of me wishes that they can experience the same high without it, but I never judge them and I think people see and feel that. I never cross the boundaries and impose my views on someone. If you ask you’re gonna’ get an answer. But I don't dismiss people if they are using. I just pray for the best outcome for them.”

Skrufff: The last time we spoke you were living in Chicago; since we last spoke the great crash has happened in the States, with foreclosures crippling Detroit; how badly has Chicago been affected: how do you think the south side; and the rest of the city- will be in 10 years time?

DJ Pierre: “Well Chicago is a metropolis similar to New York so they will always be in a better position to handle the financial crisis in the country right now than say Detroit. Though I visit often, I actually call Atlanta, Georgia home now. It’s better to raise my kids there, I have two little ones plus two big ones, My oldest daughter's away at college and my son is about to head to college in two years. So Atlanta is considered the place to be for family now and that's where my focus is. 

When I lived in Chicago, I was in Tinley Park a well to do suburb, so truly you didn’t see the effect of the economic downfall walking out your front door. People lived in a bubble there.  Detroit, unfortunately still did not fully recover from the big riot and fires they had years back.  I was just there playing for the 2010 DEMF and it still looks the same as it did when I used to drive to the festival years ago from Chicago. They haven't had a financial rebirth even before the crash, so unfortunately they definitely are getting hit harder than a metropolis like Chicago. 

Now Chicago or "Chitown" will always have the  "bad" elements like any other place does. Everywhere in Europe has "spots" that are not the best place to raise your kids. London had Brixton for example. So the Chicago South Side is just the South Side. Not much has changed. New York has East New York, Bed Stuy (Bedford Stuyvesant) . . . the South Bronx. The powers that be know how to segregate and keep lower income people in a certain place. Most people that live in these areas unfortunately pass on the mentality to their kids that this is all they can do, and this is the only place they can live. So this thing becomes generational. The "hood" becomes home to grandparents, parents and their kids. No one moves out.

The root goes deep man. My faith in politics is wavering so the only thing I can do is pray in 10 years that people are treated equally despite background, race, and how deep their pocket is.

Skrufff: What kind of environment did you grow up in?

DJ Pierre: “I was raised in the suburbs of Chicago but we were far from having a lot of money. My parents worked hard and we found music and sports and that kept us insulated from the elements calling on the South Side.  It's unfortunate that we had to move to an all white suburb to get the benefits that white America enjoyed daily. That prejudice crap still exists. I think that's the next level for me. Once I move out of this place as an artist one of my goals is to find a way to mobilize the underprivileged. That will be like having my cake and eating it too.”    

I wanna’ mention the DJ PIerre Iphone APP is out now and we are currently working on an AFRO ACID app as well. You can get that here: 

I'm Keeping it Skruffy dawg.”

The next Afro Acid event is at fusion in Munster on Saturday November 20th.

‘Afro Acid:  The Movement: Have you ever been in that place where you made a split decision in the moment and chose to go with your gut-your instinct . . “)

 DJ Pierre; Stress or Justice.

Jonty Skrufff