In our latest interview we caught up with the legendary Gene Farris to talk about being in the game for 25 years, Farris Wheel Records having its 20th anniversary, the importance of giving back to the newer artists, and much more. Make sure to follow Gene on his social medias below and mark your calendars for February 1st as he drops his first track of the year with Green Velvet.
I’m Gene Farris, a DJ/Producer from Chicago and have been doing this for 25 years.
Let’s take it all the way back to your beginning. It’s 1994, and you release your first record on Relief Records. Talk us through that initial feeling for you now as you look back on it 25 years ago.
It was mind-boggling, considering where I was at that time in my life. I was a completely different person. A young 22-year-old kid, who was getting in trouble. Even to this day, it’s one of the most humbling experiences that I’ve had since I’ve been making music. It’s funny how things come full circle, my debut record was on Relief Records and I still work on Relief now. My first record of 2019, called Galaxie with Green Velvet will be out on Relief this Friday.
You’ve talked about how your early influence was Lil Louis. What was it about Lil Louis specifically that had such a huge impact on you?
Lil Louis was my hero. To me he was the godfather of a lot of things. We called a lot of stuff he was playing back then ‘tracks’, now people would label it as ‘tech-house’ or some of it even ‘melodic techno’. He had a major influence on my life. Lil Louis was the first DJ I saw perform for over 2000 people and rock the crowd. It was for his party he used to have at the Bismarck Hotel. All of his tracks I bought and all of his tracks I played. In that era, all of his tracks were massive club and radio hits. Louis was also the first person from Chicago in my genre to be on Epic Records. The way he dressed, was cool, slick and stylish. He also was one of the most innovative, while also being a crowd-pleaser, which is a very hard thing to do in our business.
This past year you were able to celebrate 20 years of Farris Wheel Recordings. Congratulations to that. How have you seen Farris Wheel evolve over the past two decades?
Farris Wheel is my baby. Initially, it started out as a label where I could just freely create and put out my own music. At the same time, I was able to put out music for my friends that I believed deserved a chance in the industry. As the label evolved, it became about pioneering new Chicago artists and putting Chicago on the map, making sure people were aware of what we were doing. Now I feel like we are in its third phase, where now it’s become global. We have massive artists on the label from all over the world. Some that are already famous and some that have become famous since working with us.
As someone who has been able to transcend through multiple decades, how important is it for you to be able to give back to the newer artists in Chicago?
To me it’s everything. When I first moved back to Chicago from Europe, a lot of the new kids greeted me with open arms, gave me a place, and made me feel relevant again, and not feel like an ‘old-schooler’. I felt very current, which is a luxury of people from my era because most of us hadn’t figured out the combination of how to do that. For me to give back to those guys it’s very important to me. Seeing where they’re going, all of the work they’re putting in, and the labels they’re all working with (Farris Wheel, Dirtybird, Defected) it’s inspiring. For me to be apart of what they’re doing and help catapult what they’re doing means a lot to me.
How have you seen the city’s scene grow since your days as a kid attending and playing shows?
It’s gone full circle. When I first started, we were being played on the radio every day. The parties that you went out to were packed with hundreds to thousands of people. For a while, things died off, hip-hop and pop music became big. Electronic music was kind of the thing you heard in the back room of the club, while you heard mainstream pop commercial music being played in the main room.
Now, the scene has evolved, we have taken a page out of the European book. We have a lot of festivals and events going on here which include some of the biggest DJ’s in the world, which is always good. I try and play my part in that with my show Gene Farris and Friends night. But overall, I’m very pleased to see where it is, to see where it’s going, and to see that we have thousands and thousands of people coming to shows like the old days.
Being in the game now for 25 years, you’re still very very active. What keeps you motivated at this point in your career?
My peers are half my age. The motivation alone is to keep up with them. At the same time, I’m always trying to innovate and be a positive influence on these guys. I don’t ever want to get stuck in my past and the history of what I’ve done. I’m always working on getting to where I want to be.
In the summer you did an interview and they asked you, “Any advice for your fans on how to make it in today’s fast-paced game?” You replied saying, “Stay true to yourself – no one else’s opinion matters” When did you get to the point in your career when you realized nobody else’s opinion mattered?
After leaving Amsterdam. I was living there from 2004 to 2008. I learned a lot there. The trance scene was massive there. I started my own night, which originally only had 5-10 people there. I ended up growing it to see over 300 people consistently at my night. That moment I realized that you should always stick to your guns and the rest will iron itself out.
As long as your sound can be genrified and there are so many genres in this industry today, you can be genrified as something. You should always stick to what you love doing and the rest will just iron itself out. It just so happened to be that my genre was tech house. I had been making that kind of sound since I was 17-18 years old. They finally gave it the name of a genre, instead of it being house music, hard house, or some version of techno. That’s what I had been making my whole life, so it became easy to just continue doing what I was doing, rather than listening to other peoples opinion on what I should be doing.
This past week you were recognized by Traxsource to be one of the top 10 artists in tech house. Do end of year lists matter to you at this point in your career?
Of course, it matters. It’s great to be acknowledged for all of the work you’ve done. Me being the person that I am, I’m like okay, what do I have to do to be up nine spots. But again, I’m just working on my craft, creating my best music, and always trying to be better than I was last year. I’m not so much focused on trying to be better than the other guys ahead of me, I just want to be better than I was, and the rest will work itself out.
Let’s get into some quick questions. These next five questions are all about favorites from your career.
Favorite show you’ve ever played?
Man, I’ve played so many great shows. I think my favorite show of all time would have to be in Scotland. They used to have a venue called The Arches there in Glasgow. The show had Green Velvet, Basement Jaxx, myself, and a few other people on it. It was an amazing show.
Favorite person to work with in Chicago?
Oh man, Green Velvet forsure.
Favorite project you’ve worked on?
My solo project, Cosmos album.
Favorite memory with Green Velvet?
Oh man, I’ve known him for over 20 years. So many funny ones. We had a great party at Ministry of Sound in the late ’90s. Another one I’d say was the last BPM festival.
Favorite venue in Chicago you used to play that isn’t around anymore?
The original Crowbar (before the remodeling). Or the original Medusas that was on Sheffield.
I always like ending with this question, when it’s all said and done how would you like to be remembered?
I want to be remembered as being funny, giving, a great dad, and a good friend.
Written by: Nico Rud