Twenty Something Years Later, DJ Colette and DJ Heather Are Still The Leading Ladies of House
The genre-bending Chicagoan duo take a breather from their North America tour to check-in with THUMP.
Photo by Julia Manoukian
A lot has changed within the dance scene since the 90's. At the time, house was only starting to infuse itself into the American mainstream, but DJ Colette (Colette Milano) and DJ Heather were already hyping crowds in the sweaty clubs and warehouses of Chicago, a scene that birthed house music itself. The girls earned their chops alongside the likes of Mark Farina, Felix Da Housecat and Kaskade, and today, their performances are a throwback from the days before the EDM explosion.
Along with Lady D and Dayhota, DJ Colette and DJ Heather founded the Superjane collective in 1997, the US's first all-female DJ group. DJ Heather, the Brooklyn-born turned Chicagoan, started off as a hip-hop DJ and eventually started mixing and bending genres with a full-fledged house fervor of her own. DJ Colette actually began her music career as a guest vocalist for other DJs, but quickly started seamlessly weaving in her soothing vocals in and out of her own fun-in-the-sun house tunes. Recently, DJ Colette released her critically praised When the Music's Loud on her own Candy Talk Records.
The Chi-town exports have been touring the world non-stop together since their 2006 House of Om compilation tour. They recently touched base in Canada, performing a killer three-hour tag team set at Reflections in Halifax, followed by a rain-soaked repeat at Toronto Pride in June as part of their annual three-month Second City Sessions Tour. THUMP Canada met up with the queens of house music for a quick chat about their multi-decade careers and what to expect from them in the near future.
THUMP: You girls have played all over Canada in the last 15 years—thank you so much for that, by the way. Where's your favourite place to perform?
Colette: I've really enjoyed all the clubs I've played at, so it's hard to pick one as my favourite. I think we've played more shows at Habitat in Calgary and Reflections in Halifax than any other spot in Canada. I always find myself very inspired and happy after playing at either one of those clubs.
You have both been described as house veterans countless times, but how have your sounds and influences evolved over the years?
Heather: I think mine has always had a "Chicago" signature. There's an upfront approach while incorporating various types of "dance music" like techno, vocals, classic etc. and making them your own. The final common thread is a focus on solid track choices, technique, and mixing skill. What keeps me going is that I still really love what I do. That passion is the fuel.
What were some incisive moments in your earlier years?
C: My first major release as a singer was the "Try Her For Love" single on Moody Recordings in 2000. That same year I went on my first North American tour with Superjane, but I think what had the greatest impact on my career was signing to OM Recordsin 2004 and releasing "Hypnotized" the following year.
Colette, you recently said that DJing was not gender specific, but have you come across misogyny in your career?
C: In the beginning of my DJ career I think there were a few shows that I was booked for specifically because of my gender. I think once folks realize you're a proper DJ the novelty of gender wears off. For the most part, I feel like I've been treated respectfully by the industry. I haven't heard "you're good for a girl" in probably over a decade!
You've both been collaborating and gravitating in the same circles for nearly 20 years, so I guess that speaks about the industry. But personally, why do you think you work so well together?
H: I think what makes it work is that Colette and I have the same mentality. We try not to take everything too seriously. After all, it is dance music and it's supposed to be fun.
Yeah, you seem like you have it pretty much figured it, but what challenges do you still face as artists?
H: The only challenge I feel at the moment is feeling like I never have enough time. I would love a 36-hour day.
Like most of your peers, you eventually switched from vinyl to digital. What's your perspective on the relationship and balance between technological advances, music and the art of DJing?
H: After hauling crates, boxes, and bags for years I love the portability and convenience of USB. I believe most DJs who have been playing for a while had a similar experience. I did have to retrain my brain when making format changes. Learning new software or a how to work a piece of gear just comes with the territory.
What other artists are you paying attention to these days?
C: Doorly has become one of my favourite producers this year. I actually have to stop myself from playing too many of his tracks in one set!
H: The talent pool is crazy deep in Chicago but some of my faves off the top are Kid Enigma, Alinka, Rees Urban, and T. Mixwell to name a few.
What other projects are you both working on, and what will we be seeing in the future?
C: The "Oasis" remixes are coming out next month on my label Candy Talk...that's the final single from my album When The Music's Loud. It features remixes by WhiteNoize, Scrubfish, Wally Callerio and 2X2L. I'm also doing a tour for the ten-year anniversary of my debut album Hypnotized this fall.
Awesome. Any upcoming albums though?
C: The one I'm releasing is a remix album with about twenty tracks from the last twenty years. After that, I hope to start working on my fourth artist album. I'm not really sure what musical direction I'm going to go in, as I get most of my inspiration when I start working in the studio.
H: Blackcherry, my label, is still active but on a hiatus right now. I hope to have something new from the label later this year or in the spring of 2016.
Colette, you funded When the Music's Loud via the crowdsourcing website called Pledge Music. How was that? Would you consider it for future albums?
C: I loved my experience with Pledge Music! It was great getting to share the album early and hear feedback on some of the tracks months before the record came out. That was a new experience for me. I'm going to do another Pledge campaign for my next album as it's challenging in the current music climate to release music independently. I don't think When The Music's Loud would have been released without the support from everyone on Pledge.
Last thing — what upcoming shows are you most excited about?
C: I'm really excited about the show we have coming up at the Northwest House Music Conference in Portland. The NWHMC reminds me of early WMC days in the late 90's. Heather and I are hosting a panel discussion during the day and then performing at Panic Room the same night.
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