Podcasts

Podcast 502: DJ Three

The hugely respected DJ revisits the Hallucination catalog with an all-vinyl session.

Reached via telephone at his home outside of Tampa, Florida, Christopher Milo is expounding on the minutia of Chicago's electronic-music scene’s history. For example: “Cabaret Voltaire came to Chicago to work with Marshall Jefferson. Jefferson happened to be gone. But Al Jourgensen and Paul Barker [of Ministry] were next door—and that’s how they all ended up making the Acid Horse record together.” He drops tidbit after tidbit as he brings up the Trax label’s notorious crappy pressings, pioneering house DJ Ron Hardy, influential industrial label Wax Trax, iconic club Medusa’s and lots, lots more. But just how is it that Milo, who spent his formative years in South Florida—known more for beaches and sunshine than raw machine rhythms—is so steeped in this kind of arcane knowledge?

That’s easy to answer: though Milo, known to the world as DJ Three, may have never lived in the Windy City, he’s spent this better part of a lifetime soaking up clubland’s myriad pleasures and pains. Among other claims to fame, he was the man behind the much-loved, much-missed Hallucination Limited label, an offshoot of the seminal David Christophere/DJ Monk–founded Hallucination Recordings. He’s currently running Hallucienda—largely devoted to house, tech-house, and their variations, but with forays into electronica, ambient, dub, and the like—which, after something of a false (albeit auspicious) start in 2014, is finally in full-steam-ahead mode. But more than anything, he’s a pure DJ, one with a sound that splits the difference between emotional eloquence and dancefloor abandon. His usual descriptor is “DJ’s DJ”—he's an artist respected by his peers as much as he is by his fans.

Three was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, but his story really begins when he moved to Florida at age ten. “I was immediately going to the roller-skating rink and hearing that music—and by age 13, I was an aficionado of electronic dance music,” he says. “At the rink, I would always run up to the booth because I had to know what the fuck was going on.” This was in the early ’80s, after the disco-sucks movement but before house had hit. “The music then was basically the kind of music that Arthur Baker and John Robie were doing, along with Miami stuff like freestyle.”

Other sounds were trickling down to Three’s corner of the country as well. Very few people there were actually from Florida,” he says. “People generally moved there from the Midwest or the Northeast. And the result was that there were musical influences coming from those places, music that people were bringing into town with them. That’s how I found early-’80s mixtapes with people like DJ Red Alert, Chuck Chillout…all the New York City DJ mix shows. Somehow I got an Electrifying Mojo tape from Detroit, too—which was pretty baffling at the time. It had this mix of Hashim’s “Al-Naafiysh” which, to this day. I have never found anywhere else.”

But a new style was on the way, one that would change his life. “When i was 16, I got in my friend’s car—he was from Chicago, and he had this really interesting tape playing,” Three recalls. “The music was like the electro and freestyle I knew, but it all had the same steady kick drum. I was like ‘What is this? Why is the beat is all the same?’ He said ‘That’s what we listen to in Chicago!’ It was so curious to me with the 4/4 beat, but something was pulling me in. It was hypnotic that way. Little did I know that moment was a peek into my future.”

Another peek: “I would make these pause-button mixes,” he says. “I had a Technics SL-B3 turntable, along with two tape decks—a master tape deck, and another one where I would have sections of songs, like samples, from the mixtapes I had come across. And then I would add little beat-drops from the turntable.

Before long, Three and his friend David Christophere, who later went on to form Rabbit in the Moon with DJ Monk, were tossing DJ-led dance parties. “David and I threw some of the first warehouse raves of the Southeast U.S.,” he claims. “But unlike most other parts of the country, rave culture in Florida wasn’t really defined by a warehouse scene. It was mostly in clubs, or else in rented spaces. But still, this was our music, and we were doing it ourselves. It felt like the next wave.”

It was, and by the early ’00s he was running Hallucination Limited and releasing atmospheric-yet-jacking house from the likes of Terry Francis, Robbie Hardkiss and Second Hand Satellites, Three’s production duo with Sean Cusick. He also made a move to a part of the country more closely aligned to his club-oriented interests than South Florida: New York City. He cites NYC’s towering club residents, people like Junior Vasquez at Sound Factory, as major influences. “Or Danny Tenaglia at Arc,” he says. “You knew you were going to have moments of joy, tension, fear, excitement, anger…to me, that’s the whole purpose of experiencing this music and what it’s all about.” He eventually scored his own residency at Brooklyn’s Output, a club that he returns to several times a year.

Following the demise of Hallucination Limited—not for lack of great tunes, but because “our distributor went under around 2006 or 2007”—Three’s record-label adventures were reborn in 2014 with the birth of Hallucienda. “We had a really great launch in 2014 with releases from Reverse Commuter {a.k.a. Kenneth James Gibson] and the first Phono Obscura compilation. But then, I had to take a pause in 2015."

That pause involved leaving New York and moving back to Florida. “My mom was beginning to show the signs of age, and I decided I needed to be around more,” he says. “I felt that I had too much going on to do the label. I didn’t even DJ in Europe for a long while. But I took the time to help get a wealth of material ready, and already have put out four releases this year. We’re full-on.” He rattles off the kinds of things he looks for in the label’s music: “I like raw machine music; I’m not afraid of melody; I like stuff that’s loose and a bit dirty; I want music to have some character. I really like music that creates its own universe.”

He’s passionate about the label’s last release, a record that does just that—Öona Dahl’s shimmering Holograma LP. “I’ve been blown away by the reaction to it, from people like Prins Thomas and Bill Brewster,” he says. And he’s equally excited by an upcoming release from the long-time NYC dance-music outlier Ulysses. “It’s krautrock-inspired electronic music that’s somewhere between Future Sound of London and [FSOL side project] the Amorphous Androgynous. We’ve already got remixes from JD Twitch and Tiago—it’s incredible stuff.

Towards the end of the conversation, talk turns to the general health of the club scene—and Three’s prognosis is optimistic, as he gives props to the kind of spinners who really live for the music. “People like Mike Servito or the Black Madonna…she’s done anything she could to satisfy her passion for this culture, and all of a sudden she’s one of the biggest DJs in the world. I find that kind of thing fascinating, and it’s that kind of thing that makes me think that we are in the renaissance era of deejaying.

And don’t feel too bad about Three’s exile to his South Florida hometown. “When I first moved back to Florida, at first there was a little bit of ‘I wish I was still in New York.’ But now I’m really assimilated into this other way of living. I’m in a 1920s bungalow with my girlfriend and my dog, a ten-minute walk from the ocean and a ferry ride away from Caladesi Island, which just a gorgeous place. And you know what? I like what I do more than I ever have.”

What can you tell us about this mix?

I gathered up some of my favorite Hallucination and Hallucination Limited wax and had a session, done in one take after sussing out what I might want to include. No sunrise, dinner-party or after-hours kind of mix here—it's the machine vibes easing in and out of melody or dissonance kind of music we’ve always favored. It’s spaced-out techno and tech-house, some more housey and others much more out there. I rounded things out with another big part of our history: proper electro.

How did you put the mix together?

I made the mix with all vinyl, short of one unreleased track from the vaults. It’s still my preferred method of spinning, though I rarely get the opportunity to do it anymore. But even so, I still probably play more vinyl-only releases than most vinyl-only DJs do—I spend a great deal of time ripping vinyl and doing the basic things to make them sound as good as I can. And with the amount of vinyl that I’ve amassed in my 47 years, I sometimes feel like I’m a digger, even though it’s my own collection.

Considering all these tracks come from the same your own labels, it features a surprising amount of variation—there’s deep house, acid, tech-house, tribal material, breakbeat, electro, and even a bit of trancey material, among other things. Yet there’s a real coherency to the mix.

Well, that’s the trick! [laughs] We’re into this era where it’s a big thing to be eclectic—but not everybody is able to put it together very well. You have to thread the needle and make sure there are no car accidents, and that’s something I’ve learned from some of my favorite DJs.

Like who?

People like Laurent Garnier, Derrick May, DJ Harvey, Doc Martin. I’ve also learned from DJs who create a more singular kind of momentum, people like Sasha. I’ve always tried to absorb everything that I’ve seen other DJs do that resonates with people, and try to apply it to my own way of doing things. And after 20-some odd years of doing this, I hope I’ve learned how to resonate with people myself!

Here’s the full tracklisting for the mix, along with a bit about the various tunes and artists:

01. Hazed “Norgan” (Hallucination Recordings)

02. Hazed “World Watches On” (Hallucination Recordings/Plus 8 Records)

Hazed is Nick Simpson, who was in Rhythm Invention on Warp and Slick & Flash on Phono, alongside David Christophere of Rabbit In The Moon. Such fresh and unique spaced-out acid tracks that straight-up go there. In 1994, we licensed the Bells EP (which includes “World Watches On”) to Plus 8 Records

03. Controlled Input “Controlled Input” (Hallucination Limited)

Philip Charles (Controlled Input) is one of the best there is, but he remains an enigma to most of the world. He’s the kind of guy that has Herbie Hancock’s phone number. This is possibly my favorite record from Hallucination Limited, made with nothing but an ARP 2600 and an MPC 60 II across the EP’s three tracks. This one in particular is mental.

04. Rabbit In The Moon “FloorI.D.A” (Three A.M.’s Dub for Strangeways) (Hallucination Recordings)

Three A.M. is yours truly and David Christophere. This possibly my favorite thing I’ve worked on. The highlight for me was Andy Blake putting this out on his legendary U.K. imprint Abnormal Recordings, with a Gary Martin track on the flip.

05. Hazed “Bells” (Hallucination Recordings/Plus 8 Records)

06. Terry Francis “Rosie and Hannah House” (Hallucination Limited)

This track was just released digitally for the first time on Hallucienda. It’s from Terry’s debut artist album Together, which compiles four tracks from two EPs 2003’s, Freedom 2005’s Change, which came out in 2005.

07. Soulrider “Silkymama” (Hallucination Limited)
Omar Torres is another one like Phil Charles.  He’s released everywhere from Joe Claussell’s Natural Resource label to the IDM label Schematic, under the name Hologram—and has produced with cEvin Key on Download and Skinny Puppy stuff.  Here he deftly reimagines house music under his Soulrider moniker.

08. David Christophere presents Lift “Between The Hands Of Friends” (Hallucination Limited)

David Christophere is a mentor and a friend.  The man behind Rabbit In The Moon, he has succeeded in so many areas of dance music. I love “Between The Hand Of Friends” so much. It sounds like Plastikman, if Plastikman was from the West Coast.

09. Grumptronix  “Level 5” (Erotic City Communications)

Grumptronix is my longtime best friend, and “Level 5” is next level stuff.  Grump had his own imprint through Hallucination called Erotic City Communications, which found its way in the record boxes of people like Andrew Weatherall and Ellen Allien. We’re currently prepping an Erotic City Retrospective for Hallucienda, and he is starting a new imprint called Body Works this year.

10. David Christophere presents Lift “Between The Hands Of Friends” (unreleased Jackal & Hyde remix)

11. Dynamix II “The 2 That Return” (Hallucination Recordings)

Arriving in Florida as a kid, the soundtrack at the skating rink was fueled by electro and freestyle sounds—not least of which Miami bass—so to eventually have Dynamix II and Jackal & Hyde (which is fronted by Scott Weiser of Dynamix II) on the label was kind of mind-blowing. This Jackal & Hyde remix of Lift has never been released. Apparently real electro is becoming fashionable again—timeless music prevails.

12. David Christophere presents Lift “Between The Hands Of Friends” (Slick & Flash remix) 

Nick Simpson (of Hazed) and Carl Finlow could not be too nicer guys—and they also just happened to make one of my favorite electro cuts of all time with this remix of “Between The Hands Of Friends.”

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