DJ/producer/remixer Steve “Silk” Hurley has been at the forefront of house music since the genre’s infancy in the ’80s in Chicago. Brandishing a style that holds true to the underground while embracing R&B, soul and pop, Hurley has worked with a who’s who of talent, remixed the biggest artists in musical history, and has topped the charts and received four Grammy nominations in the process.
In this revealing interview ahead of his DJ gig at House Vibrations at The Great Northern in San Francisco on July 21, Hurley retraces his beginnings, dating back to the breakout success of his 1987 classic “Jack Your Body” and his role as one-half of JM Silk, through the ups and a few downs of his storied career. He also reveals what inspires him to keep his indie S&S Records going in a changing musical landscape and his plans for the future.
Favorite memory of the early Chicago house scene
Steve “Silk” Hurley: My fondest memories of the early Chicago house scene were all the times that I played my bedroom demos from a Pioneer RT-909 reel-to-reel deck or Tascam four-track cassette recorder at parties all over the city. At times Lil’ Louis and I looked down at the crowd of thousands from the balcony DJ booth as we each played our unreleased tracks at the downtown Bismark Hotel. Other times, a thousand young teens connected with my tracks at Jam Master Jay’s events (at Glenwood Roller Rink in South Suburbs of Chicago). In either case, it was a sign to me that our new music was being embraced by the teen-aged crowds everywhere, and we needed to feed the demand in a hurry!
How he got his nickname, “Silk”
Ironically, it originated in my early teen years, before I even became a DJ. We had a neighborhood dance group that consisted of my muscular friend Reggie, called Herc, a lanky friend Rudy, whose long arms earned him the name Stretch, and me, a kid with wavy hair who they gave the name Silk. When I started learning to mix records as a DJ, I kept the Silk moniker as a reminder to me that my blends should always be as smooth as silk.
Most surprising success
Although I didn’t know the magnitude until several weeks after it exploded in the U.K., “Jack Your Body” had to be by far my most surprising success. It was created in fun and was my most experimental record ever, combining blues riffs, comedy, and a nonchalantly sung vocal sample over a house groove. I didn’t expect it to go number one on any charts. What was more surprising was JYB topping the U.K. pop charts for two weeks. It was purely an underground track to put out to be a filler track in DJ sets, which is why we came up with the label called Underground Records to release it. I even drew my own artwork just for the fun of it.
Most surprising failure
After the massive hit “Jack Your Body,” I felt like I had a few under my belt. But my most surprising failures came soon after that when many of the songs I wrote didn’t become hits. However, I realized then that it would be my failures that would actually give me long term success. In other words, the more failures I had, the more I would perfect my craft…and the closer I would come to writing another song that connected with the masses. I also found out that sometimes those failures weren’t failures at all. They were just songs that were ahead of their time. It may be years later that a song becomes marketable. From that point on, I have always embraced each failure as a learning experience that made room for the next success. Continue Reading