He is now amid the editing process of his game-changing documentary The House That Chicago Built, which according to a confidently spoken Lil’ Louis, excavates deeper into the roots and happenstances of house music more than any other documentary before it.
“We are going back to the roots of square one, I’m going back even further. I don’t want it to be a film of ‘I did this and I sold six million copies of French Kiss and we did that’ – it’s so much more deeper than that. There’s a reason why people love this type of music and there’s a reason why we wrote what we wrote, felt what we felt and expressed what we expressed – so that’s going beyond square one,” he says.
“Square one is the result of what happened, what I want to do is explain what led up to that result, what led up to that action. I’m delving as deeply as I can go within my fibre to articulate to people what this [house music] is really all about.” he says.
The documentary is far from being a film focused on big noting iconic legends and praising the already sung heroes of house music. It is also geared toward uncovering a brethren of behind the scenes players and modern days messiahs that helped define and redefine the genre. It canvasses a far flung body of DJs from Frankie Knuckles and Theo Parrish to David Guetta and Armin Van Bureen to Ben UFO and Kode 9.
“There are a lot of unsung heroes that I am going to introduce to the world, there are a lot of people [DJs and producers] that have never been given their dues – that people don’t even know about. I’ve interviewed about 165 DJs and I’ve spoken to some of the ‘veteran DJs’ and mentioned a name and they’ll say ‘I’ve never heard of this person’ and ill say ‘well you should have because that person is very instrumental in house music and this is how they are instrumental in house music’. So I’m going to connect all those dots so that even an ‘educated house aficionado’ will learn something,” he says.
“There are people in the documentary whose style of music I may not love, or I may not get some of the songs they have produced, but that has nothing to do with this film. This film covers house music and it covers the love of house music and the evolution of house music, so I removed myself from all that as a director and just frankly covered it. I think that is going to be pretty refreshing too and perhaps a bit controversial.”
High Tech Soul: The Creation of Techno Music and Pump Up The Volume: The History Of House Music (worthwhile viewing until house music reaches the UK) are two films that made significant steps in giving these electronic and long-standing genres a voice. Other films to recently document the importance of house and techno include; Paris/Berlin: 20 Years of Underground Techno, Sub Berlin: Story of Tresor Club and Back In The House: NYC House Scene Documentary. Together these films have mustered a voice that can explain to people that not all DJs wear sunglasses at night in tight T-shirts branded “Fuck Me I’m Famous” and that club goers aren’t drug fuelled ravers in gas masks and happy-pants.
“The funniest thing about the house music culture is sometimes it can be misconstrued. I know doctors that love house music, I know lawyers that love house music, I know people from all walks of life that love house music, but people do other things; you make love, you make mistakes, you evolve in life,” he says.
Lil’ Louis’ The House That Chicago Built plans to leapfrog the efforts of previous film-makers in documenting house music and he says, “I wish people had done their due diligence, had done more research, had spoken with people and not taken advice from people that weren’t there the entire time [when making their films]. If I give a view point of something that has spanned many decades, and if I give a view point of a few years in one decade, there’s no way I can say I covered it. So many things lead up to things which helped it evolve,” he says while adding “I wanted to make sure my perspective was as objective as possible and transcends what I love, like or think,”.
House music is no longer combing the underground and a certain strain has long been staple in top 40 charts, but is this something people realise? “If you think about it, house music has permeated every aspect of society and that’s the most beautiful thing about being the founding father, I’ve seen something that I started in 1974 and I’ve seen it grow into this amazing thing. Now everywhere you look, every single place you go – television commercials, film, whatever – you see house music, you feel house music, you are in the presence of house music. Because of that I wanted to expand the scope and the definition of house music,” Lil’ Louis says.
House music has become one of those classic clichés, where if you were to ask someone like Lil’ Louis if they thought it would ever amount to what is has today, most would likely say no, but Lil’ Louis remains adamant he has always knew it could be this big and bigger.
“I always felt what I was doing was really special and I knew it had serious potential. People have likened me to a visionary, but I don’t think there is a visionary outside of God that can predict the complete end of something, so I wouldn’t say I could have predicted house to be as ensconce as it is, but I can definitely say I thought it was bigger than what most people thought it was,” he says.
Ironically a life source of house music came in 1979 when disco was “declared dead” by popular Cleveland radio shock jock Steve Dahl, who in a rapacious publicity stunt – by the way of a Chicago White Sox vs Detroit Tigers baseball game – filled a crate with disco records and blew it up on the field to the raucous stadium chants of “disco sucks”. Many disco producers at the time felt the stunt carried ill-boding and racial undertones, but disco was not dead, it just burrowed deeper underground.
“When disco was declared dead in 1979 there were a lot of people that completely abandoned house music, particularly in Chicago. I remember having some conversations with prominent DJs and I kept telling them to stay the course – this music is going to be big again and it will be bigger than ever – people used to laugh all of the time at my predictions,” he says.
Lil’ Louis is as much a house music pioneer, as he is a producer, filmmaker, historian or educator, but it is his DJ sets that remind us why we are here in the first place. “I don’t divide my set up, or divide my crate up – I’m still going to call it create by the way – and say OK 47 per cent is going to be educational and 20 per cent will be what they want and the rest will be whatever. I don’t look at it that way.”
After all his years of DJing and touring, Lil’ Louis will finally play Australia for the first time and excitedly says “I know whatever I am feeling you are going to feel and I think that is what has sustained in me for 38 years, people know that when I am up there [DJing] I am not compromising, I’m not faking, I’m very focused on pleasure and that’s a two way pleasure – pleasing and being pleased. So that is what I am going to bring to Australia and everywhere I go,” he says while adding “One thing I have noticed about the Australians is they are passionate people and I am a passionate person – so passion meets passion.”