Chip E knows the secret to musical success and is happy to share it: “Every day, before I leave the house, I go to the studio and make a song. Every single day. It’s exercise.”
This artistic workout has kept Chip E, born Irwin Larry Eberhart II, in the vanguard of futuristic electronic music for as long as it has existed. Born and raised in Chicago, he is one of the originators of its legendary house music scene. (The term “jacking” originated from one of his early records, the evergreen floor-filler ‘Time To Jack’.)
His devotion to dance music began as a teenager. “In high school, DJing was one way to get into parties for free,” he chuckles. “It didn’t save me any money though, because I wanted to control the sound.” Chip E chased obscure records to ensure his sets stood out in a scene where DJs competed to “play the music made tomorrow.” He got a job at a record shop that sourced rare imports, and saved his allowance to buy studio equipment. Soon, he was making his own rhythm tracks, then full records.
Chip E quickly developed a signature style: he always starts with drums. “If the beat ain’t there, you gotta send everbody home,” he says, quoting James Brown. Once he lays a four-four foundation, he builds the structure with a driving bassline. From there, he follows the muse, adding vocals, strings, piano, or whatever moves him. “My music changes,” he says. “From every shade of house to darker techno, but the way I make it doesn’t.”
Nicknamed The Architect for his crisp, immaculate construction, Chip E brings the same creative approach to his DJ sets. Whether he’s spinning at the Ultra Music Festival or his home-town club, his sets are more live performance than simple mixing. “Back in the day, the DJ supported the party. Now, the DJ is the party,” he says. “I like to play on four decks to really express myself and move the crowd. It’s very spontaneous.”
Chip E blurs the line between studio and dancefloor. “DJing is an extension of my production. Even if I’m playing recorded music it is a performance, I’m going to do something creative. Producing and playing out are both extensions of creating music.”
Like every great performer, he is constantly perfecting his art. He loves to watch musicians, “the way cellists bow the strings, or the way brass players breath” because it helps him coax the richest, most realistic sound out of his own productions. And when a friend is DJing, he likes to dance. “You can’t sell what you wouldn’t buy, right?”
Not that Chip E has much free time to hang at the club. He recently made a record with fellow motor-sport enthusiast Carl Cox, and they have another collaboration in the works. There is also a record with DJ Pierre on its way, plus the globe-trotting gig schedule.
“It’s an exciting time,” he says. “Dance music used to be focused on Chicago, New York, London, now it is all over the world. I played in Cuba last year. It was awesome to discover there are 7,000 people in Havana who love electronic music.”
His enthusiasm, and raspy laugh, are infectious. Wherever he goes in the world, all Chip E needs is a solid soundsystem and a crowd to read.. “I love dance music. I believe in it enough to go out and jack my body.”