Our new series asks DJs about their favorite dancefloor tracks.
While we here at Tone Madison would never expect a DJ to simply dump their entire record bag full of secrets out in front of us, our goal with this column, Aces (as in “aces up the sleeve”), is to chat with some of our favorite local residents, as well as visiting guests, about a few of their favorite, fail-safe floor destroyers.
We begin with Madison resident, veteran rave DJ, and house lifer Tim “Lovecraft” Thompson. Thompson’s wide-sprawling knowledge and appreciation of dance music was immediately recognizable and contagious in his weekly throwdowns at former Cardinal Bar residency House of Love, which he co-hosted with Madisonain DJ and producer Wyatt Agard. After House Of Love’s unfortunate demise last year, Thompson set his Terminator-vision forward and has since launched a more locally-focused Cardinal residency called Square One, in coordination with like-minded selectors like Foshizzle Family, Tre Ginjahvitiz, and Ashoka. Thompson chatted with us about launching his new residency, his love for Cajmere, and why no one should be dropping tracks from the Beatport Top 100 at 4 a.m.
Tone Madison: So first, how'd Square One end up coming together?
Tim Thompson: I was really motivated to keep house music going at the Cardinal, so after House of Love, I stayed in touch with Tulin Waters who was booking Fridays there. I played a couple shows with her and pivoted into taking on a new night. I wasn't looking to spend as much time and effort doing something on my own again, so I reached out to a crew of others who I trusted and played good music.
Tone Madison: Who exactly is involved? Is it you, Tre, and the entire Foshizzle crew?
Tim Thompson: I spoke to Max Wasinger from Foshizzle Family immediately. I brought in Tre Ginjahvitiz and Ashoka, who’d been doing House Of Love for the last few months. Then we pulled in Kyle Carrick and Garrett Ohrt from Foshizzle. We rounded it out with DJ Foundation, who’s an incredible DJ and techlord. It’s worked out great. We also have River, who is doing projections and visuals. It's a good crew. There’s a great division of labor, it doesn't kill my time, and the vibe has been awesome. Everyone involved is positive, excited, and genuinely devoted to making house music at the Cardinal work. It's gone so well that [Cardinal owner Ricardo Gonzalez] and Tulin asked me to start booking the first Fridays [of each month] as well. I’ve got some more Foshizzle guys involved with that.
Tone Madison: So there's more of a local focus with Square One?
Tim Thompson: I It's been regional and mostly local. We've had Milwaukee cats up a few times already. And Ben Silver, who lives in Madison, is really a national name. we got lucky to get him involved.
Tone Madison: I'd imagine the pressure of making guarantees every week starts to build up after a while.
Tim Thompson: It really did, and it began costing a ton of time and money to make sure it worked. It's very hard to keep huge names coming to Madison every week. We do have incredible talent in town, so it's not like we're left wanting for great music and vibes when we focus close to home.
Tone Madison: It does seem like Square One still flirts with techno a bit the way House Of Love did.
Tim Thompson: Most of our headliners have been techno so far. It won't stay that way, but late winter always feels a bit more techno to me. Niki Kitz, Demitri Nocturnal, Ben Silver, and Theodore Elektrk are all techno acts and they all spun solid fucking gold on that floor.
Tone Madison: Has anyone thrown down a live-PA set yet?
Tim Thompson: No live sets yet, no. It has to happen soon.
Tone Madison: OK, so the first track you’ve shared here is “Brighter Days (Underground Goodies Mix)” by Cajmere and Dajae.
Tim Thompson: “Brighter Days” has been in my crate, both vinyl and digital, for 20 years. It became the anthem at House of Love after it got played by four or five guests in a row last year. I have a couple trick mixes I do with the vocals and used to love jiggling doubles of that track. But I think it's partly the message and the relationship with the crowd, “Won't you lift me up?”
Tone Madison: What section of your set does “Brighter Days” typically end up in, and what do you think it is that makes this track so timeless?
Tim Thompson: It's generally a deep pull when the floor is really hitting. I scratch and hot cue in the vocals at the beginning and really twist it up.
Tone Madison: This is a deceptively minimal track that the listener can really step into. It's crazy. Musically, it reminds me of Kenlou's "The Bounce" or something, where the chords are subtle and not too high in the mix and there aren’t really any pads. Also, the bassline is like two notes. But then there are all these percussive hooks—catchy rhythmic quirks. It really works.
Tim Thompson: The percussive elements are what give it the versatility, but It’s her voice, too. Dajae has this unique quality to her voice that cuts through the mix and Cajmere's production really highlights that.
Tone Madison: Next we’ve got “Time,” a track by House of Love alumni and Chicago veteran Gene Farris. What pulls you to this one?
Tim Thompson: It reminded me, after a winter of techno gloominess, that spring is coming. It's funky, deep, and fun. Gene has always had a unique place in my heart. He is probably the number one most ubiquitous producer in my DJ sets. He has incredible taste, a vast array of styles, and he’s a great source of transitional tunes—from warehouses techno to club friendly disco. He does it all so well.
Tone Madison: There’s a beautifully simple structure here. It must be a great utility track.
Tim Thompson: This is one of those tracks I mix for a long time with other tracks. His sampling is really just remarkable. I bring in that bassline and then that funky little guitar sample comes in. You can layer it in all sorts of different ways. There are other tracks by Gene that I've spun much more often, but this one has been a go-to track for a couple of months. He also has a track called “Mars Bar” that's probably a bit more my style, but this one has felt great on the floor this spring.
Tone Madison: When you’re DJing, are you generally averse to having too much going on in a track? Do you find these more minimal tracks work a dancefloor a bit better?
Tim Thompson: No. Not at all—it's all about the mix. A track like “Time” allows you to bring busier, fuller tracks in nicely. I do probably tend to have those utility tracks run in my sets longer, as they’re more oriented towards mixing. At heart, I'm a busy DJ looking for ways to really work the mixer. I average about 20 to 25 tracks an hour.
Tone Madison: As a producer watching a DJ in a club setting, I generally feel like that sort of busy mixing and personalization in how the tracks are presented make it feel more performative to me.
Tim Thompson: I agree. It's what allows me to make unique music on the floor. I don't have much desire to just let tracks run through. I'm doing this to have fun and to bring my personality into it. That's what the DJs that inspire me do consistently.
Tone Madison: Alright, now let’s talk about Hardfloor’s “Acperience 1.”
Tim Thompson: “Acperience 1” has been with me for so long. I bought the album the week it came out in 1993 and it stayed in my crate for the next 20 years. I've played it in fast and furious techno sets and slowed it down for house sets. The breakdown is, technically, way too long and feels like it should lose the floor—and it can if not used properly. But when it's right, it will tear the roof off the motherfucker.
Tone Madison: When I hear that super catchy, almost acrobatic acid synth melody. I keep thinking that there's no way that particular synth is a TB-303. They really know how to flex those machines.
Tim Thompson: Oh, it is. They rock like four 303s live. I saw Hardfloor live at a rave in like 1994 and this track just elevated the entire party to an unbelievable level. I did a Hardfloor tribute set last spring at a party and this track was the cornerstone. I do love acid and they are the gods of the 303.
Tone Madison: It’s crazy how fucking polished and loud this track is for how old it is. That kick is so massive—it sounds like an anvil being dropped on your head.
Tim Thompson: It gives me goosebumps constantly. My vinyl copy of this is so worn down. I need a reissue. It's so smooth, yet so heavy. And the breakdown—oh God! It really is one of those late night tracks that a good night of dancing gets you to this point. When it breaks down, I just think of being sweaty and relaxing and breathing it in as it twists and builds. Then it pops in—damn! I would never end a set with this track because I would never want someone to have to follow it.
Tone Madison: Would you say this is a 4 a.m. track?
Tim Thompson: Yes!
Tone Madison: As a veteran DJ, what would you say defines a 4 a.m. track and what does it bring the party?
Tim Thompson: Style. Style is the answer. At that point in the night, the floor has heard so much and those left are in it. If you don't elevate, if you don't evolve, then you aren't letting the floor feel anything new. 4 a.m. is about something meaningful and new. It has to have style. A 4 a.m. DJ that is playing brand new, top 100 Beatport tracks isn't doing their job right. I used to call 4 to 5 a.m. ‘“the magic hour.” It's when things get weird. It's when spiritual moments are tangible. If you’re spinning a track that the peak hour DJ would spin or that every kid has on their iPhone—fuck you. You aren't evolving.. If you don't move the floor to experience something new and if you don't do it with style, then get off the decks and let someone else take that shift. It's too important.
Tone Madison: For those who don't understand what you mean when you’re characterizing a Beatport Top 100 track, what is it about those tunes that you hate?
Tim Thompson: I don't tend to like many of those tracks, but I don't really have anything against it. My problem is that those are the tracks everyone has. That's why they're the top 100. I've always felt like a good DJ should be introducing new sounds, new experiences. There are some great tracks that hit the top 100, but if you’re really taking your job seriously and you really want to move a floor, giving them too much of what they already know is just lazy. Digging deep and playing something that opens people's eyes and ears is what it's all about.
Tone Madison: OK, so that brings us to a track from Chicago’s Scrubfish—”Holla If You Came To Funk.”
Tim Thompson: He is a funky, funky man. He's Chicago all the way. We had him at House of Love. Derrick Carter put a track of his on an Essentials mix and it blew up his production career. I've played with him a few times. He’s a super humble and incredibly talented producer. This track just has good times in every pore. He has control over the flow of his tracks in a very real and effective way. This one gets the hips moving. Also, those fucking horns! From a DJ perspective, this track would lay right over that Farris track and you can play with it for awhile. Kicking between, slicing over, and just having fun.