The Chicago House Music Festival and Conference will take place June 23-24, with the first day spotlighting the conference at the Chicago Cultural Center and the following day being all about enjoying tunes at the Humboldt Park Boathouse Lawn.
Among those performing at the festival is DJ Psycho-Bitch (aka DJ Psycho-B)a legendary figure who's been spinning records (and CDs these days, according to her) since the '80s and who has spun at places like Crobar and the gay club Cairo (both now closed). In a recent conversation, Psycho-B (real name: Valerie Scheinpflug) talked about house music, her career and dating another legendary DJ.
Windy City Times: How did you get your start? And as for your name, is it true that you got it from [fellow DJ] Teri Bristol?
DJ Psycho-Bitch: Yep. It's been a little over 40 years now.
When I met Teri, she was actually a cocktail waitress. (I used to tease with the Human League's "Don't You Want Me, Baby?") I was a server, too, and we met at this really tacky Greek mafia-owned gay bar by O'Hare Airport. One night, the DJwho was such an assholewas fired. Teri's friend asked her to play DJ; she was so timid and shy, but the friend said she'd be fired if she didn't. Technically, they didn't even have proper DJ equipment, like [the right] turntables or pitch controls.
Anyway, she started playing records and that's how she and I became friends. I used to go to the dance clubs downtown; I only went to this place because I had met some women and made friends. Back then, about 1980 or 1981, if you were gay you had to go to gay bars; they were, like, safe spaces. But I looked very different from the other women: They wore IZOD shirts with the popped collars and preppy, high-waisted jeansand I had a purple mohawk and wore spandex. I [complimented] Teri and she looked at me, like, "Yeah, right." [Laughs]
At this point, I had hundreds of records, especially the 12-inch onesbut I never realized that's what I wanted to do. I started bringing her records, like stuff from WBMX; she would just play it and she was really good. She and I became close friends, and I almost had to force her to make demo tapes. There were many times when I brought her demo tapes and she ended up getting the gigbut being women back then… We didn't even know any other female DJs.
Before [Northalsted bar] Hydrate was Hydrate, it was Christopher Street. A friend was a DJ and the music director there, and he told Teri she should audition. She finally did it and all the guys were jammin' and looking at her. She rocked the place for an hour and the [director] loved it and talked to the owner; he came back and said, "They thought you were too progressive for this place." [Laughs] That was the most ridiculous thing I had heard; when it came down to it, it was because she was a girl. That's an example of the shit we've gone through.
This guy named Billy Cooper who did the lights at the [original] Baton and one night he said to us, "I wanna take you to meet [legendary DJ] Frankie Knuckles." We knew who he was, of course, but we had never met him. Here we weretwo white gay women, one's a DJ; it was, like, against all odds in every way. [Laughs] He walked us to the boothand that was when I had my a-ha moment. Frankie's smile was the warmest and friendliest, and he gave us a big hug. Everybody was soaking wet from dancing. But the way the crowd was eating out of the palm of his handit wasn't "Ooh, I want to be a DJ" but "I want to make people feel like this." I can't really describe it.
So not only did I get shit because I was a girl but because Teri and I had been dating. We actually dated for eight years. People thought I was riding her coattails, but what they didn't know was that I actually got her out there. It's a whole lifetime of love and passion, and my friends have been trying to get me to write a book.
WCT: And what about your name?
DJP-B: So it was hard for me to get gigs because I was a girland no one would promote me when I did get one. Back then, there weren't 10 DJs who did one night; one DJ did the whole nightand gives the DJ the chance to take people on a journey. And Teri and I brought in so many people; we had our own followings.
I knew I had to get my name out there. I finally got this gig and it was the first time someone was putting my name on a flyer. They spelled my last name perfectly but spelled my first name V-A-N, like I'm a van. I was so pissed off [laughs] and I had really bad PMS. I was at Medusa's and Teri walked in. She looked at the flyer, laughed and asked, "What are you going to do about it?" I said, "I have to get my name out there." I've always been very energetic and she [eventually] said, "Oh girl, please. You're nothing less than a psycho bitch!" [Laughs] I said, "Oh, my Godthat's it."
That was a big deal back in the '80s because most DJ names were cute, like Ralphi Rosario and Tim Spinnin Schommerand here's me: Psycho-Bitch. But that name really made a difference; the boys stopped fucking with me. Nobody forgot that name and I built an instant following.
WCT: By the way, when and why did you shorten your name to DJ Psycho-B?
DJP-B: That was for the [house-music event] flyer. Everyone is so ridiculously offended by everything these days.
Even Facebook booted my "Psycho-Bitch" page after 13 years. Two years ago, I woke up and I had a notification saying, "You violated our terms of service." They never gave me a chance to talk with them or even shorten the name. I was buying ads for where I was playing, and they continued to take money off my credit card for a page that wasn't even there. I tried to talk with them for three months.
I used to do this full-time but the way the clubs are now, with the multiple DJs and the bottle service. [Clubs] seem to be milking everybody for every nickel they can. It used to be about the music and the fun; now, it's about money, money, money. Now I only accept gigs that really matter to me. I'll never stop playing, but I just don't take any [gig]. And I've always stuck to my guns: I don't play Top 40.
WCT: What makes Chicago house music just thatChicago house music?
DJP-B: House music is a feelingand Chicago just loves good music. It's a big music town.
A lot of people confuse EDM with us. For Chicago, we just love good music. Maybe a pop artist will sing house because they hired [someone] to do a house mix of their songbut that doesn't make [the singer] a house artist. For us, it's not necessarily about an individual song; it's a feeling.
But one thing I'll say about Chicago: It's full of talent. Even when I traveled overseas and played with so many other DJs, [I noticed] the talent in Chicago. Not only did house start here, but there's something for everybody. Some cities might play hip-hop or drum 'n bass; we have everything here. In Chicago, you can hear country, house, rock, jazz or blues. We are very lucky here.
I do have to say that I might not play a particular type of musiclike hip-hop or pop, as I doubt I could even name five pop artistsbut I support people who play it because there has to be something for everybody and we all make up a part of the big spectrum of music.
WCT: And what about the fact that the conference and festival will take place during Pride Weekend, considering house music got its start at a Chicago club for queer Black and Brown people [The Warehouse]?
DJP-B: That's pretty awesome. The only bad thing is that it seems like every time we have some big, wonderful thing that we've pushed for, there's something else going on, like Pride in the Park. We'll go without a big event during the winter but, come March, there'll be four really good events on the same day.
I just wish there were different dates [for the big events]. There are a lot of gay people who love house music who would come to Humboldt Park, and there a lot of straight people who support gay people and who would go to [Pride in the Park]. And then you have the NASCAR closures that are already happening.
It's awesome that we have these opportunities but I wish there was better planning.
WCT: What does it mean to you to be part of this festival?
DJP-B: I'm so honored and so proud and so happy to be part of this. I feel like I'm representing the city, the community and the people who have heard me for decades. I know people who are bringing their children to this festival.
For more information on The Chicago House Music Festival and Conference, visit www.chicago.gov/city/en/depts/dca/supp_info/hlp.html . Admission is free for the entire event.