On the spectrum of cool, Felix Da Housecat’s demeanor lies a degree or two below the Arctic tundra. In the pantheon of Chicago’s living legends of house music, he occupies distinct territory of a man with one foot in the old and the new school, bonding the two worlds without breaking a sweat. Yet somehow we’re sure that his festival closing at HARD Day of the Dead, trading tracks back-to-back (B2B) with fellow Chicagoan Lee Foss will bring this annual celebration of dance floor hedonism to its boiling point. It’s all in a day’s work for the DJ born Felix Stallings, Jr., who’s played more clubs in more cities around the world than just about anybody we know. Within the span of the last few days, he’s bounced between festivals in Colombia, Mexico City and now LA, breaking out the hypnotic house grooves that carry within their bloodstream the gritty funk, disco and sweaty, American soul that will always resonate with today’s audience. Recently, Felix spoke with the Weekly about his upcoming set, coming up as a DJ in Chicago, the vibes of today’s EDM festival scene, and his plan to use his nascent label Founders of Filth (FOF) to help future cats in the DJ scene strive to get on his level.
Why does your B2B set with Lee Foss at HARD Day of the Dead Fest special to you as a DJ?
I never really do back to back sets ever because I’m a really selfish person when it comes to DJing [laughs] I’m just keepin’ it real. It’s very hard to play with someone who has your same tastes but Lee is just so cool and him being from the suburbs of Chicago and me being from the suburbs of Chicago–he and Jamie Jones used to come check me out at a club called Pacha in 2001, I think they had just started DJing and now I’m super proud of him. He didn’t even know about the B2B set at first, the festival asked my manager and at first he said no because he thought I didn’t wanna do it but then he asked me and I said “Yeah I’ll get down with Lee, I like the way he plays.” So I’m very organic with that stuff, I usually have some idea of what I’m gonna play but I end up just going off the vibe of the people. We might talk about it 20-30 minutes before we go on but it’s not like we got this big plan [laughs]. That’s the story of my life, I just go where the vibe takes me. I try not to overthink too much. When you plan things and things don’t go according to plan people panic so it’s better to jump out of the plane with no parachute. When you’ve got that fear, that nervousness when you play your best.
Was there a time you feel that carefree attitude worked for you the best in your career?
It’s still with me man, since I was 15. It’s an old-school mentality, you’re supposed to get nervous because you care but you gotta be fearless, so it’s a balance. It’s funny because for DJs in Chicago, we called it the “Chicago Hustle” because everybody in the ‘80s everybody was legit, everybody thought they had the hottest records and everybody was good! I came in around ‘85 was when I did my first record with DJ Pierre, I was like 14 or 15, it came out in ‘86 so I leaned the business real quick. I met Phuture and DJ Pierre when Acid Tracks came out and I would just sit in the studio and watch those cats and I came in playing self-taught music. My dad played sax, so for me the house music stuff was kinda easy because my father was a musician and played in bands, gigged for Motown so he disciplined me on music. When electronic music and all these drum machines came, I went to self-teaching myself that style. Now it’s good to stay in your own head and be consistent, it’s like a horse race, if you’re looking at what the horse next to you is doing you’re gonna fall, you’re better off putting those blinders on your eyes and just going straight shot.
What’s the best part about working with someone like Lee Foss who grew up learning from you?
For me to work with Lee, I have a lot of respect for him also because his road to get here I remember where he was and where he is now it wasn’t easy for him so for him to persevere through all that is incredible. I always choose to work with the underdogs, I don’t work with the obvious, it’s not really a challenge, it’s too easy. That’s what people do now, there’s no integrity, it’s all about what can I get and outdo the next person when it should be about helping each other as a team.
What’s your take on the EDM festival scene today?
I think it’s gone more corporate but at the same time there’s enough room for everybody, that’s what I like about the electronic and dance music scene, there’s no beefs in it, you might get a couple here and there but at the end of the day it has this hippie vibe. I think the festivals back in the day it’s the same game different players. It’s like nothing’s really changed, there’s been different styles of music but you got the young kids coming up and the OGs still there. It’s getting better in that it’s more universal. It’s the gatekeeper’s responsibility to educate but also show the future.
What is the role of Gatekeepers in music, those that decide who and what the masses listen to?
I like gatekeepers because that forces people to go more independent. Gatekeepers have been around since the beginning. You look at Chance the Rapper and a lot of these cats, it’s because [they did not have] gatekeepers that they blew up. I have to deal with gatekeepers too. When I’m dealing with my peers and they want to put something out on my label or I want something from them. That’s the beauty of being independent because if you snooze, whatever, it’s all good. That happened recently on this track I put out called “Midnight Bang” I’m not gonna say the label but they said they were too busy so I said okay I’ll put it out myself and it was a first release and it’s killing it right now so maybe it was meant for me to put it out myself.
Is there anything you’re listening to now that’s inspiring you?
Lately I’ve been listening to a lot of Radiohead’s OK Computer and their early stuff, Jamiroquai, Hendrix, old school stuff. But I have a 19 year old daughter and my brother’s son is 19 so they’re always hitting me with the Travis Scott, that Astrowold album so I’ve been working out to that. That’s a killer right there. I’ve always been a Tribe Called Quest fan, I listen to them when I’m on the road. When you’re 47 you have to find ways to stay ready for battle. There’s new studies coming out that the electronic scene is more hard core than the rock n roll scene in the 60s and 70s. Can you believe that? That’s what I love about the scene, there’s enough for everyone to have fun and make their music and do their thing. I’m gonna bring my podcast back, called FOF Radio, and give DJs a chance to showcase their tracks. I’ve been playing with a lot of great DJs in different cities so I wanna give them a platform because I know how hard it is for these cats to get on, man. I’m just gonna have people sending in mixes and just putting them out there, cats with no names just trying to get on. I don’t know if it’s gonna be weekly or monthly yet but I’m gonna launch that at the end of January.
Felix Da Housecat performs a B2B set with Lee Foss at the HARD Day of the Dead (Duro Stage) at 10 p.m. For full info and tickets, click here.