In this episode of the Ground Level Podcast, we have Chicago’s JS Alvarez. Alvarez is at the forefront of underground nightlife as a club promoter and a DJ embracing the diverse and cutting-edge sounds of the movers and shakers of the North American electronic music community and bringing it all together with taste and a little bit of edge and darkness. Research & Development party series and podcast series is just that, thoroughly thought through and an incubator for all that is right in domestic underground music. Near and far – the cream of the crop – artists you’ve heard of and hometown heroes that deserve the platform. R & D has been an inspiration for AYLI’s Ground Level Series. Here’s your opportunity to discover an important voice of our culture. Don’t sleep. 

As You Like It: Welcome to the Ground Level Podcast series. Excited to listen to your music. For those not familiar with your background, how did you find the electronic music community? What are your earliest memories?

JS Alvarez: I grew up in Miami as a punk. My earliest memories of electronic music was blasting through the open doors of bougie South Beach clubs with outrageous covers, strict door policies and VIP bottle service BS. I wanted nothing to do with it. Over time I was introduced to drum ‘n’ bass and jungle. The wild style of music and the dancing resonated with something I understood more. Being played in VFW Halls and other unconventional venues. That made far more sense to me. Eventually, I got into Bjork, Aphex Twin, Autechre, Boards of Canada and I was off to the races. 

AYLI: Of course, electronic music has a deep history, especially House music in Chicago. Is there any reason in particular you’ve continued to reside there and push the scene?

JS: What can I say? I’m hooked. The people have grit but they are generally courteous and hardworking. Passionate. Dedicated. That kind of environment rubs off on you in a good way. Much like a person: a city, a community should never stop growing. I’m happy to share this city with not only talented but easy to work with artists. You’ll end up working with some iconic people who also happen to be so down to Earth. I’m not saying Chicago is the only place with people like that. But I know for certain these people are here and I think it only keeps getting better. 

AYLI: On your podcast series, Research & Development “R & D,” you’ve featured a lot of North American talent. Has this been a focus of the series specifically?

JS: While it’s never been a deliberate focus, it is something I enjoy. The pool of talent in North America is immense. It’s a shame so many people have to resettle abroad to make the job of producer or DJ more attainable. We’re the ones exporting our talent to Europe. NOT the other way around. No shade to Europeans but few if anyone are getting grants or artists stipends to produce techno or organize events centered around techno in the US. 

AYLI: “RND” champions a sort of deep diversity and inclusivity. Is that a result of your broad tastes or are you interested in promoting an electronic music community with less barriers and more unity?

JS: A little of both. First and foremost, are you good at what you do? That’s the most important thing for me. I’m happy the series is inclusive but that’s not because someone is black, queer, trans, etc. These artists are bringing talent, passion and dedication to what they are doing.  They are undoubtedly earning their place in this network of scenes but I’m happy they can be their authentic selves and feel the freedom to express and celebrate their identity. Barriers in music are not welcome. We’re much stronger together and supporting one another. 

AYLI: As a person who has a wide appreciation for musical genres of all types, how has this shaped your approach to DJing?

JS: I’m a punk at heart. I love to antagonize my audience with darkness and chaos while trying to create a potentially psychedelic or cerebral experience. At the same time, I’ve got a deep love for Latin and African music. When I’m not trying to freak you out, I want you to have no choice but to get your freak ON. I used to throw parties in my apartment and move all the furniture into the bedrooms so there was no place to sit in an effort to make sure people dance. 

AYLI: What musicians and DJs have influenced you most as a DJ?

JS: The list would be endless but I really think of Silent Servant when things clicked. I often never look to see what DJs/producers/bands look like. I don’t really care. When I finally saw Juan play was when I finally truly understood what people meant by representation. There’s a short, stocky Latin guy playing dark electronic music up there. Then, I saw myself being able to do that. Glad I was able to tell him that. 

AYLI: For our mix here, can you describe some of the thought process behind the track curation and mixing?

JS: I wanted to start with something dark and textured yet psychedelic as a nod to the Bay Area’s counter culture history BUT I wanted to make sure the second half took a more rhythmic direction to make you wiggle your ass too.  

AYLI: What should we be listening for the most in this mix?

JS: Texture. Scraping. Bumping. Screeching. Beeping. Buzzing. Disembodied voices. 

AYLI: You’re pretty accomplished as a promoter and DJ already, what aspirations do you have or would like to achieve in the future?

JS: First and foremost, I’d like to travel more and play in front of more people outside of Chicago. I’d like to collaborate more with other promoters. I’m trying to focus on that second part this year. I also gotta get out of my writer’s block and start producing music again. 

AYLI: This last question is a deeply contested topic in Chicago. So pardon us if it ruffles some feathers.. Where exactly is the best pizza place in town?

JS: Oh the controversy! You’re going to have me tarred and feathered as I walk down Chicago Avenue. My personal favorites are Dante’s, Bob’s and Piece. I like thin, big slices with a tasty crust. Fold that mother fucker and shove it my mouth.

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