Tied is the sort of label that almost naturally occupies a place in our heart. Massively respectful to the roots of electronic music, it also isn’t afraid to accommodate new talents and trump new artists as much as it is to pay homage to the legends of the scene. Besides all that, we’re pointing out the obvious when we remind you that it continues to rep Chicago’s scene with distinction, decades after the city first began to gain worldwide recognition for its appreciation and fostering of all things house music. At the forefront of the label is label owner Max Jacobson.
Himself a DJ and producer of some repute (check out his awesome mix for Tied’s Tiedcast series here), Max is something of a central figure in Chicago’s contemporary scene. Cutting his teeth as a promoter in the city, Max has booked some of electronic music’s greatest names, with everyone from Daniel Bell to Delano Smith, Cesar Merveille and Dyed Soundorom, all playing his parties. Tied also operates an awesome label, with a host of renowned producers and up-and-comers featuring so far. We caught up with Max recently, as he talked us through his history in electronic music, the modern-day Chicago scene and the importance of Europe on his tastes…
Hi Max, thanks for taking the time to chat with us today. Please start by introducing yourself a bit and by telling us about your current role at Tied and your history in electronic music…
Thanks for having me! I started Tied nine years ago with Mantas Steles. Right now I’m curating the vinyl and digital side of the label, the tiedcast podcast series, and events. Christian Thomas, my partner in our alias Ciphr, is helping me run the ship now. Tied started as strictly a monthly underground party series at various warehouse and underground venues around Chicago. We launched the vinyl only label a few years after, followed by the podcast. We continue to do 1-2 monthly events showcasing international acts, Tied artists and friends.
What’s the thinking behind the name, Tied?
The name Tied comes from the idea that we’re all tied together through the music.
The label/party is quite unique in that it’s based in Chicago but accommodates artists from around the world, and doesn’t necessarily stick to traditional house and techno templates. For example, I noticed you’re as likely to book Delano Smith and Norm Talley as you are more ‘minimal’ acts such as Mihai Pol and Cesar Merveille. Is this a conscious decision?
The last thing we want is to be pigeonholed as just a “minimal sound” label/party so we try to keep it fresh and mix things up when we have the opportunity.
Do you think Chicago (and possibly Detroit) can be too dismissive of sounds and artists that don’t conform to a more traditional ‘Chicago’ sound?
Well obviously Chicago is the birthplace of house music. Unfortunately, the sound we do doesn’t have as big of a crowd as in Europe or Miami/NYC but people are open to the sounds and the scene is growing with new exciting people every year. The house music scene in Chicago is still very big with lots of the old school names playing frequently. For example Derrick Carter and Michael Serafini (owner of Gramaphone Records) play every sunday at one of the wildest parties in Chicago called “Queen.” Also one of Queen’s residents is Garrett David who I consider the most exciting Chicago House DJ/producer and the next generation of Chicago house music. Garrett and Michael are great guys and have both played multiple Tied parties and we’ve hosted Tied record release parties at Gramaphone so I wouldn’t say it is too dismissive but you will always get people on both sides.
We’ll get to the label in a moment, but can you also tell us a bit about your parties. When did you start running them? Where did it all stem from? And what’s been the highlights over the years?
I touched on this a bit earlier but the parties have expanded from strictly warehouse/loft parties to different clubs, and one of my favourite parties we do every year is our boat parties. It takes place on the Chicago river through the city and on the lake. It’s really a magical vibe. We just did our nine year anniversary on the boat and hosted Cesar Merveille with an open to close set. On the boat we’ve also had Dan Bell, Delano Smith, Mihai Pol, Masomenos, and COSMJN to name a few. That being said, we still like to stick to our roots and do warehouse and underground parties as well.
The party concept of Tied came about after Mantas and I and our group of friends were having many long sessions where we all connected with the sound and were
“Tied” together haha. We were very influenced by the Berlin scene in particular, and how the parties lasted much longer than we were used to in Chicago. Here, the clubs and bars close much earlier than in Berlin and lots of places in Europe. I remember going to Panorama Bar in Berlin after my first time playing there at Kater Holzig and was amazed how Ricardo Villalobos, the biggest name on the line up, didn’t start playing till 6am to a packed crowd. We also were influenced by the NYC underground scene and the impressive parties they had and still do.
I’ve talked to a couple of Chicago natives over the years and they tell me that the scene there is nothing like as fertile as it is in Europe, which seems a real shame. So I wanted to ask – what’s your take on things there right now in terms of electronic music?
Chicago can be tricky. It’s definitely a smaller scene but the vibe is really special and I would describe it as a family vibe. Every year it’s growing though and I do think Chicago has a lot of potential with its population, number of universities, and history of all types of music and art. There are some festivals and we have some special things on the horizon so I’m excited to see what the future holds.
How pivotal are the likes of Smart Bar to the scene? Have their residents and parties greatly impacted you over the years too?
Smart Bar is a great club and it’s where the Queen events are held that I mentioned earlier. Unfortunately at the moment there aren’t many other big clubs doing things consistently with our vibe and sound. We had a residency at Spybar for about four years or so and played with many great artists there like Raresh, Thomas Melchoir, Mandar, Rhadoo, Petre, Apollonia, and many more but now the club went in a more commercial direction unfortunately. We held a brief residency at Smart Bar as well. Now we hold a residency at Arbella, an intimate lounge/bar with a great vibe.
Would it be fair to say that you’re equally influenced by Europe as you are all things in the US these days? Where have you made it to in Europe and how’s that influenced you as well as the party?
Europe definitely holds a special place in my heart. I’ve played in Berlin over ten times, and also played in London, Paris, Barcelona, Turin, Lyon, Marseille, Sofia and Cluj in Romania to name a few.
Kudos on the label, as it’s released some really awesome music already. What was your vision for it when you kicked it off? Is it solely an extension of the party or did you very much view it as its own individual entity?
The label was just the next step we felt in the evolution of Tied so we could showcase our friends’ music, our own music and past artists from events and the music we believe in. We also will have guest artists who are putting out amazing music and fit the vibe of the label.
Your latest release is by Mexican talent, Dieru. How do you source music for the label? Is it important you have a personal relationship with the artists you sign? Or is it solely a case of signing great music when you can?
The Dieru release was the previous release. For that release it was the first time I reached out to someone asking for a demo for vinyl that wasn’t a friend of ours at the time. Funny enough though after many conversations online with Diego (Dieru) and bringing him to play for us in Chicago we became good friends and talk frequently now. That being said I did some due diligence before asking him to people I knew asking about him and only heard good things. If I hear someone is an asshole, egocentric or diva, we won’t book them for a party or release no matter how good the music is. Not going to waste my energy with someone like this.
Tied VA11 was a Various Artists package released during the pandemic. Can you tell us a bit about the thinking with that release?
So we did two pandemic VA releases from friends and artists we enjoy from all over the world. It was titled “Isolation” because most of us were isolated from our friends, family, and music scene at some point during the pandemic. I wanted to bring artists from all over the globe to express themselves and their feelings at that time.
You’ve also released some brilliant music via the Tiedcast, your associated podcast. Any mixes in particular that you recommend we check out?
All of them 😉 – the next two we have is an excellent grooving and interesting mix from CHKLTE for July, and in August we have a brilliant all live set from Enzo Leep.
What’s next for the party and the label that you’re really excited about? How far do you want to bring it all?
For the label we have our next vinyl release coming out July 18th from my friend Matheiu. Two really nice original tracks, and amazing remixes from Nick Beringer and Denis Kazacheev.
The vinyl after that is scheduled towards the end of the year and will be a special EP by one of my favourite producers Silat Beksi!
For the beginning of 2023 we have a vinyl VA with some really bomb tracks from Enzo Leep, Jacobo Saavedra, and Ciphr.
With the parties, we’re currently taking a month or so off on parties because I’m getting married and my fiance just moved to Chicago from Paris so my focus is on her right now. We will be back in the fall though with some very special announcements.
Can you tell us what you have in store release wise and plans for yourself in the coming year?
Lots of things I’m excited about. I’m in the studio as much as I can be with myself or with my friends doing collaborations.
Some very exciting collaborations are coming up – have a vinyl release coming on RAWAX with Sakro. Have another vinyl release on Purple Print under Christian and I’s Ciphr alias with our homie Snad. Under Ciphr, we have a vinyl release coming out on Constant Sound’s Aesthetic imprint and a track for a Honne Music VA that was released last week. Towards the end of the year an edit on Coast2coast edits label. Also a Rotate vinyl release with Matheiu as well as a tied digital release together.
I have two solo releases coming out soon. One release coming on Prika with a remix from Loopdeville. Then an EP on Na Zrak with a Jacobo Saavedra remix. Also towards the end of the year a Depeche Mode edit on Retrospect.
Lots of new music on the horizon and developing Christian and I’s Ciphr all live sets with us on hardware, modular gear and ableton with a splash of some live musicians like guitar player Will Moeller and others joining us in the jams here and there.