Mike Dunn: A Dive Into The House DJ’s Catalog With DJ Purple & Jesse De La Peña
Written by Jesse De La Peña on June 5, 2023
For his special birthday set on Vocalo’s 5 O’Clock Mix on May 26, friend of the station DJ Purple brought listeners a mix dedicated to legendary Chicago house DJ Mike Dunn. He sat down with host Jesse De La Peña to discuss the mix and Dunn’s international influence on house music.
Longtime Chicago MC DJ Purple celebrates his birthday each year with a special mix themed around a certain topic. This year, he decided to dedicate the mix to a legendary Chicago house music DJ and producer: Mike Dunn.
Originally from Englewood, Mike Dunn grew up listening to his parents’ record collection before finding his love for disco, soul and funk — and eventually hip-hop and house. Dunn has been active in the Chicago and international house music scene for more than 20 years; DJ Purple remembers seeing Dunn spin at iconic house venues like the Warehouse and Prop House.
“I clearly remember one day when he was in the booth, and he had a cast on his arm,” he recalled. “He was actually spinning one-handed, and didn’t skip a beat. It was amazing.”
In an effort to give Dunn his credit while he’s still active in the scene, DJ Purple curated a mix of Mike Dunn tracks — including instant classics, standout remixes, ’90s throwbacks and slept-on deep cuts. The mix originally aired on Vocalo Radio 91.1 FM during the 5 O’Clock Mix on Friday, May 26, following a conversation with DJ Purple and host Jesse De La Peña about Dunn and his lasting impact on house music as a whole. The two reminisce on seeing Dunn spin at now-closed venues, and delve into DJ Purple’s own connections to the international house scene. The special mix is available for streaming via Mixcloud.
Jesse De La Peña: I’m Jesse De La Peña and today we are featuring a special mix. It’s a dedication to one of our house music hometown heroes, Mr. Mike Dunn, and it’s put together by our good friend, DJ Purple. Welcome to the show!
DJ Purple: Thank you, thank you, thank you.
Jesse De La Peña: I’m excited to hear what you’ve cooked up for us. That’s a big task, when you’re dealing with Mike and his arsenal, his entire catalog. How does one go into something like this?
DJ Purple: With a lot of careful thought and planning.
Jesse De La Peña: So tell me this: How did you discover Mike Dunn?
DJ Purple: Well, I will say that — without giving away too much right away — the last track in the mix will be a reference of how far back my fan-demonium goes. Because I first heard of him in the ’80s, thanks to radio station WKKC.
Jesse De La Peña: Definitely, he’s been on a journey. And we’ve been appreciating music of his from some time: his DJ sets, his records, his production. And it seems like, in probably the past 10 years, the world has been able to experience some of that. He’s been on the road constantly, representing Chicago to the fullest. So I’m excited about the mix. Here in Chicago, we know of him as a pretty phenomenal DJ and producer. And obviously, I can think of a bunch of parties that I’ve seen him at that kind of resonated with me, spinning at the Warehouse, Chosen Few picnic. Can you think of any parties that really kind of stuck with you, a set that he has done?
DJ Purple: Absolutely. You mentioned the Warehouse on Randolph, I have the same memories of that. But another place where a lot of people don’t talk about too much was the Prop House. And I clearly remember one day when he was in the booth, and he had a cast on his arm. So he was actually spinning one-handed, and didn’t skip a beat. It was amazing.
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Jesse De La Peña: I mean, the Warehouse, I know he was a resident there. But one particular event always kind of sticks with me. It was one of those Sunday, everybody’s off Monday, maybe it was MLK. And man, the place was filled to the rim. And people were just loving it. A situation where they knew all the words to the songs, obviously the disco stuff and kind of the house stuff. But he was playing some stuff, some new wave stuff, like I remember he was playing “Tainted Love” by Soft Cell. And he would cut the record off and people would sing the words, and I had a friend in town, who was in from Australia. And the house music hit differently over there, especially the hip-house. Coming to Chicago, he was super excited. Me and my buddy Milty took him to the Warehouse for that Sunday party, and he was just in awe. He would be like, “Oh my God, there’s Joe Smooth. There’s Fast Eddie!” People would be just hanging out! So I do remember that one. And just kind of the way he connected with the crowd. It was just good energy. You’re just beating it.
DJ Purple: Yes, sir. Absolutely.
Jesse De La Peña: What was the inspiration for the mix?
DJ Purple: It’s gonna sound a little hilarious to say it, but I’ve just got to go with this. Every year for my birthday weekend, I like to do something really different and cool and energetic, just because I’m celebrating my birthday. This time around, it just dawned on me that it’s been a while since I did any kind of dedication mixes for anybody. And Mike just kind of stood in my head because of what he’s been doing so much lately. Last year, when I saw him in Defected Croatia festival, the crowd response was incredible. I was just thinking to myself, “Yeah, let’s just do him this time.” I just had to do it.
Jesse De La Peña: Is this something you saw online? Or were you there?
DJ Purple: I was there last year.
Jesse De La Peña: Oh, wow.
DJ Purple: Yes, last year and the year before, as well. 2021 was my very first one. And of course, that was supposed to have been in 2020. Everything got delayed because of COVID. So went for the first time in 2021. We still have great memories of that time, and then last year was even better. Just vivid memories of the crowds just going bananas over him and his stuff.
Jesse De La Peña: Give me the short version of your connection to Europe.
DJ Purple: Well, I was stationed in the UK for seven years when I was active duty. And this was from 1994 to 2001. So we call that in the middle of the “golden age” of house music.
Jesse De La Peña: Sometimes you post some stuff, memories of Ministry of Sound and a bunch of these DJs that we knew from production and putting out records and whatnot. So I know you have definitely a different appreciation for the European music, or the scene, and the DJs over there.
DJ Purple: Oh, yes, absolutely.
Jesse De La Peña: When you were over there and you were stationed, were you doing a little work while you were there? A little spinning?
DJ Purple: Yeah, I was able to get into a few clubs, including one that you had just mentioned, Ministry of Sound. It was a long time coming for that. Myself and another GI, as we knew it, at the time, we were the first American Military GIs to actually play in the club. I did a few other spots in London and all around the region where I was actually stationed at, which was called East Anglia, getting some spots in Cambridge, even a few hidden locations where there was definitely a vibing scene.
Jesse De La Peña: What is the mindset going into this? I mean, give us a little peek into the mix, what we can expect.
DJ Purple: Well, you’re gonna get some stuff that everybody knows, those instant classics. You’re gonna get a couple of throwbacks from the ’90s, but you’re also gonna get a couple of things that people either forgot about, or slept on. Yeah, just kind of go where the mood took me.
Jesse De La Peña: Can you name some of your favorites? Maybe some of your favorite Mike Dunn records or tracks?
DJ Purple: Hmm. Well, I do have a favorite remix! Two favorite remixes. But they’re both by Armando, because back in the ’80s, there was that Armando-Mike Dunn connection. Mike had always done remixes for Armando. So one of my favorites is “100% Of Disin’ You.” Other one is “We’re on the Move.” Now, neither one of those are in the mix. But that’s okay, because I don’t want to give away too much!
Jesse De La Peña: I mean, there’s so many that come to mind: “Dance You Mutha,” “Magic Feet.”
DJ Purple: Oh, yeah.
Jesse De La Peña: Actually, the one we probably couldn’t play, we’d have to have the edited version. You know which one I’m talking about.
DJ Purple: Oh, I know exactly which one that is. Because I heard that one, at the Warehouse on Randolph. I know that one.
Jesse De La Peña: For a long time, it was hard to come up on that record. Sometimes, they would have a few copies at Gramaphone. Later years, it’s been reissued on a European label, and we may give them a little, the G version, the PC version, so maybe we’ll give them a little something. But when you hear the beat, just the groove, probably 80% of the lyrics on that song, we probably couldn’t get away with. It’d be a lot of reversing. It wouldn’t even make sense. [Both laugh] This terminology I’ve been hearing, probably in the past maybe five years, maybe it goes back a little further. But there’s a term, “giving people their flowers while they’re here.” Is that kind of what we’re doing right here?
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DJ Purple: I would say yes, in a roundabout way. And actually, technically, this wouldn’t be my first time doing that specific thing. I take it in another angle whenever I ask people for autographs. I’ve got a few autographs from Mike, one of them being an Armando record. And then there was some other remixes that he did as well that I had to have autographs on. When I ask people for autographs, that’s my way of giving them their flowers.
Jesse De La Peña: Well, I’m looking forward to checking out the mix. I know you guys out there are looking forward to it. If you are a Mike Dunn fan, maybe some people know the name. They’ve seen it on a flyer over the years, maybe they’ve bought a record. You guys are definitely in for a treat.
Follow Mike Dunn, DJ Purple and Jesse De La Peña on Instagram, and check out more exclusive DJ mixes on MixCloud.
Interview and audio production by Jesse De La Peña
Mix by DJ Purple
Written introduction, transcription and editing for length and clarity by Morgan Ciocca
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