Our personal assessments of people and places can never be solely based on objective standards. The memories we attach and the experiences shared influence what we think. For example, Windy City Soul Club was the first regular soul night my girlfriend and I went to after moving to Chicago. It was also the last event we went to before COVID shut everything down in March 2020. Over the next year and a half, itching to go out again, thinking of the last night out at WCSC was common.

WCSC was started by Aret Sakalian, Jason Berry, Xavier Velez, Nick Soule and Ben Pirani. In the subsequent years, they played at a number of venues including the Empty Bottle, Viaduct Theatre and Liar’s Club. They’ve played jammed pack New Years’ Eve shows at the Logan Square Auditorium. Most recently, you can catch them at Sleeping Village.

I had a chance recently to talk to Aret.

When did Windy City Soul Club start and what was the first venue it was held at?

2008 at the fifth floor (no elevator) of an unofficial studio/venue with a bar called “Heart of Gold” near Lincoln and Belmont.

When WCSC started, were there any other regular soul nights in Chicago?

Yes, there was a night called “Sheer Magic” at Danny’s Tavern that played mostly deep funk and modern soul. Also another night that started around the same time as us was “East of Eden’s Soul Express” at The Hideout focusing on southern soul, gritty r&b and funk.

Lots of older musical formats have come roaring back in the past 20 years. The LP, 45s, even cassettes. Were many DJs spinning strictly vinyl or 45s in Chicago when you started?

Yes Lp’s & 12″ singles mostly for your regular club DJ’s. We got introduced to the collecting and playing specifically rare soul 45’s & the “northern soul” scene through LP & CD compilations that were put out by UK’s Goldmine/Soul Supply and Kent records (found in the used “new arrivals” various artists section at Reckless Records).

I’ve found that many people got into soul music from hip-hop samples or a family member listening to oldies radio stations. How did you get into soul music?

The commercial stuff like Arthur Conley ”Sweet Soul Music” or Jay and The Techniques “Apple, Peaches, Pumpkin Pie” we definitely heard off oldies radio: “Magic 104.3 FM”. The rarer “northern” stuff we heard off those compilations mentioned above.

Are there any specific records where you can’t wait to unleash them on the crowd?

Not specific ones but ones you get and are like “Oh yeah! This is getting dropped during prime time!” and they love it! But sometimes it ends up we’re the one’s more excited about the record then the crowd hahaha! 

Does WCSC play much that came out of the local Chicago scene? If so, what are your favorites?

Yes Definitely. But we do try to focus on records from other cities too, Philadelphia, Detroit, California, etc!

Here’s a short list of local favorites:

Scott Brothers “We Like Girls” (Zachron)

The Ivorys ” Please Stay” (Despenza)

Ernest Mosley ” Stubborn Heart” (La-Cindy)

And we always end the night with

Otis Brown “Southside Chicago (Ole)

Have you had a chance to meet any of the artists whose records you spin? If so, what did they think about their music being played in clubs so many years later?

Yes, we have met Syl Johnson, Willie Henderson, Ruby Andrews, Jackie Ross, Chuck Bernard, Renaldo Domino, Larry Dixon, Doug Shorts, Holly Maxwell and The Notations just to name a few. They get a kick out of people still enjoying their music, especially the  younger crowd.

So much obscure or forgotten soul has been reissued by labels such as Numero, Kent, Soul Jazz, etc in the past two decades. Do you feel like you’ve dug into everything that’s out there or are you still stumbling upon and discovering soul you were unfamiliar with?

Seems like people are still finding some interesting things out there. You gotta keep digging.

Have you had any part in contributing to any resissues or compilations over the years?

No, not really into reissues & “limited” reissue releases etc.

Have you noticed any changes in the crowd that attends over these years?

Changes in crowds, yes definitely we often hear about couples that meet at WCSC and got married. But yeah..People move out of town… people move to town etc. Venues too. It feels kinda like a TV show, where the first season’s cast/staff enjoy what you do and are happy to see you and by the time you get to season 10 and with the venue’s staff turnover etc., the vibe and atmosphere can change quite a bit.

Are you involved in anything else music-wise, besides WCSC?

Working on an offshoot of WCSC called “Stubborn Hearts”. Trying to go back to doing smaller parties. WCSC has had small crowds with just friends dancing to huge crowds at Logan Square Auditorium on NYE. We opened up for Raphael Saadiq, Lee Fields, Mayer Hawthorne. We were on the Van Buren Bridge downtown for a Halloween party one year..Made it in “The Empty Bottle Chicago” hardcover book (on page 222). One of our Dj’s (Benjamin Pirani) moved out to NY and recorded a 45 that gets played on the scene! Where do you really go from here?! We even did street art style WCSC stenciled election signs outside the venue for our 14 year anniversary.

Lastly, WCSC is about to celebrate its 14th year. Did you ever think this would last this long and how long do you hope it keeps going?

Didn’t think it would last this long. We’ll see what the future brings. We’re still buying records, we’ll get together from time to time, hang out & play each other’s newly gotten tunes.

You can follow Windy City Soul Club through the following:

3 responses to “Interview: Windy City Soul Club”

  1. Geoffrey gethro Jones Avatar
    Geoffrey gethro Jones

    Nice one Aret keep spinning the tunes Gethro

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Lisa Torem Avatar
    Lisa Torem

    Great answers, Aret!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Geoffrey Jones Avatar
    Geoffrey Jones

    Been on the Northern Soul scene for over 50 years as a dancer and DJ moved to USA in 97 supported many venues over here and spun at a few have our own soul club in Chicago once a month spinning local tunes but just Northern Soul which started in UK i was a regular at wigan casino from second night it opened till it closed in 81 and many other clubs

    Liked by 1 person

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