DJs and bands have been swapping hats more and more frequently these days, and many artists now switch back and forth between their Fresh Prince side and their Jazzy Jeff side. Hey Champ is one of a rising number of acts that seem to be both at once – samples and synthesizers filling up the dance floor, while a singer and a drummer play right along with the beat.
The trio's particularly smooth, cheese-free disco-dance style has led to appearances at dance events like Cease To Resist at darkroom and the former Outdanced! nights at Funky Buddha Lounge, in lieu of more rock-centric shows at, say, the Empty Bottle. Hey Champ's latest single, "Cold Dust Girl," is probably being played at a club near you on any given weekend evening, and for good reason; the song's synth hits, smooth vocals and catchy guitar line make for a tune you can enjoy in a sweaty mess on the dance floor, or as a headphone soundtrack while walking around the city.
The band has come a long way to get here; lead singer Saam Hagshenas and Jonathan Marks grew up together in Rockford. Years later, they recruited Pete Dougherty (no, not the tabloid star) to round out the group. Performing as the Hey Champ DJs or simply as Hey Champ, the group has remixed tracks by Yeasayer and locals Prairie Cartel, and been remixed in turn by DJs from Chicago all the way to Japan. Recently, the band was signed to Lupe Fiasco's First and Fifteenth record label.
On New Year's Eve, Hey Champ will join Parisian rocker-DJs Justice for a dance party at the Congress Theater, topping a roster of other Chicago favorites including Willy Joy, Zebo and the Dark Wave Disco DJs. We quizzed the guys on their Chicago favorites, and also got their helpful advice for aspiring musicians.
What's your favorite Chicago hidden gem?
The Jumping Bean Cafe in Pilsen. They fed us through almost every recording session.
What's your favorite club/club night to play at?
Our favorite clubs are Smartbar, Double Door and Metro (hint, hint, hint). Our favorite club night is "Life During Wartime"...it's the shit.
Do you have any big collaborations coming up?
Justice. The Killers. Smashing Pumpkins. Those are awesome bands.... what was the question again?
Bad jokes aside, we have two major collabs planned on our album, but it's a secret.
What's your favorite track right now?
"Cube" by Concert Boy.
Something about you we don't know?
We represent all three major religions (Saam was born a Shi'ite Muslim, Jonathan was born Jewish, and Pete's a confirmed Catholic). That said, none of us believe in religion or God anymore. Sorry.
What's the best advice you've ever received in Chicago?
Don't pursue music in Chicago.
What do you expect for the New Year's Eve show with Justice?
The Justice show will be crazy. We're the only live band playing, which should provide a great break from the DJ acts. Our music is very much electro, so we'll fit right in. That said, we are also a rock band: The knobs will all be up to 11, chests will thump, our fingers and arms will fly, and I expect faces to melt in at least the first three rows, possibly four.