Detroit DJ Jeffrey Sfire joins us here at Superstore for an extra special European date in between playing at Panorama Bar and at Lab.oratory in Berlin. With a love of all things hi-NRG, Italo, '80s, Chicago house; Jeffrey's sets span genres and gets gay men dancing across the world's discotheques. He'll be flexing his disco muscles next Saturday for Little Gay Brother's Locker Room down in the laser pit with Vauxhall babes Maze & Masters.
Having discovered Detroit's underground warehouse scene at 15, moved to Chicago at 18 and having lived in Berlin, Jeffrey has finely tuned both his music taste and DJing style to suit banging clubs, sleazy afterhours and gay discos, and that's all in addition to releasing productions under the Sfire name with Samuel Long on Discodromo's celebrated Cocktail D'Amore label. Ahead of the Little Gay Locker Room we chatted to Jeffrey about his secret past as a restauranteur, going on dates and why everyone loves hi-NRG again...
The theme of the party here at Superstore is Locker Rooms. What's the naughtiest thing you've ever got up to in a locker room?
A boring old BJ.
That’s not boring! That’s naughty!
But it’s not as exciting as it could be.
Tell us what happened.
Oh no wait; I have a good locker room story. It’s not naughty though. My biggest crush in high school, one year in fitness class, had his locker next to mine and it was kinda unbelievable haha. Nothing naughty ever happened but… no I’ve never really gotten up to too much in a locker room.
You're super influenced by the '80s- what did you look like then and what kind of music were you listening to... tell us about 80s Jeffrey!
Well I think a lot of my musical influence comes from riding around in my mom’s car listening to pop music.
Yeah totally. And I had a little afro because I had really curly hair. She used to make me have this little golden-brown afro which was cute. Oh and my mom used to make me model in department store runway shows! Which is pretty adorable!
I always go back to my mom’s, listening to pop music in her car…. like Madonna, and Wham, just early ‘80s pop. Just radio hits, but back then it was all synthesisers and drum machines, and it was all dancey stuff so it really appealed to me.
If you’d been in your early 20s in the ‘80s, what music do you think you’d have been into of your own accord though?
I don’t know, I always wonder that. You never know… you could have found something else totally interesting. I always wonder what people then thought about the ‘80s music I listen to now. Some people say Italo disco was like trance in the ‘80s. Certainly when dance music from the ‘70s to the ‘80s became more electronic, there were so many musicians that totally disregarded it because they thought it was soulless. Um, I don’t know. I hope I would have been into the same dance music! The Chicago taste, and the Detroit taste really appealed to me, which was mixing everything together- from disco to house to pop to freestyle- all that stuff, just mixing it all together and dancing. I think the New York sound was a little more Afro for me… but then I also think ‘would I have been really New Wave?’ like the Liquid Sky soundtrack kinda music. But I think being in the Midwest especially; it’s humble and more about having fun than being fashion.
Back to baby Jeffrey... you were going to warehouse parties in Detroit from the age of 15. What are your formative rave memories?
It’s funny because I just moved back to Detroit and I’ll pass some burnt out warehouse and be like “didn’t we party there?!” I just remember when I was coming up I was so interested in DJing and so many of my older friends were DJs and I was all about just soaking it in, learning by watching and going to see as much music and different styles as I could. I was so excited. I grew up in a suburb that’s very Old Money, kinda posh and conservative, so getting to escape on the weekends and go to these crazy parties, with tonnes of queer people and all these older people too, so there was all these freedom. It was everything.
But mostly for me it was about watching DJs. There’s so many good DJs here, and so many good styles.
Who are some of the first DJs you saw around that time?
One of my favourites is this guy called D. Wynn. He’s an older Detroit guy, along the same time period as Derrick May and Kevin Saunderson. But he like didn’t become mega famous. I think he’s one of the best DJs from Detroit ever though. He had a really cool style. Also Mike Huckaby was a huge influence, just in his DJ style. And some of my friends that I hung out with all the time, like this guy Derek Plaslaiko who lives in Berlin now. Him, and some other people, I would watch them all the time, and pick up on their styles. I think they had a huge influence on my taste. I think Detroit has a really specific taste. I mean even between Detroit, New York and Chicago, even other cities, I feel like each has a very specific taste. I’m really grateful to be from here, and picked up that, y’know.
Why do you think hi-NRG making such a resurrgence this year?
Because everyone who is like 20 wasn’t sick of it eight years ago! Because they were 14 haha! Honestly, I was at a house party the other day, and this girl that had to have been like 21, she put Spacer Woman on. She was like “Oh.My.God. you guys, listen to this song! It was made in like ’81!!” and she put it on and I was like “You have got to be kidding me. You’re not like totally sick of this song??” She said “I’VE NEVER LIKE HEARD THIS BEFORE!!”
It was just resissued by Dark Entries…
Oh well that’s probably why. I was in San Francisco too. Well that makes sense. Hahaha! It is funny though, because things like that pop up and you’re like Ohhh that’s why.
It has felt since at least the beginning of the year that the genre is reaching a zeitgeisty point and people have started to get a bit bandwagony…
Well I feel like it keeps going through waves.
Everything is cyclic, certainly… but hi-NRG is like the “thing” this year.
Well that’s good to hear, because I like to play it. I mean I guess people just got sick of house music.
If you had a time machine and could visit any dancefloor anywhere/anywhen, where would you want to go dancing?
I think I would wanna go to the Muzic Box in Chicago. And hear Ron Hardy DJ. I would wanna hear him do his thing live.
Or even, there was a club in Detroit called Heaven with this guy Ken Collier.
Tell us about how you met Samuel Long and how Sfire came about?
He and I met on a dancefloor, in Berlin. His band was playing at an art gallery. We had some mutual friends so we were introduced. Then I saw them play and I was really into it, and I could hear the genius in his music. I suggested they make a dance version of a song they did, and he was like “well, why don’t you come and help me make it.” He had heard me DJ a few times, and he just invited me over. He’s very friendly and like ‘lets just have fun making music’ kinda guy. So we worked on it, and then we made a new song and then we were like “lets make a new song”, “lets make a new song”, “lets make a new song” and after a while we had a handful of songs, and we became really good friends. It was really fun just to go hang out and be really casual about it, but still have fun.
Any plans for more Sfire records?
Um yeah, we have maybe five songs that haven’t been released that we could work on. I think the project will turn into us working with lots of different people for each record. It’ll be really fun. Some new producers, and new friends, people from all over really.
You've lived in Detroit, Chicago, Berlin... where is your spiritual home?
Oh that’s a tough question. That’s my existential crisis right now. I left Berlin about a year ago and that was my spiritual home for a long time. So I’m really wondering this right now. But I’m starting to think it’s California. It’s a really magical place, and people are really happy there.
Where in California?
Whilst in Berlin you were also a restauranteur, how did that develop from your supper clubs?
Well my ex boyfriend who I moved to Berlin with, he is an extremely talented chef, so for money we did a supper club that got a ton of press for it. We just ran with it, and it just seemed like an easy thing to do, to open the business in Berlin. There was a great demand for it, so we knew it would be successful. And so we went for it! American style!
There’s a video interview online with you both in the restaurant and the décor is amazing, especially all the lights… owl lights, and deer lights… it just seemed like you’d obviously put a lot of thought into that.
Yeah. We did. We completely renovated that place. It was this disgusting filthy restaurant before, so we tore out everything, and built the bar, and the shelves and everything. The flea markets in Germany are so great because they have so many of these animal figurines; actually most of them are on my desk right now! The owl lights and all the bunnies. Flea markets in Berlin on Sundays. You just have to go. And the best thing we would do was take loads of road trips, and if you drive down the country roads, every town you get to has a second hand shop where you can fill up a trunk for €10. It’s incredible.
You're taking us on a date in a city of your choice. Where are we going, what are we eating and where are we dancing?
I could do this for all the fun cities right now. But lets say San Francisco. We’re gonna eat Burmese food, and we’re having tea salad (lahpet thoke). My favourite restaurant there is called Burmese Kitchen.
Isn’t it closing down?
Oh yes it is. We’re going before it closes. Anyway, this is a fantasy so it’s still open. So we’d eat there and then we’d go get a doughnut at Bob’s Doughnuts. Then we’d go to a Honey Soundsystem party. It would be amazing.
What are we drinking though?
What are we drinking? Well honestly we’re probably drinking tea, because me and Josh [Cheon] and Robot Hustle always have tea when we’re together because we’re old ladies. We’ll drink tea and then go for a dance.
What's the first record you ever bought?
A Jeff Mills record. Purpose Maker record. When I first started DJing I was really into a lot of hard techno. So I think my first records was like Jeff Mills records and Joey Beltram records.
The last record you bought?
A Mantra record on Bunker from The Netherlands.
And what’s the record that never leaves your bag?
It’s this freestyle record that I love to play. It’s by Shana and it’s called I Want You. It really never leaves my bag. I played it once in Berlin and my best friend was like “oh, such a Jeff record.”
What’s the reaction it gets from people, other than those that already know you?
I think it’s normally a great reaction. But the best reaction I get is when I play in New York or Chicago and someone runs up and you can tell it was a childhood track of theirs and they’re like “I FUCKING LOVE THIS SONG!!! THIS IS MY SONG!!” A lot of times that happens and it’s the best. When you see someone with that genuine look on their face and it’s not a club hit. Especially in Chicago, I get that a lot. Almost everything I DJ was on the radio in the ‘80s there. People just get so happy to hear that stuff so you get these genuine reactions that are priceless. I love that. Going back to Chicago and DJing is really fun for me.
Join Jeffrey at Little Gay Locker Room at Dalston Superstore on Saturday 15th November from 9pm - 3am.