In the ’90s, if you wanted to hear house music in Wicker Park, you went to Red Dog. Counted alongside Shelter and the Warehouse in the city’s rich dance-music history, Red Dog helped launch the second wave of Chicago house talent. DJs Derrick Carter, Johnny Fiasco, Mark Grant and Lego all cut their teeth in the space now known as Ohm Nightclub at Six Corners.
After Red Dog closed in 2003 due to a shooting, the space lay dormant until 2006, when it reopened as Ohm. Initially launched to re-create Red Dog’s glory days, Ohm quickly succumbed to its bottom line, ushering in more populist Top 40 sounds. But that’s all starting to change. Thanks to the promotional expertise of Joey Swanson (a.k.a. Just Joey), the force behind Green Dolphin Street’s Boom Boom Room and house nights at Griffin Lounge and Martini Ranch, the spirit of old lives on again with Red Dog Saturdays.
“It feels a lot like it used to,” the 36-year-old Swanson says. “People are chanting, stomping and sweating to the DJs. It has that old-school authentic Chicago feel.” Going strong since last month, the party’s enlisted national stars such as Dennis Ferrer, Stacey Pullen and Osunlade to headline. We took a trip down memory lane with Swanson and Derrick Carter at Twisted Spoke prior to the Red Dog Resident Reunion party with Carter and Fiasco on Saturday 9.
“There is a lot of nostalgia for the place,” Swanson says. “I was doing Saturdays at Griffin Lounge with Derrick and Gene [Farris] and they were good, but I was having a hard time connecting the music to the people.” Griffin’s River North clientele isn’t an ideal match for the deeper house Swanson was booking, so he approached Ohm’s owners about bringing that vibe back there.
For Carter, the space’s popularity stems from his and others’ fond remembrances. “I have to temper this with the fact that we were young and stupid so, it being that part of our lives, it’s always going to be the most awesome thing in the world,” he says, laughing. “But, without sounding cliché, it really was. I even had a little secret spot behind one of the speakers where I’d always make out.” Carter, 40, started making regular appearances at Red Dog shortly after turning 21. “I was able to take part in something which at the time was major. Hanging out with Johnny Fiasco, Lego, Mark Grant and DJ Sneak, all of us, we were just kids on the come-up.”
DJ vet Michael Serafini, owner of Gramaphone Records and resident at Swanson’s Boom Boom Room nights, describes the original Red Dog in broader cultural terms. “It was very New York for Chicago,” he says. “It was the first nightspot in the city that was not a loft, and because of that it took a while to catch on.” With multiple rooms, wall-to-wall wood paneling and high ceilings, Red Dog brought the loft and club worlds together.
“It was like the Cheers of house music,” Swanson says of the down-to-earth vibe he hopes to reclaim. After cultivating the scene for almost two decades—he’s worked for both Q101 and XM Radio—Swanson feels the night will only grow. “I think things are cyclical. People are hurting a little bit, and that is when dance floors start to come back into style,” he says. “You’re starting to see macro lounges finding it harder to fill seats. That’s not where people are at financially, and even if you are, it’s kind of lonely in the VIP. A party for one? No thanks.”
Derrick Carter spins Red Dog’s reunion at Ohm Saturday 9.