Daisychain gives women and nonbinary DJs the platform they deserveon February 19, 2020 at 10:40 pm

Alicia Greco moved to Chicago in November 2017 and launched Daisychain two months later. - JEFF MARINI FOR CHICAGO READER

Even before Alicia Greco moved from Buffalo, New York, to Chicago in November 2017, she knew she wanted to start a party series that centered women and nonbinary DJs. She was already DJing herself, under the name Leesh, but she figured she wouldn’t be able to launch an event and simultaneously find her bearings in a new city. After she arrived, she decided to pursue the same goal–spotlighting contemporary dance artists from marginalized gender communities–with a podcast instead. That way she could involve people from anywhere in the world, instead of needing to rely exclusively on a Chicago network that she was still developing. And in theory, building a name for her podcast would make the transition into throwing actual parties seamless.

In January 2018, Greco launched the weekly podcast Daisychain. She started organizing Daisychain parties that summer, but even now, the podcast is the regular event–the parties remain sporadic. “It’s funny, the podcast actually became the thing,” Greco says. “The parties are just something that happen in support of the podcast, when it was supposed to be flip-flopped.”

Every Tuesday, Greco posts a new episode to Daisychain‘s Soundcloud page. It’s not a talking podcast–each episode consists entirely of a single mix by a guest contributor, typically about an hour long (though nonbinary producer Acid Daddy, from Chicago’s Naughty Bad Fun Collective, made a mix for May 2019 that runs nearly an hour and 45 minutes). Every episode’s individual Soundcloud page identifies the contributor (name, alias, pronouns, home base) and includes a list of influences, a favorite quote, and advice for queer, POC, nonbinary, and woman-identifying DJs.

Many episodes also include a link to a track list, which Greco posts on the Daisychain Facebook page. Greco interviews every Daisychain guest, and when the corresponding episode goes live, she publishes a thoughtful profile derived from that interview (though it appears on her personal Facebook page, not the Daisychain page). She takes great care to describe each guest’s personal history and connection to dance music. “It’s like, ‘Yes, they’re DJs, but they’re people–they have a story, they have something that’s pushing them and making them want to do this,'” Greco says. “I think that that is just as important as the tracks that are coming through.”

Greco has posted 110 mixes from 112 different producers–episode 73 features three members of New York collective Working Women. Greco knows she’ll never run out of potential subjects, and she says she’s planned out every week of Daisychain through July. Only about a fifth of the guests live in Chicago; others have been from Mexico, Canada, Ukraine, Australia, Peru, Norway, Portugal, Uganda, and Malaysia. And Daisychain matches this diversity in points of origin with diversity in sound: in December 2018, Brooklyn DJ Vicki Siolos offered a mix made entirely out of sylvan ambient tracks from Canadian label Silent Season, which might as well have come from a different universe than the hyperactive, face-melting blitz submitted in December 2019 by Pittsburgh artist W00dy (who headlines a dance-friendly installment of the Hideout’s experimental Resonance series on Saturday, February 29).

Elena Colombi, Leesh, Higgy

Sat 2/22, 10 PM, Smart Bar, 3730 N. Clark, $20, $15 in advance, 21+

W00dy, Machine Listener, Kona FM

The experimental Midnight Resonance series takes over the Hideout Dance Party. Sat 2/29, 11:59 PM, Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia, $7, 21+

Daisychain‘s most popular episode, with renowned Brooklyn-based producer Octo Octa, has nearly 20,000 Soundcloud plays, but many mixes have fewer than 1,000. Those numbers may not seem impressive, but the podcast has attracted an active and engaged listener base–Greco has already noticed instances where it’s helped create the positivity she’d hoped it would. “There’s been a few people that have told me how it’s affected them as a DJ, the way they throw parties,” she says. “Even just people, listeners, have been super touched by it–it’s helped them in some way.”

Earlier this month, dance historian and critic Michaelangelo Matos profiled Daisychain for globally minded UK dance-music outlet Mixmag, calling it “one of the most consistent in the game.” Each new episode not only unfolds another story of a marginalized voice in dance music but also adds a new artist to the growing community involved in Daisychain.

“I can’t even quite wrap my head around how many awesome people are in so many different places, doing so many different things, and Daisychain‘s become this little home that people come to,” Greco says. “It makes me cry–it’s so touching and heartwarming. I feel really grateful to be that in-between to get people to know that they can do this too.”

Greco got hooked on IDM, drum ‘n’ bass, and dubstep just before she started college in Buffalo in the late 2000s, then immersed herself in underground house and techno. She studied journalism at Canisius College, graduating in 2013, and in 2015 she decided to express her love of writing and dance music with a blog called Sequencer. “That was when I really started to get to know DJs on a very personal level and forming this narrative of what it is they’re doing, why they’re doing it, and that symbiotic connection between music, DJ, and dancer,” she says.

In her first year running Sequencer, Greco interviewed Chicago DJ Sam Kern, better known as Sassmouth. “Hearing her story, I was like, ‘This woman is amazing–she’s a mom, she’s a flight attendant, she’s traveling the world, DJing,'” Greco says. The Sequencer interview doubled as a preview of a Sassmouth DJ set in Rochester that was part of a series called Signal > Noise; Greco drove an hour and a half to be there.

“Alicia has incredible energy that you feel when you meet her in person–and through everything she does, it’s a true genuine enthusiasm for music,” Kern says. “She came up and introduced herself before I DJed. In some ways it reminded me of seeing a younger version of myself.”

Kern grew up in the Pacific Northwest, and her day job relocated her to Chicago in 2000. By going to clubs such as Crobar and Smart Bar (where she’s now a resident), she connected with scene regulars who inspired her to give DJing a try. She didn’t come to them for pointers, though–instead she taught herself, largely in private.

“I was afraid to ask stupid questions, or not look like I knew what I was doing, because I was really one of the few women that I knew that was doing it,” she says. “The women that I did know that were doing it–DJs like Heather and Lady D–were already touring around, and to me, they were superstars. They weren’t really people I could approach, so I figured it out on my own over the years.”

The fact that Kern felt she had no choice but to learn the mechanics of the craft in isolation was a big part of what inspired her to team up with fellow DJ Elly “Kiddo” Schook in 2017 to launch the workshop and mentorship program Walking & Falling. “We decided to start working on a program, and it was all the idea of volunteering our time–and whoever else wanted to could volunteer their time as well–to teach and accelerate the process for women and nonbinary folks that want to learn,” Kern says. “Hopefully, if we start teaching folks, then they can go on and teach folks.”

Kern and Schook had already spent a lot of time as mentors when they held the first formal Walking & Falling in March 2017. It included DJing workshops, parties at Smart Bar and Gramaphone Records, drop-ins at WNUR and WLUW, and a potluck. Kern invited Greco, who was still living in Buffalo, to stay with her for the week.

“I was like, ‘Oh my God, there’s so many women here, there’s so many queer people here, everybody’s working so hard and such an individual and doing their thing,'” Greco says. “That just opened my eyes big-time to all that could be.” Eight months later, she sold off most of her belongings, packed the few that were left into her Toyota Corolla, and drove to Chicago.

Greco posts a Daisychain mix every week: "The idea of doing one a month isn't enough," she says. "There's too many people out there to do it just once a month." - JEFF MARINI FOR CHICAGO READER

Greco had posted guest mixes on Sequencer, but that series wasn’t as ambitious as what she dreamed up for Daisychain. “I remember talking to Elly–Kiddo–about my idea,” Greco says. “She was like, ‘It’s a good idea–how frequently?’ I’m like, ‘One a week.’ She’s like, ‘That’s so aggressive.’ She still says that to me, all the time. And it is, it’s super aggressive, but the idea of doing one a month isn’t enough–there’s too many people out there to do it just once a month.”

Greco drew on her growing network of friends to help fine-tune the podcast. Acid Daddy, aka Jarvi Schneider (who would later appear on episode 69), recorded the chain-clattering sounds that open each Daisychain mix. In-demand Chicago DJ Sold, aka Glenna Fitch (episode 12), transformed Greco’s sketch for a logo into a digitized design–a daisy with a smiley face at its center, surrounded by a circle of link chain. Greco enlisted San Francisco producer Experimental Housewife, aka Evelyn Malinowski, for the inaugural mix. “I’ve studied Evelyn’s DJ sets,” Greco says. “I really just went for people who were friends of mine that I’ve connected with over time, and then it really snowballed from there–I kept meeting more and more people, making friends with new people, and finding out that they’re really awesome DJs.”

At first, Greco would “cold call” DJs through Facebook or Instagram messages, explaining the podcast and asking them to contribute. “It’s been funny, ’cause usually their response is, ‘Oh my God, I love it,'” she says. “I still am in the state of mind that people don’t know it. It’s wild that a lot of people are already aware of it, and they’re super excited about it.” At the end of 2018, Greco put out an open call for Daisychain submissions, which has helped increase her list of contacts.

Whenever a DJ signs on, Greco has to find a good time to run the mix–she uses spreadsheets to keep tabs on everyone’s progress through the process. She likes to give contributors plenty of time to finesse their mixes, and she usually sends DJs a reminder message a couple weeks before an episode is set to go live. “I get it, being a DJ–it’s dates, mixes, and gigs,” she says. “It gets kind of wild at times, so I’m happy to be the organizer. I like it. It’s thrilling.”

Greco says she hasn’t had much trouble maintaining Daisychain‘s weekly schedule. And she’s been happy with the mixes she’s received–she’s never asked a DJ to fix anything but sound quality. “I’ve had DJs ask me if they think I should put it out, or if it’s good enough,” she says. “I’m like, ‘This is you. I like it, but my opinion also doesn’t totally matter. This is your space to be yourself and do your thing.'”

“The care that Alicia expresses towards each and every person who does a mix on Daisychain is completely unparalleled in any other mix series that I’ve seen,” says Seattle DJ Livwutang, who goes by Liv and made the podcast’s 68th mix. Greco reached out to her to contribute at the suggestion of Liv’s friend Ceci, who DJs as CCL and did the 41st Daisychain episode. “I was stoked to see a mix series that was explicitly focused on women and nonbinary people,” Liv says. “I was new to playing dance music–I still am–but I can’t think of any other mix series that is operating with that explicit focus besides Daisychain.”

Liv says she spent about a month working on her mix, including rehearsing the final version live about a half dozen times in her studio–which is inside a vault in the former Old Rainier Brewery. “My mixes are the main creative output that people will have to remember me by, and I want them to be perfect,” Liv says. “Alicia’s put out so many mixes–I have no idea how she’s had the time to do all of it–but she’s very conscious that not everything she records or plays out is perfect. She taught me how to be really gentle with myself, and that people can sense when you’re being kind to yourself, whether that’s in a recording or if that’s in a live DJ set.”

After Liv’s Daisychain episode went live in April 2019, it helped her land a gig in Vancouver. She and Greco have also become close–they’ll talk before one of them has a performance, ask each other for advice about a mix, or commiserate about their personal lives. They’ve met in person only briefly, in September at Sustain-Release, a four-day underground dance festival in the Catskills. But their connection means a lot to both of them. “I haven’t met a lot of people who’ve done Daisychains,” Liv says. “But I feel like we’re all intricately connected now, because we’ve all had the experience of feeling cared for and invested in by Alicia.”

Greco isn’t interested in using Daisychain to further her own aspirations as a DJ, and so far she hasn’t contributed a mix to the series. “It’s not about me,” she says. “A lot of people think it’s a team of people, which is really funny–like, ‘No, it’s just me.’ It’s helped me foster my own little sense of community here and abroad.”

That community–at least the Chicago part of it–has helped support Greco’s Daisychain parties, which also celebrate woman-identifying and nonbinary DJs. The first was a private Fourth of July event in 2018, but since then they’ve been increasingly public. In fall 2018 she hosted a party in Buffalo, and last year she had three: a one-year anniversary at an underground space in March, a patio session in July, and a free afternoon of music in Humboldt Park (in collaboration with the Humboldt Arboreal Society’s dance series) in August.

Greco hasn’t used the podcast to promote herself or her gigs, but working on it has made her a better DJ. Talking to Daisychain contributors and listening to their mixes has spurred her to challenge herself creatively. “I’ve been playing more aggressive, which is something I’ve always liked and something I’ve always cared about. Now that I’m starting to find more confidence and my voice, I’m not as nervous to play those tracks out and take risks,” she says. “That ties back into the inspiration of all these DJs that are just doing the thing and doing it well. That pushes me too.” v

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