Producer, booker Bobby De Maria back on stage at Spring Awakening
As the Spring Awakening Music Festival sweeps into Hoffman Estates with a slammed roster of national electronic music creators in tow, Chicago-area performers such as Bobby De Maria are warming up for time on stage as well. De Maria, a multifaceted member of the area's music scene, is slated for a back-to-back set with fellow Wheaton Warrenville South grad Erik Johnson (DJ Tsunami) Sunday.
"My grandfather was super into music," De Maria said. "He had a whole room dedicated to old records, old cassettes. And he'd record me singing over records and we'd play around with music. It was literally the highlight of my time going over there."
De Maria got his start mixing house parties in the mid- and late 2000s with Johnson and DJing at fraternities while attending Michigan State and then Columbia College in Chicago.
"Me and Erik, we were always spinning together, so we decided to start making tunes," he said. "It was mostly bootlegs of top 40 tracks mashed with popular electronic tracks of the time."
House music's roots are woven into the history of Chicago's music scene, so it's natural that it would grow and evolve here.
"EDM was bridging the gap into mainstream music here, so we were super fortunate of the timing of that," he said. The duo's remixes under the name Kings of Class led to slots at previous Spring Awakening fests, North Coast, Mamby on the Beach and stints on the big club circuit, as well as residencies and radio play in Chicago.
"Kings of Class started out playing big room house and progressive house, but we evolved more into underground house and tech house," De Maria said.
For the somewhat uninitiated (this writer included), big room house -- over, over oversimplified -- involves jumping-up-and-down, high-energy, fist-pounding beats with heavy drops and buildups, he said. Underground house and tech house are based on grooves and are more minimalistic, much more melodic, he explained. They tend to vocally sample a lot of old soul tracks, jazz tracks and disco tracks.
"But there are like 5,000 subgenres of house music," he laughed. "What I say is if it's got a good beat and a good groove, just go with it and dance to it."
Over the last decade, De Maria has grown to be as comfortable behind the bar or behind a desk as he is on the decks. And his studies of talent management at Columbia didn't go to waste, as talent buying is now a large part of his job description.
It's all come in handy for De Maria, who now books musicians for Potter's Place and Jimmy's in Naperville and The Gold Room in Melrose Park, as well as packing the main stage and running day-to-day operations at BaseCamp Pub in Lisle.
One of De Maria's other claims to fame, as co-founder of the Afterlife dance parties, came to the forefront again this May when the weekly events started up in Chicago with international headliners booked for the whole summer. His Afterlife Alternative concert series continues to grow, bringing bigger and bigger national rock acts to play out in the suburbs. And he has another Save-A-Vet 5K Dog Dash in the works for this fall, as well as charity benefit events for the Ronald McDonald House and Trio Animal Foundation in planning stages.
But first … Spring Awakening. Chicago overall and the Afterlife crew specifically are well represented on this year's lineup. De Maria and Johnson. DJ Cross. Bentley Dean. DJ GoodSex and the GoodBus. (Literally, a school bus that's been converted into a stage and performance space.)
But one thing in particular stands out to this Spring Awakening veteran.
"There's a huge squad of young cats playing the fest this year," he said. "They all kind of started at BaseCamp. That Wealthy Habits crew, the whole Be Nice Collective … all those guys I knew separately, and they kind of met through me playing the Not-So-Average Thursdays and the Afterlife events. Now they've grown and they're doing all these amazing things that they try to include us in. And we keep them in our stuff, too. A lot of them are super talented, and they're all playing."
Taking what you have been given and sharing it with up-and-coming artists is pretty satisfying.
"I've had the chance to meet so many local musicians and give them opportunities to open with big national headliners or playing on the BaseCamp stage," he said. "They're all pretty great."
• Catch Bobby De Maria and Erik Johnson when they play Spring Awakening at 3 p.m. Sunday, June 9, at the GoodBus Stop.
• • •
Spring Awakening Music Festival
When: 1 to 10 p.m. Friday through Sunday, June 7-9
Where: Poplar Creek, 5523 Prairie Stone Parkway, Hoffman Estates
Tickets: Remaining passes start at $79 before fees, but there are a number of choices available.
Parking: Starts at $20 per day, with weekend and preferred parking options available.
Shuttles: Free shuttles will run from nearby Metra stops and the CTA Blue Line Rosemont stop.
Details: You must be 18 and have a government-issued ID to enter. For rules, visit springawakeningmusicfestival.com.