A GoPride Interview


DJ Duo: The Freemasons (Russell Small and James Wiltshire) make their Chicago debut during Pride

Wed. June 25, 2014  by Anthony Morgano

It is an honor and a privilege to stand in front of a gay audience and play new material and for it to be so well received.
This upcoming Chicago Pride Parade weekend promises to be one for the record books. Kick the weekend off right on Friday when Hydrate Nightclub, along with Mark Liberson, Sean Kowta, Jonathon P O'Brien, Grayden Dixon and Wady Alejandro Guzman present the legendary and beloved UK duo the Freemasons live at Hydrate.

Hailing from Brighton, the Freemasons (made up of team Russell Small and James Wiltshire) first made waves with their international dance hit "Love Is On My Mind," a mashup of disco lyrics featuring vocalist Amanda Wilson in 2005. The (straight) duo has been turning out dance hits ever since, often featuring powerful female vocals that turn into the kinds of anthems that echo on circuit party dance floors. A remix of Beyonce's Deja Vu in 2006 earned them a Grammy nod and their work with Shakira, Kelly Rowland and Kylie Minogue have inspired all night dancing around the world. The Freemasons made their West Coast and gay gig debut with the White Party in Palm Springs back in 2011 and are excited to be making their Chicago debut this Pride Parade weekend.

ChicagoPride.com had a chance to ask the duo a few questions before their upcoming show -- a big thanks to Russell Small for his time.

AM: (Anthony Morgano) Tell me about the origin of the Freemasons. How did you guys meet and how long were you working together before "Love Is On My Mind?"

RS: (Russell Small) We have been working together now for 12-13 years, 10 as Freemasons. I was one half of Phats & Small and James helped in the studio. When my partner Jason left Phats & Small, James and I started working together more and the Freemasons were born!

AM: Where does Freemasons come from?

RS: Its the name of my local pub, it seemed as good a name as any. However, just after we had chosen the name and our first single was about to come out,

James shared an evening train home from London with several retired gentlemen who had been to the Lord Mayor of London's annual dinner. Their friendship and stories (including military service during the cold war) were quite wonderful to hear. Before they left they discussed the next lodge meeting and it soon became apparent that they were Freemasons and at the higher echelons of Brighton's Masonic order. It was an interesting meeting... life has a funny way of pointing you in the right direction.

AM: How do you guys collaborate and share work, both when you're mixing and making music and when you appear live?

RS: James damaged his hearing DJing a few years ago, so he spends all his time in the studio. We write together and I go in the studio with him when I am not on the road DJing... it's a highly collaborative partnership. What may be lacking from the point of view of bouncing off one another in the DJ booth is gained by one person being able to really build a set completely themselves. I have always been a serious DJ and James has always been a serious studio whore. It's a time honored pairing and one that has worked countless times before. We are here because of our music and splitting jobs naturally between us will ensure our legacy for years to come.

AM: Tell me about the idea to mash up the lyrics of Jackie Moore and Tina Turner for "Love Is On My Mind?" Are you big disco fans?

RS: It was just one of those things, you can't really say how or why, sometimes things just happen. Yes we are massive disco fans,most of our music is disco inspired.

AM: You're notable for being inspired by, remixing and working with your share of dance divas. Are the diva anthems something you seek out, or what about your music embraces that?

RS: No we don't necessarily seek them out, but big musical hooks, strings and pianos tend to lend themselves towards big vocals and the bigger the vocal the bigger our productions seem to become.

AM: For that reason, not to mention your killer beats, Freemasons has been embraced by LGBT community and especially the circuit crowd. As two straight men, what about your music do you think generates such a wide appeal?

RS: Probably that our songs/remixes are not overly camp, just full of good hooks.bWhen we are making music, for us it's always about the musicality, which we have been told on many occasions our gay fans appreciate and understand that side of our music. We will always be more musical than a lot of other dance producers, that comes from our backgrounds and our love of that moment when a vocal note rises over a chord change and the hair on your arms stand up and that is something the gay community really seems to get with us.

AM: What are some things you love about playing gay gigs?

RS: When you love vocals like we do, the fact you can play one song after the other for three hours is one of the most appealing things. We have been lucky enough to have played some of the biggest gay events in the world including New York Pier Dance, Mardi Gras in Sydney and White Party in Palm Springs. It is an honor and a privilege to stand in front of a gay audience and play new material and for it to be so well received. It makes all the endless hours in the studio all seem worthwhile and it may be the liberal straight man's cliché, but after the last few years on these circuits - some of the best friends we've made along the way are gay.

AM: Tell me about one of your most memorable.

RS: We have had so many over the years, but our first White Party in Palm Beach was pretty damn good. It was one of our first gigs in the U.S. We got such an amazing reception, unforgettable.

AM: Have y'all performed in Chicago before? What are you looking forward to about coming to appear at Hydrate of Gay Pride weekend?

RS: Never been to Chicago, so it makes this trip all the more special, I really don't know what to expect, I will just do my thing and hope y'all have a great time!

AM: Is there anything you'd like to say to your fans and all the Chicagoans who are anxiously awaiting Friday night?

RS: As I said before, I am really looking forward to this trip my first to Chicago and Hydrate. Our new album Shakedown 3 is now complete and will be released in August, you guys will be the first to hear a lot of the new material, we really hope you enjoy it.

Don't miss your chance to catch the Freemasons live at Hydrate this coming Friday, June 27 from 10 p.m. until 4 a.m. Skip the Lines and get your advance VIP admission tickets for only $15. Tickets available at www.brownpapertickets.com/event/720514.

Interviewed by Anthony Morgano