"I originally thought for this project, I wanted to do something for the people who heard me play back then," he explains, his substantial frame all but swallowing up a desk chair as he relaxes. "Maybe they heard me play in Ibiza, or Ministry, or Cream, or somewhere like that. That same generation is now in their 30s, they're married, they don't hang out with their mates so much. This is for them—this is a gift from those times, you know, when you were having fricking fun."
The compilation marks something of a renewed interest in the Puerto Rico-born, Chicago-raised, Toronto-dwelling 38-year old. His story doesn't need to be retold in too much detail—suffice to say, via literally hundreds of jacking, sharp, unremittingly funky releases on seminal labels like Relief, Strictly Rhythm, Classic and countless more, Sneak's raw grooves revitalised and for many defined the Chicago house sound of the '90s. After paving the way for approximately three gazillion rip-offs of his patented "filter" technique, as well as inspiring the likes of Daft Punk, Basement Jaxx, and latterly, Justice, Sneak scored his own crossover hits with "You Can't Hide From Your Bud" and 2003's "Fix My Sink." At which point, he looked set to become one the biggest DJs in the world, both physically and figuratively. But somehow, it didn't quite work out like that, and despite a steady trickle of releases and a continually buzzing schedule, Sneak slowly disappeared from the mainstream dance media's radar.
"So I realised I had to set up, be part of MySpace, be part of Facebook and all that stuff, because I felt I was being pushed aside a bit. I feel I actually wrote a chapter of house music history, and that there was period of time when it was, like, the Sneak years. And this compilation is that, the Sneak years."
Whether by coincidence or design, Sneak's reinvigorated passion (evidenced by his "Keep House Alive" campaign on MySpace) coincided with a new wave of studio and DJ work, stemming in no small part from Europe's house-hungry dance floors. By 2008, he was receiving remix requests from labels like Spectral, Mobilee and Desolat, opening him up to a fresh generation of listeners. Perhaps that's why the recent video of Sneak's back-to-back gig with Ricardo Villalobos, RA's #1 DJ of 2008, garnered so much attention.
"You know what, I'd met Ricardo a few times, so we already knew each other. We both speak Spanish, so we had a connection. We were both booked to play in Romania, but it was like a festival thing, 90 minutes each, so the promoter said 'why don't you and Ricardo play one each?,' and I was like, 'Fuck yeah, I don't mind tag-teaming.' It was a little weird—I was like, 'How am I gonna blend with Ricardo's sound?,' which is more minimal. But he's Latin, man. In fact, I'm gonna leave it at that from now on—it was that Latin connection.
"So anyway, we started at three and ended up finishing at eight. The sun came up, people saw what was happening. And they flipped. The music was so interesting… I didn't have to be Ricardo, and he didn't have to be me, we just jammed. It was the best thing I've done in a while."
Unsurprisingly, Sneak's quick to refute accusations that he's jumping on some kind of bandwagon.
"Yeah, now people are like 'Sneak, you going minimal?' Fuck no, man, I ain't going minimal. I'm doing what I do… I'm the house guy that crosses many borders. I consider myself underground, someone who's always keeping things fresh for the people who like my stuff. I try real hard, because I actually care about my work. This new generation, they don't care, they just want to be big in business."
Does he feel that some of house music's original heroes are being overlooked, these days?
U Got Me Up:
Five Chicago heroes who disappeared
Spencer Kinsey, AKA Gemini, was responsible for some of the freakiest beats to come out of the Windy City throughout the '90s, and as a DJ, provided inspiration for Sneak, Derrick Carter and many others. Rumoured to be homeless, possibly with serious mental health problems, his whereabouts are the subject of much internet speculation. But no one, including his old buddy Sneak, has any idea where he's gone.
Searing Chi-Town classics "Circus Bells" and "Armani Trax" made Armani a star, but since 2000 or so, his only notable output has been regular re-issues of his spiky back catalogue. Around 2007 some Italian promoters apparently sent out a press release, incorrectly saying he had died—but all online traces of the rumour's true origins have mysteriously vanished. Much like Robert himself.
When "Computer Madness" and "Work that Motherfucker" appeared in 1989, Poindexter has already amassed over a decade of DJing and promoting experience, and went on to record similarly bleep-tastic cuts for Djax-Up-Beats, Dance Mania and his own Muzique, which he ran with Armando Gallop. It seems that since Armando's death, Steve lost the inspiration to make new music, but still DJs semi-regularly in Chicago.
Having spent a decade scouring the more brutal end of Chicago's jacking impulses, DJ Skull, AKA Ron Maney, all but vanished after 2000, with only a handful of original tracks surfacing since then. Robert Hood's inclusion of Skull's "Informant" on his Fabric mix reminded us of his unique talents, but it appears unlikely that we'll be hearing any fresh beats soon. At odds with the blinged-out MySpace pages of his peers, his bare-bones profile—unattended since 2006—simply states "quiet as kept, point blank, I dig music."
Less a case of "where are they now" and more a case of "where did it all go wrong," the Hot Mix 5 co-founder and genius behind 1987's evergreen "You Want To Hold Me" is still at-large, taking low billings at oiled-up Chicago gay strip clubs with names like Menergy. Which in itself wouldn't be a problem, until you hear the cringeworthy pop-hip-house tracks that appear on his MySpace page. Then again, no one ever said that "real" house music would pay the bills…
Thanks to Richard Brophy, Nick Craddock, Alex Downey and Eddie Richards.
If there's one recurring theme throughout our interview, it's that Sneak sees himself as on a mission to somehow "save" real house music. Cynically, I wonder if the campaign is as much about maintaining his presence in a saturated market as much as anything else. But he opines with such warmth and earnestness, it's hard to doubt his devotion to the cause.
"I don't wanna be one of those old guys going 'hey, remember 'You Can't Hide From Your Bud,' from 15 years ago?'...I don't want no claim to fame. I don't wanna be seen as carrying the torch and all that shit. But I do wanna be seen as the guy that came, and went and gave 100 fucking per cent to what he loved, until the end. Hopefully by then there'll be other people who have that same sort of passion for the music. Because I tell you bro, I don't wanna drop names, but a lot of people just took the easy way out.
"I took the dirt road, and I crossed the fricking mountain, and now I found myself just on the other side of the road, while they all went on the superhighway over there. That's fine, those guys come and go. I went the hard way—but the right way."
So how does he feel about those who've taken a hefty pinch of his ideas, and gone on to become bona-fide megastars in the process?
"Guys like Daft Punk and Bob Sinclar, I'm happy they blew up. They got there because they worked for it. You choose your battles—sometimes you make good or bad deals, sometimes you compromise because you got a good thing going. Like, I love Felix and Simon [of Basement Jaxx] but some of the shit they put out, I'm like, 'Where are they going with this?' I just hope one day they'll dust off a stack of records and be like, 'We wanna do this sound again' because you know, we have enough bad music out there."
As Sneak pauses to assemble yet another spliff ("I don't do coke or E, I just got my weed," he tells me), it's overwhelmingly clear that he really, really loves house music. He struggles to come up with an answer when I ask him what he does to relax outside of music, admitting after a long pause that he likes "going to the salon I opened with my missus and some friends for a manicure and a pedicure. I really like clean hands and feet." Quickly hiding my own unseemly fingernails from sight, I ask what he feels is his proudest moment to date.
"I've had a few… to name them would be difficult. The most amazing shit is that sometimes, even now, I get the feeling I am doing something good. Whatever higher power God has given me, I am living it to the fullest. I'm not greedy, I'm not selfish—I'd give it all away, man. As long as I'm having fun, and there is love with the missus. That's what counts, right there."