“The graphic elements — from typography to illustration, to the use of printing process with those gradients — all add up to a varied but distinctive aesthetic that visually represents this culture.” Brandon Johnson is talking about flyers. More specifically he’s talking about flyers for house nights. Even more specifically, he’s talking about the flyers that make up his wonderful new publication Beyond Heaven: Chicago House Party Flyers From 1983-1989, a 96-page collection of visual ephemera from one of the most significant periods in the history of nightlife and club culture.
Brandon’s publishing outlet, Almighty & Insane Books, “examines and preserves cultural histories from the city of Chicago through the medium of well-crafted publications,” and this thematic follow-up to 2017’s Thee Almighty & Insane: Chicago Gang Business Cards from the 1970s & 1980s is a cherishable cache of material that he was gifted by OG Chicago DJ Mario “Liv it Up” Luna.
Having seen the business card book, Mario got in touch. “He came up in the Pilsen neighbourhood on Chicago’s Southwest side, which was an epicentre for gang culture in the 1980s. Although never a gang member, Mario had accumulated a collection of cards too and just wanted to chat about the old days.”
That chat turned into a discussion about a book on the birth of house music in Chicago. Initially hesitant, Brandon eventually persuaded Mario of the historical value of the objects he’d kept hold of for all these days. “I flew out to Chicago with a scanner in tow and banged out the imaging in a nine-hour marathon over the course of a Saturday at my cousin’s apartment in Albany Park,” Brandon says.
Over the next few months, Brandon put together a book which acts as a testament to time and place. “I became interested in publishing a book about the origins and culture of house music in Chicago as it has a tremendous amount of historical significance due to the far-reaching influence that Chicago house has had in global music development,” he says. “I am trained as a historian, and to me, these documents are invaluable as primary resources that reflect this history. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that flyers have plenty of visual and emotional resonance.”
He sees a connection between the two books, noting that before house took over the world, you’d hear gangbangers blasting tracks like Fast Eddie’s Acid Thunder from their cars, and throwing parties with house selectors on the decks. “But on a more abstract and binary level the love in Beyond Heaven counteracts the hate in Thee Almighty & Insane” Brandon tells It’s Nice That.
Given that this was a period when DJs like Frankie Knuckles and Ron Hardy were creating and curating a sound in front of the city’s post-disco clubbers on a nightly basis, it isn’t surprising that Brandon wouldn’t mind hopping into a time machine and spending an evening at The Muzik Box with Ron and the rest.
“Oh man, I wish! The way people talk about that time, with big smiles on their faces, tells me it was really something special. Hoping this book will bring back good memories for those who were there, and act as a gateway for those who weren’t. Fortunately, we still have the music.”
Music lovers are lucky to have the book, too.
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