Next up on Carhartt WIP Radio is the Chicago-based DJ and producer Jana Rush (aka JaRu) who began DJing at the age of ten, cutting her teeth at a local college radio station. Spurred on by a love of old school house music, Rush made her production debut three years later in 1995, before going on to release two EPs on Contaminated Muzik and Jesse Saunders’ legendary Dance Mania imprint.
Following the release of DJ Deeon Presents the Youngest Female DJ (1996) on Dance Mania, Rush became a regular at Chicago juke, footwork, and house events. She would often play alongside footwork legends like the late DJ Rashad, Gant-Man, and Nehpets, whom she’d met through Chicago’s educational non-profit radio station WKKC. And then, she all but disappeared from the music scene, putting her career on pause to work as a chemical engineer at an oil refinery by day and a CAT scan technologist by night.
In 2016, a year after she’d returned to DJing, Rush unveiled her EP MPC 7635. A year later, she released her first full-length album Pariah on Objects Limited, a UK-based label focusing on artists of marginalized genders in electronic music. The twelve-track album kicked off a series of shows around the world in venues such as Chicago’s Smartbar and Berlin’s Berghain, and at festivals like Rewire in The Hague. Rush still maintains her job as a CAT scan technologist, working at a level one trauma center, but says producing music offers her “a release — a time where I allow myself to be myself, without consequence.”
During the pandemic, Rush began working on her second album Painful Enlightenment, which was released on Planet Mu in 2021. The album represents a move away from familiar footwork sounds into more abstract territories, created to confront Rush’s personal experiences with depression through frenetic percussion and free-form sampling.
Rush’s most recent release Dark Humor follows on from Painful Enlightenment, and is a jazz-infused, avant-footwork mini album featuring a collaboration with the Berlin-based producer DJ Paypal. For this month’s episode of Carhartt WIP Radio, Rush created an exclusive mix which is just as experimental as her own body of work. It is, in her own words, “unapologetically Jana Rush.” Accompanying the mix is an interview with Rush touching on the current state of the Chicago house scene, eschewing social media to focus on her craft, and what she has in the pipeline.
Jana Rush: I started DJing when I was ten years old at a college radio station in Chicago, but the love for music really started when I was between seven and eight years old. Old school house music was, and still is, one my favorite genres – artists like Ralphie Rosario, Marshall Jefferson, Jesse Saunders, Mr. Fingers, DJ Armando, and Farley Jackmaster Funk. I would listen to these artists on WBMX, a Chicago station, every weekend. I always wanted to know how they made their music; the sounds they used. One night I called up WKKC, another Chicago college radio station, and asked how I could become a DJ. I was offered an audition. Of course, I bombed the audition because I had never DJ’d or even seen a DJ setup before. Because I bombed it, the station offered me training as an on-air DJ. I fell in love with it right there.
Could you describe the relation between your work and your identity to us?
Jana Rush: Right now, I work full time at a level one trauma center in Chicago as a CAT scan technologist. Anyone reading this will most likely experience me as an artist, but I am pretty much the same in both arenas: uncompromising, detail-oriented, a quick problem-solver and a bit stoic. People sometimes get this mixed up as me being a bitch, however once they get to know me, you realize that it’s just easier to think of me that way than to give me props. I do not believe in compromising safety or quality when it comes to any work I do. And as for music, the reality is, I am here to inspire, create, and heal in any capacity, if I am perceived as a bitch, so be it! What would you choose to do with your life if you could not fail?
Do you have any role models, inspirations, or benchmarks for the creative work you do?
When making music, do you consider the dance floor as part of your production process?
Jana Rush: Sometimes. I don’t always make music for the dance floor. Sometimes I make tracks to smoke to, clean the house to, just listen to… even tracks for road trips. I explore making tracks with certain situations in mind. Music to me is a tool and most times you cannot just use a tool exclusively for one thing.
Reflecting on the mid-90s to now, how would you say you’ve progressed technically?
Jana Rush: I am a lot more confident with the skills I have and now I have all the equipment I need.
Were you DJing non-stop during the mid-90s? And did you ever take a break?
Jana Rush: Yes, DJing was my life in the mid-90s! I was anywhere there was DJ equipment. I took my hiatus from 1996 to 2015.
I don’t always make music for the dance floor. Sometimes I make tracks to smoke to, clean the house to, just listen to… even tracks for road trips.
Considering that juke and footwork come from Chicago, do you feel like playing this music in other cities has the same effect as it does back home?
Jana Rush: It’s similar, but in Europe there aren’t many footwork circles at the parties, mainly just a whole room of dancing. Whereas in Chicago, if the DJ is doing it right then all you will see is footwork circles.
Is the Dance Mania spirit still alive and kicking in Chicago?
Jana Rush: Hell yeah, definitely in the underground scene. I don’t know what’s going on in the business side of things but anybody who knows their Ghetto house history knows what’s up. The real ones fuck with Dance Mania.
The role of an artist is always subject to change. What is your view on the — e.g. political, social, creative — tasks of artists today and how do you try to meet these goals in your work?
Jana Rush: I am not really a social media lover. It is too much of a distraction with little payoff. It rather reminds me of a bunch of video games: each platform has a gimmick or strategy for the most optimal situation. I would rather spend my time learning my craft and actually see my friends. I do it when necessary but sometimes I am just not that social.
Being both a producer and a DJ, do you favor one or the other? Or do both roles influence each other?
Jana Rush: Right now, I am enjoying producing a bit more, but I don't really have a preference when in the studio. As for touring, I love doing the live shows. I feel more in control doing live performances and it has been an opportunity for impromptu creativity. I’m always searching for ways to reach my highest self when performing.
What exciting things do you currently have in the pipeline?
Jana Rush: In terms of footwork artists, DJ Manny, Traxman, DJ Orange Julius, DJ Paypal, Jana Rush, Boylan, Jalen TOG, and DJ Rashad. In general, Kendrick Lamar, who’s a genius with the wordplay and flow. Kanye, although I don’t agree with everything he does, he's earned the right to show his ass sometimes! He’s a genius not just because of his music but also due to his imperfections – we need real people right now. Then XXXtentacion – genius, tragic as fuck – and Da Baby.
What was the last track that sent shivers up your spine?