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Debbie Benjamin-Koller | Rare Soul DJ and Co-Founder All Mod Chicago

Meet Debbie Benjamin-Koller, a Chicago Rare Soul DJ and the cofounder of All Mod Chicago, the place to find Mod subculture events in Chicago. Be it Northern Soul, R&B, 60’s, 70’s,80’s Mod, Powerpop, Psychedelic, all waves of ska and reggae or any subculture of music, clothing, scooters or events, All Mod Chicago is the resource for it.  Rooted in the Chicago and the soul scene, Debbie highlights contributions made by the movement’s cultural icons. We were introduced to this Chicago force by DJ Cher, who met and began Sister Cities Soul Club with Debbie and others during the pandemic.  It’s great to see such an exciting virtual connectivity through music and vinyl.

When not behind the turntables Debbie is a mom, and lover of all things vintage, especially clothing and scooters!

How did you get into your industry / What motivated you?

I have been a mod girl since I was 19 years old, I have loved Mod subculture related music like soul,60s, garage, power pop ,ska and reggae to name a few. To be mod in the 80’s in Chicago, there were few examples of what Mod was. Being a young adult hanging out at Medusas Video room with DJ Leroy Fields playing a variety of music you didn’t hear in the mainstream I gravitated to the mod and ska genres. Plus movies seeing like Quadrophenia, Absolute Beginners and the documentary Dance Craze hooked me. Much of what I liked I would find in local records stores I would get my imports at Vintage Vinyl and dig for old soul at other record stores and thrift shops. Many artist were touring and I would become friends with like minded people at concerts and clubs. We created a scooter club called the Allez Cats Scooter Club and produced events at clubs and took the records we acquired out to bars to DJ.

In 1987 I was 00 short of buying my first Vespa, a 1979 P200e. Circuits, a local Chicago bar which had a dance room needed a DJ. I had plenty of records, and was able to spin for tips for on Saturday nights to make up my shortfall. Also, my best friend Desiree Kiss and I would spin at the Artful Dodger. We never thought of ourselves as DJ’s, we just thought we were sharing music we loved and hoped we would hook others into liking what we did. We had a fanzine called Contact in the late 80’s where we we talked about anything that had to do with Mod our locals, travels, and definitely concerts and record reviews. I always fell like promoting and growing the things I loved to build a larger community of like minded people was something important to me. Sharing the music and subculture was a way to broaden the appeal locally increasing the fun.

In the mid 90’s until 2000s I took a bit of a break from the mod/scooter life to have a family. Being a busy mom of 3 boys took a lot of my time. But as I reconnected with old friends and saw what they did to keep things going and evolving through the years I realized people still loved the things I did when I was younger. I slowly got pulled back in, got my old Vespa running, and began to collect records again. Things were different this time around. The newer people had a different perspective, this time, I was able to dig deeper into the music using a portable player when crate digging and using the internet to discover music and dig for it. In the 80’s and early 90’s we journeyed to Detroit and loved Motown, but didn’t get too deep into soul. Living in Chicago, and being near Detroit, I could kick myself for not knowing more about the rare records back then. I am sure I might have walked by so many vinyl gems of what people call Northern Soul, just not knowing what to look for.

When I came back my good friend and old Allez Cats Scooter Club mate Jordan Cinco was very persistent that I come out to Windy City Soul Club. Once I finally made it out, I was blown away by what they played and became a regular monthly attendee. DJs Jordan, Aret Sakalian and Jason Berry really did for me, what I had tried to do back in my old mod days, which was share their passion of great music and pass the fever on to the people in the audience. Their energy and knowledge is contagious and I feel like they really mentored me when I started to collect again. I am so glad I was a part of the in person, dancing before covid, and got to dance into the night closing out the Empty Bottle and Sleeping Village. They really made an impression on me and and my musical style and opinions about vinyl as well as about Chicago artists and the history of Chicago Soul.

In 2018 there were so many amazing Mod subculture events happening in Chicago, and hard to keep track of it all. I started All Mod Chicago with Jordan as a Facebook page, created to showcase Chicago and all of its events for locals and people world wide to see what our city was about. We are currently hosting events at different clubs but have a residency the first Sunday afternoon of the month at a cool little club called the Golden Dagger which is just down the street from Blues clubs like Kingston Mines and the old B.L.U.E.S on Halsted street. We call it Amplified Chicago to pay respects to history of the street and invite guest DJ’s to spin with our resident All Mod Chicago DJs spinning all Vinyl from any the mod genres like Soul, Rob,60’s, garage, psychedelic, ska and reggae. It’s good to see people out in the day socializing and scooters parked in front of a club again since covid. Our resident All Mod Chicago DJs and Organizers are comprised of mostly women. Myself with Katja Anna Garza, and Rockin Ricki Friedman who have really done a lot to build this all day vinyl event into a place people want to be on a Sunday afternoon.

Over the pandemic lock down when everyone was live-streaming and sharing records, I started following DJ’s from around the world and made many virtual friends. We started live-streaming in my yard with my All Mod Chicago group, and then posted on other groups. Don “Mopsey” Morris from ‘The Soul Twins‘, a Northern Soul group from the North in England messaged me after one of those livestreams to say “Hey! You should ask before you post”. I was so embarrassed and apologized profusely. Mopsey was so kind and then invited me to DJ on his page and get other girls involved. I then reached out to DJ Cher from Toronto’s Soul Fizz who reached out to Fiona McKelvey from Ireland and we have been have had a livestream in the group called Soul Sister Sundays which just had its 2nd anniversary in the group. The three of us are mainstay DJ’s and we also invite women from around the globe to participate. What is really nice is that I am now meeting my virtual friends in real life.

In your opinion what has been your favorite / the coolest thing you’ve worked on?

One of my favorite in person events I have worked on has to be being the DJ for the Chicago Fire FC Supporters 25th Anniversary at the Museum of Science and Industry. I was a little kid going to that museum and my family is a big supporter of Chicago’s MLS team the Chicago Fire FC. This was mind blowing for to be on the stage of this big even in this amazing museum with my equipment and records blasting through the museum sound system. It was so surreal to be staring at planes and trains, and hearing the museum sounds like the really loud coal mine whistle. Also, the team brought back the original team players from 97’ who won the MLS Cup and I got to share the stage with them.

What has been / is the most difficult part of your job?

Post covid lock down, it’s been hard to get people out again. Finding a way to do that has been difficult, but I keep saying, “if you build it and persist they will come.”  So building things has been hard and a labor of love. All Mod Chicago does a monthly event called Amplified Chicago where we bring together a mix of DJ’s that have same passion for vinyl within the mod subculture like ska, soul,RnB,60’s psychedelic. I want to put on a party that everyone gets a chance to play and people can have a good time. It has taken a while for people to feel comfortable coming out, but we are just starting to see regulars and new people who are hearing about the event show up. Another difficult issue is when putting on an event I bring the very heavy equipment, I hope to spin at a club with their own equipment soon so I can stress less about lugging everything.

What advice do you have for someone wanting to get into pursuing what you’re doing?

My advice would be to collect what you love and find your own perspective or take on things. I have discovered a sound that I like which makes me happy and I know when I hear it.

So I say play what makes you happy and involve people with like minds in an inclusive environment.

I have a busy home life and try to make the times when I DJ or put on an event one that makes people feel welcome and want to come back. I always say, if you build it people will come.

Are you a vinyl collector yourself? What drew you to it?

I just adore the history of vinyl. The era of music I collect is from the early 60’s to the early 70’s when the music was created made for vinyl. I collect uptempo rare soul 45’s that some call Northern Soul. Collecting vinyl to me is like having a historical artifact, feeling the music’s creation, from the artists, producers, engineers, to pressing and distribution. I love the story of Chicago’s Record Row during the 60’s and 70’s. So much life happened on 1200-2200 South Michigan Avenue in Chicago that ended up on vinyl to tell its story. So much of that story has been forgotten here in Chicago and driving down Record Row you would never know how busy the record industry was. But when I see a Chess, Checker, Vee-Jay, Okeh, Bruswick label on an original 45’, it gives me a good feeling and I love sharing that music and its history.

What types of things are happening in your industry / with vinyl that you’re excited or worried about? i.e. innovation, or trends you’re seeing.

It is really exciting to have access to DJ’s from around the world, especially those who have been collecting since the early days of Northern and went to The Torch, The Twisted Wheel, Wigan; I never thought I would have connections with Northern soulies from the UK and around the world.

Over the pandemic lockdown people began playing livestreams and posting music which allowed people like me in the US to follow DJ’s from around the world as well as share our US perspective. People were so kind to me when I started live streaming, and liked hearing my Chicago perspective since much of my collection was focussed on Chicago artists. It’s exciting to have direct access through Facebook to the real people/experts of Northern soul. When I went to Detroit A Go Go, I met so many people that I had seen and met online which was wonderful. Now, I can’t wait to get to the UK.

Events in Chicago have been slow to rebound but we keep on keeping on and more people seem to be coming out.

Who has been influential to you and your growth as a professional in this industry?

The Windy City Soul Club DJ’s Aret Sakalian, Berry and Jordan Cinco filled me with solid foundation to the local faire of music and the kind of dance party I enjoy attending, as well as expanded my musical tastes and grounding how I think of rare and original vinyl.  I am grateful for their mentorship.

I would also have to thank international DJs like Don “Mopsey” Morris, Dean “Foxy” and Netty Fox, Shaun Callon for being supportive of me with their years of experience and knowledge collecting and playing up in the North of England during the height of Northern Soul. They still play out in Northern Soul Clubs today and online. They have always been positive and given me a laugh with their fun spirit in the comments of the live streams. I just can’t wait to get to the UK to give them all hugs. I have learned so much about the music I love from them.

Also a huge shout out to my South Sisters DJ Cher Gavel Gingras, and Fiona McKelvey, who not only are supportive and have amazing collections and perspectives in their work, but have become great friends along the way. We connected with the music at a time of uncertainty, as we have all gone back to in person soul nights we still love to work together on line and really do feel a sisterly bond.  Cher and I have already met in person, and hope to have a full on hug and cry when all three of us “fingers crossed” meet in the fall!

Cher, Fiona and I event started a Sister Cities Soul Club which we use to connect and promote the work and events that different soul clubs in cities across the world are doing

Anything else you’d like to add; if not tell us what you’re listening to: 

I love rare upbeat danceable 60’s soul on 45’s I usually find a connection with songs between the 1965- 1969. I especially gravitate to Chicago artists. Some of my favorite Chicago tunes lately are The Mighty Marvelows ‘Talkin’ Bout Ya, Baby’, ‘Your Little Sister’, or anything by Gene Chandler, like ‘There Goes a Lover‘ which is currently on my turn table.

Find Deborah: 

Instagram: @mollykolly


Website:  www.mixcloud.com/SisterCitiesSoulClub

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