Jesse De La Peña

DJ Jesse De La Peña spent his early years in South Chicago and South Deering listening to album oriented rock on WLS and The Loop. As a high schooler living near Evergreen Park with few friends interested in new wave, hip hop, Italo-disco, and other fresh sounds, he began to explore the city, taking the bus to check out its various party cultures. While De La Peña appreciated the musical and social culture of Medusa’s on North Sheffield, he cut his teeth DJing at the underground loft party, Club Naked. There he grew to love the mixed sounds of the late 1980s West Side, which was heavily influenced by punk and industrial as well as house and hip hop. He eventually became a resident DJ at Smart Bar in the early 1990s, where he was a pioneer performer working with live instrumentalists for the Substrata party, and a clerk Importes Etc. De La Peña also went on to hold residencies at KA-BOOM! and Shelter and produced the wildly innovative Liquid Soul and Blue Groove Lounge parties, as well as one of Chicago’s first major retro parties, Backtrack. He is currently an on-air DJ and producer for Vocalo community radio.



Jesse De La Peña gets his Smart Bar residency

While Jesse De La Peña was working at Importes Etc., Paul Weisberg introduced him to Smart Bar/Metro owner Joe Shanahan, who asked him for a mix tape. He put together a mix with Front 242, Art of Noise, and Severed Heads as well as some housier stuff. Shanahan chose then nineteen-year-old De La Peña to replace popular DJ Mark Stephens, who was suffering from complications related to AIDS, on Saturdays. Stephens' crowd was not receptive to De La Peña initially, and De La Peña wasn't used to spinning long-form sets. Luckily Jeff Pazen, another Smart Bar resident, allowed De La Peña to come into the club on Wednesdays and Sundays to watch him spin, even though he was technically underage.

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