Party-Rocking Outfit FEx on Celebrating Five Years of Chicago Internationalism

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Artist collective, music label, and party-rocking outfit FEx will ring in a big anniversary this weekend with a special edition soundclash as they celebrate five years’ work of putting their self-dubbed Chicago internationalism on the musical map. Headed up by resident DJs New Life, Itzi Nallah, and Mano and host MC Zulu, the collective intermingles “global roots, nu-whirled music, and transnational bass sounds,” having welcomed the likes of Rich Medina, Bobbito Garcia, BBrave of Akwaaba Records, and Nickodemus to the city.

We chatted with the crew to get to know the ethos behind the party as they reflect on five years and continue to look forward. Learn all about them here, and check out Mano’s promo mixtape below for a preview of what’s to come this weekend at Chicago’s SubT Lounge on Saturday, July 5th with special guest Uproot Andy of Que Bajo?! by way of New York.

How do you define Chicago internationalism?

Newlife: Chicago internationalism reflects our take on global music. As much as we travel and experience music, or dig online and in record stores, it all gets filtered by our proud Chicago roots. It’s impossible to listen to tunes from Brazil, Africa, Suriname, New Zealand and not blend them together and give them that unique Chicago hip hop/house feel.

What sounds can partygoers expect at FEx?

Newlife: The style of music is Global Roots and Transnational Bass. It just means that you may hear anything from the past or present from any country on the map. It is definitely a dance party that people attend to sweat but there’s also more emotion I feel at our parties. There are tunes that also make you think about social ills and injustice and may even evoke anger. It’s all done in the vein of reality and and serving as a reminder and acknowledgement that suffering continues. While we celebrate, we don’t forget this. It’s almost as if the room develops a life of it’s own.

What’s your crowd like? How does it reflect Chicago communities?

Newlife: The crowd is as diverse as the music played. Chicago is very cosmopolitan. All shades, levels of education, ethnicities, and ages. There was a grandmother at our Los Rakas show that proudly rocked her “Soy Raka” shirt and sang along during the performance. That was a rarity but people of all ages from all over have been out.

Photo by Victor Duarte of
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How do your backgrounds come together in this space?

Mano: Being Mexican-American, and growing up in the ‘80s in Chicago definitely exposed me to a lot of different cultures and sounds. I feel that listening to house, rap, hip-hop, and tropical music during those times is a product of my current musical projects.

Newlife: I’m Logan Square/Humboldt Park, Chicago native who clung to music of all types early on. I’ve been DJing since the late ‘80s and have used music as my vehicle to guide me to new lands and cultural experiences. Taking these moments and incorporating them into my style has been very fulfilling and a joy to share with my Chicago peoples.

David: [I was] born and raised in the Little Village and raised in a family with a huge involvement in politics and community activism. I spent eight years as a youth organizer, which was where I founded Jammin4Justice, which added a socially conscious component to Chicago’s nightlife. After a four year run at Funky Buddha Lounge and putting my passport to work, it was time to do something different. When I was approached by Newlife to do a night, I without hesitation said yes! The rest is history…five years later we have put Chicago on the map as a destination for World Music Bass DJs to add to their US tours. The overwhelming support that Chicago has given us has been the driving force to keep going. It’s not rare to see some of Chicago’s best DJs in our crowd and on our dance floor, taking in our unique format and meeting our international guest DJs.

FEx residents DJs. Photo courtesy of FEx.
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What are some of your highlights over the last 5 years? Favorite moments?

Newlife: Favorite moments include representing Chicago at our sister parties in other cities; NYC, LA and SF and smashing parties. The addition of MC Zulu and Itzi Nallah has been so very special. They have helped push us forward with their many talents both on and stage and behind the scenes.

Mano: I usually go back home to Chicago for a quick visit in the summer, and my trips in the past have fallen in-line with the FEx yearly anniversaries, so I’ve been happy to play 3 out of the 5 annual jams. Playing alongside talented guys like Newlife, MC Zulu, and Rich Medina (FEx 3 years) has been an absolute pleasure and blessing. Also being affiliated with such a solid crew from my hometown reminds me of the space Chicago family and friends holds in my heart. They all influence me in one way or another, and I look forward to spreading that vibe out west.

David: The introduction of FEXLive where we have now branched out to producing world music events highlighting bands rather than just DJs. Selling out the Double Door on a snowy day for the Hiatus Kiayote show– a Grammy-nominated Melbourne based band. We were able to help introduce the band to the US, especially Chicago, our home city.

5 years, check! What’s next?

Newlife: Ha, at least 5 more years and more live shows under the FEx Live Branch. As mentioned we’ve already had big shows by Hiatus Kaiyote and Los Rakas and we have more in the works. In addition to that we have more surprises on the way! Stay tuned…