Craig Lambert has over two decades of experience producing music with his vast collection of drum machines and synths, but till recently, his output was heard solely by an audience of one: himself.
Over the past 18 months though, Lambert has started to play out his music under the moniker Midnight Music Club. This Friday he’s performing live at the long-running monthly event House Proud to mark the release of his debut, Swing Easy, by the Chicago label Headphoniq, where he’s now labelmates with deep house luminaries Boo Williams, Glenn Underground, Jordan Fields, and Ron Trent—an impressive feat for a “new” artist.
Lambert got his start as a musician in the mid-90s thanks to Minnesotan live techno artist Paul Birken, who was already an accomplished producer. “I bought my first production tools in 1996,” says Lambert. “My buddy Paul Birken set me up with a ‘techno starter kit’: a Casio CZ1000 synthesizer, Roland MKS100 sampler, Roland R70 drum machine, and a Kawai Q80EX sequencer.”
Lambert also credits Chicago DJ/producer Kenny Gino with helping him get his start. Lambert booked Gino to play a party in 1996; the party got busted but the two formed a bond through the experience. “Paul and Kenny were for many years my connection to what was happening behind the scenes,” Lambert says. “They’d give me test pressings of their latest work, talk to me about how it was made, invite me in to their studios and answer any questions I had. When I listen for influence in the Midnight Music Club project, Paul and Kenny are both present along with bits and pieces from just about every musical era of my life.”
Still Lambert was reluctant to let anyone else hear his output, “I am generally an introvert, so getting up the courage to finally say a piece of music was finished and put it out there for the world to judge has been the biggest obstacle for me to overcome,” he says Lambert. “But at some point I decided that what I really wanted to do was to not only write original music but perform it live without using a computer.”
A fateful connection made in 2014 turned out to be all that was needed to set that plan in motion.
Lambert was already well-known as a DJ and party-thrower with nearly three decades of experience, and was in this latter role that he crossed paths with Headphoniq label head Jordan Fields: He booked the Chicago artist to play at his warehouse venue in 2014. “Jordan and I hit it off and became fast friends,” Lambert says, “We discussed releasing some edits and he asked if I had any original tunes. I played him clips of some things I was working on and we made a plan.”
The conversation with Fields inspired Lambert to kick it up a notch in the studio, “I was now very serious about making and releasing music,” he says. “I spent countless hours studying music theory and sculpting the sounds coming out of the machines in to something cohesive.” Fields eventually called Lambert in 2016 and said he wanted to release some of the tracks he’d heard.
Lambert’s first official release was a track on a compilation Fields put out called From Chicago To Detroit, which was just the start. Fields also selected three more tracks that he thought would work for a solo EP., but he wound up getting more than he bargained for. “When it came time to put the project in motion, I had more than enough material for a full-length LP,” says Lambert.
As a DJ, Lambert has played many different styles of music and venues over the years, so it’s no surprise that his eight-song debut album mixes several genres. It’s easy to imagine hearing some of the tracks, like the Chicago-style deep house tune “Air Power,” on a patio, and others, like the dub techno song “Cistern,” in a dark warehouse. House, deep house, and acid predominate, but the album also features electro, breakbeat, and techno.
Lambert wrote and produced three of the tracks after the initial discussion with Fields, while the other five were written in the past year or so and recorded directly from his live performance at the long running Sunday patio party Communion in July 2018, which were then edited and mastered for release. The house tune “Platinum Buttons” was also recorded live as part of a jam session that was edited down to six and a half minutes.
It makes perfect sense that music made for a dance floor was recorded on one, with the energy of a great party woven in to the fabric of the final tracks. “Recording my live performances has been my process of choice for the last couple of years as it seems to capture the sound and energy I am trying to communicate and keeps the computer influence to a minimum,” says Lambert. “I tend to feed off the energy of the crowd and when I try to recreate that in the studio, it just ends up falling short of what I envision.” Lambert says.
With: Midnight Music Club (Live), Daniel Paul Cortez, 20,000 Leagues Under The Scene, Jeff Swiff
When: 10 p.m Fri. Feb. 1
Tickets: 21+; $8; more info here