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Party Radar: Cherushii’s legacy lives on in dazzling vinyl reissue

11 min read

The Bay Area is fabulously full of women making innovative electronic music, a legacy that stretches back to the invention of the genre itself. But it’s hard not to continually feel the absence of Cherushii, aka Chelsea Faith Dolan, who would pop up with her complicated gear at all sorts of intimate parties (including ones she threw herself) and pump out lush soundscapes that ranged from acid grooviness to soulful evocations of classic house.

Before she passed at the age of 33, one of the victims of the Ghost Ship Fire, she had built up a deep body of work and was such a glowing presence on the scene. Now, local label Perfect Location Records is releasing three of Cherushii’s EPs that she released on her Bandcamp in 2015 and 2016, Nobody’s Fool, Starlight Express, and Manic, in a gorgeous vinyl three-disc edition called, handily, 3 EPs. They are available in digital as well from Cherushii’s original Bandcamp page; these vinyl release will give DJs a tool to bring her music to dance floors in a different way, and home listeners will covet these beauties as well.

Perfect Location honcho Evelyn Malinowski, aka DJ-musicmaker Experimental Housewife, worked closely with Cherushii’s family to put the 3 EPs records out: The sleeves themselves were illustrated by Chelsea’s sister Sabrina Fox, with hand-drawn nudibranchs, toucans, planets, and other pastel forms adding to the celebratory air of the release—plus a symbolic Queen of Cups tarot card, which is explained below. The music itself is terrific, showing so many sides of Cherushii’s talent, giving us straight-ahead techno, splashes of wriggly tropicalia, lovely vocal lines, ringing piano chords, and sheer personality. Among other things, Cherushii was a wiz at samples and building environments. You will be bopping.

I spoke with Evelyn, who has been on the scene since the ’90s, about the importance of preserving Cherushii’s legacy and the experience of bringing this project to fruition.

48 HILLS Hi Evelyn, thank you so much for taking the time. For those who aren’t familiar, tell us a little about yourself, the label, and your connection to Cherushii.

EVELYN MALINOWSKI I am a DJ and music collector-cataloguer of over 20 years. I discovered electronica in the summer of 1995 and haven’t stopped spinning since ’98. I come from an era of DJing and electronic music that was more genre inclusive and explorative, and this is one of the reasons I play so many different styles and ages of music. 

I created Perfect Location Records in 2017 out of an act of love for the Bay Area dance music community and also my music-producing friends all over the map. Seeing the spike in Bandcamp labels at that time, I wanted to construct a platform focused on releasing diverse music that had never been finished or that had been rejected by other labels. Additionally, I wanted to write the importance of cataloging, musical research, and sustainable investment into the label’s operation. That’s why I at first curated the roster to essentially be a mixtape fundraiser for the vinyl retrospective series, Perfect Collection.

Over time I realized that PLR is a place for listening to known music differently, an opportunity to emphasize the ways in which a listening medium changes how we listen. For me, compilation and themes are mechanical to listening mediumship, just as they assist the design of a story. Thus, Cherushii’s 3 EPs, with their formulaic extended play presentation, plus iconic, eye-candy artwork by Sabrina, are a wonderful addition to the PLR niche!

Chelsea and I met through a mutual friend, Maria Minerva. We hit it off immediately through our common language of banter and commentary on rave and electronic music. The rest is history. We introduced each other to people who became very important in our respective lives. We talked all the time, visited each other frequently, and looked out for each other, possessing a natural understanding and connection that was founded on but hardly limited to music. In the wake of Ghost Ship I was welcomed into Chelsea’s community and immediately started collaborating on various projects to honor her legacy, the main one being Run The Length Of Your Wildness, a weekly party she had started the year before with Ben Winans aka Roche. I could go on but that’s us in a snail shell.

48H It’s so important that you worked with Cherushii’s family on this. I adore Sabrina’s original artwork. How did the conversation come about for this release?

EM I’ve always wanted to see these EPs on vinyl and in LP packaging—and I’m not alone. Back in 2015 when Chelsea started to build her Bandcamp page, we were having discussions about how they are pre-formatted for vinyl-releasing. She hesitated to believe at the time that they would ever become records because producing records is expensive and can be extremely exclusive. She placed dedicated energy into making the EPs look like perfect records nonetheless, accenting them with Sabrina’s illustrations and recruiting friends for each EP.

Chelsea loved involving friends and family because she believed in supporting her community. When she asked Sabrina to do cover art for her independent releases, she gave Sabrina complete freedom but wanted the style to be akin to Corporate Memphis. She wanted the artwork to be a fun alternative to standard electronic music cover art stylings, which are usually digital and minimal. Sabrina listened to the music and came up with the covers in response to the stories being told in the songs.

The reissue conversation started in 2018 when I shared my intention to turn the EPs into records. Things staggered a bit due to grief and exhaustion, but, after allowing for some restoration, Sabrina and her husband Joe got in touch last year to initiate production. With the help of my wife Kate, who has budget and project management expertise, the four of us have acted as an executive production dream team by lending our varying expertises to the project, with the reprinting of Sabrina’s artwork being paramount. Joe has design and layout expertise—as well as music collecting forte—and executed the conversion of the original, watercolor-on-paper illustrations into a high resolution digital format so they could be enlarged and printed on gloss. It was meticulous!

48H What emotions did this project bring up for you—I’m still emotional just hearing Cherushii’s name. What were some of the mechanics behind gathering the music for release, and how important is it to you to continue getting her music out in the world? 

It would be untrue to say that we did not have any grief come up during the project, but it would also be false to say that it has been a highly emotional process. The four of us want the record to be a celebration of Chelsea’s music and Sabrina’s mirthful artwork, so production of the reissue, though very demanding at times, was also full of inspired creation.

Speaking for myself, a compounded feeling of grief has developed around the amount of music she left behind. It is not abundant in quantity, but it is abundant in terms of magic and awesomeness (don’t worry—there’s still more to come!). Through community collaboration and creativity, we can keep her music available and in circulation for as long as society exists. We all want to do everything we can to help her music reach new audiences, and this record is only one new step towards that.

The Run The Length Of Your Wildness 12″ compilations were the first to do that, produced by Hobo Camp. The posthumously completed self-titled album with Maria Minerva was the most recent addition to the Cherushii catalog, and a ton of work went into that one as well.

As far as gathering Chelsea’s music for this record, it was fairly straightforward. I asked the mastering engineer of the digital releases, my dear friend Matthew Zipkin, to see if he could locate or re-export the mixdowns. All of her music, released or unreleased, is archived in a safe place.

48H The EPs had been released digitally, but moving to vinyl has its own format demands. How did you compile the tracks, and what are a couple examples of tracks that really made an impact on you?

EM Love this question. First of all, the records are in nearly the exact same order as the way she originally released them, which is great! Like I said, the EPs, though at first limited to digital packaging, have always been record-release ready, so there was no desire to change the order or appearance of anything! We also wanted to avoid changing anything in effort to preserve artistic vision.

If you look closely, though, you will find that two of the tracks are in different positions. “Wild Abandon,” an absolute anthem, is switched with “Spring Fever,” which is the closer of the digital or original version Nobody’s Fool. This happened because “Wild Abandon” is too long to share a side with another track. Working with Dietrich Schoenemann, who remastered and lacquered the EPs as well as all the PLR records, we found a solution to this issue by moving it to its own side and running it at 45 instead of 33 RPM.

We also gave “Starlight Express,” the breezy dreamy opener for the EP of the same name, its own side set at 45. Damon aka Magic Touch was kind enough to go back to his files from 2016 and create a vinyl edit of the remix he did with Colored Craig for “Manic.” This enabled us to keep all of the stackedness of Manic on a single plate.

In 2015 and 2016 when Chelsea was putting these out, the track that made the biggest impact on me was “Manic (Deep Version).” The gushy, immersive bass coupled with the swelling choruses just totally astounded me. I remember writing to her after she sent me the files and I was like, “Wtf!? So good! You’re crazy.” And she replied something like, “Aw thanks, that’s sweet. It’s all about the singing by my talented friend Kara.” Over time I have come to understand the uniqueness and genius of every one of these tracks, and I would assert that the EPs are the crown jewels of the Cherushii catalog, that they are where she shows her musical and curatorial muscles without reservation.

Illustration by Sabrina Fox

48H Can you tell me a little bit more about the significance of the nudibranch, Queen of Cups, and other imagery? It all seems to be a vital piece of the release.

EM The nudibranch comes from the sisters’ shared childhood love for snails and slugs. It’s so cute. But in 2018 Sabrina had a dream visitation from Chelsea wherein she asked Sabrina to make a new album cover for her, this time one that features a nudibranch, departing from past characters like the toucan, adorable little planets and celestial bodies, and the tragic site of a spilled champagne flute.

Sabrina’s Queen of Cups illustration is the world of Chelsea: the 1/4″ cables, the champagne glass, the Auryn from The Neverending Story, Chelsea’s favorite colors, protected overheard by her favorite animal, the snail. The Queen of Cups image also of course harkens to her first 100% SILK record, Queen Of Cups, and moreover her love of that member of the minor arcana. All of Chelsea’s friends know her love of the queen’s superlative purity and loyalty. 

Moving forward, the family will use “QOC” as a designation for the independent Cherushii catalog, so the tarot image is the stamp or cover banner for QOC.

Lest we forget Chelsea’s follow-up SILK release, the coveted Far Away So Close 12″, where she delves into her travels in Berlin, some of which she and I did together. “Nightsteps,” for example, is a product of our 2014 trip together. The title track of this release features an appearance by Marcia Miget, Chelsea’s childhood music teacher who also appears on Manic. 

Evelyn Malinowski, Experimental Housewife

48H Will there be a digital release as well? And how do you see Chelsea’s music living on through this project? 

EM The digital releases are already available via the Cherushii Bandcamp, ever since 2015 and 2016 when she originally released them! The record, however, will come with download cards for these same versions. These three EPs are dancefloor supertools; they have been unavailable for vinyl DJs until now! The record will also be a satisfying addition to fans’ Cherushii vinyl collection. All of her music needs to be on vinyl. 

Although ‘trilogy’ is a suitable word for these EPs, we want to avoid it due to its finite and completist connotation. Chelsea would have continued self-releasing EPs with cover art by Sabrina, so we see the record as exactly that: a continuation.

Like how the nudibranch must shed its shell before exhibiting its amazing colors, Chelsea’s legacy has changed its form. With this reissue, we see the colors of these EPs pop off and hear aspects of their music hitherto camouflaged by an earlier iteration. What a great way to get further in touch with the music Chelsea made for us to enjoy and dance to. 

CHERUSHII: 3EPS will be released April 1. You can preorder here.

——

PARTIES OF NOTE

THU/24 HIGHLIGHTS FROM “COCKETTES ARE GOLDEN” SCREENING If you missed the 50th anniversary of SF’s original club kids/theatre kids combo, the incredible Cockettes, back before the pandemic hit, you can check out this wonderful presentation at the Tenderloin Museum, which will playback some of the more raucous moments, and feature a Q&A with original Cockette and musical director Scrumbly Koldwyn and assistant director Birdie Bob Watt, music by DJ Dank, and loads more—plus a special dedication to the unsinkable Bambi Lake. 6:30pm, Tenderloin Museum, SF. More info here.

FRI/25: FUNK 4 PEACE w/ BREAKBOT + IRFANE MORE “With the tragic events that are occurring, the 1015 team came together and decided we’d like to help. In collaboration with Breakbot, DJ Dials, and all involved, our March 25th event will see 100% of proceeds being donated to support humanitarian efforts for Ukraine refugees.” OK! 1015’s owner’s family is from Ukraine, so this is an especially fraught time, go support. 10pm-late, 1015 Folsom, SF. More info here.

FRI/25: HORSEMEAT DISCO The glamorously gay+ Polyglamorous party will twinkle extra brightly this month, as special UK guests Horse Meat Disco bring their delicious 1970s and ’80s sounds to the Public Works dance floor. Darlings! 10pm-4am, Public Works, SF. More info here.

FRI/25: OPTIMO + PSYCHEMAGIK Two legendary duos (obsessive favorites of mine)—one Scottish, one British, both dealing their own brands of dance-floor psychedelia and incredible crate-digging—will send you on a fantastic trip. 9:30pm-late, Great Northern, SF. More info here.

FRI/25: SETAOC MASS As always, the Direct to Earth party is the place to be for cutting-edge techno far beyond the business variety. Here we get experimental player Seatoc Mass in his SF debut with the awesome Lindsay Herbert, Miagma, and Tape Ghost setting things off. 9pm-4am, F8, SF. More info here.

SAT/26: THE SOUND—SWEATER FUNK EDITION I love this so much, and not just because it’s at one of my favorite all-time bars in my neighborhood. Soulful crew Sweater Funk are taking over Club Waziema for the first installment of this party. Dancing and drinks and amazing Ethiopian food. Heck yes. 9pm-2am, Club Waziema, SF. More info here.

SAT/26: BORIS DJ Fawks is a super-talented up-and-comer and his Fawks Tales party is a steamy delight. This time he’s bringing in Berlin techno wizard Boris of Panoramabar/Berghain, who knows a thing or two about how to elevate a dance floor. 9pm-3am, F8, SF. More info here.

SUN/27: DERRICK CARTER One of the best house DJs in the world, who helped bring Chicago’s underground sound to the masses, is spinning a day party? Sign me up and pump me full of champagne. 2pm-8pm, Audio, SF. More info here.

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