LABEL PROFILE Twirl Records is Upholding Chicago’s Dance Music Legacy By Andy Thomas · March 15, 2024

In 2012, Derrick Carter, one of the instigators of the second wave of Chicago house, started the iconic Sunday party Queen! with Michael Serafini, owner of Gramaphone Records.

At the first night of Queen!, two Chicago-raised house lovers—Shaun J. Wright and Alinka, aka Alena Ratner—bond over their deep love of their city’s dance music. “We had so much in common, and we sat for hours and hours discussing house music. That became the start of everything really,” says Alinka from her home in Berlin, where she has lived since 2015.

The “everything” she’s referring to is Twirl, the house music label that she founded in 2014 with DJ, dancer, and Hercules & Love Affair singer Shaun J. Wright. Ten years on, and after a short hiatus, Twirl Recordings has been relaunched with EPs from Alinka and Wright that reach into Chicago house’s past to create music for the future.

The two shared many early house music references. “I used to collect all the mixtapes of people like DJ Funk, Bad Boy Bill, and Waxmaster,” says Wright. “Those tapes were extremely influential.” Alinka agrees. “Those mixtapes were also really important to me,” she says, “as were radio shows like Sonic Boom on Q101 and DJs on B96, where I was exposed to electronic music early on.”

After getting her first turntables, Alinka dropped out of business school and began working in promotion for clubs across the city. “There were great parties every night of the week in Chicago back then,” she remembers. “There was Boom, Boom Room on Mondays. Slick on Tuesdays, Centrum on Wednesdays, then the other nights of the week were Rednofive and, of course, Smartbar.”

Alinka got her big break when Justin Long invited her to DJ at his party .dotbleep at Smartbar, which became the start of a 10-year residency. “That really is where I learned everything as a DJ,” she says. Connections were quickly made with Chicago house music royalty. “I was great friends with Superjane [the collective of DJ Dayhota, Lady D, and Collette]. They were like my big sisters, and through Dayhota, I was introduced to Derrick Carter.”

Wright’s entry into house culture was as a dancer on the juke, footwork, and vogue ballroom scenes in Chicago and Atlanta before they moved to New York to start a career in fashion. It was there they met Andy Butler, founder of Hercules & Love Affair. When I encountered that whole world they had created, I knew straight away how special it was, but I didn’t anticipate that I would be part of it,” says Wright, who toured with the group for three years and sang on their second album Blue Songs.

After 12 years away from Chicago, Wright returned and joined Alinka at her Edgewater Studio. They began working on music immediately, sending the tracks to Derrick Carter, whose label Classic, founded with Luke Solomon, would be the perfect home for the pair’s first productions together. “Shaun had some vocals from another project, and I wrote the music for ‘Love Inspired’ based around that vocal that was already there,” says Alinka.

The Twirl parties that began life at the club Berlin in spring 2013 featured guests ranging from Derrick Carter to future Twirl Recordings remixers like Carry Nation and Eli Escobar. “It was some of these artists’ first time playing in Chicago, and when you think of all that history, it’s really cool that we could bring our friends here,” says Wright. “It felt like we were all ascending at a nice similar pace. And the parties were infused with that essence.” Starting in 2014, the label Twirl Recordings was a natural progression from the live events. “Our mission was to shine a light not just on ourselves but friends and other artists who we loved and maybe weren’t getting the recognition they deserve,” says Wright.

Now, after a short hiatus, Twirl Recordings is back. “We have developed a lot as artists individually over the last 12 years,” says Anika. “So it’s nice to come back to the label and relaunch it with our own music and this progression of our output and creative direction. For now, it will remain a home for me and Shaun’s releases, but we plan on opening it up to other artists in the future.”

As they enter 2024 with their first two releases of the relaunch we asked Alinka and Shaun to talk around 10 highlights of their label as it kicks off its 10th year.

Shaun J. Wright & Alinka
“Journey Into The Deep (Kim Ann Foxman Remix)

Alinka: This was our first release on the label, and a really significant one for us. We wanted to kick the label off with friends we love and are inspired by, so Kim Ann [Foxman] and Stereogamous were two obvious choices. Kim Ann turned in an iconic remix of “Journey Into The Deep.” It really embodied her unique sound and also the direction we wanted to go with Twirl. We were really excited when we first heard it and couldn’t wait to play it at the club. I still love to play it nine years later. It sounds just as fresh.

“Don’t Fight It” (Alinka Remix)

Wright: Stereogamous and I worked on this slinky number in their home studio in Sydney. We’d already created a few other songs together, so there was a nicely established workflow. Plus, they are such dear friends that working with them comes so organically. The lyric starts with an invitation to a night of fun but journeys to the possibility of an enchanted love affair. Alinka turned the original into a dark, haunting remix that still captivates me. It truly gets better with each listen.

Shaun J. Wright & Alinka
“Wait for Love” (Eli Escobar Remix)

Alinka: I still vividly remember the first time I heard this remix after Eli [Escobar] sent it over. I was driving in my car and just broke out into tears from how beautiful it was. I feel like he brought the best out in this track. When we made the original, I think it came out a bit darker musically, and Eli took the lyrics and turned it into a love song. I still get very emotional listening to this remix and Shaun’s beautiful vocals. Eli is a musical genius and one of the best DJs and people. I’m really happy we could get him on the label as well as a guest at our party.

Shaun J. Wright & Alinka
“Romantic Friend”

Wright: This was such a cool song and EP to work on. It felt like a turning point, where Alinka and I were expanding on our sound and experimenting more freely. The title and concept for this song were inspired by a conversation I had with a close friend. I was so amused when they said the phrase ‘romantic friend,’ and remember writing it down in my notes. Alinka and I wanted to break away from our typical 4/4 tracks, and her punchy and sassy production was the perfect vehicle for the tongue-in-cheek lyric.

Lupe feat. Josh Caffe
“Give Me Body”

Alinka: Josh [Caffe] and Lupe are legends in their own right and bring so much fierceness and flavor to house music. ‘Give Me Body’ is timeless and brings perpetual energy to any dancefloor. It’s been a pleasure watching them grow artistically and playing all their music over the years.

Aérea Negrot
“Pisco Sauer”

Wright: I spent a lot of time in Berlin during the 2010s, primarily living with my sister, Aérea Negrot. I remember returning to her house in the wee hours of the morning after a long night of partying, and she was playing the sexiest, most spellbinding track I’d ever heard. She had also been out that night twirling at another party and was so inspired that she ran home to create the basis of what became ‘Pisco Sauer.’


Alinka: I first met The Carry Nation [DJ and production duo of Will Automagic and Nita Aviance –ed.] when I picked them up at the airport in Chicago to play at our Twirl party before the label existed in 2013. I was a big fan of their music and DJ sets and we were instant friends after that weekend. I became friends with Justin Cudmore a few years later and also instantly fell in love with his productions. When they told us they were starting the Majorettes project together we were very excited and were very happy to put out this release. It’s super beautiful.

Serge G.
“Work It Out (DJ Holographic Remix)”

Wright: Twirl has always been a family- and friends-oriented label, and Alinka and I are fortunate to have a strong network of really talented artists. Serge G. is a multifaceted creative who’s equally skilled in the music studio as he is behind a camera capturing incredible photos and films. His song, ‘Work It Out’ has the classic, pumping flair of the ’90s NYC sound. DJ Holographic from Detroit brings the funk with her remix in a smooth, sensual style. Combining these two seemingly disparate yet complimentary worlds is at the heart of what Alinka and I intended when conceptualizing Twirl.

Shaun J. Wright

Wright: This was such a fun song to create. It started with the drum pattern, and the melody for the chorus soon followed. I wasn’t quite sure where it was heading initially, but the word ‘superficial’ kept bouncing around in my head. I set it down for a few months, and when I revisited it, the remainder of the song just flowed. The lyrics were already bawdy, so I thought the cherry on top would be adding some more cheeky banter with my dear friends Sir Jacobs and Jeff Lewis. They definitely add more color to the story.

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