A dimly lit bar tucked into a Chicago side street, Danny’s Tavern normally draws a laid-back bohemian crowd. But on the first Wednesday of each month, Dante Carfagna and the Sheer Magic crew dust off some old vinyl and create a bass-heavy, funk-fueled ruckus.
“I’ve never considered myself a DJ,” says the modest-to-a-fault Carfagna. “I have some interesting records that people want to hear, so I’m a DJ by default.” Yet his sets aren’t your average musical history lessons. Carfagna could be called the Indiana Jones of vinyl archeology due to the amount of rare funk and soul records he’s rescued from obscurity.
The Sheer Magic nights–started in Kansas City by Carfagna’s friend Courtland Green before both of them moved up to Chicago–provide the public with a chance to sample some of the gems of Carfagna’s massive collection. Though many may boast it, Sheer Magic really does play stuff that won’t be heard anywhere else.
In addition to the typical record collector m.o. of scouting record fairs and gabbing with other music fans, Carfagna’s passion has gotten him involved in almost every aspect of recorded music–he’s a guest editor for collecting bible Wax Poetics, he’s released instrumental hip-hop under the Express Rising moniker and he’s helped put together reissue albums for labels like the Quannum-affiliated Cali-Tex. Currently, he’s in the process of assembling a massive book about funk 45s with fellow record fetishist Josh Davis, better known as DJ Shadow. “Josh and I discussed the fact that some would consider this task a lifetime’s work,” said Carfagna, “and here we are trying to fit it into our normal schedules.”
Born in 1974 in Columbus, Ohio, Carfagna started feeding his crate-digging habit as a kid with money he made delivering newspapers. By the time he was a teenager and living in Miami, he was spinning obscure, rarified records. One day, Public Enemy’s Professor Griff happened to be walking by the apartment building Carfagna was living in, and Griff was so intrigued by the music Carfagna was playing that he had to knock on the door to discover what they were (two Ruth Copeland LPs).
“It was not a snake charmer moment, though I’d like to think of it that way,” says Carfagna.