Collette Marino

Categories: Chicago Magazine

By Mark Guarino

Colette Marino is not shy about singing in a DJ booth — she’s done just that for the last eight years, at dance clubs across the country ranging from 200 to 2,000 people. Every weekend, for eleven months a year, Marino – known simply as Colette on the club circuit – zigzags across the U.S. armed with a crate of records, from early house to trance to reliable nuggets of 1980’s pop.

These days she’s stepping outside the glass accompanied by a live band to perform songs from Push (Om Records), her own album of sophisticated dance pop, stocked with hard beats, glossy effects and savvy hooks. In the past, live shows meant singing live to recorded tracks, but this year Colette is playing a few select shows at dance clubs with built-in stages. “We wanted to make sure we weren’t bringing the audience to a completely different place,” she said.

Her transition to budding pop diva is a relatively new role for the Lincoln Park native who remembers her first exposure to DJ culture: watching a DJ spin records in her eighth grade lunchroom.

“I just lived for this music. I always wanted to be involved with (it) but hadn’t figured out how,” she said. Her instincts led to her late nights burning up dance floors at all-ages clubs to seeking out Wicker Park loft parties led by underground DJ phenoms like Derrick Carter. After graduating from UIC, she enrolled in “my version of graduate school”: juggling jobs at local record labels, working the register at Gramophone Records, promoting shows at night while testing her own turntable skills.

“I kept chipping away and never gave up,” she said. “I was really patient because things don’t happen overnight.”

Eventually word got out and she was handed a monthly residency at Smart Bar, which she maintains to this day despite moving to Los Angeles seven years ago, which involved transporting 40 crates of vinyl. (“I was just really ready to live in a warm climate – I’m a big baby.”)

This year turned out to be so busy for Colette Marino, home time has been doled out in as little as 12-hour shifts, meaning time for just three things: “laundry, pay my bills, have dinner with my husband.” On those rare evenings, the couple inevitably compares notes considering that her husband is Thomas Ian Nicholas — an actor who played the title role in 1993 baseball tearjerker “Rookie of the Year” — who also happens to be on the road promoting a rock album of his own.

Of all the venues she plays, Smart Bar remains home. She’ll be there Nov. 10 and Dec. 8.

“(Owner) Joe Shanahan has always been really supportive of dance music through the decades,” said Marino, 32. “The space is also a really great size. I like that it’s in the basement because it reminds me of being a teenager in Chicago and doing basement parties.”

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