photo credits: Francis John
1. Who are you?
Just some guy.
2. What do you do?
My current musical contributions include
1) DJ and member of the San Francisco based Surface Tension collective.
2) Producing original music, some of which will be released on my debut album from Jacktone in a few weeks.
3) I run a label with Chris Zaldua, (also of Surface Tension), called Left Hand Path, which catalogs some of our creative obsessions along with a good sampling of the bay area’s best new artists.
3. Where do you often create/produce?
These days i almost exclusively write in my home studio. It’s a wonderful refuge and it’s taken a lot of work to get it to a place that is conducive to my creative process. I spent many years with machines spread out across my bed writing on headphones and other setups which were disruptive to my ability to get into the flow. Finally having a place where i can just jump right into writing something new is a pretty cathartic point to have come to. I live in one of the most expensive cities in the world so finding space dedicated to creative endeavors is unreachable for most. Because of this i consider it a responsibility to open this space up to others. My studio mate and I do this when we can hosting tutorials, meetups and collaboration sessions whenever possible, but it’s still not always easy to find time or avenues to share.
I feel new ideas and really want to play every day but but to be honest i only have energy on weekdays after my 9-5 job to work out and collapse. On the weekends when i am focused i have to work in marathon sessions to get anything done. Because of these constraints it takes me a very long time to “finish” things to my satisfaction, but I’m getting better at knowing what kinds of compromises i’m willing to make to balance all of my responsibilities with my desire to express myself and participate in the musical community.
5. Why do you play music?
I ask myself this question pretty often. I definitely don’t view myself as a “musician”. It might be cliche to say so, but I think i’m always trying to tell a story and music is one of the most natural languages that comes to me in order to do that. I’ve never had any formal musical training, but when i first found myself in front of a drum machine and synthesizer about a decade ago, i found that i could feel my way through it. I think that I have a lot of stories inside of me: my life has been filled with so much anger and love and horror and beauty I just can’t help but find avenues to let it out. Electronic music has allowed me to do that to a certain extent but i’m still always trying to get better at listening and tapping into a deeper state of being, two things that i think are essential to any good creative work.
I also think that music can transform culture – It brings people together and it also helps people articulate identity and context. For example – one of my main sources of inspiration over the past couple of years has come from bay are crew Club Chai. I’ve watched and been blown away by how they have been central to the formation of a new generation of people navigating what it means to live in the bay area and specifically Oakland in 2018. I think my DJ collective Surface Tension has also had an effect on the way that people think about the club space, as well as what kinds of sounds and emotions comprise techno and what types of people should be able to define it. I think we’ve done a good job combating the hyper-capitalist growth mentality that dance music lends itself to where the drive is always toward bigger events, more people, higher budgets and costs. I would rather have more intimate events that have a deeper impact on the people attending, where the line between participant and performer isn’t so well defined.
There is also a way in which i think sound can tap into human emotions in subtle and unpredictable ways. It can also have a profound effect on bodies and environments. However it ends up being consumed, whether it’s in a gallery or on headphones or in a club, this is an extremely complex and important art form in human history and i’m really happy that i get to participate in it.
6. When did you start making music?
I actually started pretty late in life in comparison to most of the people around me: I began DJing at age 30, and started writing electronic music at age 32. I’m 40 now and i regularly meet people in their late 20s and early 30s that say that it’s too late for them to start making music. I disagree – I feel like starting later has its advantages – my age and the life i lived before making music a priority has informed everything that i do, from my dj sets to the kinds of events i want to be a part of to the type of music i want to make.
7.What influences your work?
On this album every one of the tracks were originally written as part of live sets i played throughout the year 2017. That year was one of intense shock and recovery from the event that rocked my life and the lives of most of the people close to me – the Oakland Ghost Ship fire. I was present at the fire and it’s no exaggeration to say that every day since then i’ve thought about the people we lost, and how close i was to losing my own life. I’ve thought about all of the people in pain around me, and all of the direct and indirect ways that it ratcheted up the terror of living in the bay area for anyone facing oppression or financial insecurity. I played these sets in spaces in and around San Francisco and Oakland at a time when the fire and everything the fire meant to the individuals involved in our small scene was a tangible presence. The process of rebuilding has been done one set at a time, one day at a time, and life will not ever be the same, but it does get easier.
So the tracks themselves were written with specific buildings/structures in mind, and in a way they are a meditation on the presence of space to create/live. This kind of space can’t be taken for granted and has to be fought for and protected from a city and a capitalist society that will always work to devalue and rob us of it.
They are also sort of a document of my process of recovery, and the emotional situation i found myself in, which I can best describe as a basic inability to accept that something so horrific had really happened in front of my eyes, so i began to disconnect from tangible reality. As time went on I realized that this sense of disassociation is something that so many people can relate to given how extreme the state lead assault on our basic rights has been for years in this country. I’ve always identified with what James Baldwin said: “…the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, who had ever been alive.”
So to answer your original question – I am inspired by my surroundings, by the struggle of the people around me, and by the political situation of the world. I also love exchange and the collective process of learning that being part of a collective artistic movement brings with it.
8. Favorite book?
I don’t know if its my favorite but a book that has stuck with me since i read it when i was young is “The Shadow Lines” By Amitav Ghosh.
9. Favorite classic movie?
Similarly, i have a hard time choosing a favorite but Akira is really special and important to me. I watched it many times when i was a kid in Japanese without subtitles because a friend gave me a bootlegged videotape of it before it was available here. Because of that the sounds and images infected me and in a lot of ways mean far more to me than the storyline.
10. Describe your creative process?
I usually write tracks for a live performance and then record them during the set, in order to capture the moment in time, or i rerecord them and do a small amount of editing in Ableton live. I really want my music to have a living feeling and performing it live, in one take, is my favorite way to do that. Overdubs can sometimes help me put a little bit more detail into a specific element but i try to keep those to a minimum. I learned to DJ vinyl primarily by practicing and practicing and recording and rerecording mixes at home until i got them just right and that same method has carried itself over to my musical productions.
11. What’s your life philosophy? (Optimistic/pessimistic)
12. Do you have a healthy lifestyle?
I try. As I get older it doesn’t feel like an option not to be so I hit the gym regularly and eat healthy as much as i can. This often falls apart in the immediate run up to a show or when i have a major music deadline but i think that’s fine as long as i have the instincts to get back into good habits when things calm down.
13. How do you manage your time effectively? (Job/hobby)
San Francisco is one of the most expensive places to live in the world so i have to hustle a pretty draining full time day job in order to afford to live here and to have an artistic practice. Honestly it’s a struggle to balance it with music and also have meaningful healthy relationships but i work hard and do my best one day at a time. If i have shows i have to also look at the calendar and see if there is enough time before them for me to prepare. I spend a lot of time on anything i do, whether it’s a dj set or a live set or some other form of engagement so i have to know that it’s feasible. In the past i would say yes to “everything” and found myself kind of in constant cramming mode. You can learn a lot that way but i think most of the skills i want to develop and the experiences i want to be a part these days require more time and focus than that method allows for.