I’ve always been fascinated with music-making and mixing; there’s a level of artistry to it that takes practice, persistence, and time, just like photography. So when my relationship status recently changed to single, I hit the DJ circuit, looking for heavy beats, buttery orchestrated arrangements, and the people creating transcendental moments on the dance floor.
The DJs in this photo series are some of San Francisco’s coolest cats, most having played in underground clubs for years. They’ve all built powerful circles of nightlife followers, and they run the gamut of music styles and genres. Check out what they’re up to these days.
You won’t see any douchebags jumping up and down to the Black Eyed Peas at DJ Dials’ parties at 1015 Folsom (aka 103 Harriet). Most of his events get labeled as “hipster parties” because he promotes new music to a musically inclined audience. With 15 years of deejaying under his belt, Dials plays two kinds of music: “songs you’ve heard and songs you haven’t heard,” but lately he’s been playing 808 style hip-hop, juke, new school and old school house, downtempo, 2 Step, and some old school deeper dub.
His parties tend to draw a mix of super hot, well-dressed hipsters and dread-y Burning Man types. Or, if he’s throwing a hip-hop night, a hip-hop crowd will come out. “As long as they’re there to have a good time and they like good music, I don’t care. I’m not vain – everyone deserves to have fun in a place where they feel good.”
Jamie Guzzi (a.k.a. Jamie Jams) of Debaser takes us back to our roots with his ’90s parties at the Knockout. He scours local record stores for popping ’90s LPs, which run the gamut from baggy beat to shoegaze, grunge, alternative, Britpop, indie pop, post-rock, post-hardcore, and emo. Jamie spins mostly ’90s alternative at his parties, though he’ll periodically mix in some hip-hop and r&b.
The parties feel like a community, with lots of epic rock T-shirts in the house, though he would love to see more baby-doll dresses. “We're doing this year-by-year theme, so we'll be slicing it sort of horizontally instead of vertically for a little bit. Probably throwing in a bit more of the other genres we've missed too as we go. We even played a little industrial at the last one! We're definitely putting the ’90s on rinse, that's for sure.”
DJ Sep, founder of Dub Mission, throws down one of the city’s most successful Sunday night parties upstairs at the Elbo Room. She’s cemented her reputation as one of San Francisco’s best-known female DJs by spinning cutting-edge dub mixed with progressive roots and dance hall.
The crowd she brings tends to be diverse “with a good mix of heads as well as partiers.” Sep especially enjoys the fact that her Sunday club nights attract females, whether alone or with friends. And she’s a big fan of the laid-back vibe of the Elbo Room.
Corey Sleazemore describes his style of deejaying as house music meets UK funky meets future bassy weird shit. His Lights Down Low parties currently hop between three venues – Monarch, SOM, and Public Works – which all have great sound and a gritty, underground vibe. He gets most of his music by trading with other DJs online.
The kinds of people showing up to his parties are “a mixture of hipsters, gays, SOMA tech types, and house-heads. The kids are pretty fashion forward and stylish, with a nice mix of cute boys and cute girls.” He has core Lights Down Low fans who have been coming for years, but recently the party has grown and he is seeing more and more faces he doesn’t recognize.
You get a lot of BOOM BOOM BOOM (heavy bass) when you go to a Richie Panic party. He likes to refer to his parties as pansexual freak shows on their best nights. As a longtime San Francisco DJ, Richie has gotten his hands into parties all over town, including WANTED at Q Bar with Key & Kite; Relax, Relate, Release at 222 Hyde; and Lights Down Low with Corey Sleazemore.
“Some of my favorite parties to attend or throw take a little bit of everything – gay, straight, hipster, art school, music nerd, weirdos, and drunks – and stir.” On his downtime, he likes to bike to Heron’s Head Park in Hunters Point.
His current top 5:
SSION - My Love Grows in the Dark
Aaliyah - One In A Million (Armand Van Helden Remix)
Drake Ft. Rihanna - Take Care
Fire For Effect - Step Into Liquid (It's a Trap)
Brodinski Ft. Louisahhh! - Let the Beat Control Your Body
Honey Soundsystem’s troupe of six men is just as much an artist collective as a DJ troupe. They dress up Holy Cow – which used to be a historical San Francisco gay bar – every Sunday night with decorations, lighting, and projections, and add an element of performance art. They bond over their shared love of timeless sound, which can be as varied as deep Chicago house to emotive Detroit techno to obscure Italiano disco.
People who show up at the party are “looking for an underground vibe, not necessarily a gay nor a straight one, but are seeking a particular environment and sound. They often find themselves among welcoming, likeminded souls: nerds, performers, artists, muscle queens, twinks, fashionistas, executives, daddy bears, drag queens ... the list goes on. But despite all the labels, people show with an intent to dance.”
Their current top 5:
Paul Hardy, Moodymanc - Sizzler (Sei A Remix)
Ralphi Rosario - You Used To (Hold Me)
Freedom - Closer (Klubb Kidz Flava Dub)
Curare - To Have And Have Not
Dionne - Come Get My Lovin'
Baciotti - Black Jack [SERGE SANTIAGO REMIX]