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[whitespace] Dubtribe
Matthew Ipcar

Dancing Toward the Promised Land: Partiers thrill to Dubtribe's deep house.

Dubtribe wants to move your body, mind and spirit

By Michelle Goldberg

Like many people his age, Sunshine Jones was once a punk rocker, then a mod, then a new wave guy with a suit and an attitude. "There was no love in my life, no love in my heart," says Jones, crouched outside 111 Minna St. eating burritos with his wife, Moonbeam. "House music saved my life."

Sunshine and Moonbeam are the couple at the core of Dubtribe Sound System, a house music band that harks back to the insane psychedelic hopefulness that marked the beginning of the rave scene. "There was just something about dancing in a room full of people, with a smoke machine on and my eyes closed and someone on the record saying 'You're going to be free and we're going to reach the promised land,' " says Sunshine. As much of the local electronic music scene has turned to the harsher sounds of drum and bass and underground hip-hop, Dubtribe has stayed true to their utopic old-school vibe. To an outsider, their countercultural affectations (don't call them hippies!) can be hard to swallow. That is, until you're dancing in a cheering crowd at one of Dubtribe's (mostly) bimonthly local shows, the beats crescendoing into an impossibly optimistic anthem, with Moonbeam's soulful voice crooning assurances of salvation. Lyrics such as "We'll get up, we will rise, reach for the skies, let the stars in your eyes show you what's inside, be your guide" sound naive, even banal, on paper, but when they're floating over a euphoric bass at 2 in the morning, they insinuate themselves into your brain and make you think--even if only until you get off the dance floor--that everything will be all right.

Dubtribe doesn't do anything to promote their erratic San Francisco parties, which are usually held in intimate spaces like the basement of Cafe Bastille or the Minna Street Gallery. They don't have to--a devoted crowd makes it their business to know where Dubtribe will be. Once you know where to go, though, the events are among the most welcoming, friendly parties that San Francisco offers. "We play all over the world, but in San Francisco the parties are about our family and friends," says Sunshine. Dubtribe is an actual band--the two members don't spin records, and their music is created live with synthesizers, sequencers and other gear, occasional guest drummers and Moonbeam's distorted voice, alternately rich and throaty and angelically ethereal.

"San Francisco is wilder and more wonderful right now than it's ever been before," Sunshine says. Years ago, though, the couple was utterly dispirited about the state of the city. "When we got into this, there was a real community spirit. San Francisco nightlife gave us our entire perspective," Sunshine says. "Then we spent three years in a van touring all over the country, and when we finally got back to San Francisco in 1994 it was a completely different place. People had gone bankrupt, been deported, gone to drug rehab or jail, and others had made their fortunes," he says. "There's a big difference between a predominantly gay, mixed black and Latino crowd and a bunch of 14-year-old kids on ketamine."

Dubtribe is unabashedly political: At the recent Minna Street party they were taking donations for Earth First, and Sunshine peppers his speech with phrases like "commodity fetishism" and declares that "hippies are the capitalist pigs right now." At the same time, he knows there's nothing intrinsically revolutionary about going out and dancing all night--at best, house-music culture can be a springboard to more activist pursuits like rainbow gatherings and the environmental movement. "I'd really love to make the world a completely different place, but that's quite an undertaking for two people," he says. "For a while, there was a window of opportunity when we had people's attention and we said, 'Rise, be free, love,' and for a while they gave it their best shot."

Like the dreaded hippies, though, hedonism quickly trumped idealism in the house movement. An article in XLR8R magazine said, "At a New Year's party in Portland, [Dubtribe] looked out at a 'sea of people on crack' and came to the conclusion that parties 'sucked' and that they would give it up and continue their work in the studio. 'After years of optimism and things getting purer and truer and cleaner and more wonderful, it just dawned on me that at that point the message and the movement had totally diverged; they were light years apart,' Sunshine had said."

Still, his heart and soul is with house music's history. "In America, this music came from the gay community and from the ghetto. It's the voice of a generation that wasn't ready to stop dancing when people said disco sucks. Frankie Knuckles said it best: 'House music isn't the return of disco. It's disco's revenge.' "


For information about upcoming Dubtribe events, call 415/764-2903.

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From the June 1-14, 1998 issue of the Metropolitan.

Copyright © Metro Publishing Inc. Maintained by Boulevards New Media.


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