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San Fran-Disco: DJ Josh remixes house with history.

DJ Josh on the roots of his music

By Amanda Nowinski

Considering that disco gave birth to house music, it's no wonder that DJ Josh is the son of a former disco-dancing queen. An originator in the early '90s San Francisco house and rave scenes, Josh recalls his mother coming home early in the morning, exhausted and slap-happy after a full night of dancing. But it wasn't the gold lamé and the platforms that intrigued Josh--it was the mystique of the discotheque sound.

In 1990, Josh helped establish the house DJ foundation in San Francisco at clubs like Housing Project and Fidelity and at old-school raves like Origin and Basics. A disco-mentality expert and grass-roots promoter, Josh heads two of the City's longest-running monthly underground house venues: the rave-y Gathering and the warehouse-inspired Conscious Sessions. Known for his smooth, precise style of mixing and funky, dubbed-out taste in records, Josh is consistently active in the national rave and house club circuits.

Currently at work on debut projects with DJ Spun and Markie Mark from Wicked, Josh will release his own mixed-CD later this month. But if you just can't wait to work it, check Josh out in true underground, after-hours style at Deep Inside (the basement of) 1015 Folsom on Wednesday nights.


Metropolitan: Much of electronic music is dismissed as superficial--it's decadent and doesn't address political issues in an obvious form.

DJ Josh: House music started in the mid-'80s. It came out of disco and was symbolic of the oppression that a lot of gay black people from Detroit, L.A., S.F. and N.Y. felt. The music stems from expression, from breaking out of oppressive society--and that's what the underground is all about. It has nothing to do with the wheels of the machine.

Early, early house, like "Open Our Eyes" by Truth, and music by Marshall Jefferson, addressed political issues--but it was more about not being free, and about having to suffer in life. But in the end, house is just meant to move your ass. You're supposed to shake and fucking groove out to it. And clubs as a rule are apolitical. Nightclubs are places where you go to escape the man, to escape economics, to be where you can't be when you're working 9 to 5 or paying your fucking taxes.

Metropolitan: But clubbing is such a temporal experience.

DJ Josh: It should be deeper than most other experiences you have. Because that's the only time to be free. House culture and house music makes me feel free and very positive about things. Music should awaken your soul. Whether you listen to goth or whatever, it should move you. But that's a given.

Metropolitan: As a DJ, do you feel peer pressure to produce music?

DJ Josh: There's a ton of deep, independent house made by various shit heads sitting around in their bedrooms--and I include myself. But I'm not rushing to put tracks out. That a DJ is supposed to end up making music is a myth. Someone who makes music is a musician--a DJ and a musician can be one and the same, but they don't have to be. There's a lot of shitty house out there, so if it takes you five years to make a record and it's good, that's all that matters.

Metropolitan: I have an old Jamaican dub-mixed tape of yours from 1991. Although you normally play house, your style evokes that hypnotic, dubby feel.

DJ Josh: Well, "dub" is the ideology of making really good mind music, regardless of it is up- or down-tempo. Dub is generally referred to as reggae--"reggae-effected" instrumentals. That means a lot of effects and echo, taking in or bringing out vocals and just sort of going in and free-forming. It has a lot less to do with the musician than the producer in a lot of cases. The producer--the "dubmaster"--is the mixer who takes the tracks that are played on all the channels and goes over it again and reshapes the song.

But dub is a vibe--it's not a music. It can be referred to as a mix that isn't based in reggae. On a 12-inch single there could be a "dub" mix, which means it's the track that's going to blow your mind. Dub is a feeling, a state of mind, a state of spirituality. That's what I go by. Everything has to be taken to the end of your mind and made well. Going there and taking it further is the dub sensibility. Also, if you smoke a lot of weed, you will become more sensitive to the dub vibe. After all, reggae dub spawned from smoking the "lamb's bread" in Jamaica, where it came from.

Metropolitan: Dub, then, is the technological and spiritual precursor to house.

DJ Josh: The beauty of house music is that it is the ultimate fusion. House music can be made of any kind of sound, provided it is somewhat progressive--between 118 and 127 beats per minute--and has a steady bass beat. House can have polyrhythmic drums; it can incorporate Brazilian drumming, bongos to whatever kind of groove. It can slap on a funky bass. House gives you license to do whatever you want--you can have a violin sound, a trumpet sound--whatever.

Metropolitan: To get the real feeling of house, though, isn't it necessary to experience it initially in a club? The meaning of dance music might elude you otherwise--it might seem monotonous and tweeky.

DJ Josh: You're talking about feeling other things than just house. There are many kinds of house music, but only two types: good and shitty. If you're listening to good house--i.e., dubbed-out, a lot of good musicianship, amazing keyboard solos--you can listen to it in your car, wherever. It doesn't need to be in the club. But I can see your point. House does stem from the clubs.

I've given my mom some of my mix downs, but she's been like "Oh, it's great, but it's so monotonous." But you can go listen to Santana and say, "Oh, these drums are monotonous--they're so repetitive." You can say that about any rhythm-based dance music, whether it's from Brazil, Africa, Detroit or the Caribbean. Some people prefer Celine Dion because they need a structure with a verse and chorus, instead of the idea of piecing a track together bit by bit--which is how all dance forms of music are made. Dance music all comes down to trance. A lot of the Indian music that people were getting into in the '60s and '70s--with Ravi Shankar and then the Beatles--is very trance-inducing. You could say that trance is monotonous, but it's meant for you to let your mind go. When people zone out to house or trance in front of a speaker, it's like they're meditating, freeing their mind and listening, not being aware of problems around them. The music becomes escapism .

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From the June 7, 1999 issue of the Metropolitan.

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