From Dinosaur Rock to New Wave|
As I was out dancing last weekend I began thinking a lot about how I became so interested in and involved with music. Since I never kept journals as I was growing up, I thought I would begin writing about my past so I will have some sort of record of my earlier years...
Like many pre-teen kids I didn't have much knowledge of music. Not knowing any better, I listened to what was played on the local AM station and liked it. Occasionally there would be a song that I really, REALLY got into, but for the most part I just listened to a lot of crap.
In the late 70s my best friend's older brother had a pirate radio station which he ran out of their house. I started doing radio shows, but since I didn't know much about music at the time I just played some stuff of his that I liked. It just so happened that the "stuff" were things like The Sex Pistols, The Ramones, Elvis Costello, Devo, and The Cars. It wasn't until many years later that I realized the significance of that music! Doing those shows certainly infected me with the DJ bug. I knew I wanted more, but I didn't know how to go about it, so that stayed on the back burner for several years.
As a teenager I listened to rock music; usually the harder stuff, as there was something about the intensity of that genre that spoke to me. I didn't want anything to do with that girly "light rock"! I didn't like much of what I heard on the radio so my listening habits were based not so much on commercial airplay as they were on word-of-mouth. I really got into Rush and they were my favourite band for a couple of years. (In fact, listening to bands like Rush and Iron Maiden gave me an appreciation for excellent musicianship, especially drumming, that I carry with me to this day.) I started going to concerts at age 15 and everytime a band I liked came through town, I was there watching them onstage.
After Rush released Signals, the first album on which they used keyboards, I read an interview with one of the members who said that the electronic influence on that album was due to listening to some band called Ultravox. Fangirl that I was, I went and bought an Ultravox album to see what the fuss was about.
Wow, I was floored! Ultravox was not only a far cry from the progressive and hard rock stuff I had been listening to, but they were also my introduction to that wacky New Wave stuff I had been hearing about. They had a fresh, new, very exciting sound that I loved! I was hooked.
Back in the early 80s there was no genre called "Eighties Music", nor was it ubiquitous. It was called "New Wave", it wasn't played on the radio, and no one I knew listened to it. So in order to learn and discover more I had to blaze my own trails and search out bands myself. I remember buying a lot of music magazines in the name of research. Somehow I discovered this band called U2 and picked up their War album. I loved them! Sadly, I missed getting tickets to see them tour that album, but I went out and bought everything of theirs I could get my grubby little hands on.
I was finally able to see U2 live on 15 December 1984 and they changed my life. [Look at my photos!] Never before or since have I seen another band who created such a rapport with and captivated their audience so. It didn't matter how well the muscians could play their instruments, and it didn't matter that the vocalist couldn't sing well. U2 was intense, full of raw energy and passion just bursting to get out, and you could feel that emanating from the performers, particularly Bono. I stood slack-jawed watching the band; I was awed by their performance, and when it was over I vowed to make music part of my life. My love affair with U2 continued for several years, until Rattle and Hum was released and the band sadly changed their musical direction. I saw them eight times - every time they played in San Francisco between 1984 and 1987.
I wanted to make music part of my life but since I cannot sing or play an instrument I had to involve myself in other ways. Over the next few years I did some writing and photography for a few small music papers and magazines. I did booking for some local bands, most notably Missile Harmony (with former Wire Train guitarist & vocalist Kurt Herr) and Every Secret Thing (who later changed their name to Grotus).
As an avid fan I bought music right and left, read interviews with and articles about my favourite artists, and saw a ton of concerts. I made friends with the owner and employee at my local independent record store and we would tell one another about the latest cool bands we had each discovered. The mid- and late- Eighties were a wonderful time in San Francisco and I took full advantage of that. Not only were there top-rate local bands, but the live scene in general was thriving. I was going to see scores of shows in SF at places like Wolfgang's, the I-Beam, Fillmore, Warfield, DNA, Civic Auditorium and the Kennel Club, as well as all around the Bay Area at One Step Beyond, Berkeley Square, Greek Theatre and the Cabaret. U.S. Immigration were more lenient then they are today, and it was an excellent time for touring bands.
I watched this "New Wave" stuff grow and split into even cooler things like alternative (it meant a different thing then than it does now), dirge, death rock and industrial dance. That was such a wonderful time, but still wasn't enough for me - I wanted to be more involved.
Quiet please, we're on the air
As a way of becoming more involved with the music I loved so much, I joined one of the top college radio stations in the country. I worked at KFJC for two years, from the beginning of 1988 until the end of 1989, where I did a little bit of everything at one time or another. I did studio production and produced on-air spots (we were still splicing reel-to-reel tapes then), promotions work, schmoozed with record company reps, interviewed bands, and got to host my own radio show.
Finally, I was a DJ! Like any novice jock, my first permanent slot was a graveyard show, 2-6 am Sundays. But it wasn't so bad because that was actually Saturday night, and there were quite a few people tuned in at that time. My next slot was Wednesday morning drive time, from 6-10 am. Again, the slot was much more popular than you might think as a lot of people listen to the radio as they drive to work (hence the name). I got to play pretty much whatever I wanted and I'd like to think I turned a lot of people on to new, cool music. I thought I knew a lot about industrial and goth (née dirge) music before working there, but I learned otherwise and I myself was introduced to scores of new bands. Of course, with the sheer volume of music housed at the station, you'd be hard pressed to spend any time there without hearing something new.
Working at a radio station is full of perks, as you might imagine. When KFJC would co-promote a concert the station would get a number of free tickets in exchange for plugging the show on-air; I didn't pay for a single show in the time I was working there, and for awhile I was going to at least one per week. Record companies would also send us free stuff - tshirts, posters, music (often limited-edition promo releases), and other tchotchkes - in an effort to draw our attention to their artists. It was great when the stuff happened to be for a band you really liked!
In addition to getting free stuff, you're also able to meet some of your favourite bands. We often had bands stop by the station to promote a concert or an album and there was never any telling who you might meet on a given day. It's funny, even though I thought it was neat to meet a bunch of "rock stars" I often never bothered. I didn't want to seem like some sort of vapid fan, "Oh my gawd, you're so great and I have all your albums!", so instead I would only approach musicians if I actually had something to say.
I'm not sure why I eventually stopped working there. Like any facet of the entertainment industry, even a non-commercial station like KFJC was chock-full of ego and attitude; I guess I just got tired of dealing with primadonnas, so I hung up my headphones and moved on. But I certainly wasn't finished doing the DJ thing.
The Final(?) Chapter
My introduction to spinning at clubs came about while I was still working at KFJC. My first dance club gig was a 1989 guest spot at Zone Six, in the subterranean Underground. Over the next few years I did occasional spots at the Edge, opening for live bands like Nine Inch Nails and Red Lorry Yellow Lorry, and even started my own short-lived industrial club in San Jose. But my true beginning as a club DJ was at House of Usher.
Filling in for one of the DJs who was going to be out of town for several months, I spun in Usher's industrial music room from approximately July 1993 through the beginning of 1994. It was quite exciting - not only working for what was probably the largest goth/industrial club in the area to date, but also DJing for a live audience. Sure, in radio you are playing live, but your listeners are elsewhere. You can't see them or judge their mood, you don't even know exactly how many listeners you have. In addition, there is a very different emphasis in radio where you often change momentum and break for announcements without concern for losing your audience. As a club DJ you have your audience in front of you. You can tell what they want to dance to, and if you don't play it, or if you lose the tempo you'll lose your audience. It's high-pressure but at the same time, you get instant gratification; throw on the right song and you have a roomful of people cheering!
In April 1994 I became the DJ at Death Guild and worked there for three years, through DG's incarnation at the Trocadero. Sure, some aspects of Death Guild were a lot of fun - it was great having my own weekly gig, I met a lot of people, and I was able to do silly things like playing cheesy songs at Midnight (stuff like "YMCA", "Copacabana", "The Bear Necessities", and "Fish Heads") just to see how many people I could get to dance. But when the Troc closed, I took that opportunity to leave DG behind. Frankly, I was tired of working every week, often for no money and never receiving a thank you, for people who treated me poorly.
So What!, on the other hand, was much more pleasant for me. For four years I was able to spin a mix of mostly industrial music, often stuff other DJs never played; I got a reputation for playing hard, heavy, stompy music, and I was quite alright with that. Since So What! was on Saturday nights I was usually surrounded by friends and it was like I was getting paid to go out and play with them - a tough job, but someone had to do it!
I was involved with several other clubs as a DJ and sometimes also a promoter. For a couple of years I was spinning two and three times a week and my name was plastered across countless ads and flyers. I suppose I was popular in some sense of the word, but I was really doing it because I loved the music. I had a lot of great music that I wanted people to hear, and there were a lot of great bands I wanted to help make popular. I'd like to think I was able to accomplish both those goals.
As they say, all good things must come to an end, and that it did. By mid-1999 attendance at So What! had slacked off, my friends were often finding other things to do with their Saturday nights, and I had finally satiated my DJ bug. I quit So What! in June of that year but continued working with Dekonstrukt for another six months. I've done a smattering of other gigs since, most notably at the DNA, but I am currently happily retired.