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CHAT report: Oliver Wang @ The Art and Culture of the DJ

Below are my notes from the CHAT festival discussion Art and Culture of the DJ. I could only make it for Oliver Wang's discussion, which was a really nice exploration of Filipino youth culture and the mobile DJ crews of the late 70s and 80s.

Festival on the Hill: The Art and Culture of the DJ
Friday, 1:15 to 6:15 p.m.
Hyde Hall, University Room

Mark Katz, Festival on the Hill coordinator, UNC associate professor of music

Intro. Does scholarly work on DJs; writing book “Groove Music” about hip-hop DJing. There is an art of the DJ and cultures of the DJ, which can be a counterintuitive or controversial idea. Talking about DJs who are musicians: performative DJs who do more than press play.

Oliver Wang, California State University, Long Beach assistant professor of sociology, journalist and long-time DJ who performs as O-Dub. “Legions of Boom” forthcoming book. SoulSides audio blog.

“Mobile Homes: Community and the Bay Area’s FIlipino Mobile DJ Scene”

DJing and Community. Community: 1) The community of mobile DJs themselves. How were they constituted. 2) relationship b/w DJ community and larger Filipino American community. Invisibl Skratch Piklz - all from Bay area, all of Filipino descent, all began with mobile DJ crew.

What is a mobile DJ crew? Late 70s through early 90s era. 20th anniversary video by Spintronix: music and lighting for parties, events, etc. Started as hobby, got bigger. Like a fraternity. “Something to do with your life” - kept me out of trouble.

Metaphors of family and brotherhood. Over the 80s there were hundreds of crews.

Musical styles: funk/disco, hiNRG, freestyle, new wave, electro, hip-hop. Mostly urban styles. Point of contact was through nightclubs and discotheques.

Social preconditions in 70s: 1) nonstop disco mixing (no breaks between songs). continuous experience of music absorption. Allows to adjust intensity over the course of an evening “living communal experience”. 2) National expansion of discotheques (esp. after 1977’s Saturday Night Fever!) 3) fourth wave of Filipino American immigration, beneficiaries of the 1965 immigration act. preferential clause for high-skill professionals (who became underemployed in the US) brings middle class Filipinos. Family reunification clause. Patterns of secondary migration settlement (i.e. out of Mission District of San Fran). Daly City, Vallejo, San Jose, Union City/Fremont, Stockton, Sacramento.

Formation of mobile DJ crews. Sound Explosion, founded 1978, Balboa High School. Brought club sounds to school, church, other spaces for young people rather than sneaking into discos. Couldn’t easily get DJ equipment then. Figured it out as they went along because they didn’t have a template. Then 4 crews follow at the same high school within 2 years. “If they can do it, then we can do it” inspiration.

Social forces influencing expansion. Economic capital: “legitimate income”. Considered entrepreneurial. Money is reinvested into crew. Social capital: DJs are stars of the party. Sexual reward, meeting women. “Wanted to see what the private school girls were like”. Overwhelmingly male with emphasis on male bonding. Women weren’t explicitly excluded, but not recruited either.

Not exclusively Filipino, but mostly. Most crews were middle class; initial investment for records and equipment. Homes with garages. Older siblings with cars for transportation. Customer networks concentrated in middle class suburban areas.

Benefitted from community infrastructure. Family was first line of referrals for gigs. Lots of music-appropriate social events in Filipino family/community life. “Filipinos party more”. Extended family networks, regional origin organizations, student and church orgs.

Inverse: how did DJs influence the community? The showcase era 1983-93. Large scale, multicrew events. Popular and profitable. Related to “battles”. Started as crews from same neighborhood. But then multi-neighborhood. Significant 40 minute commute from place to place, 1-2 hours by public transit. Prior to mobile scene, not a lot of reasons to travel. Gil Olimpiada (Ultimate Creations) - physically and culturally bringing Filipinos together from across Bay Area. Communal experience on the dance floor. Simon Frith: social groups get to know themselves through cultural activity. The DJ scene created a Filipino youth community. Participation in the mobile scene is what defined “being Filipino” for this generation. “Pan-Pinoy-ness” Filipino community = one of the most internally diverse of all immigrant groups.

Filipino: racially ambiguous, historically marginalized “no one knew what a Filipino was”. Mobile DJ scene provides a common point of identification. DJ Babu (Scratch). “our parents and Q-Bert.”

<couldn’t stay for audience questions>

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Mike

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