As one of the hottest dance parties in SF, Lights Down Low brings a continuous stream of talented DJs to the Bay Area. Earlier this year, DJ Joaquin Bartra joined up with LDL residents Corey Sleazemore and Richie Panic and the three will be spinning this Friday, December 7 at Monarch with Minneapolis indie pop guru Gigamesh.
You started DJing here in SF three years ago, how did you get involved with Lights Down Low?
I was just DJing around the city for a while with another homie under the name So So Soon and we had played Lights Down Low before I became a resident. We ended up not necessarily breaking up as DJs but I started DJing under my own name.
I was homies with Corey and Eli [Glad] moved to LA and they restructured Lights Down Low and me and Richie Panic came on as residents.
You have a very unique club style, how did that develop?
There’s a lot of good house DJs in San Francisco so I don’t really need to throw my hat into the house music realm. You can see a lot of good DJs in SF if you want to listen to pure house music.
I was basically like “what are people into and what do I like to play?” A lot of it is regional dance music so club music from urban areas around the United States – Jersey club, Baltimore club, vogue, ballroom from New York. I try to play music from the United States.
I listen to the radio when I’m in my car and that’s also given me a different ear with what’s going on in RnB and rap and that all fits in that club aesthetic. A lot of people in Jersey make remixes of all this radio music. It’s cool because I don’t necessarily want to play top 40 but instead things that sound different, are still unique but accessible to anyone that hears it. When I play I like people to just have fun and that music is most conducive to the dance floor.
Are you originally from San Francisco?
Yeah, I was born in San Francisco but my family’s from Peru and I would go back to Peru about six times a year. I went to school in Peru, I was on a soccer team there – I had like two different lives basically.
When I was in the United States I was the Peruvian kid and when I was in Peru I was the American kid. So I basically grew up in two places and that shaped me as a person. I’ve been exposed to different sounds going back and forth and I’ve always been interested in music from a global perspective – regional music, where they come from, how they fit together and the different sounds.
What’s the music scene like when you travel back to Peru?
Right now house music is exploding. A lot of Latin American countries are obsessed with American pop culture and they’re very into the European deep house and techno scene. A lot of the music I play has Latin influence but the people there are not into it at all. They’re more into the European sound.
Culturally that’s just how things are, you want to hear things that sound new to you and Latin sounds aren’t new to them. I grew up being told that Cumbia and all this indigineous Latin music “you don’t listen to that, it’s poor people music.” Then here in the United States there are Cumbia parties – not to say that it doesn’t exist in Latin America but the European house music is more interesting to a lot of people. Whereas the more indigenous Latin sounds are shunned upon because they’re connected to a working class and a poorer class. But to be honest that’s the sound I’m more into.
I haven’t been back as much as I used to in high school but I definitely go back regularly.
What are your favorite spots to catch music in SF?
222 [Hyde] is my favorite club in general. It’s so tiny and intimate and has great sound, the vibe is always good. It’s dope when you can be at a party and it’s not necessarily packed but it’s so much fun when the vibe and energy is right. All the Lights Down Lows at 222 have been crazy so it’s definitely my favorite club in SF.
There used to be this place called The Compound, out in Hunter’s Point and it was one of the most magical places in San Francisco. I miss that place so much. It was out in this abandoned warehouse type thing super far away. The DJ booth was in the middle of the warehouse so the crowd was surrounding the DJ.
Do you have any new projects up your sleeves?
Yeah I’m going to be releasing some mixes that are connected to some bigger projects. There’s stuff I’ll be putting out but not necessarily music production-wise. It’s going to be more big ideas connected to all new media as a whole.