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Disco Shawn

Last Night a DJ Saved My Life

Disco Shawn, a part of the creative team behind staple San Francisco parties like Tormenta Tropical and the up-and-coming Icee Hot, has brought acts like Sinden and Martin Kemp to small venues with big bass. He got his feet wet in radio at Live 105, and soon fell in love with records. He now opens for big names such as Quantic. Catch him every 2nd Saturday at Elbo Room and every 4th Saturday at 222 Hyde for his monthlies.

SF Station (SFS): What inspired you to start Tormenta Tropical?

Disco Shawn (DS): During 2006-07 I spent a year living abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina. While I was down there I started going to a party called Zizek and got sucked into the city's experimental/electronic cumbia scene. I began accumulating tracks, worked the sound into my DJ sets and eventually decided to start a record label called Bersa Discos with Oro11 — another expat DJ who was living down there — to give some of this music a proper release.

After we both moved back to the Bay Area, we decided to start up a party and see how audiences up here liked the music. That was two and a half years ago.

SFS: How did the name come into play?

DS: Honestly, we didn't put a ton of the thought into the name. Cumbia and a lot of Caribbean rhythms are often lumped together as música tropical, and we really liked using a lot of tropical imagery in our flyers and other artwork, so we started with that. Tormenta Tropical means "tropical storm", and a lot of the cumbia and other music we play has a lot of bass and low end, so it sort of made sense metaphorically. Plus, Tormenta Tropical has the whole alliteration thing going on, so that's a bonus.

SFS: Why do you think this party is so successful?

DS: When we started the party, we really didn't know if anyone in the Bay Area would actually like it, so it's still kind of amazing that people keep showing up and seem to genuinely love Tormenta Tropical. It is a really unique atmosphere because even though we're playing a lot of Latin music and songs with lyrics that aren't in English, our crowds are very mixed. Gringos and hipsters dance right alongside Latinos and cumbia diehards. More than anything, I think people really respond to the fact that the music is just fun dance music.

On top of that, the type of cumbia we're playing, which often marries traditional rhythms with everything from heavy bass to rap lyrics to dancehall, really resonates with Latin kids who grew up here in the U.S., particularly the folks who listened to hip-hop on the radio while hearing cumbia at family functions. Lots of other Latin parties are more rooted in traditional and/or vintage sounds, but we're doing something more modern. Tormenta Tropical is not about nostalgia, and I think people like that.

SFS: Your DJ moniker is simple yet effective, how did you decide on it?

DS: I actually hate my DJ name, and I didn't make it up. And no, it has nothing to do with Disco Stu from the Simpsons. In the early days of my time at Live 105, I was called Disco Shawn as a sort of inside joke. At the time, some people at the station were calling things "disco" to mean "lame."

One day, the music director Aaron Axelsen called me Disco Shawn on the air, and the name stuck. As I started DJing more and more, I figured that I may as well call myself Disco Shawn and build on the tiny level of notoriety that I had. What a colossal mistake! Ten years later I'm still using Disco Shawn and I guess I'm stuck with it. It's admittedly a horrible DJ name, especially because I don't really play much disco.

SFS: What do you think of the current San Francisco music scene?

DS: Like any major city, the San Francisco music scene has its strengths and weaknesses. I actually like all kinds of music; for instance, I also run an indie rock label called Double Negative Records. There are certainly some good things going on in that scene, especially with the whole garage rock sound.

When it comes to electronic music, things are a little less inspiring these days. Unfortunately, Burners kind of run the show in San Francisco and I'm not really down with the whole urban-hippie-white-dreads scene. Even worse, it seems like these folks have adopted wobble-bass dubstep as their sound of choice, which I'm not a fan of.

Apart from that, there just aren't enough good parties going on. I don't know if it's because promoters aren't creative or the city just doesn't have enough of an audience for this music, but it's kind of a shame, especially because San Francisco is supposed to be a great party city.

SFS: Where would you like to see it head toward?

DS: I'd like to see more promoters taking chances with new sounds and new artists.

SFS: What do you think of the recent crackdown of underground parties?

DS: I rarely do parties in underground spaces, so this hasn't affected me too much, but I do think San Francisco needs to seriously chill out when it comes to nightlife. I'm all for maintaining safety, but it seems like a lot of this enforcement is motivated by the new money that has moved into the city over the past decade.

It's just bizarre to me that people would pay a million dollars to buy a loft in SoMa or Mission districts that are known for nightlife, only to start complaining about it and getting the city machinery involved. Why move to these neighborhoods in the first place? There are plenty of spots, even within San Francisco, that are full of peace and quiet. Furthermore, it just seems to me that there are much more pressing issues that police and local government could be focusing on.

Again, San Francisco is internationally recognized as a fun-loving, laid-back city, yet clubs are turning the lights on at 1:45am and pulling drinks out of people's hands to usher them outside, and not just out of the club, but also down the block. I understand why the clubs are doing this — the city has put all the liability in their laps — but is this really necessary?

Check out the Icee Hot blog, http://iceehot.wordpress.com/