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Last Night a DJ Saved My Life
by Christina Li on Dec 04, 2008
Burning Man only comes once a year, but many are still left yearning for the sounds of the burner scene to free their dancing spirits. To the rescue is Syd Gris, who has become the Bay Area staple to those wanting to find an escape from everyday stresses and tribulations. A positive and uplifting DJ at heart, it is clear to see why he has gained the longevity and respect many DJs strive for. Sampling the sounds of electro, breaks and tech funk, his original beats and mixes demonstrate his willingness to take risks to get people together to get down and dance.
SF Station (SFS): What inspired you to start Opel Productions?
Syd Gris (SG): You could say I fell in love with the dance music scene here in SF hard and fast. I was moved by so many elements to the music and the community around it. I wanted to fuse my experiences in the more underground, "intentional", Burner scene I was a part of, and the more clubby big name DJ/production scene I also went out dancing in. Opel was, in part, an effort to fuse those 2 worlds while using the platform of the party and its promotion and message to raise consciousness and be a force of good in the community.
I know it sounds a little hokey, but it's still true. Thus, my e-mails and web site content can be quite political, and I realize some aren't down with that, but that has always been the vision of my involvement with the scene, whether that be Opel Productions, Opulent Temple at Burning Man, or SF LoveFest, which I also help organize. Opel's first couple years of parties were mostly benefits for charities and a variety of Burning Man projects, then it evolved into a more focused playa effort with Opulent Temple, and with Opel as a part time job.
SFS: How do you personally think the dance can change the world?
SG: On many levels. Most importantly, the experiences we have on the dance floor with ourselves can contribute to our own self development, if we are trying to have that kind of experience. I believe, with some intention behind it, it can help us become a better person, and quoting Socrates, "Let him who would move the world first move himself." On a community level, I think the dance scene here in SF is a vibrant community where people come out to feel connected to one another in the same way other communities have church.
And when put into action, the parties can raise awareness and funds for a variety of causes we have seen mobilized for over the years, from a local level to a national and even international one. On a socio-cultural values-based level, the tenets of our community: Peace, Love, Unity, Respect (PLUR!), are values the world can naturally use a lot more of.
SFS: What is your favorite type of music/music to play?
SG: I started DJ'ing downtempo while loving progressive trance, then started playing out breaks in one world, and progressive in another -- and have morphed into genre hopping best personified by the tech funk sound, combining elements of house, techno, electro and break beat. Lately, I've been really into the indie/'nu-disco' sound fusing sound vocabulary of rock and punk into dance music; appeals to my rocker roots. However, I still keep my ear to the progressive sound I came into the scene hearing for those nights I get to open for the likes of Tiesto, Armin Van Buuren, etc.
SFS: What do you like most about the underground/burner scene?
SG: The creative spirit, community vibe, and the 3 F's: friendliness, funkiness and freakiness.
SFS: What inspires you to continuously revolutionize your music? Is it the crowd or the sound systems in clubs...?
SG: I've been at it now for nine years, with Opel Productions and the Opulent Temple camp at Burning Man for almost seven. To stay fresh you have to evolve and adjust to what's happening, but I think it's also in the nature of our scene to always look to the horizon. There is small value on playing out the same shit, but instead an interest in new sounds and new music and that necessitates not getting too static. We've been unique in our ability to jump from venue to venue over the years based on what's hot and our mood so as not to be tied down to any one place and I think this has helped a lot as well.
SFS: What are some of your favorite local venues to play?
SG: Mighty and Ruby Skye's main rooms are both great in their own ways, the catacombs at Temple are nice and dark, the End Up in the pre-dawn hours is always solid, and of course there's nothing like playing a flame throwing DJ booth at Opulent Temple at Burning Man.
SFS: Since you have been in the San Francisco scene for so long, what changes do you predict and what has been the biggest change in the dance scene in the past few years?
SG: That's a tough one; I wrote a random column on the Opel site about this once and got a lot of shit for being too frank with my opinions. Well, it was also probably because I said that dubstep sucks my ass. . .There's no way the economic downturn won't have an effect on people's discretionary income to spend on clubbing in the near future. This might help the cheaper, smaller and underground parties that can keep the door low because they can run a bar. We have a unique continuity based on the community aspect that will help the community based collectives where people will go out just to see each other, but those aren't commercially viable for the big clubs that have to fill their parties and so might have to diversify more to bring in the crowds. I'd like to see more new blood from up and coming promoters and DJ's hungry to make their mark as people like me age out of the intense pace I've kept over the years.
SFS: Is it difficult to transition from your day job into a DJ in the night scene?
SG: Not really, been doing the 2 lives thing since I started. It's refreshing to change hats in both directions; I wouldn't want to do just one.
SFS: Favorite quote to keep you going each day?
SG: Happiness is a clear mind and an open heart.
To explore your horizons, and download sets from Syd Gris, click:
by Christina Li on Dec 04, 2008