DJ Q&A: Vinnie Esparza

Last Night a DJ Saved My LifePlaying a plethora of local parties like Treat ‘Em Right and Olde Soul, Vinnie Esparza’s sounds vary from Latin samba to old-school jazz.

Preferring vinyl to the gadgets of modern technology, he spoke with us in a phone interview about his influences and preferences. Catch him May 1st at the Elbo Room.

Credit: Matthew Runeare

Your mixes feature samba, reggae, funk, jazz, and just about everything. What influenced you to get into those genres?

You know what’s funny? When I started doing radio, initially I started off by doing a metal and a punk show because that’s what I was into. But the station needed someone in the morning to program jazz and blues, so they said I could do a punk show if I programmed this jazz and blues show. That’s the best thing they could have done for me. That’s how I really got to learn about this stuff. There was whole new world of music I didn’t know.

When I moved to the city, I started meeting people that were into the same stuff, and we grew and learned together because that sort of music isn’t on the radio.

What’s the one genre that you think people are sleeping on?

I think people should really try and find appreciation for jazz. Jazz is kind of where everything really started, at least for me. Everything that is popular now from soul to R&B, all pretty much started with jazz. It may sound cliché to say that, but what someone could really do is just pay attention to the old sounds. And when I say old jazz records, I don’t mean Kenny G, I mean Coltrane that sort of thing. That for me is like ground zero of where to start, if you really want to appreciate everything that sprung from it. If you have an understanding of how jazz works, you can understand all the music that’s born from it.

You started out as a radio DJ and worked at record stores, and both are starting to meet their demise. For example. KUSF and local record stores are facing difficulties. What are your thoughts on it all?

It saddens me when stations like KUSF shut down, but I also see a resurgence happening. People are getting back into vinyl and analog. It won’t disappear, and there will always be a market for it.

Everything comes and goes in cycles. I think people are starting to shy away from the digital thing. People are buying things they can hold in their hand, instead of a touch of a button. It may not be the case for 16-17 year olds, but I think now that the people initially that started downloading everything and stopped buying CDs are changing their mindset when their hard drive crashes, and they lose all their shit. I think there’s something to be said when you go home and have a record collection in front of you. You can’t lose it at the touch of a button. More and more, people are getting into buying real records.

What’s one of the best parts of working at a record store for your DJ career?

With Groove Merchant being a collector’s record store that specializes in rare vinyl, I get to meet a lot of interesting people that come in and shop. This store has been like a university to me just by talking to people. I definitely try to take full advantage of that. Whenever I DJ, I play a mixture a soul, Latin, Brazilian, because that’s what this store represents to me — a mixture of music.

You’ve also been known to play all vinyl; do you still do so?

I do. I’m a little set in my ways at this point. I don’t hate Serato or anything. I have nothing against it, and I think it’s a great tool if you know what you’re doing, but I love records. I really enjoy playing with vinyl. Some people say it’s outdated and you’re busting your back hauling to and from gigs, but I suffer for my art (laughs). I still play records and will champion them until the day I die.

What’s one of your favorites?

The one I’ve been feeling lately is East New York Ensemble de Music, and it’s called At the Healm. It’s a super deep and spiritual album, and it recently got reissued on vinyl.

You have a couple of events like Treat ‘Em right and Hella Tight. Since these parties consist mostly of local DJs, what do you think the advantages are of not booking a $2,000 DJ?

I think it’s great to bring in a guest from time to time, but there’s plenty of talent in San Francisco. There are so many great DJs in the city. I can work with a different DJ every week for years on end, and still have plenty more people to choose from. There’s such a wide variety of styles and so many DJs know their stuff and are serious about it. There’s no reason why not to put them out. I’d much rather put on the homie from down the block than fly in some superstar DJ and pay him a ridiculous amount of money. I know most often I can get someone locally to do a better job.

What’s the vibe people get when they come and see you?

Well it’s going to be different music, but regardless of the nights, you can always rest assured that the music will be organic, real, and deep. It’s not going to be some slick slock of Top 40s music. I play music that sounded great 30 years ago that still sounds good today. I gravitate towards timeless records.

Find Vinnie at the following events:


Treat ‘em Right

with DJ B-cause & Guests

Every Second Friday


@ Elbo Room

647 Valencia St

San Francisco, CA 94110

Dub Mission

with DJ Sep & Guest DJ J Boogie

Check dubmissionsf for date.


@ Elbo Room

647 Valencia St

San Francisco, CA 94110

Olde Soul

with DJ B-cause & Guests

Every Last Thursday


@ Casanova

527 Valencia St

San Francisco, CA 94110