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Last Night a DJ Saved My Life
by Christina Li on Sep 16, 2009
Derek Hena is a true San Francisco powerhouse. From booking the newest up and coming acts at Mighty to being one of the founders of Pink Mammoth, and DJing at opportune gigs, his dynamic persona is what sets him apart from others in the industry. Fresh from Burning Man and getting ready for the epic LovEvolution, Derek dishes with SF Station about parties, music, and future plans.
SF Station (SFS): First off, how was Burning Man?
Derek Hena (DH): Burning Man 2009 was clearly the best one to date. Pink Mammoth effectively dominated the daytime vibe on the Playa. Our setup this year was much more involved than in years past. We purchased a bunch of custom cut steel for the structure frame and also bumped up the sound. Not only did it look warm and inviting, it sounded it too. Our DJs and guests knew exactly how to play to the packed crowd each day. Each new song was like an unwrapped present on Christmas Day, giving such pleasure and joy to all of those around to experience. We had Marques Wyatt throw down a special sunset two hour set on Friday. Here is some great footage from it:
We ran out of booze early on in the week but had some friends of friends run to Reno to purchase some more. While many of us camping with PM didn't really have a chance to see or experience a lot else out there, it definitely did not take away from the enjoyment and sense of satisfaction we had from our experience. Some other factors that made it great were the lack of dust storms and the playa being nice and hard to ride on.
SFS: Tell us more about Pink Mammoth!
DH: Pink Mammoth's roots stemmed from Pinky's, a daytime camp that ran from 1999-2003. Pinky said he couldnt' keep handling all of the work and asked Ryel K and myself if we wanted to carry the torch. He just asked that we didn't call it "Pinky's". Since Ryel and I met as ski instructors, or rather ski bums, at Mammoth Mountain in 2002, we decide to call it Pink Mammoth. After discussing setting up our HQ in different cities, San Francisco seemed the logical choice. Most recently we've been concentrating more on throwing events/parties at various venues around town. Some are big, some are small, some have headliners, and some are just plain good old house parties.
SFS: What do you attribute the success of these parties to?
DH: The success of our parties is directly related to our promotional efforts and our organized, laid back, and compassionately silly vibe. We have such a great crew of people who all jump in where they are needed. I think the best part is that all of us involved with Pink Mammoth do it as a hobby. All of us have real full time jobs such as a doctor, web developer, contractor, painter, sommelier, real estate agent, steel worker, nightclub manager, and welder. I think we channel our love for what we do to what we love to build together and this resonates with the crowd that comes to support the parties and events. When Ryel and I first started PM the dotcom bubble had just burst and a lot of people were down about how the party scene had changed from what it was. One of the compliments we frequently fielded was that PM was restoring that party vibe that once existed. I think we've done a great job of building something unique and genuine. If success were completely measured by how much fun we have enjoying the fruits of our labor, then we struck gold. People can tell right away at Burning Man or at our annual parade float that we are all about having a good time.
SFS: Was that what influenced you to start DJing or did you start before that?
DH: I had turntables in my house or apartment from 1998 onwards, but it wasn't until 2003 that I decided to start learning how to mix. I have always been the guy at the club that was the first to arrive and the last to leave. For me it is all about the dance floor. If anything watching DJs that are masters at their craft made me realize how much I didn't want to learn because I wanted to be part of their journey. The fire that was lit under my bottom happened at Pinky's in 2003 when I tried to mix a few records. What a disaster that was! I was so embarrassed. I decided that I would practice in our studio and never play out until I felt comfortable doing so.
I remember my first time spinning at the Monkey Club on Bryant and 21st where we used to have a Thursday happy hour. I was so nervous. It went well though. I can't say that all of the gigs I have had have gone well. To be honest, I don't really consider myself a DJ nor do I really play out that much. I usually save it for Burning Man, the parade, or house parties with an occasional gig here and there. I'd much rather leave the magic to Pink Mammoth's main DJs who spend a lot of time getting new music and playing out. It seems everyone in the Bay Area is a DJ, meaning they identify themselves as one when asked. I do not. While I have the opportunity to DJ, just because I can count to four and beatmatch doesn't make me a DJ. I think being a DJ goes much further beyond that and having music to play.
SFS: What's your favorite "type” of music to play?
DH: Hands down I love to play Latin house music. I used to live in South America and on purpose left all of my 2000 electronic music CDs in the states. I needed to get away from electronic dance music for a while because I was starting to think I was going crazy with how much I was listening to it. Then of course I ended of finding myself dancing at the clubs and loving it over again. I don't know if the music found me or if I found it. It was in Peru that I was exposed to some great Latin music. I love the basslines, the drums, and the Spanish language. Having all of that put together on a nice soundsystem is such a blessing. What I also love is to see people dance Latin rhythms when they here a song dropped. It has such universal appeal. What I also love to do is spice up a set with some Latin sounds and take it deep or even tribal. The Latin house sound is very versatile.
SFS: What do you look for when booking a great act?
DH: What I look for now when booking a great act, whether at Mighty or with Pink Mammoth at another venue, is timing. I used to work at Mezzanine before Mighty and used to think that because some act may be huge elsewhere in the world that it will be easy to get people to come out in SF. SF has a reputation for being an open and cultured place, but with clubbing events it is really tricky. Sometimes the act has a proven track record in SF, so booking them is an easy call, especially if there is not a lot of competition that particular evening or weekend. Sometimes they have no track record. I am so happy that Pink Mammoth now has a built in following and reputation that can allow us to do educate people with acts that don't have track records in SF. We booked the Martinez Brothers back in June this year and had to really educate the masses about how they were. We also got a lot of extra support and help from other promoters and friends who wanted to see the show be a success.
SFS: Any memorable gigs or experiences you would like to share?
DH: We've had such a great run of fantastic events there are just too many to list. But some that stand out are the annual parade float we build and, of course, our camp at Burning Man. This past year on Friday I had the chance to play super, deep, soulful house from 3pm-4pm. I played around 125 bpm to a completely packed house and it was fantastic being able to play a very introspective deep set. It would have been so easy to drop bombs and watch people explode. Instead it was great just maintaining the pink vibe and watching people take in the atmosphere. I thoroughly enjoyed seeing all of the bikes blocking the streets due to the amount of people at PM.
SFS: What are you looking forward to most during LovEvolution?
DH: What I'm looking forward to the most is collaborating with Mighty to do the Official SF LovEvolution Pre-Party Friday, October 2nd. We're bringing back the Martinez Brothers and they are going to also play on the float the next day. At the pre-party we'll have our float parked out front along with the El Tonayense Taco Truck. Mighty and Pink Mammoth are buying the 1st 100 tacos. Should be another long weekend of fun. What I am also excited about is that I have booked the legendary NYC's Body and Soul party on Sunday, October 4th. It will be B&S's first ever SF appearance. Francois K, Danny Krivit, Joaquin "Joe" Claussell will all be DJing along with lights by Ariel. It will be a long but fun weekend at Mighty!
SFS: Plans to release any mixes or compilations soon?
DH: I know that there are a few live recordings of some DJ sets from a few PM events. I have been wanting to put together a double disc of some of my favorite tracks but really have no idea where to start. I get asked all the time about putting something together. I know it's in the works, so let's set at date now. Maybe that is what I need to do so that then I have the impetus. How does December 23, 2009 sound? That's my 32nd birthday. Perhaps it will make me feel like 30.
Check out the latest at www.pinkmammoth.org! And be sure to catch the Martinez Brothers in their second San Francisco stop http://lovevolutionpreparty.eventbrite.com
by Christina Li on Sep 16, 2009