Interview by Chris Zaldua
For San Franciscans of a certain era and persuasion, Dave Aju should be no stranger. The musician, producer, and DJ was an SF mainstay for many years (17, in fact, as he notes below), a fixture in our post-minimal scene during the mid-late ’00s and beyond.
Dave (aka Marc Barrite; again, more on that below) has been busy lately, releasing a slew of records in recent past and with more on the way. He’s also no stranger to As You Like It dancefloors, having graced the decks alongside favorites like DJ TLR, Magic Mountain High (Move D + Juju & Jordash), Sammy Dee, and more.
This Friday, Sept. 22, he’s making his return as part of AYLI’s Bloom series at Monarch, supporting Canadian house music wizard The Mole during his San Francisco debut. He supplied AYLI with a new exclusive podcast, and we sent him a handful of interview questions to peek behind the curtain. Read on, and catch him in action on Friday.
CZ First things first — tell me about Dave Aju. Who is he? Is there a story behind the moniker… or does it just sound good? (Because it does!)
DA: I first used the name as a new alias for a leftfield techno night in SF back around 2000 at the infamous An Sibin bar with the homies The Tourist, Raf One, and Wrong. It’s a spoonerism of Deja Vu, which I first heard in the track “Geembo’s Theme” by Brooklyn hip-hop crew The Arsonists, and loved the subtle undercover wordplay of it. Plus it sounds like a ethnically-ambiguous dude’s real name, and my middle name is David, so hey!
CZ: Correct me if I’m wrong, but you are San Francisco born-and-raised, no? Tell me about your roots in the Bay Area.
DA: I was born and raised in the South Bay, but spent about 17 years in SF proper.
CZ: On that note, I believe you’re now Berlin-based. Tell me about your new home and the ways it’s affected you musically.
DA: I was based in Berlin for the last four years or so, but have been splitting my time between there and LA for the past year, and just recently, like just this week, have made LA my home base for the foreseeable future.
CZ: Tell me about your musical history. Your roots lie in hip-hop and drumming — when and where did you discover DJing?
DA: My dad was a part of the East Bay jazz scene of the 50s and 60s, and raised me accordingly on his roots, and a couple of my closer brothers, one who was actually a radio and party DJ in the late 80s-early 90s, schooled me a lot on various kinds of music including mixing and collecting records. My first aim was to be a drummer, and some friends and I started a wannabe band, but by the time I started getting more serious into music it was mainly hip-hop I was producing and involved in. Eventually that combined with the SF underground rave scene influences to arrive at the supremely bastardized and mixed-up sound of my own.
CZ: Let’s talk about your AYLI mix. Did you have any particular ideas or themes in mind when you were putting it together? How does it represent you as a DJ?
DA: Lately with the whole moving and relocation thing going on, I’ve been considering my roots and influences much more, and think this mix serves as a good example of that — I’ve never had an interest in limiting things to a specific genre, which seems to be happening way more than ever at the moment… that’s very dangerous and divisive, I feel… there is so much goodness coming from different camps and styles and cultures, and life is way too short to close so many doors. But then again, I was lucky enough to come up in a period where we could literally walk in and buy records from different sections at shop like Open Mind Music, rather than have algorithms or the great Filter Bubble decide our direction. The best mixes are those that mix things in more than two ways.
CZ: How do you prepare your DJ sets? What considerations go into your sets before you get in the booth — and what ends up changing when you’re there, in the moment?
DA: It really depends on the night. In the case of this mix, since it’s a podcast mix for listening but still based on club-music, more or less, it’s a bit more wide-ranging than certain sets would otherwise be in a live situation, especially considering slot time. I learned right away in the Berlin scene about taking your time to transition from styles and energy levels — especially since the clubs’ running hours are really different than back home out here. In any case, setting a mood, building with with the crowd, and keeping it as warm as possible are always good considerations.
CZ: You’ve been very busy in the recent past, releasing no less than 5 records last year. What’s inspiring you as a producer these days, and what’s next for you?
DA: Yeah, last year I released a lot of music — 7 releases total if you include remixes and the first EP of the band project KAMM I did with fellow SF ex-pats Alland Byallo, Kenneth Scott, and Marc Smith. That project really helped remind me of the broader options out there musically, and also brought back some of that original West Coast feel that I felt I was lacking a bit from being out in the cold of Berlin for awhile. These days, I am definitely refocusing on that angle. Ever since last November, for political and personal reasons, I have felt a deep internal urge to get back in touch with more soul and emotion in music again — not that the feeling of dancing in itself is not an emotion, but also to look beyond to more expressive possibilities as well. I’ve started some new projects exploring that, which are pretty exciting; meanwhile, I’m seeing the Dave Aju project move back towards more color and sun, sonically and literally.
CZ: What kind of music is really lighting your fire right now? Could be dance music you’re excited to play out, music you come home to relax to, anything that’s touching and inspiring you.
DA: For newer stuff in the dance music world, all the stuff Bradley Zero is doing with his labels like Rhythm Section and Int’l are always on point for me — warm, timeless, soulful floor jams that will still work and sound good when all the other hype and trends pass, as they always do. Outside the club world, the music of Moses Sumney is about as fresh and lovely as I’ve heard lately. Then of course I always listen to and take in classics, especially jazz and Brazilian records inherited from my dad, to relax and feel at home to.
CZ: Last but certainly not least, tell me about the San Francisco treats you’re excited to devour when you’re back in the Bay. I’m guessing this won’t include Rice-a-Roni, but no judgment if it does.
DA: I never make enough time to really go as crazy as I’d like on SF food tours — though will be visiting a lot more again, since I’m back in Cali now! But for this way-too-short-of-a-homecoming visit, I’ve got my sights on Señor Sisig, xiao long bao at Yank Sing, some Kumamotos at Swan or Hog Island, and maybe La Palma on 24th this round. Especially since our buddy Colin The Mole is coming into town for his first time ever, gotta show him some of the goods!