Interview by Chris Zaldua.
Some of the most exciting new energy in San Francisco dance music has come from a close-knit group of techno heads — often spotted out together on the dance-floor, usually clad in black.
Two of those techno heads, David Grunzweig (aka Tape Ghost) and Eugenia Puglisi (aka sleepygirl), have commandeered the latest edition of As You Like It’s podcast series. And although they are techno fanatics in the true sense — read below for some of the recent club nights and gigs that have inspired them — their AYLI podcast features a house-flavored twist, a lighter mood than we might expect from them.
The two will DJ back-to-back this Friday, May 10, as part of a two-floor As You Like It takeover at Monarch in San Francisco. They’ll heat up the Lounge upstairs while Call Super, Jason Kendig, and Dr. Rubinstein turn the basement into a techno dungeon — the last batch of tickets is available here. Sounds blissful, if you ask me.
CZ: Tell me where you’re both from and how you landed in the Bay Area.
DG: Most of my childhood was in Spokane, Washington, which is a fairly isolated place geographically but has beautiful mountains and forests. I moved to the Bay Area for school in 2012 and then moved up to San Francisco in January of 2016 for a job at a music technology company.
EP: I was born and raised in the Bay Area — I grew up in Stanford, and lived in San Francisco. I am also Italian and have spent all of my summers growing up near Parma in Emilia-Romagna in Northern Italy, where my mother is from.
CZ: Tell me about your passion for music. David, I know you’re a producer. Eugenia, are you, too? What made you both fall in love with electronic music?
DG: I played in a jazz, funk, and soul band in college for three years and I fell in love with performing and the feeling of sharing music with people. Afterwards, I went to a music technology program for graduate school and got immersed in the academic music world, especially early computer and electronic music. It was around then that I started listening to early Chicago House and Detroit Techno records, because they bridged the gap between the 60s and 70s electronic music and soul and jazz influenced music I was used to playing. Stuff like Paperclip People, Plastikman, Mr Fingers, and Basic Channel really rocked my world.
EP: My dad would play us a lot of jazz, blues, soul, and disco in our home growing up, and I played in a classical symphony throughout high school. Dancing also played an essential role for me — I trained in ballet for twelve years, where learning how to react to music in a timely, graceful way, and express myself as intertwined with music was a daily practice. Dancing in the full-length ballets like Swan Lake, Giselle, La Bayadere was very influential to me. I first fell in love with electronic music by exploring and experiencing the club, in particular my first summer forays in Berlin, where I discovered underground electronic music for the first time. After the summer of 2014, I came back to university and connected with my friend Mac who also wanted to keep this energy alive, and we began teaching ourselves how to DJ and throwing DIY techno parties. This was kind of where it all began, collecting music, throwing underground parties for ourselves, for our friends. As for producing, I’ve started experimenting with it. Stay tuned.
CZ: Tell me about the first time that a DJ set, or a club night, or a dancefloor experience, left a real mark on you, and made you know you wanted to play a part in this culture.
DG: The live music or local music scene in Spokane was really small, so going out to shows had never been a part of my life till I lived in San Francisco. When I moved to SF, I was lucky to have some friends here who were already in touch with the music scene, especially Caleb Rau. He took me to most of my first club shows in 2016 — I have many fond memories of the Surface Tension, Parameter, Sure Thing, DTE, and AYLI parties from those years. For me, the most inspiring nights were seeing great live performers. A few live sets that stand out to me from that time period are Russell E.L. Butler, Rrose and Kit Clayton, Shackleton, Aurora Halal, Artefakt, and Korridor. I think especially the Rrose and Kit Clayton show was important for me, I remember during Kit’s set everyone just started sitting down on the floor at F8 and got power washed by the bass drones. I can’t think of another time anything like that has happened in the middle of a club night.
EP: It is hard to point to one specific event, but what comes to mind are the first few times I went to Panorama Bar, before I really knew anything about house and techno. On my first visit, Monika Kruse was playing on a Sunday morning, the sunlight was streaming in through the blinds, and she was playing an edit of Peggy Lees “Fever,” and I remember being struck by this communal feeling of joy, and this overwhelming sense that I had stepped into a utopian place that I did not understand but I felt certain I was a part of. I wanted to help create this feeling of freedom, a space of self-reflection and open expression for others, the way that this music had done so for me.
CZ: Tell me about your AYLI podcast. Have you two DJed back-to-back before? What sort of planning and preparation went into it? Did you have a certain goal you wished to accomplish?
DG: The first time we met was at a small gig we had both been booked for and we ended up playing b2b at the end of the night as the party thinned out. DJing has always been part of our friendship, and over time it became clear that we were both searching for the same thing in music but coming at it from different directions. This has lead to a natural consistency in mood but variety in aesthetics in our sets. We try to keep our pools secret from each other and instead agree on an atmosphere and arc we want to tell. In the booth, when Eugenia drops a track, I’m either immediately requesting the ID or saying “I love this track!”
For this podcast, we wanted to present the House-influenced side of our music collections. We tried to create an arc that ran from our mellow tracks to the more pumping ones without moving outside of a restrained sound design palette. We like to keep the transitions long and ride out those extended grooves.
EP: David and I began being friends through being booked to play back to back for party over two years ago, and this was how we first met. Intentionally sharing music had always been a part of our friendship. I will never forget cueing up “A Wonderful Life” at that first gig and David pulling out the vinyl copy of it he had happened to bring. This past year we played back-to-back for Asterisk shows, which Caleb and David asked me to become a resident for last year. Our tastes overlap in dub techno, hypnotic techno, and IDM, but with this AYLI podcast, we wanted to explore our tastes in atmospheric, soulful, dreamier shades house, with a minimal touch.
CZ: Tell me what you both aspire to as far as DJing is concerned. Which DJs inspire you? What separates an excellent DJ set from a mediocre one, in your view?
DG: My aspirations as a DJ are fairly vague at this point. I would say I’ve done most of what I wanted to do so far which is have some fun, play for my friends, and become closer with the DJs and artists here who inspire me. I feel truly lucky to be in this city and participate in the thriving scene here, I’m focusing on finding contentment and joy in developing my skills without knowing what it will lead to. My goals for this year are to play a few more ambient sets, play an extended set outdoors, and to collaborate with some new people.
A few DJs who really showed me the power of a set would be Cio D’Or and Lucy. Layered extracts from a variety of different tracks recombined into something totally new and unexpected. Atmospheric, hazy, strange and otherworldly sound design, restrained tempos and intricate rhythmic patterns.
What separates an excellent set from a mediocre set is the DJ’s knowledge and love of their music library and willingness to be diverge from trends in order to show you something unexpected. My favorite experience is hearing someone play a set in a genre that I don’t think I like, but they’re so genuinely happy to share it with you and knowledgeable that their passion is contagious. I had that experience at Gays Hate Techno with Gabber and at Chillits with New Age.
EP: My aspirations as a DJ right now are to keep honing my skills, curating more intimate, immersive events with my friends, and hopefully playing more ambient sets and open air festivals. For me what separates an excellent DJ set from a mediocre one is when transitions and selections are able to set a unique atmosphere, create a sort of world that invites in the crowd, and goes beyond being just functional for the dance floor. DJs like M50 (the founder of the record label Kimochi), DJ Dustin, Ryan Elliott, and more recently Forest Drive West, have all inspired me.
CZ: What other musical or creative projects are you involved with?
DG: Most of my time is spent working on producing with my friend Johan Ismael as Night Sea. We meet at least twice a week for 3-6 hours each time. Last year was a wonderful year, we were thrilled to play at MUTEK SF and Chillits, two events that really inspire us. We’ve taken a long break from performing live or DJing and we’ve been working on an album for nearly a year at this point. We just finished up our writing period and are moving to mixing and editing now. It’s all ambient techno with shades of dub and minimal.
E: Outside of music I am a writer, and have been working on a few pieces of poetry and creative nonfiction I hope to release in the next months. I also recently began a mix series with Ghunghru, a label out of the Bay Area founded by our friend Arushi, called the Shape of Memory. Inspired by a collection of poems by Constance Hunting, the purpose of my mix series is to ask each artist to share, in some form, a distinct memory they hold in their minds, and express that memory over the arc of a mix. This can be interpreted however one feels best suits their vision — whether a track selection that evokes that central time, place, or person, or a weaving of sounds that reflects the narrative of the feeling in that memory, or anything in between.
CZ: What’s next for you both, musically? Any gigs or releases you can share news about?
DG: We’ll be playing our AYLI debut on May 10th, I couldn’t be more thrilled to work with this team. I’ll be DJing at an event in June called “Forbidden Transitions.” Releasing this album with Night Sea at some point this year when it feels ready. I’ve been writing a new live set for my solo project, hoping to share that a few more times. Hoping to release some ambient podcasts along the way as well.
EP: I am playing a ambient set for Leftfieldish, a new downtempo, ambient, and experimental day party happening in San Francisco on June 1. Other than that, I am working on a personal mix which I will be self-releasing this summer.
CZ: Last but not least, tell me about some music that’s gotten you in the groove — dance music or otherwise, new or old.