House music is in the Bay Area’s blood. Lots of different kinds of electronic music have come out of the Bay, and many scenes and micro-scenes have made their mark here. But it’s hard to deny that a certain kind of house music, injected with funk, jazz, and disco stylings, is the bread and butter of Bay Area dance-floors.
Ivan Ruiz is that kind of West Coast DJ, an old-school Bay Area selector with forward-thinking taste. He’s put his time in working in various San Francisco record stores — more on that below — and is a founding member of Moulton Music, a crew of producers and DJs that embody that particular deep, soulful house music sound.
Ruiz has mixed the latest edition in the As You Like It podcast, which you can hear above. We’ve checked in with him to read about his beginnings as a DJ, how he packs his record bag (analog, digital, or both), and what he’s listening to outside the dance-floor. He’s DJing this Saturday, Aug. 3, when As You Like It takes over the Gingerbread Danzhaus for a two-floor shindig featuring one of the best new players in the biz, rRoxymore, alongside other talented locals. Grab tickets now.
CZ: Tell me where you’re from and how you landed in the Bay Area.
IR: I’m originally from Salinas, California, nestled in the heart of the Monterey Bay. I moved to San Francisco in early ’04 to attend college at SF State.
CZ: Your roots in Bay Area dance music run deep. How’d you get your start? What made you want to become involved, and when did you start DJing?
IR: I was fortunate enough as a child to grow up around “DJ culture” as long as I can remember. My uncle & his friends were all local DJ’s in the Central Coast, from the late ’80s through to the late ’90s. Shout out to my uncle Ruben, Joey, Noel, MG, Joe Apodaca & the whole gang, THANK YOU!
I was always fascinated by their turntables, mixer, and the constant flow of never ending rhythms pulsing through the speakers. I could listen, dance, sit back & enjoy the musical soundtrack provided by the DJ for hours on end. I was hooked, needless to say — a junky for the beat! From that very moment I knew I wanted to become a DJ, because I loved music & wanted to share that same feeling. I began “messing around” on the turntables in about ’93 unofficially, but it wasn’t until ’98 that I began to DJ out in public, or on the radio. One thing I certainly knew, I did not want to make myself look like a fool in public — hahaha. Reputation speaks volumes in my book!
Around 1993, I met one of my best friends, Ruben Peña, in 7th grade. He introduced me to a Mark Farina mix tape & blew my mind. It was unlike anything I had ever heard at the time — I couldn’t get enough of it, and from that point on, House Music ruled my world. Shout out to the Peña’s & vintage Cerwin Vega!
CZ: You’ve worked at a slew of Bay Area record shops, including the legendary Amoeba and Tweekin Records. Obviously, things have changed as far selling records is concerned. You must have some juicy stories from back in the day — are there any funny anecdotes that stick out in your mind? Or maybe a story about how a record you didn’t expect to sell sold like crazy?
IR: I could probably write an anonymous blog about all of our mischievous, wild & crazy filled banter from my experiences working in records stores throughout the years!
On a few particular occasions while working at InHouse Records off of 6th & Mission, Miss Honey Dijon would come through and shop for music. Not only would she shop for records, she would also get behind the record store’s DJ set up, consisting of 3 decks plus a Rane rotary mixer, & jam the fuck out! It was an epic experience for those who happen to have witnessed it, wish we would have recorded those sessions.
Having worked at various record stores throughout the years, InHouse Records will always hold a special place in my heart. It provided the foundation to expand my thirst & quest to better myself musically & play records outside the box. Respect to Leonard & Naz!
CZ: Tell me about your AYLI mix. How’d you put it together? Is there a concept behind the mix?
IR: Well, I can say that it’s mixed with lots of LOVE! Live, raw, uncut, unedited live experience is what I try to express throughout all of my DJ sets, whether it’s a Downtempo or House set. It’s always been about a groove, vibe, or feeling when I DJ. Not much of a concept to be honest, I just grabbed records from my collection that I thought were dope, vibed them out & then hit record!
One thing I try to do is always end my sets with a few songs that influence me, & it doesn’t even have to be Dance Music. For example, U.F.O., A Tribe Called Quest, & Harry Mundie Meets King Tubby are all artists that I ended this set with. I feel it adds more character & overall feeling to your set, kinda like a “break from the norm” type of thing, while exposing others to something they might not have been familiar with.
CZ: Tell me about the projects you’re involved in besides your own DJing. I know you’re a member of the Moulton Music crew, and you’ve been running your own podcast mix series called Hidden Cove. Tell me about these — and any other crews or projects you’re part of.
IR: Moulton Music has always been a family run project, consisting of Homero Espinosa, Chris Lum, David Harness, The SyntheTigers (Allen, Sergio, Tobirus), Nina Lares, Anish & myself. All things House Music — we eat, breathe, & shit House Music. Past, Present, Future, you name it, & that’s what I love about our family. We host events in SF & the greater Bay Area from time to time with DJs Louie Vega, Mark Farina, Ultra Nate, & many others.
I’ve been doing my Hidden Cove podcast for years, but slowly it has morphed into what I call the “Ivan & Friends Podcast.” This is where I showcase any of my old sets from the past 20+ years, along with friends of course. The whole concept came from the time I was featured in URB Magazine, highlighting my very first Hidden Cove mix. Thanks to Tim & Derek for encouraging me to submit the mix to URB! Also, big ups to my boys & soldiers Delta Funk (Dusty, CJ Larsen, Izzy, Roman & Rob) & the Acid Totem crew, love y’all!
CZ: What kind of DJ sets inspire you? What makes you want to push and develop your own skills as a DJ?
IR: I like eclectic DJ sets, those really inspire me. Always taking risks, stepping outside your comfort zone to expose crowds to music that might otherwise go hidden. FK, Ernie Munson, DJ Spun, DJ Garth, Jenö, DJ Harvey, Greg Wilson, Ben UFO, Kenny Dope, DJ Spinna, DJ Premier, LTJ Bukem, Theo Parrish, Giles Peterson, Jazzanova … the list can go on. Getting to know & digest my music better & also preparing new music ahead of time are two aspects that I need to improve upon.
CZ: What kind of preparation do you do before a gig? How do you pick tracks? And how does what you end up playing differentiate from what you had in mind?
IR: Depends on the gig. Typically I’m well organized & have music ready for just about any occasion. What is a challenge is processing all of the new music I get sent, plus what I buy & rediscover. It usually takes me time to transfer it over to my Rekordbox playlist if I’m playing digital files, but once it’s in my playlist I’ll make good use of it. I’m a pretty spontaneous dude, so if I’m currently feeling a certain song/track I rediscover in my hard drive, I immediately put it in the playlist. I try to keep that “record bag” mentality — I got room for about 50-60 tracks. Let’s make this fun & see if these selections work in a live setting. That’s the beauty & challenge of deejaying for me!
Some people want their DJ sets to be perfect, “can’t risk playing that old track, that’s a wild pitch record” type of shit. Fuck all that, life isn’t perfect & neither are you. Take a risk & have fun, I say, those are words I live by! Ride that pitch baby! I’m an analog soul living in a digital world.
CZ: Last but not least, tell me about some music you’re listening to lately. Could be new, could be old, and it doesn’t have to be dance music — anything that’s got you hooked right now.
IR: Been listening to a lot of Talking Heads lately. David Byrne was simply a genius ahead of his time. Always love listening to new & old BBE Records compilations, their A&R really knows what’s up for quality music regardless of genre. Plus Azymuth, a Brazilian Jazz-Funk Fusion band, featured on Far Out Recordings & old DJ Mix Tapes (gotta find what version is that??).