The Elbo Room in the Mission District of San Francisco gets pretty packed on a Sunday night, but it wasn’t always this way. Years of steady street-level promotion from an army of local DJs has built its Sunday night “Dub Mission” party into the place to be if you want to chill out and dance to Reggae and Dub music in the Bay Area as the weekend counts down its final hours. It also helps that each DJ intimately knows the music and can deliver on the promise for a night filled with grooves.
DJ Sep is the mastermind behind this busy night. With her team of J Boogie, Ludichris, Vinnie and Maneesh the Twister, Sep has spent the past five years taking “Dub Mission” to unforeseen heights.
“The night ideally has a tempo and a pace,” says Sep. “Start with a chill atmosphere and let people socialize, and then eventually get them out on the dance floor. It’s nice to have both of those things happen during the night.”
Sep discovered Reggae and Dub music while spinning Indie Rock and Post-Punk for the University of San Francisco’s radio station KUSF. A record by Adrian Sherwood’s Tackhead introduced her to an entire new world of sound and she was off.
“I explored some of the people Sherwood had worked with,” Sep says. “Lee Perry being a prime example. I became more aware of Reggae and Dub.”
Like many successful entrepreneurs, Sep saw an opening and went for it.
“I started DJing on a station called KPFA, a Pacifica station in Berkeley, Calif. I got a call one night asking where the listener could go to hear this music live, and there wasn’t really anyplace I could think of. There were Reggae clubs out here. but there wasn’t anything that emphasized dub, so I started a night.”
The Bay Area’s natural diversity coupled with many fine record shops gives Sep and her team two important advantages: A large potential audience to tap into, and excellent access to the music that keeps people coming back. Couple this with Sep’s widely listened to radio program and the synergy is perfect.
“People have sent me music for the radio show and for Dub Mission for the past five years,” says Sep. “There’s always more records out there than I could possibly spin and buy.”
Sep still enjoys, however, doing her own research, combing Bay Area music shops for just the right addition.
“Crate digging is part of what makes being a DJ interesting. The idea of going through different stacks and going to different stores, even just in Reggae and Dub. There’s so much music that’s been put out that you always come across new things. Taking it home and listening to it is still a big thrill. It’s a process of what you can do and never tire or finish.”
While she’s a musical maverick and always searching for the next new kick, Sep knows the importance of easing her listeners into the new sounds.
“Over time, I’ve been able to expose people to a lot of new music earlier in the evening. We feature different kinds of Dub. We have both today’s Dub and Classic Dub, Classic Roots and Dancehall. Things people might know, we play later on in the night.”
Live performances from touring acts can help dictate the direction of the night as well. “I also feature different people who come through and play live,” Sep says. “I customize the night towards where they’re coming from. There’s really a lot to explore.”
Keeping flexible works best in keeping her DJs interested and her audience ever expanding. “We have people who are interested in Reggae, some of whom were around in the late ’70s and early ‘80s when King Tubby, Lee Perry and the Scientists were putting out their records,” Sep says. “We have people who are college age just starting to explore this music. It’s men and women of all ages and different backgrounds.”
As for that age-old DJ question — vinyl or CD — Sep is expectedly open-minded here as well. “The system is mostly set up for vinyl,” she says. “A lot of the newer stuff is on CD, so I incorporate it. I think it depends on how the music was mastered. I prefer vinyl in some ways. It’s much more of a hands-on performance.
“I made a decision not to limit myself by format. Sep adds. “The music that is programmed is most important. The sound is secondary.”
Sep isn’t interested in limits. Currently she’s spinning at another Bay Area establishment, 26 Mix, once a month. Musical ideas are taken even further at 26 Mix, with a night Sep calls “Future Sound of Urban Rhythm.”
“Dub is the mother of a lot of different types of dance music: Drum and Bass, Techno, House, so it’s a natural outgrowth from that.” NCB