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Thursday, September 28, 2023

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Talking beat evolution with SF native producer Dave Aju

Talking beat evolution with SF native producer Dave Aju

New album 'TXLAX' arrives, loaded from tip to tail with deep house cuts and future funk darts.

For years, Marc Barrite built out his Dave Aju alias, a wordplay nom de plum for a San Francisco techno night in the early oughts, into a much-admired experimental dance floor model. Before Low-End Theory in Los Angeles, just after Drum and Bass ran through SF for a healthy stretch, Ajuʻs early arrangements, supported from jump by Parisian label Circus Company, established a template for West Coast experimental dance-floor compositions. Front-loaded with tree trunk bass, Detroit inspired techno meets electronic-funk, whiz-bang atmospherics, and vocals sped down or slowed up to deliver George Clinton-isms via processed voice. Once ʻthose joints” started making noise on the warehouse circuit and local Sunset parties, things got different.

Aju’s played DJ sets at famed Sonar and MUTEK festivals, Panorama Bar, Fabric, the fabulously divey Attic in SF (RIP), Housepitality Party, KONTROL, a little BBQ in McLaren Park every spring called “The Mo-Daddy Invitational”, and Gilles Peterson BBC WorldWide show. It makes no difference. The scene or status of the venue is immaterial. From Pete Rock to Pépé Braddock, Jimi Hendrix to Marcel Vogel, Caribou to CAN, Minnie Ripperton to Moodyman, the goal remains simple. Move bodies with soulful non-obvious ideas. Listen, dude was so deep in the hustle bag that for years his SF voice message literally asked: “press one for Marc and two for Dave”.

But what would you expect from a kid who raised by a Bay Area Jazz musician, Joe Barrite, an early peer of Pharoah Sanders? That aptitude, to flourish in the left-field edges, canʻt be taught. Finding success in the abstract quadrants of the global house scene was inescapable.

But sometimes simplicity breeds the most clarity.

After making three concept albums over the course of eleven years by way of found sounds and manipulated samples, with various EPʻs in between, fluctuating between gritty minimal techno and oddball house, with just a skosh of abstract bump in the middle on tastemaker labels from Mathew Herbert and Marcel Vogel … it was time for a change.

Barrite’s 2012 “Heirlooms” was a dedication to the passing of his father, comprised of Joe Barriteʻs archived work, and received an 8.0 rating from Pitchfork upon release. He chose to return to synths and drum machines for his fourth long-player.

So after spending five years in the techno capital of Berlin, the San Francisco native came back to California with a reset pass. TXLAX is his first album produced 100 percent in the Los Angeles sun. On first listen, it’s impossible to miss the sounds of nature. The appearance of birds, waves crashing on a beach, many sensations associated with air and sky, leap to the front of the 31-minute, eight-song project. Loaded from tip to tail with deep house cuts and future funk darts, there is a rhythm of stillness at work here.

We caught up with the producer.

48 HILLS Hey, whatʻs up Marc? The last time we chatted about projects it was the Off Weed or Sane EP from last year. Can you catch us up on the past year leading up to releasing TXLAX?

DAVE AJU Yes, that’s right! Kind of a perfect segue actually, as that EP took place as I was back-and-forth and then packing to leave Berlin, its title is a cheeky phonetic twist on saying goodbye in German, and TXLAX is the first work I have done 100% in LA since moving here full-time. A lot of the cultural immersion I dove head-first into like a desert oasis after the previous five years abroad. Taco trucks, reggaeton and trap blasting from car stereos, godsend music stations like KCRW and Dublab, the ever-shining sun and the Pacific Ocean, of course, loom large over the album’s influences. Along with the evolving of personal relationships, learning how deep the LA underground DJ scene and heads really get, and a stark reminder of the hustle needed to pay those Cali bills and prices. The past year I’ve started finding a bit more balance between navigating the fickle gig and club scene Stateside, working more in the studio on other peoples’ projects, doing mixdowns, etc., and teaching the youth over at Musician’s Institute in Hollywood to give back in a way and pay it forward.

48 HILLS That makes sense. Good on ya. I hope those kids know how lucky they are to have an upstart educator. It’s funny as I’ve heard this new project in different phases. I told you earlier, as someone who has listened to your music along in DJ booths, dancefloors, “Clubbing In Spain” podcasts etc, TXLAX sounds completely different. Not old SF Dave AJU or recent Berlin incarnations. It’s a new third rail of growth. Do you sense a difference in the sound?

DAVE AJU Yeah, I definitely sense a step forward or away from some of my past work with this one as well. Part of that is simply technical—everything else, especially the three previous LPs were made using microphone recorded found sounds and or wildly flipped samples, where this one is using a more familiar sonic palette in some classic synths and drum machines. A lot of current dance music seems obsessed with the old boxes again, so I wanted to take a crack at it, but do my best to keep my own aesthetic and not just imitate the ancestors who first mined that same gear. But the other change I assume is also a natural progression toward a more relaxed delivery. I enjoy chilling on the couch taking in a whole album or mix with eyes closed as much as I do being in the booth or the throngs of bubbling over club scene these days—guess the vibe kinda splits that difference a lil bit too?

48 HILLS That couch talk sounds like Alland Byallo these days. As you know he put out a beautiful EP, Rule of Thirds during autumn this year. And our other Berlin brethren AYBEE with his “Donʻt Fear The Sound” from The Astral Walkers project with Lars Bartkuhn. Another stunner. And now with your TXLAX—everybody is getting better, deeper with their personal sound. It is almost like you are all collectively just starting to hit peak strides with careers, that began SF/OAK based, then went to Berlin, showing no sign of creatively drying up. I wonder if you could speak to that. On my end, it is nice to see friends still doing it and doing it well, to quote LL Cool J.

DAVE AJU Yeah, Byallo and AYBEE are the super homies and kindred spirits of the Cali-Berlin junction for sure. All of our paths indeed first crossed in SF, but my Mom was originally from LA and my Dad was from Oakland, so we connect on that as well. They’re always making inspired art of various shades, I’m proud to call them peers, just like yourself my man. And it’s funny you mention LL, I just had one of my students at Musicians Institute come up to me after a class on golden era hip-hop that Cool James doesn’t seem to get the same level of props as many of his pioneering peers do; the dude was hard as hell or steel and the ladies loved him, literally.

48 HILLS Speaking of the students and younger ones. As we have this 13-year conversation on-going about jazz, Alice and John Coltrane, and how they both keep influencing what’s next from the popular to the underground, 4/4 based music, hip-hop, and experimental. How do you feel about the jazz revival, UK and US sides of the coin?

DAVE AJU The newfound excitement I see younger generations having for jazz now is great! Whether it took Kendrick’s leanings on To Pimp A Butterfly to get there or not is not what’s important, that 20-somethings are buying tickets to sold-out Kamasi Washington shows, Robert Glasper, and Esperanza Spalding as well, is inspiring. I see and hear the revivalist scene kettles in South London, Melbourne, and LA whistling on the stove and it’s beautiful. In the case of the former two hotspots, of course, Gilles Peterson is always the patron don and pushing some great new acts via comps and shows like Nubya Garcia, 30/70 and their creative offshoots. Here in LA, we’re blessed with Art Don’t Sleep’s exceptional Jazz Is Dead movement, which of course quasi-ironically promotes some of the best jazz shows I’ve ever seen. It definitely does more than their part in turning younger heads to the roots of the form. At both the Gary Bartz and Azymuth shows, produced by Art Donʻt Sleep, I fell somewhere in the middle age group, which certainly wasn’t the case with say, SF Jazz Fest 10 years ago. I’ve been listening to a lot of classics again lately due to their diligence, and of course, I was recently teaching the roots of Be-Bop. Watching the kids get as into Dizzy Gillespie sing Salt Peanuts as they are a new Skrillex mix feels very hopeful for the future.

48 HILLS On Ryan Porter’s The Optimist from 2018, which features The West Coast Get Down, you hear this openness to bring samplers, drum machines anything to the jazz table. Porter really nailed home the point there is enough room for everyone to eat. Which also supports a Miles Davis quote that sticks today. “You gotta play where the ears are at”. That’s the type of energy this new wave brings to jazz on all fronts. It’s beautiful.

DAVE AJU Nice nice, that’s the one. Gilles, speaking of the jazz patron don, picked up on from jump and has supported as well.

48 HILLS When did the concept of the airplane for TXLAX come about?

DAVE AJU Before I had fully committed to moving back home from Berlin, for about the last six months I was going back and forth a lot. I mean. A LOT. One month in and out give or take, attempting a long-distance relationship of sorts. So the track “TXLAX” was first written about that – I wanted it to evoke the feeling you get staring out a window seat on a long flight, yearning to get to where you’re headed. As well as have the sonic footprint of the two cities, or my take on them at least. The rest of the album followed suit and was built around the same image and idea, and then solidified with the last move.

48 HILLS Lemme tell ya. “Yulia” off your record. There is something extra special resonating with it. Kudos to you on just letting that mood just stay, hang and build. How did that track come about?

DAVE AJU “Yulia” is a very special piece for me on a number of levels. Starting from the least obvious, it actually went through two-plus years of iterations and was technically the first track of the set developed, ie. shouts out to v19.3, etc. Second, it is a direct dedication, tying back in with the Coltrane legacy. “Naima” is quite possibly my favorite piece of music ever made, I always felt there was nothing greater than to write a song directly to your partner publicly. It’s a suitable closer for the album because the woman it’s a tribute to was one of the main motivations for me to return to the West Coast. I won’t get into soppy rom-com personal details here but it’s been a pretty special ride so far.

TXLAX by Dave Aju is availble on Mule Musiq.

48 Hills welcomes comments in the form of letters to the editor, which you can submit here. We also invite you to join the conversation on our FacebookTwitter, and Instagram

John-Paul Shiver
John-Paul Shiverhttps://www.clippings.me/channelsubtext
John-Paul Shiver has been contributing to 48 Hills since 2019. His work as an experienced music journalist and pop culture commentator has appeared in the Wire, Resident Advisor, SF Weekly, Bandcamp Daily, PulpLab, AFROPUNK, and Drowned In Sound.

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