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Arts + CultureMusicElectronic wiz Dave Aju puts his back into new...

Electronic wiz Dave Aju puts his back into new label Elbow Grease

'A driving principle is to be free from human ego, which may sound odd in the dance music realm, especially today'

In one of the first conversations I ever had with Bay-Area born, now Los Angeles-based Marc Barrite—circa 2006?—who records singular electronic dance music under the alias Dave Aju, he explained how hip-hop and electronic music were the two routes he’d focused on for making his tracks. Electronic won out  because at that time, in the early aughts, “the list was shorter.”

Now, I must have given him some type of look (I’m Charles Barkley-terrible at poker), because before I knew it he was beat-boxing, rapping, top rocking, and went into a windmill spin, minus the windbreaker.

Dude was kinda tight with it.

What I understood from jump is this: Dave Aju sees rhythm as a multi-verse. Throughout his two-decade career the overarching vessel for his self-described “dance floor trip” is most loosely the genre of house.

But within that casing, you have twisted hip-hop, electro, George Clinton-poetic funk verse, steamy breakbeat heat, jazz figures, and those Berlin-esque dark techno rabbit holes.

Now he’s launching his own label, Elbow Grease, November 5. First single “X17″—a reference to the hypothetical particle and potential Fifth Force discovery— smacks of Aju plurality. At quick glance, it’s an electro earworm, keeping that flow percolating and that b-boy amped. But with a second “look a here,” dipping below the surface, checking under the hood, you hear those percussion signifiers, that jazz foundation, attacking vocal instructions coming from a bandleader. 

Carefully reminding us that dancefloor jazz begat electronic music; a subject already handled by Aju’s universally praised Heirlooms from 2012. 

The new single is accompanied by both a stripped-back “Rhythm Dub” and the appropriate ambient “Viiibe” version for late mornings or obsessive DJs who want to take a trip.

Barrite took time out to explain.

48 HILLS First off. Where does the name for the label come from?

MARC BARRITE Elbow Grease is a term my late pops Joe Barrite used to use a lot.  

“Got something that needs to get done, big or small? Elbow grease.”

He used to run a notorious little jazz speakeasy in Oakland in the late ’50s and early ’60s that brought in some pretty heavy hitters in their formative years. Like a freshly-arrived-West Pharell (pre-Pharaoh) Sanders, Chick Freeman, Joe Henderson, and the like. While that was never the name for the spot he jotted it on papers, folders, and fakebooks from the era. 

So a highly personal and just tribute in the end. 

It also feels extra-true today in the social media age where many DJs in the former underground seem to skirt the idea of hard work on a skillset or their craft in lieu of brand-pushing and visual personas. 

48H Why is it pertinent to start the label now?

MB About a whole two decades and a half later, it finally just felt like the right time. Partially a silver-lining of the pandemic lockdown period in that the extra incubation gestation time allowed me some time and space to make sense of it.

I also found myself with a piece of music that felt like it was worthy of kicking off such an endeavor in “X17.” One of those extra special ones that came together on its own and manifested its intentions freely.

A driving principle of the label output always was to diminish the limelight on the maker and have it be more about the individual tracks or pieces of music themselves, free from human ego, which may sound odd in the dance music realm, especially today. But I’ve always been a fascinated and passionate lover of how some productions just hit you different, and all the other signifiers—genre, location, label, artist, etc., to start macro and work inward, were ultimately secondary.

I remember these first Mills, Theo, and Basic Channel joints just mesmerizing me in the record shop listening stations, to a transcendent degree. So when these pieces come along, we’ll put them out.

48H What other projects do you see on the horizon?

MB Most of my time outside of teaching full-time at Musician’s Institute has been dedicated to launching this label and preparing our big LAxD release party which ties together several crews and core influential ties between LA and Detroit, with Claude Young and Sean Deason coming out to rip sets and sit in on a discussion panel on the state of things in the biz. But I’ve also got a fifth concept album called Glossolalia that’s wrapped up and being shopped for a good home at the moment as well. It’s appropriately bizarre with vox sung in tongues hence the title, but who knows, maybe down the road, it will find a seat at the Elbow Grease table if it continues going overheads and the angles shift accordingly.

48H Explain how you go about making music—what do you use, how do you know when it’s finished?

MB For each project, it really depends on the angle… if it’s a concept project usually starts with notes and storyboards, and maybe sourcing some specific sounds, like mining a particularly relevant classic LP such was the case for Glossolalia LP I mentioned.

For tracks to be released on Elbow Grease, anything goes really, as the end result is the main focus. “X17” came to be from a solo jam session in the now-defunct Machine Limited/G-Son Studios of the Beastie Boys’ fame and legacy. I had the honor of working in that studio loaded with that history and vibe and just went for it one eve on a variety of hardware that we had wired up before doors shut. A few pieces were mine like the trusted TR-909 drum machine that The Tourist (who now coincidentally runs said Broken Clover Records) and I scooped in the mid-90s together and an SH-101 synth I picked up off Raf One, another of my early SF techno brethren way back, and the rest belonged to SONNS who later moved his damn-near analog synth museum to the converted garage of his newly purchased Altadena crib.

After I laid down a few lines and pads and it felt magically locked in, it was away to the mixing lab for a few passes, and then left to rest, age for a solid year or so plus. Fine wine vibes for sure.

48H Speaking of locked in and way back, can you speak to those early days of DJing in the Bay and what stuck with you? That slightly-past-the-Prefuse 73 heavy influence on the early beat scene, drum and bass, techno nights. I hear subtle references underneath on ”X17,” yeah?

MB Oh yeah, man. Way too many to cherry-pick from—Dalva nights, Lazslo, the muther funkin’ Attic on 24th Street, RIP.

All the Mag7 jams, of course, turning Madrone way out like that… [On one certain night wilted produce smuggled in by Madrone hooligans pelted dancers and DJs alike. Folks were dropping like Facebook stock. It was a different time.] Even the park jams, from Dolores and Alamo during B2B to the Mo Daddy Bday BBQ supreme… All the cuts we played around that time, along with the Detroit nuggets being sourced at Open Mind Music and Tweekin Records up the road (now home to Vinyl Dreams) are way more than subtle references in “X17”—it’s all in there and then some.

48H Who are some artists you are digging on these days?

MB The new Helado Negro LP is fire, loving that one. As is the work of Zopelar and Jarren on Apron lately, the recent Dam-Funk is pretty special as well. Lots of great stuff from the D – Claude’s triumphant return on Kai Alce’s NDATL label is golden Motor City soulful house bumps, and the latest on Yaxteq, The Black Lodge Vol 5 comp, and Force Placement’s stellar electro/breaks release on Private Selection. Wow. In between teaching and preaching the Elbow Grease gospel, I also do some mixdowns and mastering jobs, the latest Trip Show, Landau stuff is fantastic, as is the new Mystic Bill EP.

All the Warehouse Preservation Society output – a blessing to have my hands on the boards for all of these. Also, one of the most challenging but rewarding mix engineer gigs ever was for a band from the Congo called Fulu Kolektiv—will be out on SF top label Broken Clover, like the Trip Show LP was, some time in the next year—I’ve never heard anything quite like it before, which is sayin something.

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 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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