David Alvarado is one of Los Angeles’ most celebrated dance music figures. David broke onto the scene as a producer in 1993 with “Las Americas” on John Acquaviva’s Definitive Recordings. He went on to found Bomb Records, which would feature then up and coming artists Kenneth Grahm, Eddie Amador, and Derrick Carter. In the years since David’s been an in-demand DJ and producer, releasing music on such labels as Ovum, Ultra, Strictly Rhythm, Yoshi Toshi, Plastic City, Peace Frog, and most recently Historia y Violencia to name just a fraction. David continues to push and develop his sound for a new generation of electronic music fans.
Droid Behavhior invited fellow LA dance music figure Xavier Jimenez to interview David Alvarado for this d-node installment.
A fixture of LA’s electronic music scene since 1991, Xavier has DJed at and promoted parties of all sizes, from lofts to sports arenas and everything in between with the legends of dance music. He is currently the resident and architect of LOVEFIX, an LA event promotion collective dedicated to fostering an underground community, creating space, and dance. He’s also recognized as a DJ/promoter-turned-scholar of his trade since completing his Masters degree in Chicano Studies and writing his thesis on LA’s rave scene during the 1990s from a Chicano perspective. With a passion for academia and underground nightlife he’s been invited to speak at conferences bringing forth LA’s unique underground dance culture.
Soundcloud – Xavier De Enciso
Xavier: The earliest time I can recall seeing you DJ was probably in 1993 at a warehouse party in LA. That same year I got a chance to play with you at an SF party called “Sweet N Low.” This party was in a large warehouse in Berkeley, and I can still remember what a great set you played that night. I was impressed with your track selection and mixing skills. You definitely had that “underground” sound on point. The name David Alvarado is `synonymous with Los Angeles’ storied rave underground scene. What was your introduction into the scene, and how did it unfold?
David: I had been DJing for some time, since I was 16. A friend of mine who had an older brother was heavily involved in a car club that did events together with other clubs around So Cal. It was that experience that opened up the club scene and thus the underground scene in LA. There was a huge underground scene at that time, mostly Latin kids, Circus Disco on Sunday nights or Gino’s after hours (long gone legend). In the early 90s a friend of mine dragged me out to Truth, and that was my initial introduction into the underground/rave scene that the Brits were planting in LA. I went on to meet Michael Cook, Tef, Beej, and a host of others that started exposing me more to that scene. Around that time I ran into an old friend Tony Largo (aka Tony Morales) whom I had known from 10 years prior. Tony was a big fixture and influence in the “Latin underground” scene that dominated LA in the late 70s and early 80s. Tony and Marques Wyatt were in the process of starting an afterhours called Candelabra, which as I recall was at the Hong Kong Cafe in downtown LA where we ended up doing Family Groove later on. Tony and Marques offered me the opening slot, and from there things went on. It sort of reintroduced me to a whole other side of LA and vice versa.
Xavier: I was a regular at “Family Groove” afterhours at the then Shark Club in downtown LA. You were one of the resident DJs. One of the main reasons my friends and I attended every week was to see you DJ. There was something special about “Family Groove.” What was it like to be a DJ at this famous afterhours club?
David: What was great about Family Groove was the freedom. I remember that it was very unpretentious; LA is a very polarized city. The Brits had their own thing, and the Latinos had theirs. Family Groove seemed to bring them all together. We just didn’t care, and we really didn’t know any better. There was so much hate being thrown around by promoters and DJs, and being an outsider (from OC) I really couldn’t care less, I just did what I did the way I wanted to do it. I think the fact that it grew and went for so long is a testimony to the people who were involved and the people who showed up and understood how special it was.
Xavier: How long was your residency at “Family Groove,” and were there any positive consequences and/or networks you made from being the resident DJ?
David: Man… I think 4 yers? I lost track. Family Groove brought a lot of names to LA that nobody had brought before, and to this day nobody gives enough credit. The whole Sasha/Digweed phenomenon as far as LA is concerned got its proper spotlight at Family Groove. I think that Family Groove also broke down a lot of barriers as far as the “mixing” of scenes and ethnic groups; it was all just one big groove. There were a lot of people I met as a result who led to other open doors that are a big part of my success to this day. People like DJ EFX and Digit, who laid the groundwork for the whole San Francisco movement as well as giving birth to what is now Multon Street Studios, were regulars at Family Groove. They were the first ones to introduce me not only to SF but made it possible for me to jump off to Europe and do my first tour and opened the door for my Strictly Rhythm releases and tours that followed.
Xavier: Your sound at that time was distinctly “underground”…did you prefer the club atmosphere or the rave underground scene in Los Angeles?
David: I enjoyed the club. The raves always seemed to be a who’s who and nobody every really got the time needed to do their thing. The club gave me freedom to go on a journey. Especially the after hours. All bets were off then.
Xavier: There was a time in the mid 1990s where I did not see you on many flyers, was this around the time you started producing music more or where you already working on music even earlier?
David: I had been amassing gear since the early 80s. We owned a mobile system that we ended up disbanding, and my cut I invested in gear. I began toying around with synths and drum machines pretty early on, and it had seemed a natural progression for me. I had always admired and read about guys like Arthur Baker, and Chep Nunez and was always disappointed that there was no scene like that in LA. I had the opportunity to start getting serious since I had begun to make the connections with people at Strictly Rhythm, Nervous, and a few others do to my club gigs so I spent more time working on creating my own music as things in LA started to taper off for me. I never saw the sort of scene or community of producers and artists that I had been getting exposed to on my travels. My connection with Strictly opened the door to a pretty heavy touring schedule in Europe, so I started to spend more time away from LA than around it.
Xavier: Some of your earliest releases and most acclaimed at the time was your release “Las Americas” in 1993 on Definitive Records. Can you describe the feeling on what it was like for you to release music on a label run by Richie Hawtin and John Aquaviva?
David: It was an interesting story… a chance meeting. I was working at a shop in Long Beach (Record Reaction) and Moby, Hawtin, and Acquaviva were playing at a rave down the street that evening and stopped by the shop. I happened to have copies of a test pressing for a track that I had produced, my first vinyl pressing as a matter of fact, so I passed one on to each of them, said good luck, and they went on their way. A few months later I heard from Moby’s manager, and she told me he dug it, so please send more stuff in the future… Then I get a call from John Acquaviva and he tells me that he and Richie are starting up a new label and were wondering if I’d be interested in having them release my test pressing along with some new remixes, and the rest is history. I ended up going to Canada, meeting the Stickman, and hanging out with John and Richie. It was a game of 2 degrees of separation from there. On that trip I went and stayed at Richie’s and they introduced me to Mike Banks, Mike Huckabee, Claude Young, Dan Bell, and most of what would be M Nus in the future. I ended up doing a deal with John and Richie that enabled me to do my own label Bomb Records, which opened up a whole other door for me. It was through the Canadians that I was introduced to Josh Wink, King Britt, and Matt Brookman which then lead to my longstanding relationship with Ovum. It’s amazing how one small conversation turned into lifelong friendships, business relationships, and about 2 million miles of travel.
Xavier: What was your motivation to start Bomb Records, and what did it mean to have successful releases specifically from a label based in Los Angeles?
David: I honestly just wanted to replicate what I saw in other cities and scenes, that I never saw in LA. I wanted to be a label and a collective. I wanted to do what my friends in other towns and countries were doing with their close friends. Make music, travel, learn from each other. Through Bomb I was able to release Derrick Carter, Chris Nazuka, Kenneth Graham, JL Magoya, and Eddie Amador. With all of them I had the pleasure of releasing some of their first or early works. For me it was just a matter of showing people in LA that there was a bigger world out there and being able to represent to a world that was growing for me that LA had a vibe, a voice just like Chicago, SF, NYC, Detroit, etc. I’m proud of what it became. It opened opportunities not only for me, but for others as well.
Xavier: You have some internationally recognized singles on NRK U.K., Peacefrog Records U.K., Plastic City Records Germany, and Strictly Rhythm. What have been some of your favorites?
David: I think Mayasongs on Peacefrog is one thing that I’m very proud of. I didn’t know any better, and I had nobody around to tell me any better. As with all my other releases I just did what was in my heart. If you want technical perfection you won’t find it on any of my releases – I’m ghetto and incompetent, even I know that. But one thing I know is that everything I’ve done, I’ve been compelled to do and it’s honest. The Plastic City album that Kenneth Graham and I did I think was so ahead of its time. And the NRK album, Transfigurations, was something I wished more people had been exposed to. I think the concepts are being lost on this generation of sound bites.
Xavier: What is the process when you produce music? Do you set long periods of time to create, and what motivates your current productions?
David: I think in themes. I have to have a purpose otherwise I can’t sit and work. There has to be something, a “WHY” that I can answer in what I’m doing. I can’t just sit and try to pump out stuff like a factory. Sometimes I’ll read something, a word, or punctuation; something simple will set me off. I think lately I’ve been inspired by the tools, how to expand on them and deconstruct them and make something that’s unconventional. I used to do that with hardware. A lot of my early sound was just doing things that weren’t supposed to be done with certain machines. I have to keep myself interested. I’m easily distracted; right now I think it’s a matter of experimenting again. There’s too many turn-key solutions for producing and DJing, and it’s very easy to find yourself getting lazy and trapped by them.
Xavier: How do you feel about being an influence to many other DJs and producers in Los Angeles?
David: I hope I’ve been a positive one. I always wanted to build something, a label, club, studio, whatever, but it was never just for me. I had always hoped to be a part of something I could grow, pass down, or pass on. I saw that in Mike Banks, that was the thing that stood out the most to me when I first met him. He not only loved what he was doing, but he loved those around him and took as much interest in their success as his own. It was hard going all over the world and coming home to LA, even just physically the distance between people in the city, it’s just not built for community, but also the emotional and personal distance people would put up as well. It’s a hard city to get close and trust people sometime, but I tried and did what I could.
Xavier: Every time I hear your productions I envision them being played in dark warehouses. Would you agree that your sound is very “underground”?
David: Most definitely. That is probably the space I imagine in my head or visualize when I’m producing something. That’s like home for my music. A friend in Spain once told me that as well. One night we were doing his club and he had just moved it to a bigger venue and he said it clicked when I was playing… the music I was DJing came to life in that space, the music I produce has that space… he said that “it’s a very delicate fragile sound that’s waiting to fill every corner of that space.” I kinda like that, I think it captures what I’m imagining sonically.
Xavier: Has the rapid growth of technology helped you with your productions and DJing?
David: It helped my DJing substantially. I was one of the first beta testers for Final Scratch (no Traktor) probably 10 years ago. It opened up a world of possibilities and if anything enabled me to take my whole collection with me on one laptop. Gave me the ability to expose people around the world to the whole picture that was me and influenced me. I would say that today it’s opened up other possibilities to perform in a way that we never would have thought of just 5 years ago. I mean it really hasn’t been that long since Native Instruments release their first controller for Traktor, and up until then there were no practical controllers to make full use of the potential that Traktor brings to the DJ like it does now. I think there is a world of potential to move the craft along so long as there are people willing to open up and let go of what “used to be.” Don’t get me wrong, I love vinyl, I love the medium, but until the pressing plants are fired up 24/7 this is where we’re at. And I must say that 95% of the people doing it are not even touching on 1% of the possibilities that could reinvigorate the craft and inspire a new generation. In the studio I think it’s helped in a lot of ways, but hindered in more ways. I think it’s too easy to get trapped in the simplicity and therefore not fully explore the complex potential that the technology could unlock. I guess as long as the market makes heroes of average mundane production and producers there won’t be much incentive to get there.
Xavier: How do feel about your recent release “La Soledad” on Santiago Salazar’s Historia Y Violencia label? You have used many Spanish titles for many of your track releases. Is there a significant connection to being a Chicano/Latino producer?
David: Santiago and I have crossed paths many times before, but recently for some reason we just seemed to grow closer. I think that what I see in what Historia Y Violencia and Ican are doing reminds me of what I always wanted to do with Bomb. It’s given me a “WHY” to do some things. Like I mentioned I enjoy themes, and I felt there was a good platform and theme to build from with this release that could grow into other projects. I have always made a point to inject my culture whenever possible. It’s a way of reminding myself and others who and what I am. It’s always a part of me whether unconscious or premeditated, and I try to make it a part of my message in some way or another.
From upcoming HV06 featuring David Alvarado + Santiago Salazar