Bank Holiday weekend sees a very special Saturday night in the shape of one-off party Ripped. We present a rare appearance from two very special guests all the way from San Francisco - Ken Vulsion, resident DJ from Honey Soundsystem and the legendary Steve Fabus who was one of the true disco pioneers of the '70s in SF.
To get the lowdown on the secret history of the West Coast underground we asked Ken to interview Steve...
Ken Vulsion: This will be your first time playing outside the US?
Steve Fabus: Yes, I’m a bit thrilled by it. The only other time I was offered a chance to go to play in Europe was in 1978. A friend of mine - Raphael Mancia, who lived in Amsterdam at the time, offered me a residency. But that would have meant I would have to leave the I-Beam, which had just opened. It was a hard decision to make, but I’m glad I stayed in San Francisco.
KV: In the ‘70s DJs had residencies and didn’t travel as much as they do today…
SF: Yes, I would compare it - on a smaller scale - to the studio system in Hollywood. Each club had their stars. In the Disco Era, the resident DJ was the star of the club and would be identified with a night and play every week. Most of the time only one DJ would play the whole night—two at the most. People identified the clubs by the DJs that were playing. The residencies would last for three or fours years, depending on the particular DJ, the particular cub, politics, the feelings of the dancers, and how much they wanted someone to keep playing.
KV: Talk to me about the almost global nostalgia for the Trocadero Transfer.
SF: The nostalgia doesn’t surprise me. There is nothing like it today. The Trocadero was a big club that was open all night every weekend. People would dance until 8 or 9 in the morning on a Saturday night. Bobby Viteritti and I would share the booth on Saturdays. People came to the club religiously every week to be taken on a trip all night. What’s lacking today is that there isn’t any big Trocadero-sized gay club that’s open consistently every Saturday night.
KV: When Gary Tighe started playing at the Troc, didn’t the DJ he replaced throw a turntable out of the booth?
SF: Yes - the first DJ at the Trocadero was Vincent Carleo who came from Flamingo in New York, which is where Richie Rivera also played and Howard Merritt. Flamingo was the real “in” specialty- A-crowd club. That was the club that existed before the Saint and at the same time as 12 West and the Paradise Garage.
Vincent moved to San Francisco to open the Trocadero, but he didn’t last long - he had problems with the owner, Dick Collier. On this notorious night, Vincent got so mad that he threw a turntable out of the booth and onto the dance floor, while the party was happening. The reason he did it was the turntable wasn’t working. I think there was some problem with the variable speed control and Vincent had complained about it to Dick for a while. You don’t want to go up there and play on a broken variable speed control - your mixes are all train wrecks.
So that night was a big, high profile night. Vincent came on and he realized the turntable had not been fixed. He tried to deal with it for a while, but after a couple trainwrecks the people started to boo the mixes. He got livid about it and thought “Everyone is blaming me for these mixes... so I’ve had it!” He ripped the cables out and just picked up the turntable and FLUNG it out of the DJ booth and onto the dance floor… with this crash and boom… and you could imagine the interference and everything fired up from the snapping cables. Talk about drama. People were just totally shocked by what was going on, and then of course there was just dead air. Then Vincent walked away.
He was replaced at the Trocadero by Gary Tighe, but at the same time Vincent kept on playing at these real exclusive loft parties given by Michael Maletta and the Creative Power Foundation along with Rod Roderick at his notorious mansion on McAllister Street.
KV: Through the eyes of someone who’s been a part of this since the 1970s, how do you think the underground scene has evolved in San Francisco?
SF: Well, it’s always important to remember that the ‘70s party scene developed from the free love movement of the hippies and the sexual revolution that began in the sixties. The baby boomers were all young, huge in numbers and active. From political action to pursuits of pleasure, gays were celebrating newfound freedoms. San Francisco was the storied mecca in those days and people were coming here in droves to satisfy their desires. It was an incredible time. It was the norm for large numbers of people to find better things to do than sleep on a Saturday night, and they would pack the Trocadero and other clubs and dance until the morning light.
San Francisco has always been known as a place with innovative nightlife, but there have been low points. I think the city is going through a bit of a renaissance right now with nights like Honey Soundsystem, Go BANG!, Dial Up, Viennetta Discotheque, Hard French, Bus Station John’s parties and Robin Simmons' Odyssey loft parties.
KV: Who has influenced you as a DJ?
SF: The first DJ that influenced me was Lou DiVito, who played at Dugan’s Bistro, an underground gay disco in Chicago in the early ‘70s. It was the first time I heard a DJ build a night that elevated a crowd for hours. A few years later in San Francisco, I was inspired by the great Tim Rivers, a DJ I played with at the I-Beam.
KV: What are five essential components for any DJ?
SF: I would remind DJs what my mentor, Tim Rivers, told me: (1) When a DJ starts his/her night, it’s like a painter with a blank canvas. Think of music selections as colors that complete a painting. (2) Do your work of preparing. Listen carefully to everything you want to play. (3) Organize your music so you can find it easily and quickly. (4) Find your style, technique and signature sound. (5) Build up trust with the crowd, and give a performance as if this was the only night you would ever play.
Steve Fabus and Ken Vulsion of Honey Soundsystem play Ripped at Dalston Superstore on Saturday 25th August from 9pm - 4am.