By watching Moda beeline toward the sole rack of CDs among a vast specialty shop of rock gardens, didgeridoos, and other rare curiosities, the casual shopper might peg the 32-year-old artist for a music geek. But he's hardly the image of a club DJ or, for that matter, anyone else who makes a living working until 5 a.m. After all, it's noon on a Sunday, and Moda is dressed in well-worn shorts, a T-shirt, and Teva sandals, and is carrying his 1-year-old son Colin on his back. It's not until Moda begins talking about Indian beat scientist Talvin Singh that the teenage retail assistant catches on.
"Do you make music?" the platinum-haired cashier asks, launching the two into a discussion about the store's collection of indigenous music. Moda, playing the part of the mentor, explains the intricacies of certain songs to the inquisitive clerk. "If anyone has a technical question about equipment or making music, I always take the time to answer them and encourage them to try it," he explains later. "It's like, "I've won the lottery, and you should, too.'"
With that kind of attitude, it's easy to see why music is one of the most important things in Moda's life. But as the parent of four children and the surrogate dad to loyal audiences, local upstart DJs, and dance music fans across the country, Moda is even happier being a poppa. "You know, if I [really] won the lottery, I'd probably open a day-care center. Having kids is the best feeling," he points out.
For the past 11 years, Moda has followed the dance music community from birth to graduation, developing local venues, parties, and DJ crews. But when he became a father and a husband, his work as a musician took on a whole new importance. Now, as the scene goes back underground, his career seems headed for the next level, and the busiest dad in dance music is getting a whole lot busier.
Three days later, Moda is in full father mode, this time with his 2-year-old daughter Serena. Moments like these are rare for Moda, who usually spends four days a week DJing across the country, with the rest of his time taken up by producing music. While he's at home in Oakland, he has to sandwich activities like burning demo CDs and returning promoter messages between trips to his children's schools. Today, after a quick lunch in Montclair Village, he returns home, battles the reluctantly sleepy Serena, and finally finds some time to talk about his past.
Moda began DJing when he was 12, playing new wave records at Twin Hills Elementary School in Sebastopol. By high school, he'd grown infatuated with the electronic pop of Kraftwerk and the groundbreaking techno works of Derrick May and Carl Craig. When he met fellow DJ and San Quentin security guard Harry Leros, the two began DJing at school dances and throwing parties in rented VFW buildings.
"When I was DJing at a club in Sebastopol, I met these crazy Canadian students from the Seventh-day Adventist college, and they hired us to play for them at a party," he reminisces. "They were all drinking and dancing -- which they weren't supposed to be doing -- and the party got busted, the Canadian organizers were expelled ..."
Suddenly, Moda perks up. Beyond the faint humming of his equipment, he detects Serena's renewed whimpering. He cues his forthcoming single on his Mac and tiptoes out of the studio to investigate.
While he's gone, the song -- a sexy house epic titled "Tiger" that features a labyrinth of drums -- matures like a molting butterfly, each stage more exciting than the last. Later Moda explains that the song was inspired by the volatile beauty of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. He was in Boulder on a DJ trip when he saw the movie, and started calling his cell phone repeatedly, singing the developing rhythm so he wouldn't forget it. "I couldn't wait to get home so I could produce it. When I got back I locked myself in my studio for three days straight to finish it." When the dissonant, gut-wrenching Chinese violins creep into the record's finish, it's clear why the song is a current favorite of such taste-makers as Paul Oakenfold and John Digweed.
As the song ends, Moda returns to his studio with a huge mug of espresso and continues laying out his history. After he graduated high school in 1987, he moved to San Francisco and spun new wave hits at the Palladium for two years. In 1990 he was introduced to the rave scene when he lent his turntables to a party presented by one of San Francisco's first promotion teams, Toon Town. He thereafter joined the group as a production engineer, gaining DJ gigs in the process.
The next few years were his coming of age. He lived at 3210 Mission St., a house that hosted such visiting British electronic artists as Mixmaster Morris, the Shamen, and Jonah Sharp (Spacetime Continuum). In 1992 he started producing house music with Aquatherium's Brendan McCarthy and London DJ "Evil" Eddie Richards, who hired Moda to be an agent for an English DJ management company representing such talents as Orbital, Sasha, and the Orb's Alex Paterson.
At the same time that his music career was evolving, Moda was undergoing huge personal changes. Soon after he met Anne Briones at a club where he was DJing, the two were married. Before long, Moda discovered that being a family man could complement his unique lifestyle.
"Financially, before the marriage, I spent a lot of time and money looking for hard-to-find records and devoted my attention to the club and rave scene, getting involved in any aspect of both scenes," Moda says. "Now, I am limited to what I can do, but I have learned the art of patience and responsibility in becoming a parent, and I attribute these things as part of my success in the recording world."
Following his 1993 marriage, Moda began a Sound Factory residency, started DJing internationally, and formed the Trancefusion label with Jazz-E (the two parted amicably in 2000). Although he was beginning to earn a rabid following in clubs from Canada to Atlanta, Moda's fatherly instincts were seeping through. He wanted to do something closer to home: a large-scale, regular, 18-and-over event that would focus on local talent.
"My main purpose has always been to educate people and to support local DJs," he says. "There's nothing like seeing the gleam in the eye of a young DJ who's just got a glimpse of the big time."
The event's venue, fondly referred to as "Home Base," was located in Oakland's Home Base Shopping Center and managed by Moda, his business partner Vlad Cood, and their hacker friend Michael Gammond. (The club ran from 1995 until early 2000.) Although Home Base didn't become the nightly superclub that the owners had intended, it did sponsor monthly, 10,000-capacity parties, introducing many second-generation ravers to electronic music in the process. Following Home Base's closure, Moda started "Future," a weekly 18-and-over event at the Maritime Hall, in February 2000.
Since then, Moda has decided to focus less on promoting events and more on his own music, believing that the rave scene has gotten too commercial and drug-riddled. He's jump-starting his production work, DJing at more officially organized clubs, and moving away from progressive house (or "trance") to spinning a new drum-intensive variety of house called tribal house, which is featured on his latest release, Nokturnel Mix Sessions: Live at the Pure Lounge.
Having been an important behind-the-scenes player in the industry for years, Moda is finally getting his due -- and the attention of important trendsetters. He recently built a studio with Austin's Shane Howard, one-half of popular underground production outfit Expansion. Moda's own single "Deeper" is featured on the forthcoming mix-CD People by Texan DJ D:Fuse, whom many in the industry are calling the next Paul Oakenfold. Two of Moda's other singles, including "Tiger," were recently picked up by strong labels following intensive bidding, and there's an album in the works. With the same manager as D:Fuse, Moda could become one of the biggest names in dance music.
But before he can do that, he's got to send his newest demo mix to promoters across the country. And before he can mail the CDs, he has to pick up Anne's 14-year-old daughter Gina, who has been waiting for him at school for 15 minutes.
After depositing Gina at home, he heads to meet Anne at a Starbucks in downtown Oakland. Moda's life seems awfully hectic, but he wouldn't have it any other way. "My manager keeps telling me that I need to work on an image so that I can stand out," he says. "But I'm not sure that I need to change."