After 21 Years, Dub Mission Dies Down

Its creators decided to end their Elbo Room residency after (a very respectable) 1,000 shows.

(Alex Grande)

Dub Mission, the monthly roots reggae party hosted by a collective of hardcore diggers, has graduated three generations of club-goers. Since debuting at the Elbo Room in 1996, hosts DJ Sep, Vinnie Esparza, and Maneesh the Twister — as well as past collaborators such as J-Boogie, and Ludichris — have not only put a spotlight on dub and world music, but created a community for it in San Francisco.

“I love this music and felt like it deserved a home,” says DJ Sep (a.k.a Sep Ghadishah). “Other aspects of reggae certainly will get attention, but [dub] didn’t have that to begin with, and, in some ways, still doesn’t get as much attention in the Bay Area.”

Twenty-one years and over 1,000 shows later, Dub Mission ends its second Friday residency with a blow-out party on Sept. 8. The  21st anniversary-slash-goodbye Dub Mission will feature sets from all Dub Mission selectors, as well as a soundsystem set from trumpeter Will Magid and a performance by dub artist Dr. Israel.

Dr. Israel and Magid were naturals for Dub Mission’s final show, not only because they had performed before, but for their eclectic nature that reflects how the night itself has evolved. In the beginning, Sep notes, Dub Mission DJs were much more wedded to the idea of doing tribute nights to dub legends or playing a smaller scope of dub music. Today, the sounds of Dub Mission reach far beyond what one might think of as traditionally dub.

“We tried to incorporate as much as possible while still keeping our vibe and being very positive, very inclusive,” Sep says. “We play drum and bass, because of course there’s been reggae and dub influence in drum and bass. I’ve had artists who produce more of a house kind of dub sound; we’ve had belly dancers at our events. People might not think of that as a typical reggae night and it’s not — but it’s a Dub Mission night.”

Prince Fatty, Hollie Cook & Horseman. (Jeff Spirer)

Dub Mission DJs spun cutting-edge dub, roots reggae, dancehall and more, receiving multiple awards for best reggae club from local publications. The night drew artists from around the world, including The Scientist, Mad Professor and the Ariwa Sound System, Adrian Sherwood & the ON-U Sound System, Nickodemus, Zion Train, and many more.

“I am extremely grateful and humbled to have been part of this long-running San Francisco institution,” DJ Vinnie Esparza says. “While the crowd has changed over the years, one thing has stayed the same: the love and appreciation of bass culture music and its many mutations. From ’60s ska to dubstep, if its roots are in Jamaica, it was represented at our night.”

By showcasing a wide variety of reggae sounds, resident DJs and guests were able to show the influence that dub has had on many genres, including electronic music and hip-hop. The range of sounds also brought in a dedicated and diverse crowd.

“It’s a testament to Bay Area club goers for allowing us to experiment and supporting us along the way,” says DJ Maneesh the Twister. “I’m definitely going to miss rocking the Elbo Room and vibing with the crowd, but I feel blessed to have been a part of the SF music community and its history.”

Dub Mission is not ending its weekly operation as a result of the Elbo Room’s will-they-or-won’t-they closing battle — happily, the venue’s lease will be extended into 2019 — but it did set plans in motion.

“The Elbo Room has been our home from the beginning, which is a very rare situation,” Sep says. “We felt like it was a partnership, and we were faced with the club closing. When we did our 1,000th show, we thought that would be the last show.”

While the Dub Mission crew has felt the effects of the myriad changes happening in San Francisco and beyond — as well as the creative pressure of putting on a monthly event for two decades — Sep is adamant that Dub Mission won’t fade away.

“The parties won’t disappear entirely,” she says. “This is just the first time in 21 years that we won’t have a residency.

“It has opened up space for me to do more and I see that as a challenge,” Sep says, adding that she hopes to travel more to DJ. “As much as it was sad at first, [Dub Mission] was also in some ways exhausting, but this is not a surprise to anyone but me. I really loved it. I didn’t really feel tired until I realized that I was going to stop.”  

Dub Mission 21st Anniversary Party, Friday, Sept. 8, 10 p.m., at the Elbo Room, 647 Valencia St. Tickets: $10 in advance, $13-$15 at the door; dubmissionsf.com

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