Hey, DJ: Jamie Jams

The San Francisco DJ talks about Last Nite, his Y2K indie dance party.

DJs Jamie Jams and Rocky (Credit: Rob Williamson)

There’s no question that the ‘90s are back and have been for the past few years, whether it’s clothing trends, TV remakes, or musical styles. When All Shook Down first interviewed DJ Jamie Jams over eight years ago, the indie music connoisseur was already foreshadowing the future by wondering, “When is everyone going to realize this ’90s business is the shit?”

To date, Jams is still running his ‘90s night Debaser, but he has also added a party celebrating the last decade of indie called Last Nite. We got a chance to catch up with Jamie Jams about the changing SF scene, his favorite ‘90s outfit, and what a good time means to him.

Last Nite 2000’s Indie Dance Party takes place this Friday [10/14] and every second Friday at the Make Out Room. You can also check out their their radioshow on BFF.FM every Friday morning, 10am-noon.

What’s been new in the DJ realm since we last checked in with you?
Well, we started a new party a little while back called Last Nite, where we explore the hits and misses of the last decade or so of indie music. We made our name as the world’s first ‘90s alternative party, Debaser, so we felt it was our responsibility to both kill the ‘90s trend and also look to the future as far as what comes next in the world of retro. And what’s more retro-futuristic than Y2K indie?

You’ve been able to open up for some of your dream artists. Who is someone you still want to cross off that list?
This goes back to our old  “Hey DJ” interview just before we started Debaser when people still thought we were absolutely crazy to be throwing the world’s first ’90s throwback party. Not to mention the fact that we played mostly obscure rock genres like grunge, riot grrrl, shoegaze and emo. I’m pretty proud that we had the opportunity not only to pioneer shoegaze as a rock genre you could dance to, but also to get to open for some of our heroes like Ride, The Telescopes and Medicine. I’d never gotten to DJ a big show before, so that was a really big deal for me personally. I’d love to get to DJ with some really obscure band we love now and help them find their way back into the limelight.
Right now, we love a lot of things with a glitchy, IDM kind of twist. Opening for someone like Air would be awesome. I’m assuming Radiohead and Bjork are off the table.

How have you seen the nightlife scene change since you’ve been in SF?
You know, this is almost a little wistful for me to reflect on. There are so many great folks that I learned from and came up with that are still around and still doing great things. Shout out to Richie Panic, Marco de La Vega, Omar Perez, Dimitri and Ryan from Booty Bassment, Mario Muse from Queen is Dead, all the old heads from back in the day.
I guess the thing that I miss is the sense that anything goes, and the creativity and fun that came out of all of us having a good time together and pushing each other to be more creative, or more individualistic, or generally more fabulous in the true spirit of San Francisco’s iconic counter culture communities.
We used to invite all of the other local DJs to play with us at our old party at the Make-Out Room back in 2002-2006 or so, and they would ask: “What do you want us to play?” And we would be like: “The craziest, most creative thing you can come up with. Really, push the boundaries of what you think is acceptable and let’s just all have a laugh. Now’s the time to break all the rules!” That’s the spirit we’re trying to keep alive at Last Nite.

The ’90s are back in fashion, and since you also run the ’90s party Debaser, what’s your quintessential ’90s outfit of choice?
Well, the quintessential ’90s outfit is obviously flannel. I’m just going to go out on a limb and say that we were flying the flannel at least a little while before Portland made it hipster famous with their twisty mustaches and such. Right now, I’m keeping it hardcore 2002 fashion-wise. Either all black or vaguely crust punk.

For those of us unfamiliar, paint us a picture of a typical night at Last Nite, your ’00s dance party.
Well, the thing we don’t advertise is that it’s always a little different, and it’s always striving to be period accurate in a slightly different way. We literally have rinsed through all the years from 2000 to 2010 like two or three times now. So if you want to start at the beginning of the story, check us out in January as we kick it off with “the year 2000” in all of its dark, glitchy, electro-garage-y glory.
Right now, we’ve worked our way up to about 2008 or so, and we slice it every possible way to emphasize a different sub-genre each time, whether it’s electro, post-punk, freak folk, synthpop, nu rave, chillwave, or whatever. This next one will be a little more late 2000’s rock style, so expect some fun surprises like The National, but also more left-field things like Deerhunter or Caribou. Maybe some St. Vincent for the ladies. The name of the game is surprises.

How does this party reflect your own personal tastes?
You know, I always get pinned as nostalgic, but that’s really not what drives it for me. I’m mostly just curious about learning what other people: What they really like, in secret, at home when they think no one is looking. We try and take that feeling of really loving something at home and bring it out into the open where people can share it with others.

What’s usually one of the most requested songs?
Well, people usually request Beyoncé, but I’m like, “That’s not the point of this, you could hear that any day.” If I do play Beyoncé it will be something like Beyoncé and Jay Z’s ’03 hit “Bonnie and Clyde,” which is way less obvious, but everyone still knows the chorus and it’s just weirdly period in some way. What was with all those Spanish guitars back then?
The thing that I think is great is when they request something that we’ve really made headway pioneering as a dance song. When they request Electrelane’s “To The East,” I really feel like we are making progress. Otherwise we just play LCD Soundsystem’s “You Wanted a Hit.”

What’s a song that typically is seen as not danceable, but actually is?
Oh, this is my favorite. Wolf Parade’s “I’ll Believe in Anything.” We were shocked. “Nobody, loves you and, nobody gives a damn anyway!” And it’s in 3/4! We did a run of songs in weird time signatures with that one, ending in Broken Social Scene’s “7/4 Shoreline” and people went nuts. So great.

Why is it important to keep venues like Knockout and Makeout Room around?
Oh, man. I can’t emphasize this enough. These are places that are true communities. They aren’t about making money, or pushing some kind of concept, or trying to find an audience that doesn’t exist or only comes here fleetingly. These are places that understand that really building connections between people, friends, lovers, housemates, bandmates is what really makes us a community. When everyone who’s visiting or here for the weekend goes home, these are the places for those of us who are left, to help us build a life, so we can all continue to stay here.
After the tragedy in Orlando a few months back, President Obama had some really kind words about the importance of the nightlife community as a space for people to express their civil rights and be their authentic selves. I couldn’t agree with that more. I’m very honored to be a part of a community that’s helping real people make real connections and carrying the torch for all of the social movements that have found voice here over the years.

Halloween is coming up, what are your plans?
We still don’t have anything booked, but we usually do a DJ cover routine of some sort. Last year we were Daft Punk and the year before we were 2manydjs. Stay tuned!

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