Chicago-born DJ Steve Fabus started his musical career in the early '70s, after being inspired by the soulful sounds of Etta James and Stevie Wonder. Moving to San Francisco in 1974, he found himself in the center of one of America's counter culture capitals, where disco, drugs, and sexual liberation were at their peak. Playing through the pinnacle of the disco days with DJ gigs at the infamous Boiler Room and San Francisco's first big disco club, I-Beam, Fabus was soon offered residencies at New York's River Club and Tracks. After living in New York and Los Angeles throughout the '80s, during disco's evolution into house and garage, Fabus finally returned to S.F. in the late '90s for good. With a career spanning over four decades, he is now a staple of disco parties like Go Bang! and Honey Soundsystem. Fabus recently spoke with All Shook Down about playing records through the eras, his experiences at I-Beam, and how disco is a sanctuary. He performs at Go Bang!'s 3-year anniversary this Saturday at http://decosf.com/" target="_blank">Deco Lounge.
In a few words, describe for us the feelings you often had when playing records in the '70s.
Playing records or more specifically mixing records in the '70s was liberating because DJs were creating a new art form by blending music in ways that created drama and excitement. Consider the newness of it when, before there was a DJ like David Mancuso at the Loft, there were only juke boxes. The late '60s through the '70s were a time of great social, political, and cultural change, and minorities were rising up and fighting for their rights. This backdrop helped make for a strong camaraderie felt in gay clubs, and created solidarity between gays, blacks, Latinos and other urban ethnic groups in the disco world. There was inclusiveness in the early disco years that came out of a feeling that we were all in this together. The disco was a sanctuary. It was place the DJ would take dancers on a trip and they would feel elevated, transcended, soulful, and often high and hedonistic.
Do you still feel the same when playing out in clubs today?
There are clubs today that are definitely part of the lineage that started with the classic disco and house eras -- and these clubs are just as valid even though most of them are smaller than they were back in the '70s and '80s. I'm so glad I play in some of them. There has been a heightened awareness, appreciation, love, and respect by a new generation of DJs and dancers in the underground today.
You've DJ'd through the disco era, the house era, and rave era. What would you say today's scene is like? What era is dance music in now?
Since I've DJ'd through all those eras I can see the timeline and how it changed, evolved, and devolved. One of my complaints today is how some DJs get stuck playing just one specialty genre, like dubstep, minimal, or only vocals for that matter, for the whole night. I totally understand identifying with a genre strongly and making it part of one's signature sound, but variation and balance go a long way in keeping it interesting.
On the other hand, I would say I'm impressed with the many dynamic DJ performances I hear today and there is more energy in the clubs than I've seen in years. I think this era is all about looking back to move forward and that is exactly what's happening today.
Do you think the party scene was more open and accepting in the past?
Oh yes. Just about everything was more open. In the '70s people would often lay lines of cocaine right on the bar where they were drinking. Lots of clubs provided areas for people to have sex. Need I go on?