Working as bar-backs at the Starlight Room in the Sir Francis Drake Hotel, DJs Zack Yakovlev and and Yanick Rieffel, together known as Bells and Whistles, saw an opportunity to bring their underground sensibility to the hotel's discriminating opulence. The resulting party, aptly named Dresscode, brought artists such as Claude Von Stroke and Dave Aju to play in an upscale environment, complete with service staff dressed in tuxedos and bow ties, without compromising the sounds of the underground. While the party is now defunct, the boys have been busy making mixes and podcasts, and concentrating on their live original performances at venues like 222 Hyde and The EndUp. We recently spoke with Zack and Yanick about the infamous Dresscode party, their new creative outlet Four Sweater, and why they won't be playing the latest trap remix in their sets. Bells and Whistles play Saturday in the Loft with J-Bird and Galen at Public Works.
How did you two meet and start making music together?
Zack (Z): Well we knew each other in San Diego and were DJing at house parties and stuff. I was making these weird little beats at the time on an old version of Reason and a cheap little synth, just trying to recreate what I was DJing. Then we eventually moved to S.F., and then became roommates. Both having a DJ setup in our room, [we] started just tagging, because we could hear each other in the other room, and that got really annoying. From that, Bells and Whistles was born, and we started to slowly work on music together.
Yanick (Y): Yeah it's kind of funny, we went to high school together but we didn't meet until after.
Why the name Bells and Whistles?
Y: I'd like to say the name has some deep spiritual meaning, but really we just like the way it sounds.
Z: I remember we didn't want anything too serious because we are definitely not that serious. I think there is also a saying like, 'That car has all the bells and whistles' that just kind of popped up and we went with it.
Describe your sound in a couple words.
Z: Deep and chunky.
Y: And funky.
What distinguishes your individual styles in music?
Z: I know we each have one, but I can't really put my finger on what that is. I think Yanick's got this one...
Y: Not sure I can put our individual styles into words. All I know is we rarely buy the same music but somehow it all works together when we play. There's some kind of common thread holding our styles together.
What do you think is important when establishing yourself as young artists these days? How do you go about separating yourself from something that is just hype?
Z: Wish I knew. I think it's just being true to yourself and not getting skewed by what is popular at that moment. Also because there are so many amazing DJs out there, I think having your own music released is a good way to show your voice and personal style. While there are plenty of people doing really well just because they are truly amazing DJs and kill it every time, nowadays I feel having some music out, and even coming out consistently, really helps.
What interests you guys in older genres like deep house/house rather than the newest dubstep/trap stuff?
Z: Trap? Still haven't taken the time to look that up. Trance Rap? I don't know. I first got into this from the raves I went to, which ended up being like this electro/progressive stuff. Then I started exploring what else was out there, and of course coming up to S.F. when techno and minimal was really big. And then through whatever reason, learning more about the music in general, and its history, and just growing as a person overall, my style got a lot slower, and groovier, and whatever it is now. I sometimes joke that the stuff I make/play, I don't mind playing for my parents, maybe even at brunch, which I have done and gotten okay reviews. But I just can't imagine playing them dubstep. My dad and I have jammed out to way too much Pink Floyd for me to ever come home with dubstep and a straight face.
Y: I'm actually a fan of some deeper step-y stuff, George Fitzgerald and the label Man Make Music is a good example of that. I'm not the biggest fan of the screechy, ear-bleed sound though; I think I'm just too mellow or something. When I first got into house music, I was more into the big-room DJs like Lawler and Oscar G, but I transitioned into more of a slow groovy tech house/deep house sound. I guess it had a lot to do with moving here and discovering what the house and techno scene of S.F. had to offer. DJ's like Clint Stewart, Dave Aju, Solar, and Kenneth Scott had a big part in influencing our sound.
You guys used to throw a really fancy party at the Sir Francis Drake which actually turned into one of the first things Bell and Whistles became known for. Tell us about that.
Z: Ah, the good old days. Well me and Yanick were both working as bar backs at this fancy club/lounge called Harry Denton's Starlight Room, which was on the 21st floor of a hotel. It had glass windows around the entire thing so you could see all of San Francisco. The cocktail waitresses wore long black dresses with a slit, guys in tuxedos. It was the last place you'd imagine house and techno being played, so we knew it would be perfect. Having been living in S.F. for only a year or so, we realized that there were no good parties outside of the dark basements, old warehouses, etc., which we completely loved, but thought it would be amazing to hear the same music in such a beautiful setting. And it was. We did our first party on a Monday, which kind of sucks, but had a good enough turnouts that we got it moved to Thursdays, which is much easier to throw a consistent party. Thank you by the way, Alland Byallo and Monocle, for playing our very first party in San Francisco!
Since it was at the Sir Francis Drake, were there ever patrons confused about the night when attending, for example older hotel guests?
Z: Oh yeah, there was a bit of confusion, but it wasn't actually as bad as we thought it would be. Some people actually liked it. More annoying than people complaining about the music was people who couldn't understand that we didn't take requests. Most had never heard of DJs that wouldn't take requests. It was strange and annoying for them. Maybe it was just hearing something other than, 'Yes ma'am' right away,' that bugged them. Funny actually, a year or so after throwing the Dresscode parties, we found out that the hotel had to reimburse multiple rooms underneath us every time because of the noise. Whoops.
Y: Ha, this brings a funny little story to mind. One time while we were setting up the sound for the night we realized there was an older women enjoying a drink at her table, which happened to be right next one of our giant speakers. We started the tunes and asked her if she'd like to be moved to a quieter table, but she refused. We were baffled. We assumed she was pretty much deaf. But it turned out she was only slightly deaf, and said she actually liked the music and even came in the booth to snap a photo with us -- priceless.
Next: The end of Dresscode