DJ Atish on Artistic Authenticity & Late Night Tonite

While house DJ Atish is primarily known for emotionally expressive sets and colorful costumes, he’s been spending his time lately curating a unique nightlife experience called “Late Night Tonite.” Designed to be one part talk show and one part performance, the night starts out with a Q&A with a guest artist followed by solo and collaborative performances from Atish and others.

Although the party is just in its beginning stages, Late Night Tonite has presented guests Behrouz and Doc Martin thus far, and this Friday, will feature Philipp Jung from M.A.N.D.Y.

We talked to Atish about his DJ career, the origins of Late Night Tonite, and the differences between hosting and DJing.

Late Night Tonite featuring Philipp Jung of M.A.N.D.Y takes place this Friday, 10/7 at Public Works.

Give us a brief history of how you got into DJing.
Thanks for taking the time to interview me! I’d been casually collecting vinyl since high school, but my first real foray was about seven years ago when I bought a friend’s entire record collection on a whim. He tossed in some DJ gear so I figured it was a good time to learn how to mix a lot of great music. I was already throwing House-Heads parties in San Francisco with my friends Mark Slee and Roddy Lindsay, but I was the resident VJ. Mark and Roddy were nice enough to let me try DJing, and things took off from there.

What attracted you to the deep house genre?
I gravitate towards music with melody and groove, and I prefer sounds that maintain some level of subtlety and restraint. Loud, obvious music doesn’t resonate with me as much, so “deep house” generally aligns with my taste.

You’re known to don some pretty extensive costumes during your live sets. How did this come about?
I take DJing seriously: It’s an art form with depth that’s meaningful to me and can be very therapeutic. But, at the same time, house is music for parties! It’s the chance to just go crazy and have fun, and that comes through in the way I sometimes dress onstage. It certainly doesn’t hurt that I also live in San Francisco, a festive, costume-friendly city, so I’m pretty comfortable looking like a fool.

What are some things that have been an inspiration for you of late?
I recently attended Labyrinth Festival in Japan. It’s the only festival I attend but don’t play, so it’s nice being taken out of my “performer” headspace. I’m neither preoccupied with how I think my set is going to go nor endlessly self-critiquing after I’ve finished playing. This means that I can fully let loose and have a great time as an attendee. It’s really important for me to remember the feeling I have when I get lost on the dance floor, since that inspires me to bring that same feeling to my own audience when I’m on stage.

Besides DJing, you also do a live talk show/DJ experience called Late Night Tonite. Tell us about how that began.
After I stepped back from my residency with Tutu Tuesday, I wanted to have my own voice in San Francisco nightlife scene. What I really liked about Tutu Tuesday was that it was a party that was different than everything else, so I wanted to do something unique in my new endeavor, too.

My friend and now partner Simar and I were brainstorming ideas, and he jokingly photoshopped my head and a DJ’s head on a classic Johnny Carson set photo. Turned out he was onto something! The more we thought about it, the more it made sense: I value a connection between artist and audience and I might even talk your ear off about it in casual conversation. It’s something I look for, something I strive to provide, and I’m interested in educating my audience about DJing and dance music culture. Letting an audience eavesdrop on an artist-to-artist conversation aligns perfectly with my curiosities and values. And it it’s a great way to provide something unique to our scene as I’d originally intended.

For those of us that have never been, what’s the format of a typical night?
Early in the evening, I interview our guest artist. It’s a critical part of the night, and a portion many of our attendees love. But we also don’t want to impact a “normal” night’s vibe, which is why I conduct it as early as 10 p.m. Afterwards, I play some tunes, the guest artist plays some tunes, and then and we play together to close out the night.

A key aspect is that we film the interview portion and publish it online if we’re confident it’ll contribute to dialogue within our scene and resonate with a larger audience. Check out my conversations with Doc Martin and Behrouz; I’m honored to have had them as guests.

Because of the talk show format followed by a musical component, how do you go about choosing and booking an engaging DJ for the night?
Well, there’s three criteria. They’ve got to be great DJ; they have to be authentic and charismatic; and they’ve got to be a draw to fill Public Works, our gracious hosts for this event. Finding DJs who fit all three criteria is a challenge. So far, all of our guests are mentors and friends with whom I’d shared meaningful in-person conversations. I’m not sure how long I’ll be able to do this party until I run out of such great connects. I suppose I need to make more friends.

How’s being a live host different than a live DJ?
I’m comfortable DJing a party, but I’m uncomfortable publicly speaking. I think any entertainer can agree that feeling of being vulnerable on stage is a high; it feeds us. As I’ve become more comfortable DJing, perhaps I’ve craved the rush I felt earlier in my career, while also wanting to contribute in a different way and offer something more. As it happens, unscripted public speaking about topics I love, topics I think about often and nerd out about gives me a similar rush. I can’t help but wonder what I’ll do if this is one day not as enthralling, but given the fact that I’m learning from people who I respect tremendously, and we have the chance to educate an audience on a more cerebral than mere entertaining level, it adds a level of depth. So for now, it feels different. I’ll cross that bridge when it comes.

What has been the most memorable answer you’ve heard thus far?
Doc Martin, the legend, a DJ synonymous with the word “underground,” told us he once shared a manager with Tiesto, the antithesis of the underground! That was a “mind blown” moment.

Where do you see or hope to see this concept grow in the future?
I think it’s important for artists to be authentic. It’s what I value with artists I follow, that they speak openly and thoughtfully about intentions and experiences even if what they have to say is critical, depressing, or controversial. It’s what gives artistic context, it makes art more meaningful, it strengthens the bond between artist and audience.

So now, aside from my own criteria, it’s finding those artists who feel similarly. We’ve been shot down, but we’re also still building something that I hope will resonate more and more with artists and audience alike. Let’s see where it goes. Maybe one day I can be the Oprah of dance music!

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