With all the chaos and uncertainty currently facing our fractured nation, it can be beneficial to take a step back and give gratitude for the unifying power of music. This week’s column features local DJ, promoter, and producer Motion Potion, aka MoPo, who seeks to unite his crowds through musical events in order to form “one nation under a groove.”
As one-half of the brains behind HUSHconcerts (formerly Sunset Promotions and Silent Disco), Motion Potion and his partner John put on some of S.F.’s biggest dance events, such as Ghost Ship, Silent Frisco, and S.F. Funk Fest. Having been around the nightlife scene for two decades now, MoPo took a minute to talk to us about his style of “electric nostalgia,” 15 years of S.F. Funk Fest, and his musical mantras.
S.F. Funk Fest House Party/Stones Throw 20th Anniversary Tour takes place this Friday, [11/18] with special guest Ali Shaheed Muhammad at 1015 Folsom.
Give us a brief history of the DJ aspect of your career.
I learned to DJ on a Greek Island in 1995, playing 180 nights in a row at one point with no instruction. My genre-blind style came from that experience. I moved to San Francisco in 1997 and was fortunate enough to develop a small but devoted following in the funk, soul community. My affinity for incorporating rare groove and rock rock remixes led to festival bookings including being the first DJ at rock festivals like like High Sierra and Gathering of the Vibes. The festival bookings became festival residencies and I have been fortunate enough to play 10 Bonnaroos, every Outside Lands, every Electric Forest, every Treasure Island, and other notable events like Govt Mule’s Deepest End, and Metallica XXX. I still play club gigs as well but always try to mix in something unusual, notable, “nostalgic”.
Tell us about your self-described style of “electric nostalgia.”
In 2008 I put out an album of rock, funk and disco in remix called Electric Nostalgia. The term comes as close as anything to describing what I’m after as DJ and a producer. The goal is to produce an emotional connection through a memory induced by a song, riff, lyric, or beat you know or better yet, may have once known. In my civilian life I listen to a lot of AOR, Deep Tracks, country music, classic funk and soul and disco. I work to update those styles into something that can rock a club. Recently I have been focused on extreme theme deep dives into specific genres or artists like Talking Heads, Fatboy Slim, Psych Rock in Remix, James Brown, and Radiohead. Just this past April I shared my Radiohead obsession by releasing 11 remixes in free album called Subterranean Homemade Alchemy.
Did you ever imagine that you would be a full time DJ, producer, promoter?
Absolutely not. I had zero popular music background and although I grew up with a classically trained ear, I failed at every instrument. I come from an extremely professional and politically active old school East Coast liberal family. Everyone practiced law, social work, and medicine. The greater good and the common cause were everything to my people. My mother was the President of American Humane before she passed and my father defended little people till the day he died. I somehow ended up at Tulane in New Orleans where I was immersed in funk music and studied history with the intention to be a writer. I did a good amount of freelance journalism and performance poetry in San Francisco before music seduced my muse. Over the years, I also worked a ton of really shitty jobs: maintenance man at a mental hospital, gardener, painter, plus an 8 year tour of the ass-end of the service industry. I feel incredibly fortunate to have been able to make a living in music. A few weeks ago when the rough winds hit Treasure Island Music Fest I felt compelled to remind many of my miserable colleagues that the worst day in the music industry is still a more fortunate calling than 99.9% of the work human beings have done. I’m the luckiest person I know.
With about two decades of being nightlife under your belt, what remains most fulfilling for your in this job?
The most fulfilling part is helping to expose music and art that deserves more recognition. Last Friday we brought two of the greatest funk musicians ever back to San Francisco: Fred Wesley and Clyde Stubblefield. Ive gotten to know them both over the years and they treat me like a beloved nephew now. Its such an honor to feel loved by such incredible human beings. John (my partner at HUSHconcerts for 20 years) and I have worked tirelessly to earn that respect, not just from old legends, but from under appreciated phenoms on their way up. Artists put their most precious gift (their time and talent) in our hands and its a deep honor and responsibility to be able to help them fly.
The 15th annual S.F. Funk Fest party happens this Friday. How did this concept come about?
In 2001, I was still Djing and working in journalism and PR. John and I had been doing shows sporadically but KPFA DJ Dr. Rickey Vincent’s book FUNK: The Music, the People, & the Rhythm of the One inspired us to go bigger. We created the S.F. Funk Fest as a club run akin to Noise Pop. I quit my day job and we announced two weeks before 9/11, and then the world changed. But we persevered and Funk Fest has happened every November since then. In some years we have done as many as 15 shows, and some years as few as one. We have hosted P-Funk, Mandrill, The Family Stone, Morris Day & the Time, a JB’s Reunion, Giorgio Moroder’s comeback show, Budos, Antibalas and so many more. We always do the House Party and this year we’re thrilled to have the Stones Throw crew and Ali Shaheed Muhamad.
How has it evolved through the years?
I think to some degree our time commitment to producing Ghost Ship Halloween has become so all-encompassing, that we rarely have time for more than a show or two these days. But we’re so proud of Ghost Ship that it’s hard to shed a tear.
What kind of artists do you seek to book for this event?
For the House Party, the idea is to get a legendary headliner DJ and give them the opportunity to play the funky stuff they never get to play. Then we add all of the local heroes who have been keeping the genres alive. The event is an excuse in many ways to be able to play this amazing music in places that rarely get anything but house, techno, and EDM.
You guys have Ali Shaheed Muhammad headlining this Friday. Have you gotten a chance to listen to the new A Tribe Called Quest album?
Its an incredible record. De La Soul’s new record was also remarkably good and I don’t know why any of this should come as a surprise. These guys are enormously talented. I guess the surprise was that they were able to overcome their well documented differences and Phife Dawg’s health challenges in time to get a record done. Its an incredible swan song, on par with the Bowie record.
What’s your musical mantra?
Chase Transcendence and Catch Catharsis is one. Sleep is for Quitters is another.
Is there anything you want to accomplish that you haven’t yet?
We have produced a JB’s Reunion, a Family Stone Reunion and Mandrill show but my ultimate impossible dream accomplishment would be to put the Talking Heads back together for even one show. They’re my Zeppelin. That and having a child, which is happening in December!
For those that haven’t attended Funk Fest, what’s the atmosphere going to be like Friday?
San Francisco has always been about one thing; FREEDOM. Racial, religious, sexual, entrepreneurial…etcetera. S.F. Funk Fest was crafted at a time when the city felt and looked far more diverse than it is today and this seems to come back when we do Funk Fest. We usually get a crowd that’s very diverse in age and background. The funk was always about bringing all kinds of musical and social influences together. This Friday we will once again be ONE NATION UNDER A GROOVE.