Jimmy B. on the Ever-Changing Definition of Underground and Playing West Coast House Sounds

There’s no doubt that throwing a successful underground party takes hard work, immaculate planning, and the use of creative force in uncertain circumstances. For Bay Area DJ and promoter Jimmy B., the practice of putting together and playing parties began in his middle school days with his makeshift DJ setups. “I began playing music at friends house parties in middle school using mostly dual cassette decks and CD players, a ghetto rigged amplifier with eight speakers pumping out of only four speaker outputs. Those were the days,” he recalls.

[jump] Continuing to throw house parties through high school and college, it wasn’t until he starting attending events in San Francisco that he was inspired to throw his own proper underground. Named The DL and thrown in a warehouse outside Santa Cruz, the party attracted people from all over the Bay coming together to dance to house music. After graduating from junior college, he decided to move to the city, where he began his journey to becoming the well-known underground DJ and promoter he is today.

We got a chance to ask Jimmy B. about being a part of collectives like Green Gorilla Lounge and WERD., as well as his thoughts on the underground music scene. He performs this Sunday, June 14, for the 3rd Annual WERD. ON THE STREET at The Midway.

How have you seen the word “underground” evolve in your nightlife experiences?
The term “underground” has been thrown around a lot, but for me and my friends I think its something that we all agree on, basically any artistic expression that is not intended to be sold to a mass audience. It's made for the sole purpose of satisfying the artist and maybe a group of friends within a smaller scene. Different sounds have come from underground. Some more glorified then others; some have eventually crossed over into mainstream. Sounds becomes niche with a genre to define what’s being listened to, sales charts can be analyzed, music industry and media outlets can now attempt to market themselves from this sound. The sound becomes replicated over and over by new artist, encouraged by major labels and eventually the sound is watered down. I have seen electronic music and the massive rave scene absolutely die in California and resurface in the last 8 years, which is now bigger than ever and definitely not underground. Is it getting watered down? I can only assume. On the other hand these scenes are exposing people to dance music, and from my experience I think the more inquisitive minds continue to explore and discover music until they learn the history of what they're listening to, sometimes leading them back far enough to a rawer, true form of that sound.

When and how did you get involved with WERD.?
For years WERD. was in a small club on the outskirts of Union Square called Otis. The original DJs Nick Williams and Brandon Wade asked me to come play after I met them at one of the Compound undergrounds. The WERD. crowd was always lively and fun, there was many good memories made there, and Nick had me back a few times over the years. WERD. has had an crazy amount DJs and artists come through for their SF debut, along with great local DJs weekly. It became a Sunday night tradition for SF house and techno heads. Nick and I DJ’d a lot together mostly at WERD. or the occasional back-2-back sets at underground loft parties. After college I was hired at Monarch in SOMA to help with events and music, and in the spring of 2014, Nick Williams got in touch with me to let me know that Otis was closing. WERD. made the move to Monarch and I played as a guest that summer. I left a week or two after that their move to Monarch to tour and upon return Nick asked me if I would became more involved as resident with WERD. Since then Nick was given an opportunity in Berlin that he couldn't pass up. After his move the WERD. team residents and community has come together to keep the tradition going. It's been great working alongside the current residents Zoz, Kimmy Le Funk, Woo, Rachel Torro and our WERD. family. The vibe is thick!

You're also a resident of the Green Gorilla Lounge crew. What's your favorite thing about being part of that collective?
The Green Gorilla Lounge DJs kind of set a bar for underground events and style in San Francisco that I always admired as a younger DJ. They didn't worry about what was going on in the club scene, and stayed a course with house with a pinch of wonky disco sound. It was a special kind of party at the time, deep house and disco hadn't blown up in SF and you had to find these undergrounds or one offs. Manny (DJ M3) and Anthony Mansfield have paved the way for a lot of DJs here in SF now. That's what I love about the Green Gorilla Crew, and they really don't care what everyone else is doing!

As you embark on your month-and-a-half long tour next week, what will you be showcasing in your DJ sets?
When I go abroad I always like packing a bag of records that remind me of home. West Coast house has some great history and I pack both new and older cuts like house music, weird techno, acid, off-the-wall disco, the occasional edit and always some moody tracks for the extended sets and morning glory parties. There are tons of music that I don't get to play in San Francisco because of short sets times and earlier closing hour. Abroad, longer hours and weekend long events are common. I love being able to journey through my sets, the more time allowed, the better. 
You'll also be playing the legendary Garden Festival in Croatia, along with many Bay Area DJs. What was it like being asked to play?
Garden Festival is definitely the highlight of the tour, and it's their final festival after 10 years, so being asked to return is a dream. The size of the festival is perfect and everyone there is on another level, the location is magical too. You can totally relax and enjoy waterfalls, water taxis take you to private beaches and islands, drink local wine, eat fresh seafood, not to mention you can walk to the festival and catch Craig Richards, Nightmares On Wax, Paranoid London playing feet from the water. There isn't another festival like it.

While many Bay producers and artists have moved to other states or countries in the past few years, what has kept you in San Francisco?
Rent control. No seriously, I've really enjoyed every moment being here and being able to contribute to San Francisco musically is a true dream. I have had to make sacrifices to be able to stay here and wouldn't think twice about it, but if my current housing situation was to ever change I would definitely consider moving. I think it's something that everyone in San Francisco has to think about, but I feel blessed being able to be here and being apart of SF house music for as long as I have. I try not to dwell on the chance that things could change, but the reality of it is that things change. So let’s enjoy this together for as long as we can right?

Lastly, tell us what some of the vibes will be like at WERD. on the Street this coming Sunday.
Everyone on the bill has made significant contributions to the Bay Area and West Coast house scene. We have been watching each other grow and it's truly inspiring. Sunday will be an awesome family-affair for our house music community. Not to mention we are rocking an OPUS Sound System and going to be BBQ'ing all day! WERD. UP! 

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