The San Francisco rave scene once loved for full moon beach parties—barefoot freak outs led by bonfires, rag-tag sound systems, and the first manifestation of Burning Man—has now given way to startups, Solowheels and Google bus fleets, with a price tag to match. The city suffers the highest average rent in the country, a trend that's created new lows in housing self-sacrifice (like living in a wooden box), and thus is a tricky place to make it as an artist—unless perhaps you're willing to live in a box. Few rooted in the city's music scene can appreciate its transition from alternative hotbed to techie-mecca as acutely as Sunshine and Moonbeam Jones, the longtime locals and former married duo behind Dubtribe Sound System.
Flowery names aside, Dubtribe were among the first to boldly formulate a live house set; lugging synths and drum machines across state lines long before "(Live)" was just another hip parenthetical on a party flyer. Through an eclectic span of tracks like 1993's break-heavy rave jam "Mother Earth" they helped influence other pioneering live acts like the Chemical Brothers, as well as years later, DFA's The Juan Maclean, who sampled their biggest track (released by Defected in 2003) "Do It Now" on 2011 club hit "Happy House". Lauded for their mix of vocals and uplifting, trippy rhythms, the pair toured relentlessly before unfortunately breaking up (and divorcing) in 2005 after a farewell show at NYC's Cielo.
Just last month, Dubtribe rose from the ashes for a nostalgic set at the final Fever party in Baltimore, two decades after they performed their first east coast gig at the party. During the reunion, they valiantly flexed their early Cali roots as the Birkenstock-clad, mustachioed Sunshine preached dub poetry to the crowd in a style akin to Alan Ginsberg, while Moonbeam deployed classic house tones via a patchwork of equipment, sans a MacBook of any kind. As aging ravers gushed with praise and gifted Tunisian stones, I caught up with the duo to learn about the vibe of their shapeshifting hometown, the first Burn, and well as scored a hot tip that a new album may be on the way.
THUMP: What was the dance music scene like in SF when you started Dubtribe Sound System?
Sunshine Jones: It was really gay, off the beaten path, and hard to find. But when you found it, it was like finding Mecca.
Moonbeam Jones: Then there were the Wicked people...
Sunshine: [Wicked] started throwing people started throwing free beach parties.
Like early Burning Man parties before they moved to the desert?
Sunshine: Not even. Burning Man was industrial and terrifying. I was at the first one on Baker Beach, it was full of animal heads and metal machines, and very angry. So going to a full moon party with a lot of pagans who were gentle and sweet and playing classic disco was nice.
Your first show was a rent party, and rent is a tricky topic in the Bay Area these days. Is it still possible to live in San Francisco as a musician?Moonbeam: Maybe If you have 15 people in a flat with you.
Sunshine: If you come from Colorado and hope to get your own spot in San Francisco where you can make some music, I think [you're being] absurd.
Then would you say the tech boom has had a negative impact on the arts community?
Sunshine: The tech boom has destroyed San Francisco completely. It's not the same anymore—the bones are there—but I'm homesick at home all the time. It's like if you ever loved the Lower East Side in Manhattan and you go there now and see babies, IKEA and Trader Joe's. The difference is that in Manhattan you can wander around Chinatown or head over to Brooklyn to find the filth, and feel like your home. In San Francisco, it's really not there, the people are gone. Those that are left behind are really angry, crazy, confused, isolated, and hostile. So much of the openness, so much of the love – it's just missing.
Is the city still a viable place to make music and nurture a scene?
Sunshine: Mike Bee, who runs Vinyl Dreams, is killing it, and there are studios where people like JP Soul, Nichola, and Anthony Garlic (TBC) are producing house music like crazy. Robot Speak is next door, where they sell modular equipment and synthesizers, and Honey Sound System throws great parties. The survivors have become doers, more so now than ever. There's no time to hang around because your rent is $6,000 for a shitty one-bedroom. I live in a rent-controlled two-bedroom apartment and I have my studio in there, so i'm lucky and grateful.
So how do you deal with the changes?
Sunshine: I don't even want to fight what people are doing. I've abandoned the computer, and I don't care about my phone. What I'm really focused on are synthesizers, live performances, records, and people. It's stupid and shortsighted to think that things will stay the same. Change is good and these [high costs] won't last.
In a way like sending off The Paradox – bittersweet, but inevitable?
Sunshine: That's the story of hope that I have for the tech boom. This thing is so top heavy that it's all going to come crashing down.
Moonbeam: They're going to leave a lot of vacant buildings.
So we're going to party in an old start-up office?
Sunshine: Exactly! And it may not be like it was, But this energy will never die, and I'm down. Build it up and bring it down. [The Paradox] was a linen factory and then it was a discotheque.
Nietzsche said, "If a temple is to be erected, a temple must be destroyed."
Sunshine: Yes. Thank you.
Sunshine Jones is currently on his solo Live Ground Tour 2016, taking him all over North America through June.