Raoul Gonzalez is a pretty mellow, mild-mannered guy. His neighbors in San Pedro see him taking his kids to school in the morning. He schleps the groceries he bought at Ralph’s from the car to the fridge, walks the dog. Few of them know about his late-night DJ alter ego, R.A.W.
“Runs All Warehouses” is what it stands for. In the dark of night, he will slip his car out of the driveway to another L.A. warehouse, just like he has since the '80s, and unpack his musical arsenal. Jungle, dubstep, drum 'n' bass, hardcore techno, cumbia, hip-hop, footwork — his DJ bag proclaims a deep appreciation of varied musical styles quintessential to a city inclined to stuff pastrami and sauerkraut into a burrito and top it with a little Sriracha.
Some might argue that R.A.W. has been L.A.’s greatest DJ for three decades running. No one has spun music to L.A.’s underground more consistently, more deftly, with more versatility, and to more varied audiences. Long ago, he fused his hip-hop DJ battle techniques to the concept of the “musical journey” that many popular dance music DJs give lip service to but seldom deliver on.
His own journey as a DJ began while growing up in Carson amid a thriving Filipino and Mexican DJ culture. It was the early '80s, and a waning disco scene was merging with a new generation of street DJs. Gonzalez witnessed crews like System 5 and Uncle Jamm’s Army organizing huge shows at venues like the Olympic Auditorium, often drawing over 5,000 people.
“I joined a DJ crew called Modern Musique, around '86 or '87. It was part of a bigger group called Le Chic Attractions," the 45-year-old Gonzalez remembers. "It got to the point where there were 2,000 of us and every Sunday we would have meetings and talk about how we're going to promote and [at] what schools.” The massive promo team would fan out all over the South Bay, passing out fliers at high schools and colleges in Carson, Wilmington and Torrance.
Modern Musique often booked guest acts that would later become international stars, like N.W.A, J.J. Fad and Tone Loc.
“I was basically known as the DJ in the group that you would send out to battle, like, 'OK, then he's going to represent for the whole crew.' It's weird how quickly it changed from that into techno. I remember we were all into hip-hop, Miami bass, breakdance music, but it seems like overnight house music and techno became the cool thing. If you look at my record collection, I have tons of electro. From there, it skips to just straight techno. There's no middle ground. It's almost as if I just dropped the whole hip-hop thing.”
At this critical juncture, Gonzalez was known as “One on One,” and his peers took notice of his stylistic change. “J.Rocc of the Beat Junkies came to our club and said, 'Hey, we should do a battle.' I know why he wanted to battle. He saw that I was playing techno and probably figured that I wasn't doing my tricks anymore.”
During the battle, One on One scratched the portion of a Big Daddy Kane record “Raw” where Kane raps, “Here I am, R-A-W.”
“As soon as I started scratching it, everybody started yelling and making noise. Everybody started yelling along with the scratch ... 'R-A-W, jicka jicka jicka, R-A-W, jicka jicka jicka, R-A-W.'"
“I won that battle,” Gonzalez notes proudly. “But the real reason I chose 'Runs All Warehouses' is because I was one of the few people that made use of the warehouse spaces. I mean the reverb of the actual building. I would stop the record and then just pop in the beginning of the song and let it reverberate in the room. Or I used to slow down the record gradually and let it get really muddy and nice and dirty and then it would create this wall of sound in the warehouse."
Gonzalez's awareness of his sonic environment is a big part of what makes him such a great DJ and producer. "I'm always picking up sounds, even if it's just the windshield wipers or sounds on the TV. I always like to listen to what's happening in the room, like clapping your hands when you're in the shower. I used to record myself making sounds in my mom's shower and then I would use it in some of my early productions. For me, it has always been about the sound.”
From just 1997 to 2005 alone, Gonzalez produced music on over 100 vinyl releases, on labels such as Mictlan, Warner Bros., Sound Sphere, N2O and Thermal. He has adopted several DJ names over the years to describe his varied tastes and sounds. B-Boy 3000 is a futuristic hip-hop/jungle hybrid. 6Blocc is for dubstep. His recent cumbia project is Xikano. But R.A.W. is the name that brought him to prominence all over Southern California, when he tore up the early rave scene by lethally applying his hip-hop scratching techniques to dance music.
“I went straight to the rave stuff because there was no ego, there were no battles — there was just hugging and it was all about love. I went to an underground and noticed everybody was just wearing their everyday clothes. It was just about having fun and loud music." At the time, it was a welcome change of pace from his more regular gigs at what he calls the "clubby" clubs. "It was all about getting dressed up, the cologne, hair spray. My hair was super-big because I used to spend hours with the hair spray. Dude, I would hold the Aqua Net, just sssss." He laughs at the memory. "Oh, man."
Long free of the hold of Aqua Net, Gonzalez can’t help but contemplate the path he’s blazed while simultaneously thinking of the road ahead, “I think there’s something essential to the rave scene that will become more evident as we get older. I think the rave scene is a byproduct of people's need to come together. The days of breakdancing and pop-locking brought communities together. The rave scene does that, too.
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"I don't think we realized how cool the parties were," he continues. "I don't think we realized how special it was, especially towards the late '90s. We began to take it for granted. There was just this overall feeling, like, 'Oh, just another party.' Now, I don't look at it like that. Now, even when I play parties with, like, 20 or 30 people in some remote part of America, I still have a good time. I'm thankful just to be playing music.
Even though dance music is typically viewed as a young person's scene, Gonzalez shows no signs of slowing down. "I think I'm able to have more fun now. I'm able to appreciate it from an older person's point of view. Now when I go to the shows, I look at these younger kids as younger kids. I realize they’re where I used to be: amazed by the lights, amazed by the LEDs and amazed by the bass. I'm just thankful just to still be here doing it. I just can't stop making music, you know? It's all I do and it's all I want to do.”
R.A.W. runs another warehouse on Friday, Oct. 7, at Jungle Roots and Culture.