When I arrived in Los Angeles 10 years ago, I learned about a core group of musicians who played, DJed and performed in Echo Park, downtown Los Angeles and Hollywood. The neo-psych scene was in full effect and bands such as The Warlocks, Darker My Love, a young Imaad Wasif and DJs like DJ Short Shorts and Clifton Weaver played often. I didn’t meet Weaver in person but learned about him through his mixtape column, “Clifton’s Corner,” via the vintage music enthusiast website Aquarium Drunkard. You can catch Weaver, also known as DJ Soft Touch, every Saturday night at Funky Sole, the vintage funk, soul and R&B party that has gone down weekly at the Echo since 2008.
We spoke about his youth, what it took for him to become a working DJ and how Los Angeles has evolved around him since the late 1970s.
Are you originally from Los Angeles?
No, I was born in St. Louis and my dad got a job offer out here in Southern California. I grew up in Long Beach, and I’ve been living in Southern California since ‘79.
How has Los Angeles changed since you were a young person?
It’s changed a lot. I wouldn’t know where to begin because I’ve seen it change so many times. In the last five years I’ve seen massive changes. From a cultural perspective, it’s become more homogenized. I went to high school on the edge of L.A. and Orange County, and I went to college in Irvine. I was always excited to go to L.A. when I was going to UCI because it was very different from Irvine. We always used to joke that Irvine was a “beige wonderland” because there were all these housing associations that made sure everything looked uniform and stayed the same. L.A. was exciting because it had all these different subcultures and people. It was more dangerous then, but it’s also where all the music was coming from.
Now, there’s times when I’m in L.A. that I can’t tell the difference because L.A. and Irvine. You drive through downtown and Hollywood and there’s a bunch of Starbucks and Chipotles everywhere. Every corner is like a mini-mall, and it wasn’t like that before.
Let’s start from the very beginning of how your music taste was crafted.
Presently, my taste in music is pretty broad. It’s been kind of a journey, but I think it got planted when I was really young, at about 3 [years old]. My parents had a lot of records, and I would always ask them to play the Ohio Players’ “Fire.” From what they tell me that was my favorite song at 3 years old. Every time I’d hear that song, I’d get up and dance. I would always ask them to play it for me, so they bought me my own little turntable and a copy of the Ohio Players' Greatest Hits, so I could play “Fire” for myself. So, I guess that’s where it really started. The next record was probably a Disney record, then a copy of Michael Jackson’s Off the Wall, then at 7, I got Thriller.
You’re known for DJing a lot of vintage soul music. Why did you choose to spin that genre of music?
Well, I didn’t. I know that’s what I’m known for now, but it wasn’t a conscious decision. I didn’t listen to soul music until my late teens, early 20s. When I got my copy of Thriller when I was 7, I remember being knocked out by Eddie Van Halen’s guitar on “Beat It.” I remember telling my parents, “Whatever that sound is, I want that.” I tried to take guitar lessons for a couple of months and I didn’t have the patience for it, but when I was 15 I picked up my guitar again and started playing seriously.
So, for a long time all I cared about was rock and the guitar. At 16, one of my favorite bands was Led Zeppelin, which led me to The Yardbirds, which got me into some '60s music. By the time I was 18, I got into Britpop, and got into Oasis, which led me to The Jam and Paul Weller, which got me into more '60s music and mod stuff, which is where I started listening to more soul. I was really trying to trace the roots of what the original mods were listening to, I suppose.
Interesting. It seems like you were very intentional with your music taste.
For a long time, I was more known for my first band, The Mojo Filters, than I was as a DJ, and I kind of fell into DJing. We had a residency at a club and the promoter/DJ didn’t want to DJ until he felt enough people were there, but I recognized the fact that when people walk in and they look at an empty DJ booth, and there’s a whole side of a record playing, they’re going to assume that nothing is going on. So I asked, “Would you mind if I brought records?” So people would stick around and see my band play. So, that’s how it started. I got my parents' old records, when it was really early, and after the bands had sound-checked, I would start playing records.
How did you get into DJing professionally?
A lot of places would ask if one of the members wanted to guest DJ. Since I was the only one who had done it up to that point, it always fell on me, and after the band broke up people would still ask me to DJ.
How are you treated as an African-American mod rock and vintage music DJ?
I don’t know. Growing up, I was always the only or one of a handful of black kids in a school. That was from preschool all the way through college. College was the first time I saw a lot more black people, but at the same time, I didn’t really know how to relate to them because of the way I’d grown up. So there was a divide because I was playing rock music and instruments, which wasn’t cool for a black kid at the time because hip-hop was so big. Everyone wanted to sample or be a DJ. I always felt like a perpetual outsider anyway, but I can say over the years, no one has ever been openly racist to me, or said anything to me.
I will say now, I have a lot of black friends now, and many of them are younger than me, maybe about five or 10 years younger than me, who grew up listening to rock music and are in bands. Like I said, the people from my era weren’t into that music, and that’s interesting to me.
Yeah, that makes sense. The Black Rock Coalition and Afropunk came up in the '90s and early 2000s, but there was certainly a divide in what black and white Americans listened to.
Yeah, I remember Vern Reid from Living Colour was doing that stuff. But I remember in the '90s, it was a really big split where on both sides, everyone tried to police and maintain a certain standard of what you could or couldn’t listen to based around race. But to be completely honest, I’m more comfortable in a mixed environment. I feel like any time there’s more of one group of people, there comes a lot of prejudices. I like being around a lot of different types of people.
From the outside looking in, I consider you to be a collector and music enthusiast, along with being a DJ. Does that align with how you see yourself?
Because I don’t really scratch, from a hip-hop perspective, I’m more of a selector than a DJ. I don’t know if I consider myself a record collector. Because the people I know who consider themselves collectors will try to find every 45 from one particular label. I’m not really interested in doing that, and most collectors are pretty precious about their records, and because I DJ so much, a lot of my records get played a lot and the sleeves get pretty beat up, so I can’t consider myself a collector. I love music, so I guess I’m kind of like a working DJ. I DJ four to six nights a week and am beginning to work on my own music again.
Catch Clifton Weaver aka DJ Soft Touch this Saturday, Aug. 12 (and most Saturdays), at Funky Sole, with fellow resident Music Man Miles (Miles Tackett of Breakestra) at the Echo. More info.