Nostalgia-driven nightlife continues to thrive in L.A., providing opportunities for myriad music styles from the past to be heard and enjoyed. From ’80s and ’90s eras to genres like goth, emo and pop, the trend more and more lately includes celebrations of specific artists.
Nobody knows this better than San Francisco’s DJ Dave Paul, who’s been throwing his popular Prince and Michael Experience event in the Bay Area for 15 years now. Paul brings the night devoted to the King of Pop and the Purple One to Resident in DTLA on Saturday, Nov. 18, and it’s sure to be a deliriously off-the-wall night.
Paul first brought his party to L.A. back in 2010, at the now-closed Good Hurt in Mar Vista, then moved it to the Joint on Pico (also now shuttered) in 2011. Other L.A. spots over the years included Wilshire Restaurant and Wokcano in Santa Monica. There were times, he says, when he couldn’t find a space at all, either because no one wanted to take a chance on an out-of-town DJ or they wouldn’t pay him a fair split.
“Seattle, Portland and Bend, Oregon, were the first places outside of San Francisco that I brought the party to,” says the DJ by phone from San Francsico. “Then I just slowly went to more cities. Some nights fail and you just adjust and keep moving forward. L.A. was always hit or miss for me. We even did it at my friend’s yoga studio and made it BYOB. That was a really fun night, actually. I always say that I couldn't find a good venue in L.A. till Resident was built. The party and that venue are a perfect match."
Paul arguably got more attention for his long-running twofer tribute when Prince died. His move to Resident corresponded with Prince's passing, and he even devoted a night solely to The Artist soon after, called Purple Afterlife, held the evening after his monthly P+MJ Experience. Even with the plethora of Prince-related events that week, both were packed to the gills. Still, as a diehard fan, the Purple One's death was hard on Paul.
“It's definitely harder now, emotionally, for me to play his music in public," he says. "I have noticed that I don't play much Prince music at home anymore. His music got me through my teens and 20s. But how do you have Prince music get you through the death of Prince?”
Paul’s decision to do a shared theme night with Jackson’s music only came about because there was already a Bay Area club called Dream Factory doing a Prince party. He hesitated to pair the two on his playlists at first, but eventually decided to do it with the help of a friend who brought his MJ records to the first events. It became one of San Francisco’s most popular and long-running dance nights, featuring only music from the two icons and their collaborators.
Though he’s become best-known for his celebration of the two icons (and for his ’80s new wave and pop dance clubs), Paul’s background is, in fact, deep in the hip-hop world.
Born and raised in San Francisco, the DJ grew up obsessed with ’70s and ’80s jams. He says that when he was a teen, “You could throw a rock and hit a mobile DJ,” and he knew he wanted in on the action. “At first I learned by just trying,” he says. “One JVC 210 turntable, a Radio Shack mixer and turntable/cassette unit” was all he needed. “There wasn't DJ videos or the internet back then, so I went to parties and clubs that were 18 and over, like City Nights and Palladium, to watch the DJs.”
While attending City College of San Francisco, he became a jock at the school’s radio station, KCSF, where he had a show called Beat Box Fridays. “There were more than a few rap groups we helped break in San Francisco. One I can remember is Cypress Hill. We were playing them off a cassette an industry person gave me before anything even came out.”
Paul says he has about half a dozen gold and platinum records from record labels in his garage from his radio years, thanks to the exposure he helped give them. “The thing you have to remember is that commercial radio wasn't playing hip-hop in the early ’90s and there were maybe only 100 to 120 DJs spinning hip-hop on college and community radio,” he remembers. “The labels treated us with respect because we treated the artists with respect.”
As a companion to the show, Paul created a hip-hop magazine that got a lot of recognition as well. “I decided to start [it] on my own with no journalism background,” he says. “In fact, I flunked English in college twice. The first issue of the magazine was typed out on my mom’s old typewriter, shrunk down, cut and pasted to make the columns. If there's a will, there a way.”
The mag, called Bomb Hip-Hop, rather organically turned into a record label. In 1992 he issued two flexidiscs featuring a then-unknown Dan the Automator (of Dr. Octagon and Deltron 3030 fame), Charizma and Peanut Butter Wolf. “Those are pretty rare now; I see that one sold on eBay for $70,” he says. “While doing the publication I would always receive demo tapes for our demos section in the mag. In 1994 I released an album titled Bomb Hip-Hop Compilation that featured Blackalicious, Charizma and Peanut Butter Wolf, as well as many others that we had been in contact with, receiving and reviewing their demos.”
Though the label’s early success landed Paul on the cover of Billboard in 2002 as part of a story about indie hip-hop labels, he says the record industry’s slow decline killed him financially. “I had always kept DJing so I focused more on that and stopped putting out records,” he says. “It took me four years to climb out of debt, but I did it. “
He’s been promoting and DJing in San Francisco and beyond ever since, making a name for himself initially doing hip-hop events, and expanding from there. “The scene in the ’90s for nightclubs and for live hip-hop music was beautiful. I can't lie, I miss it, and there'll never be another time like it again,” he says wistfully. “I'm just happy I was there and a part of it.”
With the West Coast conquered, Paul's eye is on Denver and Austin next. He's enjoying L.A. crowds, especially the hardcore Prince fans who come out via Facebook groups like The BumpSquad and Prince Army. Back home, the nightlife scene has changed, and not always for the better. "The last three years up here mean we now have the techies," he says. "They're much ruder, and coke has come back in SF."
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L.A. is always changing, as well, and what we find nostalgic changes with us. With the city finally embracing what Paul does, he's been able to expand, hosting and spinning at an ’80s night and an all–hip-hop shindig that brings him back to the music that started it all.
"As a promoter and DJ going into another city, it's not an easy thing, but I use what I learned from having a record label back in the day," he says. "Book, market, promote! There's nothing worse than playing to an empty room. It messes with your mind — not to mention the venue probably won't rebook you."
The Prince and Michael Experience takes place at Resident on Saturday, Nov. 18. Paul's other parties coming up, also at Resident, include That Big ’80s Party on Dec. 16 and Classic Hip-Hop Night on Jan. 7.
Los Angeles native Lina Lecaro has been covering L.A. nightlife since she started as a teen intern at L.A. Weekly (fake ID in tow) nearly two decades ago. She went on to write her own column, "Nightranger," for the print edition of the Weekly for six years. Read her "Lina in L.A." interviews for the latest nightlife news, and follow her on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.