Wear Patterns is the production team of brothers Gene and James Bautista, better known as the Beat Ventriloquists, and DJ Francesca Harding. The three of them are open-format DJs — meaning they play all types of music — and collectively they've spent thousands of hours rocking dance floors.
Open-format DJs don't get a lot of love in our city. DJs normally get recognized for being the best in a certain scene, because they’ve been working their whole careers to be the top crate-diggers, ethnomusicologists and historians of a particular genre. But the open-format DJ is more like a sociologist. Throw them in any party situation and they’ll observe the way people move around a room and interact, and determine the best music formula to get people dancing.
It’s this experience of orchestrating dance floors that influenced Wear Patterns’ first four-track, self-titled EP project, set to be released at the end of September. It features vocals from a diverse range of collaborators, such as indie-Latin artist Ceci Bastida and former Twin Shadow band member Rush Midnight. Debut single “Tease” features Jamaican twins Nick and Navi.
“When we approached vocalists, they all had the same question: 'Do you have an idea for me?' No, feel the track,” says Harding.
Harding and Gene Bautista met at Lockwood Elementary School in Silver Lake. By third grade, they were best friends. It was academics that they bonded over, not music. “We were the smartest in our class and would dominate academically. We teamed up on science projects and other class activities,” says Harding.
It was a different Silver Lake than we know today. Before gentrification hit the neighborhood, it was a diverse community of primarily Latinos along with smaller African-American and Asian populations. (Harding is Panamanian; the Bautista brothers are Filipino.) But by the late '80s, rising rents and home prices began to displace minority residents, paving the way for Silver Lake to become the hipster capital of the West Coast.
Gene points out that there is still diversity in the area. “Latinos and Filipinos are all about family and have their roots in the neighborhood.”
Harding and the brothers lost touch after middle school and, with no social media around at that time, went their own separate ways.
Years later, in 2010, Francesca was DJing a summer daytime party known as Bodega Sundays, which grew from an intimate gathering at Little Tokyo's Far Bar to a much larger space at the old Señor Fish across the street. Gene and James walked in and the old friends were reunited.
The Bautista brothers started making music together in the late ’90s. Their name Beat Ventriloquists came from a joke about tracks they produced that they didn’t want to put their names on, and the moniker stuck. They’ve worked with artists including Sebastian Kill, Nina Sky, Tokimonsta and Gavin Turek.
Although producing music with other recording artists is their passion, it’s composing original music for video games, TV and film that’s kept them busy. “You can’t really make money selling songs nowadays,” says Gene.
When Señor Fish was demolished to make way for a new Metro station, it was the end of Bodega Sundays. Harding joined the Soundwaves radio show on KPFK 90.7FM as a DJ and host in 2014. “On the radio, there’s no pressure of the dance floor. You can play whatever you want,” she says.
She originally went by DJ Panamami but made the decision to start going by her real name to help open up more opportunities outside of global bass and Latin dance parties. She’s always been an open-format DJ.
Despite her many years of experience, Harding still has to deal with sexism in Los Angeles’ dance club scene. There have been several times where she felt club promoters and owners didn't trust her behind the turntables.
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“These social ills exist. People want to pass on me because I'm a woman. I’ve talked to promoters and they’ll say things like 'this might be a tough sell,’” she says.
It’s all these life experiences that go into the music of Wear Patterns. It’s a story of childhood friends who have been adapting to Los Angeles’ transformations and telling the story of their city's evolution through dance music.
But some things haven't changed. Harding's mother still lives in the apartment where she grew up, in a mostly Latino building behind Akbar on Sunset.
“It's always going to be home when I come to this building,” she says.