DJ Matt Consola is a mainstay in a scene that never stays the same. Born in Brooklyn , New York , and raised in San Jose , his career has grown and changed along with the circuit, and through it all heís managed to reinvent both the art and the business of being a DJ.
One the scene since the age of 16, Consola is more than just a DJ who has played every kind of party and every kind of venue. In addition to having written for dance music magazines and having produced compliations for Vanity Fair magazine, heís also a record label owner and a producer, which gives him a unique perspective on making music.
Heís played clubs all over the world, including England , Greece , Canada , Ireland , and Australia , and heís provided the soundtrack for some of San Francisco ís biggest events, including Pride and the Folsom Street Fair. His DJ resume includes experience at parties that can only be described as legendary, including the White Party Palm Springs and the now-defunct Pleasuredome.
These days, Consola is a resident at Bearracuda, as well as at Boy Bar, Sanctuary, Adonis, and Underworld. You can hear complete sets heís played at these parties by subscribing to his iTunes podcast, Adapter, which you also can access directly from his website.
Coming up, Consola will be spinning at the Castroís Pink Saturday street party on June 27, as well as at Moondance on the Russian River on Saturday, August 22. This weekend he sets sail at the Cruzliner T-dance, which is moving to a new port of call at the newly renovated Club Ei8ht, with a cover charge of only $10.
Youíve seen it all on the circuit scene. What kind of journey has it been for you?
Itís just such a different scene now than it was when I was coming up, which was a time when you cut your teeth on every gig you could possibly get. There were so many clubs, and so many events, you were working your butt off to get recognized - if not 7 days a week, then 5 days a week. I was traveling all the time as a DJ and had to get a manager.
Things are certainly a lot slower now, given how the club scene and the music scene have changed. Clubs canít afford to fly people in as often as they used to, and they canít afford to pay DJs as much as they used to.
In general, the three biggest things that have changed the club scene are drugs, September 11, and Napster. When 9/11 happened, clubs all over the country saw their numbers decrease by more than half, and they just couldnít afford to keep bringing in top talent. Most clubs started using only local talent, which put a lot of people out of business, including managers.
As someone who has owned a small- to medium-sized label for a little over 10 years, I saw a lot of DJs get dropped, a lot of singles that never got released, and a lot of record labels that were forced out of business. In the end we were forced to put our music out on our own.
Is that how you got into podcasting?
Adapter came about when podcasts became more accessible to everyone. You didnít have to be a radio station to put out your music, and once I was able to start recording my sets directly to my laptop, I was able to offer them on my website to people who wanted memories from a particular night on the dancefloor.
The upside with podcasts is that there are no longer any limitations, like with trying to fit sets on a CD or the amount of time it takes to produce a CD. I can put out an 80-minute set and I can do it within a couple of days after having played it.
Given all the challenges, how do you keep your love for the business of making music alive?
When youíre forced to work a full-time day job, itís a lot more difficult to get your music together and work on the weekends. You have to love it or it just becomes a grind.
But itís getting better. I was able to relaunch my label last year after a 6- or 7-year hiatus, and while itís a completely different business now, with viral marketing and so many different websites that host music, you can make enough money to keep putting out singles if you keep your costs extremely low. By doing everything completely digitally and not pressing CDs, you can make money again, and that low overhead is why weíre starting to see certain labels making a comeback.
Whatís your response to people who talk about ďthe good old daysĒ of the circuit?
Itíll never be the way it was. What people seem to forget is that, even back in the Universe and Pleasuredome days, there was always a romanticism of the years previous. I was lucky to be coming out and sneaking up to the city before all that. A lot of people from back then branched out, going on to become promoters and DJs.
The term ďcircuitĒ eventually became known throughout the general public, straight and gay, as being synonymous with ďdrug-addled party,Ē and now we have a whole new generation of twentysomethings who really arenít that concerned with where the club scene came from. They are forging their own scene, and they donít care whether itís straight or gay, they just want the music to be good.
Iíd be lying if I said I didnít miss the days of Colossus and Metropolis, which was where I was able to make a name for myself, but we canít force what weíve been through on a younger generation. All we can do is try to remind them of what great things came before them and hopefully incorporate that into the new parties.
Is that what youíre trying to do on Sunday at Cruzliner?
Thatís why Iím so excited about these new T dances, like Cruzliner, that are trying to revive something that was really popular 20 years ago. Iím re-editing and re-mixing tracks from those days to create a new kind of fusion. My set will be about half and half between current and older stuff, and Iíll be keeping all those vocals, those melodies, and that energy.
These days youíre known on the circuit as a ďbear DJ.Ē How did that come about?
Iíve jumped around from group to group, and for me itís always been about exposing people to fun music. Back in the day, Club Asia was the first Asian gay party in town, and it was a big event that eventually became Asia SF. Myself and Jamie J Sanchez played there for quite a few years, and I also was the resident at G Spot, the girl party, for 4 years.
Iíve gotten the following I did because people knew I wasnít just there to play the hottest song thatís out. I donít like playing filler. I have to feel like a song is going to stick around for a while.
Bear parties and bear runs were coming above ground about 15 years ago when I started staying local, and it was really only myself and DJ Victor in San Francisco that identified ourselves as bear DJs playing bear events. That was before there was a Lazy Bear [an annual bear reunion on the Russian River ], and there were a lot of bears who were at circuit events back then. They just happened to shave their chests!
When the bear thing came into its own, with events like Sweat and the Hairrison Street Fair, it made an easy transition for me to go from circuit parties to bear events. Bear parties were more comfortable to me, since circuit parties were dying out. Bear parties were like circuit parties, but with less drugs, and with that big, happy feeling of sweating to fun music. It didnít matter what you looked like, or what you were wearing. It was all about acceptance.
How would you describe your signature sound?
I really just say itís melodic, happy house. I need songs with a strong melody and a strong vocal, but at the same time they have to be energetic. The songs can be underground, circuit, tribal, progressive, or whatever, but those are my common themes.
What kind of music is inspiring you these days?
Iím really into the Digital Dog remixes, which have a big sound, what Iíd call locomotive, progressive, happy house. I also like the team of Thomas Gold and Chriss Ortega, which is darker, underground, and slightly electro, UK house. Those two are a big spectrum away from each other, and I like to bounce back and forth.
Whatís one of your most memorable moments behind the decks?
When I was playing up in Vancouver , for the Scorpio Uprising parties, vocal house was just starting to come back, but the music was more vocal trance than anything else. I was playing to a crowd of 2,000-3,000 people at the Vogue Theater, which was a dark and gorgeous club where they turned the stage of the theater into the main dancefloor and turned the orchestra pit into a second dancefloor.
I was spinning on a platform in the chair seating area, and I could mostly see the pit, but I couldnít see the stage very well. It was 6am and I was thinking it was time to start winding down, and the lighting guy hit the lights. The entire dancefloor was packed wall-to-wall with people who were hugging each other and dancing to the music, and they all had the biggest smiles on their faces. I got chills! I had started playing at 10pm, and it was freezing outside and I was getting tired, but suddenly I was energized by the adrenaline of the whole thing. I went for another 2 hours and Iíll never forget it.