Q & A WITH PAPA LU
⤑ First things first. How have your loved ones and yourself been holding up during quarantine? What have you been doing to stay occupied/productive?
We have been holding up. Just staying in like everyone else and being very careful while outside. Using a lot of hand sanitizer and wearing masks. The only thing I do for entertainment these days is either work on music at my West Oakland studio with my studio partner Bryan Boogie or hit up my other buddy Lauren Canas’ studio in SF. Bryan and I have done a few live streams so far from the comfort of our small studio. At first, I hated the idea of live streaming DJ sets but once you get that bored, it’s not that bad. Obviously, I miss the clubs and festivals but live streaming is the only form of sharing live DJ sets with some type of audience listening.
⤑ What was it like growing up in San Francisco? What are you favorites things about the city? Your least favorite?
I actually grew up in Berkeley/ Albany area which is right across the Bay Bridge from SF. I loved growing up in Berkeley. It’s a really diverse place. Some of my favorite things to do when I was a kid was to take the #52 bus to Telegraph Ave. and just hang out. We would go shopping for CDs at Amoeba Music and Rasputin’s Records. This part of Telegraph Ave. is located where UC Berkeley is and there used to be a bowling alley/ arcade called The Underground on campus that we would hit up all the time. When I moved to Albany, some of my favorite memories came from riding around town on bikes with a big group of friends. We would go everywhere on our dirt bikes. I think my least favorite thing was dealing with bullies who would try to steal our bikes just because we were younger/smaller.
⤑ Tell us about your intro to nightlife? How did you get started?
I think my very first intro into night life may have come from the first party I helped promote back when I was in High School. One of my best friends, Jonathan McDonald AKA Jmac was throwing a party in the warehouse that him and his older brother Billy lived in Richmond. They told me to invite some friends and I asked if I could print a flier. They were cool with that, so I did. I think promoting that event even though it was not technically my party was my first taste at producing and promoting events. The party was super lit btw.
My second event was the party that I threw for an ex-girlfriends’ 18th or 19th birthday on the beach at Ocean Beach, SF. I borrowed Jmac’s brothers sound system and generator for the party. Prior to the event, I helped the DJ move from one apartment to another to have her trade her DJ services for the party. I promoted the shit out of that party. Fliers were all over the Laney College campus and there were maybe 200 kids that showed up that night on the beach. The cops were pissed and shut it down before it got really good.
The third party I threw, was at an actual night club called Sake Lab on Broadway in SF. By that time, I was 21 and able to do things legitimately. Jmac was working at club called DNA Lounge at the time. He saw how well the turnout was for my event and asked if I wanted to throw parties with him at DNA Lounge. From there we threw a bunch of hip hop shows hosting artists such as Digable Planets, Digital Underground, Guru of Gang Starr, Kool Keith etc. It was definitely a memorable era in my life. It was also those stomping grounds that got me into house music a lot more than just hitting up a few raves back in high school. There was a weekly event called Remedy that was held at the DNA lounge. There I saw acts like Derrick Carter, Mark Farina, Miguel Migs, and even Kaskade (before EDM) perform.
Years later I ended up investing my savings into helping to open a night club called Monarch. I own a very small percentage but none the less I figured since I was a part of the club, I might as well produce an event there. I was also getting the itch to produce some new events, so I did. I started a party called Night Moves. My resident DJ’s were DJ Theory and J Boogie. I booked headlining acts such as Jimmy Edgar, Danny Daze, Poolside, Moon Boots, Walker & Royce, John Tejada etc. During the beginning of Night Moves I was also roommates with DJ Umami. She let me play records on her turntables and mixer which was in our living room. Every day I would play for hours with the windows open and my audience were the fellas hanging out at the liquor store across the street from our apartment in Uptown apartments, Downtown Oakland. I didn’t really have plans to become a DJ but I loved playing music so eventually I decided to start playing the opening sets for my Night Moves events. From there is where DJ’ing became fully a part of my life.
⤑ In 2013, The Kazbah was born. Can you give us a little insight on how the idea came about? What were the early days of the camp like compared to what it is now?
I met the core group of guys from the Kazbah in Tulum after BPM Festival 2013. We had some mutual friends that introduced us. One of my closest friends Jeff aka Hef2Def introduced me to Ali Khalili (one of the leading founders) first at Papaya Playa Project. I remember thinking “I like these guys; they remind me of me and I’m not sure how I’m just meeting them now” lol. We started hanging out a bunch before Burning Man 2013 and coincidentally that was the first year that I really set my plans on going. I had thought about going to Burning Man years before this but this year I was serious about making it there. Also coincidentally, these guys were planning on building a pyramid stage which was designed after a pyramid shaped lamp that Sean Behm (leading founder and designer) had designed and had in his bedroom. I was told that I should have a camp to go with and it seemed like fate to join up with these guys and help build this pyramid. They got approved for their design to turn it into a stage at Burning Man and we got together, built the first pyramid in 3 weeks, and we made it out there.
Honestly, the first year was sort of a mess. We were barely successful in building and breaking down but made it happen and we had a lot of issues with organization. No food program for the camp till year 2. No real schedule with DJ sets. We actually planned to host only daytime parties but realizing that was a shit idea since we had zero shade, we flipped everything around on the fly once we got there. I DJ’d probably 15 times that first year because of it. I had a blast so I’m not complaining but things could have run smoother. It was our first year so things like this are expected. Sometimes I miss the spontaneous DJ sets that were only possible because of the lack of planning. Each following year got better and better. The first couple years we didn’t have much of a following so playing to small crowds or maybe one dusty burner who might have been the coolest person on the playa in my opinion wasn’t all that bad but it was a lot different from year 3 to year 7. Year one we were doubted and laughed at, so it was difficult to get any big-name artists to commit to a DJ set at the Kazbah. The issues that we have had since year 3 and beyond have to do with not being able to delegate slot times to all of our friends because we also have a bunch of big-name artists to cater to. It’s not the worst problem to have. Our camp has become sort of a “place to be” which also means more responsibility. A lot of people tell me how much time they spent at our camp and how it really made their burn special. So, I guess the main difference between the early days and now has a lot to do with providing an experience to the people who come and enjoy our camp. It’s no longer about coming to burning man just to have a good time.
⤑ What is one of the most memorable Kazbah moments you’ve experienced over the last few years?
This is a tough one to answer because there has been a lot of great moments. But for me it always boils down to some particular DJ sets that I was able to play for our crowd. I put a lot of time and planning into music in general and especially for my sets at the Kazbah and I really enjoy the happiness that I see in peoples’ faces when I’m playing the music that I love the most. With that being said, I would have to say my favorite set was closing out the Kazbah on Sunday of Burning Man 2018. All in all, I played for about 10 hours tagging with Lee Foss and wAFF in the beginning but the last 3+ hours of my set I played solo and it’s posted in my sound cloud. Link below.
⤑ Of all the countries/cities you have traveled to, what place has been your favorite? What made you fall in love with this area?
Barcelona, Spain really resonates with me. I love the culture, art, food, record shops (Vinyl Temple and Paradiso are my favorites), and mostly the people. I’ve had the opportunity to become friends with some really cool people there. We share common interests in nightlife and DJing etc but I really love how when you connect with someone from Barcelona you become good friends immediately. They will take you in as one of their own and will insist that you stay with them next time you are in town. Or at least that’s my experience there. Their clubs are top notch as well and cannabis is easily accessible too, which is similar to California.
⤑ Any upcoming projects you’d like to speak about? Anything specific you want to share with those tuning in?
I don’t like to speak on projects that are in the conceptual phase, but I will say there will be music coming from myself and production partners. With this whole shelter in place situation, it has sort of pushed us to finalize a bunch of music that we’ve been working on for a really long time now. I hate to speak on events right now because we have no idea when things will get back to normal with night life but there will be more Kazbah parties and we’ve been producing some events titled “Pyramid People” in Miami for Art Basel. So, you will probably hear of those events happening again someday.