Two decades of jungle in San Francisco: Catching up with UFO!

A San Francisco native, UFO! (born Edwin Garro) came up in the Bay Area’s hip-hop scene in the late ’80s and early ’90s, polishing his scratching and mixing skills alongside legends like DJ Qbert, Shortkut, and DJ Quest. Not long after, he began repping the gritty sounds that were coming straight out of London — jungle and drum & bass.

In 1996, UFO! co-founded the Phunckateck collective, a crew of DJs, musicians, and promoters who threw a weekly party that put drum & bass on the map in San Francisco. Their weekly parties played host to some of the genre’s best-known names — like Roni SizePhotekDieselboy, and Goldie, among others.

Fast forward two decades and UFO! is back, playing an all-night, all-vinyl set of drum & bass classics at the Public Works Loft this Thursday, August 3. Another San Francisco original, Audio Angel, aka Rashida Clendening, will join UFO! on the mic. We caught up with UFO! to learn a little bit about his history in drum & bass — and his present and future. Read on:

Going way back, do you remember the first time you heard drum & bass or jungle? Maybe even remember the specific tune? Do you remember what it was that made you fall in love with the music and turned it into a life-long obsession?

Well…. in a live setting, it was the first all-jungle party called “The Jungle” with Siobhan, Ocean, Juju, Noel and Billy Jam at Il Pirata on 16th. The live setting is where jungle really makes an impact on a person. Specific tune — I would say Foul Play’s Vol.4 Remixes Part 2 and Goldie’s “Inner City Life (Roni Size Instant Mix).” It all sounded so different from House, Techno, Hip Hop, Reggae and Ambient but it was ALL of them in one. It was this great hybrid of everything that had been going on in the past 7 years of my life. It was the music of my generation, I guess. I just got it. Maybe it was because I had been a battle DJ and the music had this crazy cool technical aspect to it … like you had to have natural rhythm to get it, you had to think and feel in uptempo and downtempo all at the same time—  it was amazing. I went in deep… deep in the jungle. (laughs)

Drum & bass has gone through its ups and downs, but it’s still thriving in 2017. Speaking as veterans who have been supporting this music since just about the beginning — in your opinion, how has drum & bass changed over the years? Is it in a good state now? Is there any current drum & bass that’s really got you excited, pumped up?

Well, speaking as a producer, I would say the engineering side of things has changed, through the advancement of audio software development and YouTube tutorials. At one point the music was very upfront and raw. Now everything is tighter, cleaner and more controlled. The music really comes alive more, drums are tighter and mixes are louder. Things just cut though the mix at subsonic mind bending levels! It’s like top-end music engineering mixed with top-notch cinematic sound design  … it’s fucking crazy … I love it!

So yeah, I would say it’s in a good state — I’m excited for it. I love how it’s been morphing and changing. I’m definitely into the stuff that has more of that “jungle” feel to it, or a super weird off-beat “where the fuck did that come from?” type of shit, like it came from the future into the now. I’m obsessed with that idea in music — like a window into the future, like a moment where time has no meaning, so it all comes together as one strange but beautiful living (and sounding) thing. I’m currently really liking everything Metalheadz, V Recordings, Division, VISION, EXIT, Astrophonica, and Critical is putting out.

This question is for newcomers to the UFO! sound — what can they expect from an all-night UFO! set? What kind of vibe are you looking to build? Are there any particular classic tunes you might be able to share that capture the sound you’re planning to bring?

I want to take people on a journey into their own heads. Let’s all get together and solve this shit on the dance floor — let me show you something fun. Let me play you something dark. Can you hear it? Can we solve that? Yeah, okay… Dance That Shit Off!!! I would say it’s kinda like a DIGITAL exorcism — that’s the healing powers of this style of music. There’s this beautiful side that you can go with and be inside — that reminds you that life is pretty fucking cool. And there’s this ugly sinister dark side that makes you almost confront your fears and problems at that moment, all while having fun. That’s the importance of a DJ to me — selector, shaman, whatever … not too many so-called DJs see it that way, but I’m fully aware of this, so I go in it like that: Let’s solve this shit on the dance floor. Like a ritual. Right!?

No specific records, but you’ll hear early Metalheadz, V Recordings, Ganga Cru, Moving Shadow, Suburban Base, Philly Blunt, HardLeaders, Formation and so much more!

What’s the draw for you in playing an all-vinyl set? (Besides the obvious answer that so many of these classic tunes aren’t available digitally, that is.) Does DJing vinyl change the way you select and play tunes vs. DJing digitally? 

I’m doing vinyl because I actually miss the ability to DJ in that kind of way. The stakes are higher — there’s this kind of danger and hard work thing that happens — at any moment it could all turn to shit (also known as a train wreck). Ha!

In 2003, I experienced a fire in one of my storage units, and I was left record-less for a long time. When I had the opportunity to obtain those records again, I knew sooner or later, I would have to put on a show. I basicaly bought my whole collection over again — and that inspired me to showcase how the music used to be played. It’s kind of my way of saying thank you to everyone who keeps it going in the Bay Area, and it’s a celebration of where I am in my life today. That music literally propelled me towards it all today. Tragedy inspired me. Turning something tragic into something good.

To me vinyl is the beginning, A, and DJing digitally is like Z. Digitally, I can do all the arranging in Ableton, save the tracks on a USB, and play them out on a pair of CDJs. It’s like I’m triggering tracks, barely even mixing. I just treat the CDJs as samplers, basically. I don’t even know how to use the sync button! (laughs) I’ll have to learn one of these days! But you know, it’s nice to go back to where you came from and then run right back in the present with a new aspect to the music and technology. I’ve also been recording and re-sampling all my old vinyl, creating loops and crazy sound banks to use later in my own productions, so getting these records, playing them and sampling them has been this whole new excitement for me. “Hi there old friend, haven’t heard you in a while. Oh yeah, I remember those times — let me keep your essence alive for the next generation!” Patterns, sounds, vibes, all that.

Last but not least — what’s next for the two of you? Will there be more UFO! and Audio Angel gigs in the future we have to look forward to, or any new projects you might be able to spill beans on?

Anything is possible. If this one goes well, we’ll do it again, but with insane back-to-back JUNGLE sets… maybe bringing some West Coast jungle DJs out of retirement for it. As far as Audio Angel and me, we’re definitely working on music and playing more live shows whenever we can. I’m working on a new EP album to come out next year.