A small crowd gathered during lunchtime on Monday, Nov. 9 in Usdan 108 for Thai food and a discussion of the mobile DJ scene from the late 1970’s to early 1990’s in California’s Bay Area. The event was led by author, journalist, and Associate Professor of Sociology at California State University, Long Beach, Oliver Wang. It began with a short reading from his recent book titled “Legions of Boom: Filipino American Mobile DJ Crews in the San Francisco Bay Area.”
After reading an excerpt from his book, Wang gave a presentation deconstructing the mobile DJs movement and examining its popularity. As a widespread cultural phenomenon with over 100 crews and thousands of participants, the mobile DJ scene became a foundational movement for young Filipino Americans living in northern California. Wang began his speech by situating the movement and his own involvement in it.
“I never got to go to the parties that I ended up writing about, so in a lot of ways, I have to kind of reconstruct in my mind what they might have been like, but I can’t speak from experience,” Wang said. “It was predominantly, although never exclusively, Filipino American, and it was a defining cultural activity for several generations of Filipino American youth in high schools throughout the Bay Area.”
Wang’s book seeks to investigate why these DJ crews became so central to Filipino youth living in the Bay Area during the time period. One reason to have a crew rather than being a lone DJ is the necessity of transporting equipment from venue to venue for gigs.
“Mobile DJ crews provide audio and lighting equipment for parties and events,” Wang said. “The reason why these DJs and their friends formed into groups, the crew structure, was partially just out of labor necessity, especially in that era, audio equipment, lighting equipment, records, that was tremendously cumbersome and heavy. You needed a crew around you simply to be able to do the basic logistics of moving, setting up equipment, and breaking it down.”
Another major reason for the prevalence of crews is the crew structure itself, which allowed music-oriented people to form social circles within their high schools and throw parties for their peers, all while making a modest profit. Building a reputation for a crew gave its members a degree of social capital, as they controlled much of the party scene within their communities.
“The crews provided a really important social experience for people who were friends from school or the neighborhood or churches to be able to socialize together,” Wang said. “That was one of the most powerful legacies coming out of the scene.”
Wang focused on a few DJ crews in particular, namely Spintronix, which was founded in 1985 in Daly City and whose members attended Westmoor High School, and Sound Explosion, founded in 1978 in San Francisco.
One attendee, Najwa Anasse ’18, expressed particular interest in Sound Explosion because its members went to her high school, Balboa High School in San Francisco.
“I wanted to learn about the DJ crews, especially because they came from my high school,” Anasse said. “I had never heard of them before this and didn’t have any idea that [the crews] had started there, so this was really interesting.”
The discussion about the lack of female participants in the DJ scene struck a cord with a number of attendees. Wang attributed this to the curfews and other parental restrictions that were placed more commonly on young Filipino women than on men. Assistant Professor of English Marguerite Nguyen commented on an anecdote Wang told during the discussion of a young woman DJ who had to sneak out of her house at night in order to get to her gigs.
“It’s interesting to see the kinds of things that ethnic communities did to create a sense of community,” Nguyen said. “I think the story that he told about the girl having to sneak out of her house to go to her own gigs is [particularly] interesting because it speaks to all of these intersections of Catholicism, music, patriarchy, and youth culture. It’s [intriguing] to see how these young high school kids negotiated that.”
Anasse echoed these sentiments, stating that she finds that the narrative of women in the DJ scene opens up a dialogue about gender expectations.
“I liked hearing how, even though they were poorly portrayed, women DJs still existed and they brought ideas and issues to mind like not being able to go out because of a curfew and dating guys who didn’t let [their girlfriends] DJ,” Anasse said.
The lunchtime lecture is part of a series called Wesleyan World Wednesday, organized in part by Associate Dean for International Student Affairs and Adjunct Instructor in English Alice Hadler. Hadler explained that the organization seeks to serve students and faculty members who may not have the ability or foresight to book events such as this far in advance and the adaptability of the series enables it to put on a wide range of events.
“Wesleyan World Wednesdays was started about 10 years ago,” Hadler said. “It originally was a collaboration between the Office of International Student Affairs and the Office of International Studies and then we, the Office of International Student Affairs, kind of took it over and it has become a very flexible series of programs. Last year we had a lot of events around the Ebola crisis and brought people in from the State Health Department to talk about local responses to the crisis. [Our programs] have ranged from concerts to dance performances, and the beauty of it is that we don’t plan it all out ahead of time; if students have ideas for things that they really urgently want anything that could be remotely construed as international is fair game.”
In the conclusion of his lecture, Wang said that, in many ways, the DJ crews were ultimately the victims of their own success because as they grew in popularity, radio shows and clubs began to poach the crews’ top DJs. Radio broadcasts and clubs have their own equipment and organizational structures, thus eliminating the need for the crew structure. However, at least one crew still exists today, keeping the crew culture vibrant and alive in the Bay Area.
“Spintronix is unusual in that they are one of the very few crews founded in this original era that still survives,” Wang said. “They actually just had a big 30th anniversary party in September and that’s very unusual because most of these crews didn’t survive. If you have a wedding in the Bay and you want a DJ, you can still hire Spintronix.”