Blasting past dubstep, setting controls for the heart of the bass
"As a kid, I played percussion. I went through a Janet Jackson and New Jack Swing phase, got really into hip-hop. I was deep into downtempo, trip hop, and rare groove when I started DJing. It was the whole 'lounge era' of nightlife, so I started getting a lot of gigs as a cocktail hour DJ. I even had a chillout show on KKSF, the smooth jazz radio station," he laughed.
"But when the dubstep thing started blowing up for me, I realized it was time to create a new persona, and that's when DJ Nebakaneza was born. I had to delete my previous existence. I made a ceremonial sacrifice of that guy." Neb went on to host the Wobble Wednesdays show on Live 105 and rise to the forefront of forward-thinking yet accessible bass purveyors.
But now it's 2014, dubstep has almost completely played itself out — bro-step wiz Skrillex's latest shows have been billed as "playing the classics" — and Ritual is on hold. ("When dubstep became popular, Ritual suddenly had this massive influx of people who were drawn to the sound but had never been in a club before, didn't know how to act," Neb said. "They were spurned by a lot of our regulars, who closed ranks. But I was like, 'We were all new at the party at one point, wouldn't it be better to connect with these people?' It was sad that our scene got so defensive. I wish we could have embraced the fear a little more. But we're just giving everything a time out. Ritual will be back.")
If dubstep is no longer an option, what's a dubstep DJ to do?
Go back to the drawing board, of course. Last year, DJ Nebakaneza started releasing a series of exquisite mixes tapping into his vast knowledge banks. Each month he would take on a new, unexpected genre — yacht rock, rare disco, Dirty South hip-hop, instrumental funk, even emerging ones like half-time — and weave something magical from his roots. The Expansion Series is one of the most ambitious things I've heard a Bay Area DJ attempt, and it comes off pretty flawless.
"I was having an identity crisis," Neb said. "Dubstep had kind of moved on, and I missed my crate-digging days. Playing those lounge sets — some of them were four or more hours long. That's a lot of music. I missed being able to sneak all kinds of colors into it. I also missed playing the music that's closest to my heart: Isley Brothers, James Brown, all that beautiful old funk and soul. I needed to break myself down a little to see how to move ahead."
Currently, Neb is throwing a bass-oriented monthly party called Paradigm with fellow head Lud Dub. But he's still planning his next sonic move. "I want something sexy, still with the bass, but a more 'purple' feel. Not the trap sound that's been happening, but something deep and hot."
Heavens, does that mean the edgy Nebakaneza persona will be tossed to the wind? "Don't worry, Nebakaneza's not going anywhere. And I'm still keeping the mask."