San Francisco-based DJ Tom Thump is the kind of DJ that isn’t necessarily concerned about setting trends, though he has set standards, and has done so for years. A DJ’s DJ, Thump’s connoisseur-tinged spirit has been felt across the globe, on dancefloors abroad: London, Berlin, Budapest, Basel, Montreal, Vancouver, Seattle, New York, Denver, Auckland, Sydney and Melbourne are but a few spots where he has unveiled his DJ skills. Equally impressive is the caliber of talent he has played alongside, including Kruder and Dorfmeister, Morrissey, Jamiroquai, Femi Kuti, Tricky, Gilles Peterson, Morcheeba, Roy Ayers, Gang of Four, George Clinton, Boozoo Bajou, Bonobo, Herbert and 4Hero. Whew.
Thump is currently playing resident DJ and host at San Francisco’s very eclectic all-vinyl party, “Loose Joints.” Like all his gigs, Thump comes armed with an encyclopedia’s worth of knowledge (read: rare vinyl and new global grooves), allowing him to harmoniously connect various, even incongruous, genres of music. Friday nights at the Make-Out Room touches on boogie, disco, house, cosmic, breaks, Latin, electro, soul, Afrobeat, hip-hop and whatever other noise that’ll get the floor in motion. He’s also holding down residencies at SF’s Wish and the Parlor. On the production tip, be on the lookout for the Funkadelic Remix Project via Westbound Records, which is a collaboration with DJ BMG (aka Ectomorph) and features mixes, edits and covers from Tom Thump, BMG with Sal P (Liquid Liquid fame), Carl Craig, Theo Parrish, Alton Miller, Recloose, House Shoes and other Detroit men of genius. Simply put, Thump has been there…more importantly, he continues to do it.
DJ Tom Thump “Dream Scheme” (The Poet Muses on His Trip to the Moon)
Home Town: Detroit/Birmingham/Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Currently Living: San Francisco, California.
Origin Of Name: I was walking up Mount Hollywood in the ‘90s and I saw it in a cloud formation. Thought it went well with the likes of DJs Moonpup, The Mad Hatter and Doc Martin, etc.
E-Slug: Facebook/Soundcloud/Life Hacker/Twitter/Podomatic/Mixcloud/Disco Delicious/MLB/Huffington Post/AOR Disco/Wax Poetics/Adigtalneedle/Destroythisblog/The Nation.
Weapon of Choice: I’ll leave this open for your interpretation.
Est. Miles Traveled per year: Unknown.
Gigs Played / Nights Out per year: 175 plus.
Source of Power: My influences are far and wide.
“Who the hell am I? Hmmm…I love good food, I love my woman and I love nature. Baseball too. But, I love music maybe most of all. I not only love to immerse myself in it, but also think about it. Where it comes from, what the responsibility of the listener is and how different levels of listening can be equally valid. Brian Eno taught me that. He also taught me how each moment and situation can bring a different perspective and impression/inspiration and how you can transmit vibe and feeling in different ways while playing the same music, though in a different time and space. I love life and cherish every moment. Oh, and I would love to play some music for you sometime.”
Can you walk us through your various musical phases? From early interest to actual creative output.
Rock/Motown/jazz/avant-garde/punk/industrial/new wave/reggae/house/rare groove/acid jazz/neo soul/drum & bass/broken beat/disco edits…and now all of the above. People say I’m snobby sometimes. But, how can I be snobby when I am so open-minded?
If you visualize music as your listen, what (generally) do you imagine?
For five years I did an ambient radio show called “Synthescapes: An Hour Of Sound Pictures In The Afternoon.” So yes, I do visualize—while inviting others to as well. The visuals are accompanied by a feeling of motion, emotion and waveform. Sheets and stems of color, the edges fading in the light…
If you could send advice via a fortune cookie to up-and-comers, it would read:
Either “Shake Your Buddah” (“Disco” Zen Koan from the 5 century B.C.) or “Music is Continuous, Only Our Listening Is Intermittent” (Henry David Thoreau).
What (type) music makes you reach for the headphones? What (type) mood makes you reach for the headphones?
Whenever I come across something musically that seems to have sonic complexity and depth, I feel compelled to slap the “phones” on. Stuff with texture and layers, whether it’s some deep house, IDM, ambient or even something classic like The Who’s Quadrophenia album followed by the New Sector Movement’s Download This album, which I listened to on my SOL REPUBLIC HDs (the HDs allow for some truly deep listening) today in the solitude of my room. Epic!
“Thinking back, was I an insecure kid, who just felt passionately about my music? Or, did I just need a better sound system and to be in front of a big crowd, weaving my musical spell?”
Tell me about your most memorable night out.
This is going way back. One night in the late ‘80s in Detroit I went to a huge arena hip-hop show (Ice T, RUN DMC, 3rd Bass and Public Enemy), then on to see Ministry at St. Andrews Hall, and then to the Music Institute to hear Alton Miller and Derrick May and hang out and talk with Depeche Mode!
One night in New York in the late ‘80s I went to The Kitchen to see performance artist Z’ev, then to the Village Vanguard to see Pharoah Sanders and then to the Mudd Club to see ESG. Pretty special! Those are ideal sorts of nights out! (Nicolas Cage wasn’t at Mudd Club though when I saw them.)
Is there a band whose album covers you love? Or a designer of covers?
The Roxy Music covers for the girls and the milieu! Factory Records stuff by Peter Saville is so clean and art wise. Pedro Bell’s work for Parliament/Funkadelic—it’s the opposite of Peter Saville, but oozing the psychedelic funk. CTI Records for the tint.
Are there any dots to connect with where/how you grew up to your musical output?
Detroit: Motown, Iggy, techno, “The Dance Show.” Plus all the crazies at the radio stations I’ve worked at: hail WCBN and WEMU!
Oh, but first, when I was little, Artie Shaw’s “Traffic Jam” at my Grandma’s house and the sound of the refrigerator clicking on.
Then, at 12 or 13, I used go over to my friend’s house to listen to music, all excited about my latest find. I couldn’t wait to play it for them! But, then I always felt awkward, and self conscious, sitting there nervously listening and judging their reactions. So, when I started doing radio it was a relief to not have to have such immediate feedback from the listeners; I could just play what I wanted and hoped they liked it. I’m happy in the dark. Oh but, then… I started playing incredible parties and watching how I was making people move and emote!
Thinking back, was I an insecure kid, who just felt passionately about my music? Or, did I just need a better sound system and to be in front of a big crowd, weaving my musical spell? I’m happy in the dark.
How does listening to music figure into your creative process?
Recently put J Dilla’s “Donuts” and Belle & Sebastian’s “My Life Pursuit” on one CD. Slapped that puppy onto the car player and hit “random.” Distort the cognitive map!
Talk about some of your “classic” memories of touring?
I was starting a New Zealand tour (six cities) and I was playing the first gig in Auckland and it wasn’t all that packed out. Then at 3:3o am one of the promoters came up to me while I was playing and said that I was to stop playing and that we were going to another venue to play and they were going to get me an additional $5000.00. I was like, “OK, let’s do it.” Then the promoter’s partner, whom I’d known previously from his shopping visits at Groove Merchant Records in SF, came up and said that she had completely lost the plot and was telling people to leave and giving them bottles of booze as they left! (I found out later that she was bipolar and had been up for days.) Anyway, she disappeared with the money and I was thinking what have I gotten myself into, as I didn’t get paid that night. Then when we got to the airport the next morning to fly to Wellington, she had canceled our tickets even though she wasn’t even getting the money back or anything. In any case, we got to Wellington somehow and the gig was amazing! I played in a glass atrium, in the Town Hall, under a full moon on the first day or winter. Totally rammed! I got all my money later that night.
She showed up in Queenstown later in the tour and paid me extra. But, when we were driving back from Dunedin in her car after a gig, after being up all night (I had gone home with club owners ex-wife and didn’t get much sleep), we crashed the car into the face of a cliff. It could have been worse if I hadn’t noticed the driver falling asleep and at the last second pulled the wheel just enough to keep us from hitting it head on and not enough for us to go over the edge. The car was totaled but we were all fine. We told the cops we had a blow out, but, in actuality we had a “sleep in.” What a crazy trip!
What has changed in the realm of headphones since your first pair?
When I started DJing my first gig at the U Club in Ann Arbor, I had a Radio Shack mixer and those big-a$$ Radio Shack headphones. I love the SOL REPUBLIC HDs for listening to whatever genre no matter where I am or what I’m doing. They’re comfortable and sonically dynamic.
Soundtrack of Life:
This is my workout Soundtrack. When I go to the gym, which is not enough, I am usually pretty rushed. Bouncing around from station to station, ignoring the fact that a slow grind is more effective.
“This classic warms things up nicely. So, organic, with a tonal center that even a Gregorian Monk would love.”
“The broken beat anthem!”
“I don’t really even care for the Black Crowes, and the legendary Mr. Beedle didn’t really do that much to it (yes, the Black Crowes made a disco track!) but, this is like the Stones ‘Miss You’ got in bed with Deep Purple’s ‘Highway Star’ and had a drug addled love child!”
“On the other end of the spectrum, this Industrial 80′s classic is pure, efficient, and disciplined. Lean and driving!”
“Cool down, while heating it up for the rest of the evening. Such a wicked bassline and Roy Ayers’ sample.”
Damon Bell and Tom Thump “Loose Joints Funkasaurus Rex!” Part 2