Tachyons+ Transmits #3: The Spinning Realms of Bobby Ganush

Posted by on November 26, 2014

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You know a party is tight when the crowd begins to howl at the selections being cut by the DJs, then disperses into two groups and dancers start rolling down the Soul Line. One after the other, taking the bar higher at every break we cut.” —Bobby Ganush

How would one think of the man behind the quote above? Musical time traveler? Perhaps.

Let’s delve into the world of Bobby Ganush, a longstanding experimental music artist and DJ of the underground psychedelic noise scene of the good ole U.S.A. Some Decoder readers may even recognize from his incredible work curating Sanity Muffin’s recent psych compilation, Pulsating Strings: A Collection of Psychedelic Asian Guitar Music. One truly unique deliverer of sound based on the fringes of reality; whether his own dub explorations, dripping with foggy freakish infinite sustains on the topic of creatures from outside our space-time or laying down his extensive collection of international vinyl obscurities, bursting with heavy doses of feet-and-mind massage. We recently visited his coffin in Oakland to find out more about the man who hides in unknown realms of sonic delight and mayhem.  As we drop into this land of perfectly warped ears, remember to smell the memory of wax, wires and dust that have collected…

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Logan: Who is Bobby Ganush?
Bobby: Bobby Ganush is my DJ name, a play on  baba ganoush. I go by Bobby G. and Loachfillet, as well. I reside in Oakland, California and work with a few DJ groups around the Bay Area called International Freakout A GoGo and Lower Bottoms Soul & Funk Crew.

International Freakout is a monthly party that started out of the ruins of another International based night called Club International. That began with DJs Phengren Oswald and DJ Special Lord B. and included Mark Gergis of Sublime Frequencies and local Donuts DJ Pickpocket. The party took place once a month at The Knockout in the Mission District for a few years and after the final round there in 2008, it moved over to Oakland and became a warehouse/underground type of thing. Special Lord B stayed on joining myself, Ben Bracken and Mark Gergis. At that point, we began providing a more psychedelic experience with projections, surround sound, Tape Delays and an arsenal of lights and other effects sort of based around the Underground Freak Out scene in England during the 1960s. By going outside of the bar scene, we created a more underground International themed dance party. It opened the night up to more unconventional approaches and no set curfew. So, we would end up going as late as 4am on some nights or whenever the party naturally fizzled out. Oakland is notorious for showing up late and parties can sometimes start at midnight and this bit of freedom gave us more time to build the night without strict limitations.

Musically, we all bring a different flavor to the group and that is something that creates a one-of-a-kind atmosphere. Right away, we created a buzz and our parties became very well known, building up a steady audience over that time. Becoming the go-to International dance party in the East Bay We have had many amazing guest DJs such as Alan Bishop of Sublime Frequencies, Nanny Cantaloupe from KXLU/Dublab, DJ Smokestack (compiler of the Shitala Bollywood comps), and many other great collectors from here and there. Things were very steady until we lost the monthly use of our last consistent space around 2012. Ever since, we have done one-offs at a few different locations, keeping it underground and essentially built from the ground up. We came in with our own sound system and visuals as well.

Currently, we’re back in San Francisco once a month at a venue called The Make Out Room and our tenure there so far has been exceptional. The staff treats us really well and we get a lot more random people coming in from the foot traffic, which builds our audience out a little more than just staying insular and somewhat private. It’s on a Wednesday night, so it’s a different feel and it’s in a bar setting on a stage. That tends to change things in many ways. We’re adaptable though and have had many enjoyable nights over the last two years. Our Halloween party in 2012 was off the wall! The place sold out and was packed with a great crowd that danced chaotically, going wild the whole night! Not only that, but at least 90% of them were in costume, so it brought a very surreal aspect to the atmosphere and raised the intensity; taking the party to a whole new level. Bringing with it, some of the qualities of our East Bay underground parties.

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The other group I roll with is called Lower Bottoms Soul & Funk Crew. It’s a group of my good friends and collaborators Ben Bracken (International Freakout), Adrian Saenz, DJ Jam Cidee, and DJ Sean Boogie of Sweater Funk, SF. We started the all-vinyl dance party by the same name in the heart of West Oakland’s Lower Bottoms area around 2010. Back in the day, before a lot of development that raised about 13 blocks of century-old houses, it was one of the epicenters of Jazz, Blues and R&B. It’s where everyone from James Brown to Sun Ra, John Coltrane, Etta James and many other Jazz and Blues cats played or hung out between the 1950s and 70s. It’s where the Black Panther Party began and the punk rock band Flipper was born. Our monthly party was just blocks from Esther’s Orbit Room, The Continental Club and right next door to the now demolished Lincoln Theater (one of the biggest venues for Soul and R&B back in the day). West Oakland has a rich history of music and social organizations and as a longstanding resident, I can attest to its deep origins and mysterious powers. They are often overshadowed by its history of street violence and its ongoing bad reputation of drug hustlers and other seedy lifestyles. Of course, these are serious issues that should be addressed, but when you get down to the more positive aspects along the historical timeline of music and social involvements, you learn that there are some truly unique aspects of the area. Things that could only have happened here in West Oakland.

Our parties started as a result of feeling a deep respect and admiration for our neighborhood and its history. We wanted to be a part of that energy by giving something to our community and trying to bring back that feeling, so I got some friends together with a mutual respect for this and started a monthly dance party at the Revolution Cafe on 7th Street. It ran solid for about three years until the venue closed down a while back. Our crowd was always very supportive and brought lots of diversity, style and energy to the dance floor. On a good night, we’d have a packed house, sound system rattling the walls and people hooting and hollering at the music. Dance contests and Soul Lines erupting at the height of the evening and some of the locals would grab the mic and spit a few freestyle verses. You know a party is tight when the crowd begins to howl at the selections being cut by the DJs, then disperses into two groups and dancers start rolling down the Soul Line. One after the other, taking the bar higher at every break we cut. We also took a lot of time in making it sound really good, as well as bringing in tons of new music every month. We brought in a huge surround-sound system with about 10 speaker cabinets and played till 4 in the morning some nights. At times, it felt other worldly. Like a time tunnel to another time! To me, you can’t get that kind of thing out of a bar experience because they close at 2AM and that’s legally, the end of the party! A lot places close even earlier as the staff wants to leave as close to two as possible. Having the freedom of this underground, all ages cafe gave us the option to let the parties build and dissolve in a natural way.

Of course, all good things must end and we had to shift gears when the cafe stopped being a suitable venue. At that point, we moved to another location and took to the bar scene like we had to with International Freakout A GoGo. We now collaborate with some of our DJ and Record Collector friends Miss T and Fernando Carpenter of Vamp Records and do a monthly party called Where It’s At. It’s a similar night to the Lower Bottoms party, but with an expanded DJ posse, and live music which brings a lot of variety and fresh ideas to the table. The sound-system isn’t nearly as heavy, but we do what we can to pull the crowd in and give them a good time! Overall, I’ve met a lot of amazing and talented DJs out here who have been really inspiring and supportive.

I also do a spot one Sunday a month at a night called Sweet Soul Sundays with my pal Cameron Thompson aka DJ Aware. We spin everything from Sweet Soul to Low Rider Oldies, Group Soul, Deep Soul and other melodic tunes throughout the evening. We mostly play 45s since that’s the standard format in which a lot of the best tracks were released. This night is more about keeping things relaxed and mellow and just unwinding before the next week begins, rather than keeping it upbeat and energetic. It’s one of my favorite ways to spend a Sunday night. We get some deep collectors out for this night and we’re always looking for new vinyl to spin, so the tunes are never too stagnant.

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Tell us about your DJ history…
I started DJing around 1998 when I moved into downtown Los Angeles from the outskirts of the city, but not in a formal way. It was more clandestine and low budget with the intent of keeping the flow at shows I was booking at the time. I suppose it was a natural interest because I was both a musician and a record collector. From 1998 to 2001, I worked at a store called Aron’s Records on Highland Avenue in Hollywood. I worked with a lot of incredible DJs, musicians and music aficionados. It was a really tight-knit crew, including some serious record collectors that inspired me and taught me about a vast world of music that I couldn’t resist falling head first into. I already had the bug for collecting vinyl, but this magnified it and gave me answers to a lot of the questions I had about different artists I was into, as well as others I’d never dreamed existed. I learned a lot of the DJ basics from already having experience with analog recording gear such as mixers and reel-to-reel multi-tracking. I see it like sound collage, where you’re transforming one movement into the next or using two sounds simultaneously to create one unified composition.

When I got more serious about collecting around this time, I started putting together mixtapes on a crude setup with a shitty mixer that my roommate and I inherited from our friend at work. I was also working a lot with a local underground venue called The Smell. I was curating art shows, avant-garde/noise gigs and experimental rock shows there. They lacked a lot of gear back in those days and it was either hear Mel the sound man’s Doors tape over and over or bring in something more fitting. I wanted the music to reflect the live acts, so I started bringing mix tapes on cassette to play between acts, then on turntables and eventually started honing in on certain sounds like Soul, Funk, Psych and vintage International records. At some point, I just fell into it beyond the mix tapes and one thing led to the next. However, I did not get that into DJing functional dance music until living in the Bay Area for a few years. Before that, it was just a playlist for an evening, not worrying about a crowd of people dancing. These days, I’m more adept at getting a crowd moving, but I will always have an interest in less conventional methods and atmospheres.

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How would you explain the music you play?
It all depends on what I’m trying to describe because I have my hands in many pots! If I’m describing the music I play at International Freakout, then it’s Soul, Funk, Disco and Psych Rock from around the world. I get into grooves that promote dancing and psyching out! It could range from the most remote obscure Thai sounds to the most mainstream Salsa or Afro-Beat tune. If it’s for a Lower Bottoms or Where It’s At party, then, it would mainly be 60s and 70s, original Funk and Soul vinyl with some early 80s Electro, Boogie and occasional Hip Hop tracks thrown in. You know, something that might share a sample with an original Soul record or something? At any rate, I think it’s very important to carve out your own style and nuances as well as give people something they can identify with. It’s not all about who plays the rarest grooves all night because then you tend to isolate your audience instead of bringing them together.

As mentioned, I also DJ a lot of Avant-Garde / Noise shows and will play a variety of Synth tunes, Kraut Rock and Musique Concrete records using a lot of collage techniques. This occurs most often at a space in Oakland that I co-run with a group of local experimental and visual misfits called LCM aka Life Changing Ministries. In that case, it could be all over the map: from records by Throbbing Gristle to Pierre Henry, or old Sound Effects and Instructional records mixed with Crime Jazz and soundtrack LPs like The Shining or In Cold Blood.

As a musician, I currently play bass synthesizer and tapes in a band called Malditos from Oakland. Our music is pretty difficult to describe because we don’t really fall into any specific categories. It’s something like dark-zone-psychedelic-desert-music. The rhythms are created using an Electronic Tabla drum machine, the vocals are in a combination of French, Farsi and English and range from hauntingly intense to soft-spoken incantations. Musically, it is very textural and tonality plays a major roll in the compositions we write, which features guitar by local recording engineer Skot B., atmospheric and melodic synthesizers by Andy Zevallos and vocals by Cyn Mansourian. Tracks tend to have a middle eastern feel within them because of our Persian connections. This influence gives it an exotic quality that emphasizes the more esoteric and hypnotic aspects of the twelve tone scale. Another key element to our sound is the drum programming: since we use a Indian percussion machine, it spits out beats in many different time signatures. Some tracks are in 4/4, but others are in 3/4, 7/8 and 5/16. So, we incorporate those time signatures into our song structures and it gives them a whole new twist when those time-shifts occur and blend with the more basic ones.

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Where do you get your mind melting records?
Shit man, like most people that spend half their waking hours chasing down records, I get them by any means necessary and spend long hours digging through boxes shops, warehouses, storage bins and anywhere there might be something unusual. I dig many classics, but I am a sucker for obscure, private pressings and oddball synthesizer records that confuse me. Ones leaving me dumbfounded to the point where I have no other choice than to go on a research rampage and learn more about them by finding other artists from the same area, record label or genre of music.

There are a lot of great shops locally, but I really find amazing records overseas in Europe. I also find specific records online that might take me years to otherwise come by and if they’re at a somewhat attainable price, I will pick em up. I’m no stranger to going for the gold though and have went beyond the limits I once set for myself in terms of how much I will pay for a record many times. My eyes are always peeled and my philosophy as a crate digger is “Leave No Stone Unturned.” So, I can spend hours upon hours digging for just the right records or let my mind wander and see what comes from a few hours of random digging. Sometimes it yields an incredible stack of gems, other times I could strike out cold, but at least walk away having learned something new in almost every instance. It all depends on what I’m looking for and where I look.

I collect a lot of domestic Soul and Funk 45s and have had the best luck outside of record stores finding really collectible ones. To get certain rarities like as local Bay Area 45s by The Emulations or The Natural Four, you really have to dig in more creative places if you don’t want to pay the inflated internet prices. I also collect a great deal of music from the Golden Era of Psych, Soul and Avant-Garde during the 1960s and 70s. LPs and 45s mostly from around the globe and from many genres. Within that, I also gravitate towards music that has heavy synthesizers, strong bass-lines, unique fuzz guitars, moody organs and solid drum production.

As you know, that is a vast field and a common interest among record collectors, making it very competitive to find some of the Holy Grails and more obscure titles. Though, if you are diligent and expand your digging options and network with other collectors, your chances of finding the records you always wanted are very good at this time. Or, forget about it and it sometimes it just pops up! The Bay is chock-full of knowledgable collectors and music lovers. Not only that, but it’s starting to become a really tight-knit community amongst collectors and music lovers. There are tons of vinyl swaps, new independent shops and underground gatherings that have been bringing together a lot of people who otherwise might not have met in a conventional setting.

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Tell us about your record label…
It’s called Humidity or Humidity Research in some cases. It is more of a production company and deals with reissues and new recordings by a variety of musicians and genres. It mostly specializes in obscure International music, dealing with unique synthesizer sounds or interesting production qualities between the 1960s and 1980s. It deals both domestically and internationally with artists of now and yesterday. Right now, it is more of a collaborative effort with longtime friends and collaborators, such as Sham Palace and Sanity Muffin Tapes. I’m working on expanding it into a booking agency at some point in the next year as well as a full analog studio. So far, the main goal has been tracking down musicians we’ve been inspired and confused by and we’re reissuing their works or uncovering material that were never released in the first place. I can’t speak specifically about our current endeavor, but once the negotiations are reached and we know what we’re getting into, we’re looking at quite an incredible project.

I’m also set to produce a 45 of a really great band from LA called Very Be Careful. They are longtime friends and have played the Freakout parties many times over the years. They play a very genuine form of Cumbia based on the Vallenato music of Colombia. We’re going to start by recording two songs at SANTO Studios, which is ran by my friend Christopher Sprague in Oakland. I’m also tracking down some Bay Area Soul luminaries and hoping to release some compilations and singles of their work, both past and present. Those projects are also in the frying pan, so I cannot reveal any firm details at the moment.

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You have quite a past playing music. Can you tell us a bit about this past and what you’re doing now?
Indeed. I got into music at a really young age and have had my hand in many pots since the early 90s. I guess the most relevant to this interview is my Electronic-experimental music under the moniker Loachfillet and my most recent offerings from Malditos, which I previously mentioned. As Loachfillet, I use analog synthesizers and reel to reel tape loops with a variety of electronic oscillators and effects, such as Tape Delay, Echo Units and Ring Modulators. With these components, I create sound collage similar to what one might hear in a horror movie or a science fiction soundtrack. I’d say the music is a cross between early 80s Industrial and late 60s Musique Concrete. Through that project, I’ve had the honor of playing with some of my heroes such as Smegma, Hans Grusel’s Krankenkabinet, Caroliner Rainbow, Neung Phak, Joseph Hammer of Solid Eye, Sissy Spacek, and a variety of really great miscreants from the Bay Area and Los Angeles Basin. I’ve released some CDs and tapes on labels such as Chocolate Monk (UK), Recipiscent, Bennifer Editions (CA) and some of my now, defunct labels such as Fish Pies, Autometrik and Aural Secretions. Opened for the Sun Ra Arkestra, Wolf Eyes and others!

In the past, I played with groups around Los Angeles and the Bay Area such as Syncopation, Mummers (Eype), and a ridiculous Monster Doo Wop band called Diatric Puds and the Blobettes.

Heading into the future, I am working on getting my analog studio up and running. As soon as I have it going, I’d like to start experimenting with complete analog recordings to the capacity I had in Los Angeles from 1998 to 2002. Right now, I’m really focused on drum sounds, microphone techniques and mixing possibilities. I have plans to work with some soul singers from the area and will see where that goes. Over the years, I have accumulated a mass of tape machines and other gear that I’m getting set into place. I’d like to keep it sort of primitive and limited in a way to inspire more creative methods of recording and achieve a somewhat more experimental sound. If you listen to records from Arthur Lyman or John Contrane from back in the day, they usually had two or three live mics and the sound is just incredible! The music was played live and the sounds just mesh a lot more than these compact, overly produced digital recordings I hear in today’s music. Of course, I am open to using both methods, but for the type of music I intend on recording, I would like to get a more organic and warm sound that focuses more on live interactions between musicians. I’m also interested in the classic sounds of the 60s and 70s, so that will also be a focus when recording. The biggest challenge at this stage is finding an adequate space for all of this to happen and getting my hands on some vintage outboard gear to round it out. Right now, it’s in my home and that doesn’t give me enough space to have it all set up in the most optimal way, but it’s moving along and these days I have a lot more time to see that come to fruition.

How are DJ nights in the Bay Area? Do people get down and dance or stand around?
DJ nights in the Bay Area can vary quite a bit. Nowadays, it’s saturated and everyone is a DJ or has some kind of DJ night. Rock, Funk, Soul, Motown, International, Hip Hop… whatever you want: it’s there. Like all forms of entertainment, there are ups and downs, though there’s a great deal of quality parties in the area with some amazing DJs that really know how to move the crowd. Over the years, we’ve had some really wild and energetic nights where a few hundred people turn out and the house is almost like one giant Cumbe organism. Where everyone is having a great time and there’s a form of musical unity. Then, there are nights that can be a little thin or not as energetic, but really, it’s all up to the DJ to set the tempo. Overall, being involved in the DJ culture has been a very positive experience for me.

I’ve done two long running parties in Oakland and SF, which have been going for 5-6 years. The crowds and reactions can vary, but in general, I’d say that people in the area are very receptive to what we do. We’ve had many incredible nights where expectations were exceeded and all of our work paid off ten-fold. At a recent Where It’s At party, I had a few insane dance offs during my sets and many people grinding and freaking. When I see that, I try to figure out how to prolong those moments and how the set can sustain that kind of energy. At our International Freakout A GoGo parties, we’ve had live bands such as Papa Snap (a remarkable 15 piece Fela Kuti tribute band from Oakland) and Very Be Careful from Los Angeles (who have made several appearances over the years). They always bring a great energy and work the crowd into a frenzy over their extended hour-plus sets. There are also a lot of genuine folks in the Bay Area and I’m proud to be a part of such a varied and supportive scene. I’ve seen some incredible things at our parties, so I gotta give it up to the Bay Area and the many Outernational dancers around here. It just makes me want to share more music and create more scenarios where people can cut loose and enjoy themselves. Really, there’s almost nothing like laying down a DJ set and making the whole room dance for a series of songs you’ve pulled out of a record box. I find it similar to playing live music, except you have a whole band, any band, really, at your fingertips. It’s just up to you to steer things where they need to go. For me, it’s a lot about working a sound system and reading the crowd.

Whats the last record you got that blew your mind?
A couple weeks ago I went on an extensive dig with my friend Fernando from Vamp Records and we came out with some really amazing items. I found some great records by Bo Hansson and Luigi Nono, some Cumbia/Chicha compilations from Peru, this really great record from the mid-60s by Joe Harnell. It has a song called The Orinoco on it. It’s a really great spy instrumental along the lines of Mancini or early Quincy Jones. But, the record that blew my mind out of the lot was an album by Clara Mondshine called Memorymetropolis. What caught my eye was a note on the back that read: “Cut by Claus Schulze from the Digital Master.” That was enough for me to throw it in the pile. Not to mention, the cover was really weird and amusing and the price was well below market value. It was released in 1983, recorded in Berlin in 1982. The music was beyond my expectations and then some. On the surface, it is a strange electronic techno record with pulsating, bass-driven rhythms at the core. The programming is really ahead of its time and there are many layers of rhythmic tracks and synthesizers, as well as amplified instruments combined to create a very hypnotic and esoteric soundscape. It could be the soundtrack to several ’80s thriller movies in the Carpenter or Argento scene or the sound of an underground Berlin Discoteque from the early ’80s.

How are days in the strain of the Bay Area for you? Are you feeling the mass exodus of artists and creators or is it different for you?
Well, I guess the biggest change I am seeing is the mass exodus of new people moving into Oakland from San Francisco and Silicon Valley. It definitely affects me and I’m seeing a lot of changes around the area in which I live, but moreover, it is affecting the residents that helped establish it in the first place. There has been a lot of roadwork and Federal stimulus invested into the main avenue here around the train station, adding new artistic flares and new sidewalks that resemble other neighboring cities and their use of modern design. With this comes new factions of developers seeing great potential for new housing complexes and businesses. I think it starts here because there is a massive amount of tenants being squeezed out of “The City” and we’re the first stop over the Bay Bridge. So, by location, it seems to be the first place people start looking to relocate after being nudged out of their now unaffordable housing in San Francisco. This migration of “City” folk has accelerated quite a bit in the last few years. I’ve been here for over a decade and it was a completely different vibe just two or three years ago, let alone in 2002 when I moved here.

Right now, we’re facing some ambitious developers that would like to change the face of West Oakland. Of course, the City of Oakland loves this idea, but it’s bad for the people who have been here for decades or the last century and other small businesses that have carved a living from next to nothing. The developers such as WOSP (West Oakland Specific Plan) would rather redesign our neighborhood and call it a new discovery of theirs, than do the humble thing and contribute to the already existing community, businesses and longstanding residents. Without them, it would not be what it is today. I’ve seen plans for a complete make-over that would basically transform the area into an annex of neighboring Emeryville. To me and many others, Emeryville is mostly an expanded commercial complex of strip malls, with some of the most hideous architecture in California. Most of their structures look like day care centers or cheap department stores. I mean, it was established after moving several enormous burial mounds on the bay and relocating them. Like most of this country, there is no regard for history or culture, it’s all for profit. So, we’re facing a massive influx of businessmen and interests that will ultimately strip Oakland of its unique history and its deep African-American heritage, while exploiting it at the same time by using its rich musical history to hype their efforts and influence the new breed of tenants. It’s sad to think that we haven’t learned anything from our past, but it’s a sign of the times, I suppose. To me, it is similar to manifest destiny on a capitalist level. I say this because the influx of new interest in my area seems to stem from the big Tech Boom and the way it’s affecting San Francisco. The whole reason I have lived in places such as Skid Row (before the Loft Gentrification of the late 1990s) and here was because it somewhere that I could afford to live without living hand-to-mouth. Another facet is that we are a convenient hub for transporting employees to Silicon Valley and the variety of Tech companies located around SOMA and the downtown area. I guess time will tell what will happen, but I’m gonna stick it out and see how it all goes down. There is a lot at stake for the local residents that have suffered through poverty and poor police protection, or lack thereof, as well as the loss of historical aspects that brought this community together. Oakland and a lot of the East Bay is riddled with violence and vandalism, so that is used as an excuse to move in and take over. Even today, as the developers set their sights: my neighborhood looks like a graffiti artist’s sketch book and muggings are not uncommon around here. That is something our city really needs to focus on improving before they just come in and dump their commercial playground on us.

For more information, check out International Freakout A GoGo’s website