Dub Mission Turns 16 With Good Vibes and Heavy Bass
Sunday, Sept. 2, 2012
Better than: Your "Listen to Bob Marley" T shirt.
"Look George, you're not listening to what I'm saying. What I'm saying is that I don't just think Romney's going to lose, I know it." The sharp twang of an elderly Texan accent cut through the airwaves and weakly connected with my car's antenna. Another voice, soothing and bemused, joined in, "Alright, so if what I'm understanding is correct, you're saying that you think President Barack Obama... is going to be re-elected... because an image of Dwight D. Eisenhower appeared on a secret government television screen that collects images of the future?" "Yes George, that's exactly what I'm saying. Have you ever heard of theoretical telemetrics? They've got a bunch of TVs down there, and I swear to you that I saw Dwight Eisenhower on one of 'em -- only his face was covered in places, like with... like with shoe polish or some pipe smoke..." I turned down Coast to Coast AM and looked out the window. We'd been stuck in gridlock on Highway 101 for the better part of the last hour. It was getting late, and I was getting worried that we might not make it back to the city in time for Dub Mission's 16th anniversary. Serves me right -- the freeways are murder on Labor Day weekend.
Sixteen years is a long time to do anything. 16 years in the world of nightlife? Now that's an accomplishment. In that geologic stretch, Dub Mission has managed to carve a niche for itself as a consistent Sunday night bookend -- a great night to slowly ease into the week with the assistance of cheap Red Stripes and a soundtrack of heavy Jamaican dance tunes. At the center of it all is founder and main resident DJ, Sep Ghadishah, a tireless promoter who's been active in the Bay Area since she started a radio show here in the mid-'90s. Over the years, the party's acquired an extended family of resident DJs and a devoted following of regulars. As a rule, it's usually a good time, but it's on anniversary nights like last Sunday that things really pop off.
Imagine a montage along the lines of the music video for Sisters of Mercy's "Black Planet" -- albeit in Northern California and without the apathetic goths. Now imagine the top of the stairs at the Elbo Room. I was standing there in front of the coat check trying to catch my bearings after testing the limits of my car's abilities. To make matters more disorienting, the walk up was like slowly ascending into a humidified iron lung filled with the scent of Swisher Sweet cigars and fruity marijuana. Bodies filled the dancefloor, grinding up against each other, while rubbery basslines spilled out and massaged the subwoofers.
On stage, Mista Chatman -- an old school-style dancehall MC -- toasted in a monotone drawl, his syllables ricocheting off the walls like stray gunshots. Pacing back and forth, he hyped up the crowd while DJ Sep controlled the music from a console in the back. On either side of the stage, large screens projected flyer images that dated as far back as 1998. Occasional blasts of smoke drifted up from the crowd to mingle with the club's Chinese lanterns and campy pieces of Oriental decor.
"We were at Double Dutch." "Oh yeah? We just went to Delirium for the first time, it was cool. We don't know much about going out in the Mission." Snippets of a conversation eavesdropped. I picked at the label on my Red Stripe and wondered what the Mission will look like on Dub Mission anniversary number 20. The makeup of the party seemed to be predominantly people who knew why they were there, but the rest seemed to have no complaints. Every conceivable space was filled with people dancing, or at least bobbing their heads. In the back, near the stairwell, two hippie girls made use of some space to dance in wide circles in front of an older dreadlocked Rastafarian who danced in place on top of a bench.
Chatman finished up and wished the party (and apparently an impromptu someone at the club) happy birthday. As he stepped down, DJ Sep immediately picked up and began moving through a tour of sounds that have evolved out of dub. The final hour's arrival was heralded by a micro-set of drum and bass. Furious digital breaks cut through the crowd, doubling the speed while still keeping that same anchored-down bassline. Countless riddims and versions followed, with a classic dancehall section keeping the vibe accessible for everyone -- Buju Banton's '95 dancehall smash "Champion" provoked a near-screaming response. This went on up to the end of the party, when Sep punctuated 1:45 a.m. with Bob Marley's "Could You Be Loved." Here's to another year, and hopefully to many more.