DJ Hakobo on Going from DJ to Club Owner, and Prince vs. Michael
Jacobo "DJ Hakobo" Juarez began his DJ career 13 years ago, performing at Berkeley house parties. Love for a large variety of music has been a prime motivator throughout his career: He was a promotional pioneer in San Francisco's party scene and now owns and operates Som Bar. Below, he discusses the transition from DJ to full-time club owner, what futuristic music means to him, and whether he prefers Prince or Michael. DJ Hakobo opens for DJ Spinna this Saturday at the Mezzanine for the sixth annual Soul Slam party.
When did you begin to throw parties in San Francisco?
It was around 11 years ago. I actually threw one of the first parties at Milk with my Fresco buddies Yoshito and Kento. We were all into new music -- especially at the time a new house sound called broken beat. We ended up bringing in some really great people like Bugz in the Attic and John Beltran.
We also heard you used to throw parties at Som Bar when it was formerly known as Pink.
I was also a part of another crew called the Culprits with Eug of FACE and Shuhei Yamamoto. Everyone said it was pretty dumb to throw our party at such small space. It was a futuristic, soulful, house, broken beat type of night. We brought out Gilles Peterson, Bugz in the Attic, Kenny Dope, and really killer acts. We were always pushing really cool shit. We were just really hungry for new music and looking for the next big sound. Personally, I've always had a really strong desire to figure out what's next and hear the next big thing. I don't know if it's because I am in the MTV generation or what.
When you say futuristic music, what does that term mean to you?
What I mean is the music most people don't know about that's pushing boundaries, and doesn't quite fit into a genre. People always want to call something "new" a different genre when it comes out, for example moombahton, but to me it's just a reinterpretation of something in the past. That's what I really like. I really love hearing people doing new things to old music. It's cool to see how older music comes back around these days. But it's able to take on a different spin because now they have the ability to produce a lot better, because of technology.
What made you decide to become a club owner, knowing you'd have to sacrifice the time you were able to DJ?
Pretty much most of the DJs I know have a day job. You can make a living if you're very frivolous and work very hard DJing five to seven days a week. But it's a hard thing to do. When I started my last job, I told myself that it was the last time that I wanted to work for people. Soon came two opportunities to change all that and I chose Som because it was going to be mine to do what I wanted with it. I blindly went for it. I really thought I could do it. Lo and behold, I got a lot of really good friends and they lent us (my wife and I) the money and so we could make it what it is.
Now you have an outsider's perspective, being a club owner and knowing what a successful party needs to have. What's something you've learned that you didn't think much of before?
I know in the past I've given club owners flack for things like charging a bar guarantee, this and that. But having experienced nights where good friends have a slow day, I've learned it really affects the entire club. How is the bartender going to pay rent? How are we going to pay rent for the club? On the outside, people come here and see that it's poppin' and [think] that I must be making lots of money. I mean people have even asked me to borrow money because they think I'm successful. The club is very successful, but I'm not earning a ton of money. It was definitely a humbling experience to go from being a DJ to being a club owner and understanding the things club owners go through.
There are a plethora of acts at SOM in every given week, playing specialities like techno and soul. Is it something you wanted to do right off the bat given your history of throwing parties?
When I thought of the idea of SOM, I did think of all clubs. Initially the idea for the bar was to have a really killer selection of spirits from relatively cheap to expensive where people could have all sorts of different experiences with alcohol. I also wanted that to reflect in the acts that are booked here. Music has its high and lows, especially styles of music, and if we were to gravitate just towards one thing always, we would have a downturned business. But it's not only because I wanted people to have a different experience, it's also the way I DJ and the different types of music I love. I wanted it to be super diverse. Even though I'm a club owner, my mindset is just like the past, I'm looking for the next thing. I'm not going to do a strictly house music or strictly hip-hop; I'm always going to look for what's next.
You were also the one of the creators of Wonder-Full, an all Stevie Wonder party. How did that come about?
I got the idea of Wonder-Full when I attended a Soul Slam party in New York. It just seemed more fitting to have an all Stevie Wonder party here on the West Coast. However, when Marky from Massive Selector and I started the party, people were really hesitant to give us a chance.
Why do you think people they were hesitatant?
Because you say, "Hey I'm going to do a party with all Stevie Wonder music." Back then people would just think of "I Just Called to Say I Love You." Mighty ended up giving us the night with a ridiculously high bar fee. We blew everyone's expectations. One of the club owners that actually rejected us was there that night. It was kind of funny. And that's when we also decided to bring Soul Slam out here.
Do you guys play an equal amount of Michael and Prince at these parties?
Yeah, it really is equal. We play all of Prince's associates and all of Michael Jackson's family members. Obviously two years ago when he died we played a little more Michael.
Which leads me to ask, Prince or Michael?
I'll just come straight out say Michael. It's funny when we use to promote it before he died, people would be like, "of course Prince." But I'd be like, "he's a pretty talented musician. It's all about the music." We used to get a lot of hate about Michael Jackson. I don't know what the truth is, I'll never know and I won't say it's okay, but I supported him way before that happened. The music that I loved was from the '70s and '80s. Once he died, everybody started liking his music again, everyone turned. Now I think he's a little played out because he died so suddenly, but this is a really special party. It might sound cheesy to some people, but I guarantee you're going to have a good time, or just ask any door person or promoter for your money back. Whether you're into Beethoven or Kode 9, you're going to have fun.