Ground Control on Why DJs Shouldn't Be the Center of Attention at Parties
San Francisco-based DJ Jason Apple, aka Ground Control, does not want to hear only one genre during a DJ set. "I get bored when a DJ plays a whole set of the same kind of music. I want to hear things I haven't heard before, so that's what I try and do in my sets and my productions." Having started his career in Pittsburgh, moved to L.A., and now landed in S.F., Apple's place of residence might fluctuate as frequently as the genres he selects during a DJ set. His main alias, Ground Control, is inspired by bassline and early rave music, while his side project, Shouts!, focuses on melodic house music, with a new EP coming out in January. He also recently joined a band called Date Nite that produces synth-pop and electro. We recently spoke with Apple about his many projects, his favorite club in S.F., and his newest release. He DJs Thursday at Monarch for local label Hot N Heavy's three-year anniversary with Mike G., Druid Cloak, and local DJs Commodore 69 and Konnect.
You spin a wide-array of genres, but which did you begin your DJ career with?
When I started back in the early 2000s, I was playing mainly nu-skool breaks, because that's what my roommate who owned the decks was into. I think when most people start DJing, you end up playing other people's records because that's what's around for you to practice on. It was a great period for breaks though, when things were still really experimental, with a lot of influence from garage and drum and bass. I tend to gravitate to genres when there's still a lot of questions about what is and isn't part of the genre. Once those rules get set, like what just happened to American dubstep where it all started to sound the same, I get bored and start looking for something different.
How do you try and incorporate multiple genres in a set?
I just try and play the kind of set that I would like to hear when I'm out. I like it when DJs do things that are unexpected, and really try to take you on a journey. Different genres have different moods, and depending on when I'm playing, I'll try to match the mood of the party at that time. If I'm playing early, these days I'll probably start with some deep house, then as the club fills up, I'll start to raise the energy level when people are ready for something more upbeat. If I'm playing late, the goal is to keep that energy up, so I'll focus on more upfront, uptempo sounds, though you can also take those opportunities to surprise people and drop them down into hip-hop or something. As a DJ, you want your set to be cohesive and make sense, but if the audience knows exactly what you're going to do, they'll get bored, so it's about riding that line between smooth transitions and surprise.
Is it overwhelming to keep up with the newest tracks of each genre?
It's certainly time-consuming, but I wouldn't say it's hard. I'm a voracious consumer of all kinds of music, including stuff I wouldn't play in a DJ set, so it's never a problem finding new tunes; the problem is sorting through them all and really getting to know them. Dance music moves so fast these days that a lot of great tracks get overlooked or don't have the longevity they should. There are tons of tracks on my computer that I've only played out once or twice because so much great new music keeps coming out. Not a terrible problem to have though!
What are two genres that should never be mixed together, in your opinion?
Ha! Those are the kind of rules that will get you in trouble. I'd say, if it works, do it, but it's always kind of subjective whether or not it works. From a technical perspective, genres that are really far apart in terms of tempo are not going to work well, like deep house and drum 'n' bass. One is just way faster than the other. That being said, somebody has probably pulled it off, and if people are dancing, then you were successful.
Your main alias is Ground Control. Where did the name come from?
Ground Control kind of started because I needed a name and I thought it sounded cool, but it really does encapsulate the way I feel about DJing. The ground control on a space mission isn't really supposed to be the center of attention; the astronauts are the ones doing the actual work. It's the same being a DJ; you shouldn't be the center of attention, the people dancing and the party are the most important things. At the same time, you do need someone to kind of orchestrate that experience and make sure it all flows smoothly.
Tell us a little about your side project, Shouts! How is it different from Ground Control?
A couple months ago, I started writing stuff that was more melodic and deeper than the Ground Control tunes I'd been making, so I thought I'd start a side project rather than trying to shoehorn that stuff into Ground Control. Shouts! actually started as more upbeat bass music, but has kind of ended up as a deep house project. I don't necessarily have much luck trying to write music with any particular plan, so I have to adjust to what comes out of me. I put out an EP for free download on Soundcloud as well as some bootlegs. Then last month I did a remix of Mako's "Tropicality" for Hot N Heavy, and we've got an EP of Shouts! originals coming out on HNH in January on a deep, tech-y house tip.
Why do you think it's good to have different aliases when making music?
I think it's good to have multiple projects, because people have expectations of the types of sounds a certain artist is going to make. Ground Control has always been about fairly high-energy dancefloor stuff, and so I worried that if I put out my more chill material as Ground Control, it would confuse the fans I already had and it wouldn't reach the people who are into the new sounds. I think it's really hard to be a truly eclectic artist these days because there's just so much music out there that you need to have a fairly defined sound to keep people's attention. But as a person who makes and likes a lot of different music, if I try to keep making the same type of stuff, I just can't do it. So having a couple of projects allows me to explore different sounds while still keeping the aliases distinct.
How did you become affiliated with the Hot N Heavy label?
I started working with Hot N Heavy a couple of years ago when they released their second Bay Area Bass compilation. I'd known Justin Commodore 69 and Michael Harms from just going out around town and always loved what they were doing. Then I needed to move house and it turned out Justin was looking for a roommate, so I moved into Hot N Heavy HQ. It's a pretty sweet setup when your label boss is just down the hall and you can play him what you're working on right as it's done.