David Harness is quintessential San Francisco, and a testament to a city that lives and breathes deep, soulful House Music. David is one of the few DJs that I’ve really wanted to catch spin but have yet to do so. When I found out he was pairing up Memorial Day weekend with the legend that is Frankie Knuckles, I couldn’t think of a more perfect pairing. Even when calling David up for our interview, I couldn’t help but say, “You know you sound exactly like Frankie??”
Growing up as a military brat moving from place to place, you had said that the one thing that stayed constant was American music. At what age did you finally settle in one city and start discovering House Music?
Freshmen year of college I was living in Southern California and used to listen to a couple of radio stations (Power 106 and Kola 99.9 FM) that were rocking the latest in Freestyle and R&B. They would play cuts that constantly grabbed my attention. A couple of those tracks were 2 Puerto Ricans, A Black Man, & A Dominican’s “So Scandalous” and Roberta Flack’s “Uh Uh Oh Oh Look Out”. When I heard those tracks I was searching for more and that is how I got familiar with the sound that is House Music.
In Chicago since the beginning there was always a lot of competition amongst DJs, and there were a lot of them even early on. How would you compare that to the early days of SF up to now? Was it easy coming up?
It was definitely happening here and it still is to some degree. It took me some time getting myself into the scene in San Francisco. I didn’t care how long it took. I have always been about the music and playing for a floor. I think that is what has kept me in demand. Being able to play for a diverse group of crowds and keeping yourself true to what you like is what it’s all about.
You have residencies, some of which have been established since the late ’90s: Taboo, Fag Fridays and The End Up I believe?… Can you explain the difference between all 3, and are they still going on?
Taboo is my baby! I started that party back in 1999, and it was a weekly Tuesday night party ’til 2007. The atmosphere of Taboo was a feeling of being at my home and playing records I loved. The crowd – which we call “The People Of Taboo” (TPOT) – was the icing on the cake. They had the baby powder, a little purple urkel and the best energy! I could play the deepest House tracks, rare classics from R&B, Disco, New Wave, and a lot of vocals. Taboo is still going strong every 5th Saturday of the month.
Fag Fridays was a party I started to play every first Friday of the month. A number of years later I became a weekly resident there. This was the party where I could be myself. I was soulful but had an edge to what I was laying down. This was a night when “The Children” were being served tracks and cunty beats. Dave Peterson and Jose Mineros turned this party out on a Friday. I always thank them for the opportunity.
The End Up itself is a San Francisco landmark. The venue has been going strong for almost 40 years. It was the home for Fag Fridays and also home for the infamous Tdance. Tdance has been a part of my life since 1996. I play once a month whenever I can. Sunday afternoon Tdance would be Church for the kids. Everyone who was anyone would come and play or sing or just hang out. You never knew who I would have come and play with me or get on the mic belt out a few notes – from Louie Vega to local favorites like the late, great Shawn Benson.
Many DJs lament the earlier years when a resident DJ had the whole night to create a vibe, even several vibes throughout the night. Now it’s often more about cramming in as many DJs as possible. Do you think we can go back to having just one maestro?
I think it can happen. It really depends on the promoter and the DJ. I know I try my best to get at least 4 hours when I play. It doesn’t always happen. I do remember sometimes playing for a nine hour set. Some fun times for sure!
You do a label called Harlum Muziq with Chris Lum… Do you have any upcoming releases?
Chris Lum and I have been friends and producing partners for well over 10 years. Harlum Muziq is the production combo of Chris and myself. We do most of our production work at Moulton Media facility in San Francisco. We just finished doing some remix work for Vanessa Daou. We have a couple of releases coming out later this year. We’re currently working on a Harlum Muziq EP as well as a new remix for Yoko Ono.
What does your studio setup consist of?
Hmm let’s see: a Fisher price record player (1970), a Speak n Say, my first Sony Walkman, a Macbook Pro… Top of the line stuff!
How did the Beats for Japan party go? That was quite a lineup I saw!
Beats for Japan was one of the best events to have happen in SF for quite sometime. It was truly magical. The event raised over $30,000 and it was put together in two weeks. Chris Lum was the man behind it all. This event was the first time that all the SF heavy hitters of dance music came together and rocked the house for such a worthy cause. You had to be there to feel the energy. Absolutely amazing!!!
I am so looking forward to you playing here with Frankie Knuckles! I know you’ve shared the stage with him before, tell us what that’s like! Have you ever played here in Chicago before?
Frankie is one of my dearest friends. He is such a huge inspiration to me. I still get nervous playing with him. (He is going to cuss me out when he reads this!) This is going to be my 3rd time to play in Chicago, and I hope Chicago will be pleased.
To upcoming producers trying to make their mark in an over-saturated digital world… any words of inspiration to those that would like to try their hand at it and keep the music going?
Be true to what you are about and keep an open mind. Music is always changing. Don’t be afraid to show your influences in your music whatever they may be. That is the key. But overall, just have fun with it.