Based in Oakland, Damon Bell‘s sets of of nu jazz, 80’s boogie, Brazilian bossa and afro-beat has made him a much revered DJ in the state of California, holding down famed residencies at places such as Supper Club, Green Circle Bar and Bar Dynamite. Forming his still long-standing relationship with Deepblak in 2009 with his debut release Kush Musik Part 1, Part 2 followed the next year and with Deepblak’s decision to adopt the vinyl format in 2011 Kusk Musik Wax arrived shortly after. With three great consecutive releases Bell quickly established himself as one of Deepblak’s key members alongside founder Aybee and Afrikan Sciences. The label itself is one everyone should be acquainted with; putting out house, techno, hip-hop, disco to more broken beat productions since 2001 with wonderful consistency. With a recently released debut LP titled Blues For The Libyan featuring collaborations with Afrikan Sciences and vocalist Khalil Anthony, getting a mix in from Damon Bell felt very natural. Featuring a couple of forthcoming tracks, alongside music from Ron Trent, DJ QU and Kai Alice, Truancy Volume 128 strays ever so slightly from some of the sounds found in other online mixes but still reflects Bell’s title as record collecting connoisseur.
I think a good place to start would be with San Diego which is where you’re originally from, right? For those who aren’t clued up with the city’s history, what can you tell us us about places such as Supper Club, Ole Madrid and Dynamite Bar and what they mean to you musically. “Don’t forget about Green Circle Bar, which came after Ole’ Madrid. So Ole’ was one of my first DJ residencies. I opened for a night called Brass which was a label night for the Delicious Vinyl sub label that was also called Brass. I was 17 years old and had already been collecting hip-hop, jazz and rare groove at the time. The night was with Orlando, Marques Wyatt, Dj Daz and occasionally the Umoja Hi-Fi Quintet who all came up from LA to do the night. I learned a lot from kats out that way man, some serious collectors. After that was Green Circle Bar, a home for many DJs in San Diego and out of town performers. The place saw the Roots, Arrested Development, Greyboy Allstars pass through as they were all rising to their individual fame and successes. I played their a couple times covering for DJ Greyboy, man you bringing up memories! San Diego back then had a strong music scene, people supported and enjoyed all types of shit. Bar Dynamite was myself and Ikah Love’s home for like six years, we talking say from 2000 to 2006, playing every Tuesday from 9pm to 2am. We were Four Corners Sound System, so the night was called Four Corners Sound System Presents. We played everything from hip-hop, acid jazz, jazz, reggae, funk, soul, disco, brazilian, house, broken beat – we kept it eclectic and fluid throughout the night. This is a place where I really took control of being able to play any kind of music in a DJ set. I mean at the night we had “house heads”, “reggae heads”, “hip-hop heads” so it was great to be able to give everyone a little something and include all into the night.
From what we’ve read you grew up with a background of jazz, salsa, funk and hip-hop. Can you roughly remember the time when traces of electronic influences started to seep into it? “Well hip-hop is electronic, so I was into that already. A lot of hip-hop records sampled early 70’s-80’s electronic music as well as soul and funk which is what I sought after. I was also going to ‘house’ clubs in LA and SD and using my older brothers ID before I was 21. I think what really turned me on to buying and collecting modern electronic music in the sense of the genre I believe you are referring to, was listening to Kraftwerk, Devo and those kinds of groups.”
So where does Deepblak and Aybee come in on the timeline? Your first release was in 2009 but I like to think you guys and the label might go back a bit further than that with the Oakland connection. “Yeah, not that far before, Aybee already had Deepblak up and running before we meet. We actually meet through Ron when he came to Oakland, around the time I moved up from Southern California. Me and Ron go back some years further and he brought Aybee over to the crib. I had at that time been working on music with JT and Tim K for The Hue project and had started working on my own tunes which Aybee was feeling and thus the Kush Musik series followed.”
You’ve had many residencies over the years and been part of some great DJ/production duos with people such as Chris Haycock, Ikah Love and JT Donaldson, whilst also touring with some spectacular names. What key things have you taken away from all this over the years? “Learned to appreciate the time spent with folks, collaborating on music and getting to know people. Allowing the energy of a collab or the energy of new meeting to flow. Traveling is and has been good for the soul. Also learned to never get too stressed when shit doesn’t go right, to just stay focused and fix it, or keep moving forward.”
You recently released your debut album ‘Blues For The Libyan’ on Deepblak recording featuring collaborations with fellow label mate ‘Afrikan Sciences’ and vocalist Khalil Anthony. What can you tell us about the album and how it came into fruition? “Well I had been putting together a few musical ideas and Blues For The Libyan came out of the beautiful chaos. It’s a commentary through the titles, words and feeling, on society, the world, man, genetics, history and culture.”
What can you tell us about the mix you’ve done for us? “It’s a mix of jams I’m feeling and had with me during the time of recording. Recorded over at Jerome’s place (Jerome Sydenham) and wanted to give your listeners a different side to me then most of the mixes I have out there currently. There’s a couple of tracks that are coming out next year on Don’t Be Afraid, and an unreleased joint too.”
What else can we expect from you in the next year? “I have three new EPs, a collab project with Aybee, and a possible album coming out next year. Me and AFSCI have to finish up some material as well, but no dates yet.”
Damon Bell – Ankh Boogie (Exclusive)
Dj Qu – Eden
Lando – Kimono
Kai Alce – M7
Damon Bell – Aural Afrek (Exclusive)
Trinidadian Deep – Eyes Closed
Ron Trent – Movement 7
Alton Miller – Clouds Are Gone ( Henrik Schwartz Remix)
Mr. Ali – Imagine Freedom (Dj Spinna Remix)
Reggie Dokes – Chicago Pimp
The Bazile Republic – The Sacred Smoke
Abayomi – You Sleep, They Live!
Damon Bell – Life Awaits You (Exclusive)