Boogie Down Berkeley

There's more to life than just playing records.

I like to bring a lot of elements into the mix,” declares DJ and producer J-Boogie, which seems like an understatement, given the amount of eclectic clutter in his Potrero Hill studio. The small room is filled with a treasure trove of audio gear: 24-track mixing board, MPC 2000, various effects and compressors, a drum kit, syndrums, congas, bongos, several guitars and basses, a keyboard/CPU console, and, perhaps most importantly, several full crates of vinyl — everything from ’60s bossa nova to ’70s funk to ’80s dancehall to ’90s hip-hop to current club hits. Framed posters of both albums by Dubtronic Science, the Boogie-led band, adorn the walls, along with the Doze Green-designed album cover of the turntablist compilation Deep Concentration II.

A constant, if low-key, whirl of activity, “Boogs” punches at a few buttons and pulls up a track he’s been working on for a new Ubiquity compilation, Music Is My Art, featuring Oakland’s hip-hop/funk mavens Crown City Rockers. Walking bass lines, prominent handclaps, and twinkly keyboards flood out of the studio monitors as Boogie traces his personal journey through sound.

As mild-mannered USF student Justin Boland in the early ’90s, Boogie was introduced to DJing in the era of clubs like Deco and the Kennel Club, and monthly parties like School and Cream of Beat, back when the Invisibl Skratch Piklz were known as the West Coast Rock Steady DJs. “Back then, the Bay Area was ripe for DJs, but it was before everybody wanted to be a DJ,” the Boogie man recalls. Teaming with college buddies Wisdom (then known as Winnie B) and Raw B, he began broadcasting over the KUSF airwaves on the now-legendary Beat Sauce show, a key outlet for local and national hip-hop artists alike for more than a decade. Boogie soon developed a rep as a versatile wax-slinger, able to spin dancehall, hip-hop, downtempo, or drum ‘n’ bass with equal flair (he is currently a resident at DNA’s weekly party Remedy), but he wanted to do more than just play records. “I’d always been fooling around with beats,” he says.

A bass player before picking up the turntables, Boogie had experimented with sample loops on an old EPS, but getting bit by the DJ bug made him want to dig deeper into production. After his very first completed track was featured on Ubiquity’s Audio Alchemy compilation (alongside Jurassic 5 and Thievery Corporation), he realized being a beatmaker was an “extra step from just being a DJ.” A party he attended in Portland showed him his future destiny, when he saw a DJ accompanied by a live drummer and flute player. Instantly, he realized “incorporating live musicians … adds an organic vibe to a DJ set.” Returning to the Bay Area, he began working with various instrumentalists and vocalists in club sets and in the studio. In 2003, he released the first Dubtronic Science album, following that up with a live album last year (both available on Om Records).

Dubtronic’s live lineup currently includes tablas, congas, flute, saxophone, and vocalists. The band riffs, stretches, and freestyles while Boogie adds scratches or dubs the beat with a reverb/echo pedal. Although electronic music has been shifting toward live instrumentation for some time, he feels the Dubtronic concept is unique, noting that “we look like a band onstage,” yet “it’s a DJ set, so it evolves.” Each Dubtronic show is different, he says, “because it’s based on improvisation.” You can catch the latest Dubtronic evolution Saturday at the Shattuck Down Low, when Boogie and the band play a rare East Bay gig.

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