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In July 2015 Hoj Jomehri a.k.a. DJ Hoj remisced with me about his first gig in a Californian coffeeshop in 1999. He was 21, so just old enough to drink. To make sure that the vinyl didn’t skip, he wiped each one of them with an old vinyl brush.
“I think the first “real” gig (with a proper flyer and everything) was at a party called Liquid Culture at a coffeeshop. That was 1999 in Davis, California. I was 21, so I was just allowed to drink legally.”
“There were probably 50 to a 100 people. It felt like more though. It was a huge mix of people – people from the San Francisco and Sacramento rave communities, college kids trying get an education but still wanting to tear it up on weekends, burners, girls that didn’t score tickets to the Third Eye Blind show that night, and representatives from the hippie, reggae, goth, noise, hip-hop and death metal communities that we also hung out with.”
Only 30 records
“Before the gig, I practiced a lot. I think that’s all I did in those days. I would wake up and stumble over to the turntables before I had pants on. My roommates loved that.” (laughs) “I probably only had 30 records at the time (imports were expensive), so I knew each record really well. Planning sets was frowned upon – we always wanted DJs to feed off the crowd when we were on the dancefloor. That’s what I wanted to do. And I found the idea of playing a set that I’d already played pretty boring, so I went with the vibe. Still do. The next record seems to make itself known at a good party. All I have to do is look at the crowd.”
“We had a tight community of people supporting me. Everybody was there. Lots of other DJs and burners. And my 3 roommates. They were all really into underground hip-hop and reggae, but they came to support. I still remember them in the front row, dancing their asses off.”
“I’ve been lucky enough to have a few close mentors along the way. Lee Burridge is one of my dearest friends now, and he has been a huge inspiration to me. I didn’t know him in 1999 – he was across the pond as they say. But even though we didn’t know each other, I think he was still somehow popping up on a pink unicorn and telling me that I should do my own thing regardless of what other people are doing. He still does that, and I still don’t know how he does it.”
“I’m not sure if he knows he was my mentor, but Jerry Bonham was somebody that really helped me in the early days. He was a Spundae resident and worked at Spundae Records in San Francisco. He would always help me at the record shop, pulling vinyl for me and giving me new stuff to listen to. He’d even set aside my “stack” on shipment day (Wednesday) while I drove in from Davis. He taught me how to mix harmonically and taught me a lot about the history of dance music – he had started as a DJ in the disco days. Neither Jerry or Lee were at the Liquid Culture gig, but it would have been awesome if they were.”
“That first gig hooked me. It was awesome and was the first time I felt “the vibe”. To this day, that’s what I’m after. I probably made a lot of mistakes, but I don’t remember any of them. I just remember a lot of happy people dancing. It was a long time ago but thinking back on it I only remember positive things. And positive things are good.”
“I think it became clear that if I’m excited about the music I want to play, then the dancefloor will feel that and feed off of it. And I will feed off the dancefloor. And we’ll go back and forth into this awesome vortex. The one thing I learned that night that I still tell myself and tell other DJs is: look up!”
This interview with Hoj is originally in July 2015 published on DJMag.nl.