DJ Tomas/Dub ID
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DJ Tomas/Dub ID


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The best kept secret in music


"DJ Tomas/Double Identity Feature"

Power user
Tomas Palermo plugs in with Voltage Music.
By Peter Nicholson

SITTING ACROSS FROM me in nondescript dark garb at Café Abir, Tomas Palermo doesn't show any sign of being one of San Francisco's central figures in electronic music. If you were to ask any of the other patrons at the Western Addition coffeehouse who they thought was an in-demand DJ, editor of XLR8R magazine, cohost of the eight-year-old KUSF, 90.3 FM, show Friday Night Session, producer, and record label boss, they probably would guess the fellow by the window with the artfully mussed hair, rare Pumas, and oversize headphones, squinting with a look of studied concentration at his Apple Titanium Powerbook. But, judging from his crammed schedule and the degree of success he has enjoyed in his many endeavors, Palermo doesn't have much time to be concerned with appearances, though he does confess he wouldn't mind having that particular laptop.

"I'm starting to run out of processor power," he says with a rueful grin, the limitations of his computer echoing the constraints on his schedule: though he may have the day job many DJs dream of, XLR8R is a full-time undertaking. Palermo, a former Bay Guardian contributor, wishes he had more time for what appears to be his true passion: running Voltage Music and recording as Double Identity. "I definitely wish I had four or five hours a day just for the label.... I know how to do it. I just don't have the time. But, having said that, I think you're hungrier when you only have this tight, focused amount of time."

Although Voltage has no official connection to XLR8R and Palermo is insistent that they be kept autonomous, the ties run deep: his label partner is Andrew "Professor" Smith, the magazine's publisher, and Ron Nachmann, XLR8R's reviews editor, has helped out in the studio. Beginning with the lilting downtempo of Double Identity's "On the Move," and continuing with the Sheffield-flavored electro of Professor Smith's "Be There," the partners have alternated releasing music on their label.

Next up is Voltage's fifth release, due out this week: Double Identity's "We Play the Music" is a solid slice of broken beat business, its distorted vocal samples and echoing sonar bleeps reflecting the label's motto of "dub for the dance floor." The B-side takes things in a moodier, 4/4 direction, courtesy of a remix from Italy's Isoul8, a.k.a. Volcov, cofounder of the label Archive and head of Neroli Records. "We Play the Music" strikes the difficult balance between keeping things simple and avoiding repetition, bringing in new elements like plucked strings and smooth synth pads as the song progresses. In April, Smith and Nachmann, together as Jackie's Army, will drop Voltage's sixth single, the bouncing "Murther," which should move 2-step and breaks heads alike.

Local DJ Mike Battaglia – who helps run True Intent Recordings, works for Amoeba Music, and yes, writes for XLR8R – says the label plays a distinct role in the scene. "Whether in the disco-house-techno continuum or hardcore-jungle-D&B-2-step, Voltage seems to me to be about stirring up the pot and seeing what comes out, with a distinct focus on remembering the roots.... I'm always glad to see anyone consciously promote history while at the same time plowing forward into uncharted realms."

Funky drummer

Though he's quick to label himself a "musical novice," Palermo's experience shows through, particularly in drum programming. He may have only been producing tracks for the past few years, but he has been a club DJ since 1989, the year he also began to play drums. As a percussionist, he recorded three albums with Magnatone and PCP artist Slug in the early '90s and played with Kill Rock Stars chamber punk outfit Bonfire Madigan from 1997 to 2001. "Actually, right now I'm still playing drums," he says, describing his dub four-piece, Version 1, which has yet to perform. "My whole desire to start playing drums was because I was so into dub music and reggae. The whole time I was in Slug, I was like, 'I'm going to start a dub band.' And that was in '91. Now it's 2003, and I've finally found the right players."

Palermo's seemingly endless list of commitments makes me wonder if he somehow gets 34 hours in his day while the rest of us are stuck with the standard 24, but it's clear where his heart lies. "The label is completely self-funded, out of pocket by me and Andrew: no XLR8R money, no investor, no anything. When I have an extra thousand bucks – which I often don't; it's on my credit card – it goes into the label to put a song out. Which is why it's hard to do releases by artists other than ourselves, because then you get into, 'Well, what are you paying me for this track?' "

Building a reputation

Nonetheless, Voltage has been able to commission remixes by internationally recognized producers like Norway's Polar and San Francisco's own DJ Abstract. The spirit of hometown collaboration is something Palermo hopes to nurture, building S.F.'s reputation beyond the house sounds made famous by labels such as Greyhound, Tweekin', and Naked. "There are a number of local producers, who I'm really excited by right now, who I want to put tracks out from, including Jason Mouse and [DJ] Collage," he says.

In keeping with the fresh territory they're charting, Voltage's releases even look a little different, pressed on the 10-inch format as opposed to the ubiquitous 12-inch. But for Palermo and Smith, it's not just about standing out from the crowd. "It's the whole association with dubplate culture that reggae and dub have," Palermo says. "We wanted to make a direct link between what we're doing, which is dub for the dance floor, and dubplate culture."

That culture encompasses more than the casual listener would imagine. British musician Mira Calix tells a story about meeting Lee "Scratch" Perry and explaining to him that she made "experimental electronic music." "So you play dub then?" he replied. While Voltage's records are infinitely more danceable than those of Calix, both sets of recordings are arguably two offshoots of the same tree, with roots in sounds and styles first exposed by people like Perry. With a string of solid singles in the crates and more on the way, Palermo and Voltage are steadily branching out. - San Francisco Bay Guardian


As Live & Direkt:
No Categories Volume 1 (Ubiquity) 1998
Wish FM 98.1 Compilation (Sunburn) 1998
As Double Identity/Dub ID:
IQU “Teenage Dream Remix” (K Records) 2000
“Eastern Voice” 10” single Voltage Music 2002
“You Requested It” 10” single Voltage Music 2003
"We Play The Music" 12"single Voltage Music 2004
“Can’t Explain” 12” single Voltage Music 2005


Feeling a bit camera shy


Began spinning at age 16 as a reggae DJ on the 10 watt FM radio station KUSF in Mt. View, California.
• Broadcasted “Reggae Music Forward,” a reggae/dancehall show on KXLU 88.9FM (Loyola Marymount University) in Los Angeles from 1987-1994.
• 1989: DJed at legendary L.A. underground reggae/hip-hop spots Le Hot Sol Lounge, Peace Posse and Fortune Cookie and Brass.
• 1993-Founded Umoja Jazz N’ Ragga Lounge club night w/DJ Daz, running Monday nights for two years. Led to the formation of the Umoja Soundsystem with DJ’s Culture D, Daz and Jun.
• 1994: Friday residency at Bokaos international restaurant. Founded the club B-Side with DJ Sean Perry, runs for 1 year, featuring Latin jazz, hip hop and abstract beat DJs and live music.
•1994: Founded the club Goa Dub, a free weekly Thursday all-ages, after-hours ambient/headz/drum&bass lounge at Nova Express café with DJ Jun.
• 1995: Profiled in Rolling Stone and Option magazines. Relocates back to SF.
•1996: Starts Saturday weekly downtempo/drum & bass club Hedquarters and does guest slots at The Top, Cosmo Bar, Cat’s Club and Nickies BBQ. Compiles Dubmission Vol.’s 1 & 2 for Quango records.
• 1997-Saturday residency at Solid. Profiled in Mixmag US. Shares bills with Rockers Hi-Fi, Ben Watt, Lionrock and Morecheeba.
• 1998: Forms the production/remix team Live & Direkt with Andrew Smith, releases tracks on Ubiquity’s No Categories compilation and Sunburn’s Wish FM 98.1 comp. Residency at Static experimental techno night. Opening DJ for David Bowie SF shows at the Warfield.
• 1999: Joins XLR8R Magazine as managing editor. Resident at Justice League. Opening slots for Pizzicato 5 and Spring Heel Jack.
• 2000: residencies at Mosaic (at Joypad) Phusion (monthly at 26MIX), Global Warming (monthly at Club 6), Sushi Groove South. One-offs at the Top, 111 Minna, Justice League, Bulletproof boat parties etc.
•2001-present, cohost of weekly radio broadcast Friday Night Session on KUSF 90.3 FM (Fridays 10pm-12) with Mike Bataglia and Andrew Jervis (Ubiquity), contining gigs in SF and LA, including Chocolate Bar (LA), Afrofunke (LA), Grime City (SF), Crucial (SF) and Stateless (SF) to name a few. Production as Double Identity and Dub ID continues with forthcomging releases and remixes planned for Voltage Music and other labels.