Rob Machete: Keeping D&B Alive in North America
The weekly club night is a fickle game. It’s a labor of love to keep anything going week after week, but year after year shows true dedication. Respect, the stronghold of drum ‘n’ bass in North America, celebrates its 23rd year as one of the destination spots for artists in the genre.
It started as a frill-free event for Los Angeles’ Junglist Platoon, the country’s premier drum ‘n’ bass crew, to play regularly. It was a rotating locals-only outfit. The Platoon: Machete, Clutch, Scooba, and Noface, with the support of Justin Ford, Paul Boutin, and Lionel Uhry (who designed the logo and the original flyers), put the shine on the Los Angeles natives who inspired them.
It was the headstrong crowd that went to Respect those early years, drawn to the night because of the Platoon’s boots on the ground attitude toward upholding the music. As other drum ‘n’ bass parties dropped off, Respect got stronger, its dedication more defined, its name recognized across the globe. Now, Respect is one of the main reasons to tour North America for international talent and a welcome home to domestic talent.
Junglist Platoon’s figurehead Rob “Machete” Gonzalez spoke to Festival Insider about his personal 30 plus year journey through the drum ‘n’ bass scene. Easily the most marginalized of electronic dance music genres, Gonzalez broke down what it takes to keep the vibe alive for almost a quarter of a century.
What was your first exposure to DJing and electronic dance music?
I was a skater punk who loved hip hop. I didn’t go to a lot of hip hop events, but at a young age, I was exposed to DJ culture, watching people like DJ Premier and DJ Aladdin. At 16 17, I started to go to backyard parties. In high school, I went to a rave with a friend, one of the original Paw Paw Ranch raves. We didn’t make it into the event, but we rode our skateboards around Union Station, listening to the music from the outside. I met Oscar the Grouch at another backyard party. The first turntables I ever touched were his at his house. From that point, I was going to raves pretty much every weekend.
What was your first exposure to drum ‘n’ bass?
I experienced the evolution of the music going from breakbeat techno and happy hardcore to more breakbeat-oriented stuff. Around 93, reggae-oriented jungle sound was evolving. It was still the same guys, Oscar [and] DJ Curious, who were my first influences as far as that sound. They were the ones who were buying those records. I would go record shopping with Oscar every week. I would buy hip hop, and he would buy different kinds of techno, jungle, and stuff. That eventually inspired me to start buying the music and start spinning it. From the early to mid-’90s, I started amassing my jungle and drum and bass collection.
As a DJ, you have a very eclectic reach and can move through various drum ‘n’ bass sub-genres and make them work seamlessly.
I was interested in the dark, really aggressive stuff early on. There are only so many sub-genres within the music that you could purchase and make them work. For me, it was also the fact that a lot of the early releases had some kind of like element of either hip hop samples or scratches that clued me in to the music initially. I love it all. Now I can play different types of sets, but I go for a more kind of groovy, party vibe.
Were you at all the early drum ‘n’ bass parties in Los Angeles, like Science?
Absolutely. We were there on the very first night. We were there every week because there wasn’t anything else like it. Science Sundays was our first DnB church. Even before Science, there was a jungle weekly on the underground tip held in the Belmont Tunnel. It was basically R.A.W., Oscar, and Curious. We followed every possible weekly religiously. It went from Science to Atmosphere Tuesdays at the Viper Room. They started to fizzle a little, going from having big names every Tuesday to maybe one D&B act a month. That’s when we took the baton. Once Tuesdays opened up at Boardners, that’s when we started Respect in ’99. It was our weekly ritual.
At the time, it felt like you started Respect because, as diehards of the genre, you didn’t want to hear unrelated styled mixed in with drum ‘n’ bass, which is what they were doing at Atmosphere.
One of the primary reasons for starting Respect was for sure needing a place to play regularly. With Atmosphere, it would be one thing if they were doing the drum ‘n’ bass every week with lineups that made sense. But when it got to the point where it’s either the lineups were getting weird, and sometimes it wasn’t D&B at all, they obviously weren’t as committed as we were. Normally we’d be respectful of someone’s night and wouldn’t just want to step on it by doing our own Tuesday night, but at that point, we felt it was time to get something going.
Considering the inconsistent financial return on drum ‘n’ bass in North America, what is your motivation to keep going?
We still enjoy it and will continue to do it as long as people keep showing up. As far as weekly events, the consistency and the quality of the events, and the caliber of artists that we book, I’m biased, but I feel like we’re doing something very special. It would be tough for me to not do Respect. To not do the weekly is hard for me to even imagine. I want everything to be successful, but I’m still pushing the music. I still enjoy the interaction with artists and the people that come out and see them experience it for the first time. Often, people will come up to me and say, we’ve just moved here to LA, and this was the first place that we wanted to come. Or people will reach out over social media and try to get the inside scoop on upcoming lineups so they can plan their weekend around our show if they’re visiting LA. It’s inspiring to know that people outside our city look forward to it.
You’ve also been livestreaming on Respect Dnb Radio.
In April, it will be 13 years. Initially, we were having a lull between venues for Respect, and during that time, someone reached out to us from our online station called Kunnin’ Mindz to do a show. I was on Kunnin’ Mindz for a year. DnB Radio had a slot open, and it was a natural fit. The first couple of years, we were testing the waters with video. I didn’t know anything about bandwidth or frame rates, and I was using whatever free program I could find. I look back at the quality of those now, and I was trying to make something work.
I started making it a point to reach out to the artists whom I was booking on Thursdays to say, “If you’re not already booked somewhere else, come in a day early, I’ll pay for that extra night of hotel and play a slot on my show.” As a touring DJ, you end up going to a city for 24 hours, and you don’t get a chance to breathe. A lot of these guys appreciate coming into town a day early and decompressing a bit, having a drink, doing dinner, and then playing a relaxing slot on the radio show where they can do something different. Once you reach a certain level, you have to play a certain type of set all the time. I enjoy it because I can go through all my new promos, and I can play what I want and just have fun rather than play a particular style. I love giving the artist freedom to play whatever they want. We have a long list of artists that have played on Respect DnB Radio. A lot of these are uploaded to our Mixcloud.
Respect DnB Radio was a real lifeline for your audience during the pandemic and provided a virtual space for everyone to get together and enjoy music. Your “Dinner and Bass” events that happened occasionally during the pandemic were another lifeline.
I’m grateful we were able to do that. It was our pandemic pivot, which paid off in a sense. It wasn’t making us any money, but it was a way to keep our community engaged with each other and keep the brand out there. I didn’t know exactly how it would go down. Drum ‘n’ bass isn’t a bottle service or table service kind of scene. I’m going from selling tickets to shows to selling tables for groups of two or four or six, trying to do it in a cool and safe way and have DJs that will play for the love because no one was getting paid for that. It was just a way for us to get people together. Technically everyone was in the same space together but still somewhat separated. It was as close to the real thing as we could get at the time. It helped salvage what we could have at that time when we couldn’t do live clubs.
It was good for everyone’s mental health, especially your younger crowd.
It helped keep our sanity. I can only imagine the kids that are young and have that energy and want to go out. When I was young, I would go to multiple parties in one night and end up at an after-hours. I would come home at nine in the morning and try to take a 45-minute nap and then go to work at some retail job. I don’t know how I did it. I definitely had a few naps in my stock room. I would do that week in and week out for years. I can sympathize with what those kids were feeling when the pandemic started. Going out and letting loose and seeing your friends was all taken from them.
You’ve kept the livestreaming from the club going since then. Now anyone from anywhere can attend Respect virtually.
As long as I can get permission from the artist to stream it, I’m going to keep doing it. We get a lot of people from other states that can’t make it to the show, and they appreciate the fact that we’re doing this. We’re able to give them a bird’s eye view of what we’re doing. I treat it like a TV show with graphics intermissions and different scenes. We’ve been doing it for free, strictly on Twitch.
It seems like a natural segue for you to become an agent.
I avoided being an agent for years. I know when things go wrong on tour, it’s usually the agent they blame. I didn’t want to be that guy. I’d rather be the guy that shows you around LA, takes you to dinner, and puts on a good show, and you have a good time. I was booking artists for Respect from Kevin Gimble, who was the primary partner at Circle Talent Agency from 1999 onward. We had that relationship for a long time. I had been working part-time at another job that came to an end when Circle was moving offices to Los Angeles. I reached out to him to say, let me know if you need my help. I started working at Circle in 2011. I dipped my toe in the pool, and once I got into it, I realized I should have been doing this already. It’s the next level of establishing relationships with artists, having them rely on me to create tours, route them well, make sure all the details are handled, and that they’re working with promoters that they can trust and that we know are reliable and thorough. I did that from 2011 till 2018.
Now you have your own Respect Artist Agency.
Circle was absorbed by United Talent Agency, and Kevin couldn’t take a lot of the artists with him. Most of the people I had on my roster came with me, and I started Respect Artist Agency, which Kevin had a big hand in helping me do. He wanted to see me move forward and have his artists know that they had someone in their corner that they believed in and could do the job. It’s been a ride.
Your 23rd-anniversary lineup—and your entire lineup for March, for that matter, is not to be missed. The stacked lineup for the anniversary is enough talent for the whole month.
Normally I would have announced our lineup in January or maybe even December to try to get at least two or three months lead time on the promo. I was still uncertain up until a week before we announced the lineup. That was our best combination of artists. Prolix hasn’t played for us since the Dragonfly days. Jade too, for that matter. To have those guys and Mob Tactics is going to be heavy.
How come you’re keeping the anniversary at Station 1640, which is less than half the capacity of your usual anniversary venues.
I had already decided that we would start doing most of our big shows in our weekly venue. I realized that it’d be cool to just put most of these big artists in that intimate setting, kind of like a throwback to the Science days, or Atmosphere, where they would have these huge acts in a tiny room.
The vibe is very different than walking around a giant venue. You really feel the bass in Station 1640, especially when you’re DJing, and I want these artists to experience that too. That kind of intense in your face, old school vibe where we just pack it out solid for a small audience and seeing how people react to those kinds of artists playing in a smaller venue is something we’re looking forward to doing.
It’s quite a feat to keep a weekly club night going for almost a quarter of a century.
There isn’t anyone else who can stand up to what we’ve done for the music and bringing those types of artists to America. It’s a good feeling to know that artists I’ve been a fan of and respected for so long see Respect as the go-to in LA. We have that diehard mentality that we want to make the shows the best they can be and keep them going for as long as we can.