Kevin Knapp is a force to be reckoned with, a musical heavyweight known for his…
With way too much history under their soles, Dubtribe Sound System holds a significant space in electronic music. Owning up to a unique on-stage energy, the pair composed of Sunshine & Moonshine became a real force during the 90s and the turn of the century with globe-trotting performances and dazzling productions which came to a halt in 2005. After some time apart, the creative duo reconnected, and now reunite whenever the time is right.
Ahead of their highly anticipated performance at The Real Deal Party Feel festival, we catch up with Dubtribe to learn more about their rich history, their root, chemistry, views on the current landscape for electronic music, and more.
Electronic Groove: What were the origins of Dubtribe? In reference to how did it all begin, what were your musical and artistic visions?
Sunshine: We were a part of a 12-piece band, and we rehearsed all the time. We’d played the three or four places there were for bands to play in San Francisco a couple of times, given out a ton of tape, and it wasn’t really any fun. That’s a lot of people to wrangle, and a lot of time spent rehearsing. Right around that time my partner at the time had had just about enough of this nonsense and asked me to choose between her and music.
So I went to Spain for the summer and asked her to please be gone when I returned. I was sad about it,.I liked her, but that’s just an ultimatum you can’t say yes to. So I clarified that she understood what she was asking of me (like she obviously didn’t even know me) and then I headed faraway to try to get my head together.
While I was on the Balearic Islands I encountered some people who were slowing down classic house records and playing congas with them. This was incredible. At that time music in clubs was speeding up, and getting very James Brown Is Dead-ish and that was bumming me out, so I was thrilled to dance and listen to Joe Smooth, and Robert Owens and it really turned my head around. It was a great summer.
Back in San Francisco, I decided that I wanted more of that in my life. So I locked myself in my hall closet and wrote about 30/40 minutes of continuously mixed music using my Emax II and HR-16B and then played it for all 11 members of the band. By the end of the 30/40 minute demo, the only people left in the hallway were me, Moonbeam, a percussionist, and the sound engineer. So that was the end of the 12-piece band.
In those days it was not possible to get booked as a band in a club. DJ’s only. So we gave out mixtapes, people loved them and wanted to book us to DJ at their events, but we were a band. That was a turn-off, and so no one booked us. Frustrated, we started having a party in my flat on the last Friday of the month and putting all our belongings in the the back room, and duct-taping the door shut and putting a table in front of the door. So the place was just empty, and we ran speakers down the hall and played live all night. They were really fun.
Maybe at the third one, a DJ from the UK was standing outside and wouldn’t come in. We couldn’t let people loiter out front because then the cops would come, so I went out to talk to him about it. I said ‘You wanna come inside?’, and he said ‘Nah…’. I said ‘Why not?’, and he said ‘I don’t like the music’. I smiled, because I was making all the music, and asked ‘What’s wrong with it?’, and he said ‘It’s all too dub-tribey for me’ and I heard that, and asked if I could use it, and she said ‘Phhht’ and agreed, and that party got called Dubtribe ever after.
Soon all the promoters who couldn’t or didn’t yet see how to book us in their club nights were dancing on the last Friday of the month in my flat.
We met Peter, Gieve, and Heinrich from Spundae and their little party was in trouble. So we moved in and set up banners, cargo nets, and turned off all the disco lights and DJ’ed the warm-up, and then played live, and then Heinrich would come on to a packed house of heads. We saved the day, and they gave us a great place to play around with lights, and drummers and be really loud.
We did a few more things like this, always a kind of a situation where our friends were excited to go anywhere that wasn’t our flat and the parties were always great. Except for once we tried to do the basement of 1015 on the last Friday of the month and everyone came to our flat, and no one came to the club. So we had to sell stuff to pay the rent that month. We learned that people liked our party, and they liked to have that party more often. So we started doing it wherever we could, whenever anyone would let us.
It was me with two Emax II samplers, an SP-1200, a TR-909, a TR-707 and 727, a Jupiter-8, a Juno-106, an SH-101, a TB-303 and two MMT-8 sequencers. And then Moonbeam would mix all that on a Mackie mixer and we’d mess with effects, and mute busses, and ask as many drummers as could get along with each other to come sit in and join us. We kind of made the words up as we went.
This experience got written up in Urb magazine, and right about the same time DJ Onionz in New York City got ahold of one of our early C60 live recordings and so then people started calling our voicemail number and asking us to come play all over the place.
So we piled into a van and drove all over the country for about a decade, and didn’t really stop.
Moonbeam: I left the east coast for San Francisco in the summer of 1987. I knew I wanted to live there since I was very young and I went to follow my dreams of being an actress and singer/songwriter. My first job was at a music store called Spitzer Music. There I met everyone who would be an influential connection in my life for the next 20 years, which included my introduction to Sunshine. I was a member of that 12-piece band he mentioned. ;-)
While my youth in New Jersey was dominated with rock music, my distaste for it definitely made me an outsider. I loved disco and synthesizers and new wave. I would buy records by Donna Summer, Madonna, Abba, Bee Gees, Eurythmics…. you get the picture. And I would sit in my bedroom and memorize every lyric and sing and dance to them for hours. Needless to say, I found a home in music in San Francisco.I remember Sunshine and Kevin took me to DV8 on a Thursday night and, I can’t remember who was playing, but it was house music all night long. And I fell in love. From there, all we did was go to clubs, write music and plot how we would bring our vision of live house music to a DJ-dominated club environment. We threw our own underground parties first and it all snowballed from there. It was awesome.
Electronic Groove: What was so special about San Francisco that you started making music here? What are your thoughts about the city now after all these years? Also, we’re curious if you think the city will have another creative renaissance?
Sunshine: I made a film about this very subject. It’s called ‘HOME’. You can watch it here. 42 minutes of time well spent.
I’m from San Francisco, so I can say whatever I want to about it, but I love this place. I love the bones, the fog, the sea, the cold, and the eucalyptus. It’s what made me. I have a long, diverse and pretty crazy history here, and I haven’t ever felt at ‘home’ like I do right here.
I think that what’s just gone down in San Francisco, over the last decade or so has been anything but a San Francisco experience. I’m delighted to see people bad-mouthing us, and moving off to Austin or wherever. I just smile at all the moving vans and say ‘Bye!’.
We are always having a creative renaissance in San Francisco. It never stops. It also never stops moving around. That’s actually something that I really love about it here.
Moonbeam: I love San Francisco. It is unique and extraordinary in so many ways. What I found to be the most incredible about the city is that you could be whoever you wanted. There was no judgment of lifestyle choices. Everyone who lived there was someone who didn’t fit in where they came from and the natives just smiled and accepted it all. A ‘live and let live’ kind of place. It was like Shambala to me.
While change is the only constant there is in this world, San Francisco is still a beacon of light to all creatives. The struggle of the economy is pronounced there these days, which has changed the contours of the creative landscape dramatically for the artists of culture (I.e. visual, musical, literature, graphic, etc). But, I believe that is as temporary as everything. San Francisco’s reputation is still intact and the ebb and flow of trends and fads will eventually turn to a new age of music and art that will blow all of our minds all over again.
Electronic Groove: Do you think the overall electronic music scene is going in the right direction?
Sunshine: Well that’s a pretty loaded question. Hahahaha… It really depends on what you mean by ‘right’ and if you call what’s happening right now a ‘direction’. For me, personally, I think that music is something I was called to do. I fought it, long and hard. I joined the peace corps, was accepted to grad school at Yale and was on my way to becoming an english professor (after I was done irrigating and helping with safe distribution channels in North Africa) when I got outed as a musician. I’ve been writing music all my life. I wrote my first song when I was 5, and I can play it for you now (you don’t really want to hear it, but my point is that I remember how to play it) and it’s just something that seemed to happen to me. My family couldn’t shame it out of me, and rejection, failure, and the impracticalities of the creative life couldn’t dissuade me. I didn’t have a choice. It seems to be the only thing I have ever really done that took care of me. And so really the least I could do is to say thank you, and give some of that love back, right?
I don’t really care what the ‘scene’ is doing… by the time something becomes a scene it’s usually played, and it’s the usual suspects of male models and huge festivals playing the same song (usually trance, but they call it whatever they call it) and it’s no fun. I bet it IS fun for the kids at the parties, I remember going crazy to wild music and not knowing what any of it was. That was great. But I wouldn’t do anything like that for fun these days. For me, I am personally on the same mission I’ve always been on – Learn all you can, make music, and play live. I teach this in my seminars, I preach this from the DJ booth, and I demonstrate this in my performances.
I’m so insulted by all this hideous comparison these days. Whomever thought it was some kind of a compliment to hedge you up into a genre, or category, or say this sounds like that is an idiot. It’s just capitalist thinking… if you like _______ then you’re gonna love ______. It’s gross. But by the same token, people don’t know what to do if they haven’t been shown, and then they feel uncomfortable. That’s sad.
I came up in basements and beaches where I didn’t know anyone, and everyone was dancing to music they had never heard before. The message was love, and the struggle was equal rights, justice, freedom and above all peace. It’s true a lot of people used that platform to make a pile of money… but where are they now? Are they happy?
So the long answer to a simple question is really yeah. Fuck yeah. Make music. It’s beautiful. Get on with it!
Moonbeam: Yea, I agree. The critique of ‘the scene’ takes you out of the spirit of it all. It is really a job for sales and marketing reps I guess. Lol. Just make and play the music that you love… leave the navel-gazing to the trainspotters.
Electronic Groove: What happened with Dubtribe? Why did you both decide to drift apart?
Sunshine: Moonbeam and I divorced after a very long, productive and beautiful partnership. She remains one of the best friends I have ever had. I love her dearly, and I believe she loves me too.
Moonbeam: Sunshine and I are still very close, and yes, I love him dearly, too. I love all that we did together in that amazing time. We continue our musical pursuits separately now. I am so grateful for the opportunity to continue to perform as Dubtribe together. I love Dubtribe so much and I don’t ever wanna stop.
“I don’t really care what the ‘scene’ is doing… by the time something becomes a scene it’s usually played, and it’s the usual suspects of male models and huge festivals playing the same song (usually trance, but they call it whatever they call it) and it’s no fun.” – Sunshine
Electronic Groove: Why did you decide to come together for this special performance at The Endup?
Sunshine: We play whenever something comes up that sounds like fun. The idea is to go where the love is. Moonbeam and I love to play together, and while we are both very busy with our respective lives, we always jump at the chance to get together in the right place, at the right time.
San Francisco, The EndUp, Listed Productions, DJ Three, Ben Annand, Atnarko? Are you kidding? Of course, we said yes.
Moonbeam: Right??!! Absolutely!! An offer we couldn’t refuse! I can’t wait to be back at The EndUp playing with amazing people for amazing people. ♥️
Electronic Groove: Are there any Dubtribe projects on the horizon, or will you both just continue to pursue your solo careers?
Sunshine: There are no current plans for any Dubtribe projects. We decided a while ago that if we were ever going to make a new album that it would require a label, and time. I think we have one or two albums in us still, I do… but because we live on opposite sides of the country, and I’m very busy with my life, and she’s very busy with her’s, we would need more focus, and some resources to make something like that happen.
To my mind, it’s just not Dubtribe if it isn’t me and Moonbeam together all the way.
Moonbeam: Yes that says it all really. I couldn’t agree more that we have more Dubtribe music in us to write and perform. I have hope for the future…. what is meant to be will be.
Electronic Groove: What was your favorite gig that you played as Dubtribe?
Sunshine: That’s like totally impossible to answer. We played so many gigs. So many shows. All 50 states, so many countries, all over the world for more than ten years, and just so many of them were so amazing. I don’t think I could choose.
Moonbeam: So many shows!! So many favorites!!! It’s an amazing, beautiful blur!!! I couldn’t choose just one.
Electronic Groove: What is your favorite city you have played together?
Sunshine: Another impossible question. Why does everyone ask this question? Everywhere is different. Every show is different. It’s all a moment. It’s all beautiful. Rooftops in New York City, corn fields in Kansas, huge theaters in Paris, Space Lab Yellow in Tokyo, Cafe Del Mar in Ibiza, the 222 Club in San Francisco. It’s all practically mythical. How could anyone choose?
Moonbeam: All of them!! 😃
“We wear our hearts on our sleeves and I hear that on every song we have ever written. There isn’t just one piece… it’s a continuum.” – Moonbeam
Electronic Groove: Is there a favorite piece of work in your discography that you feel is most meaningful?
Sunshine: Our work is a flow… it begins in 1989 and we hardly knew what we were doing or what to say. We gained some confidence, and found a version of our voices, and expressed that as a Sound System. At the same time, we were playing the chill-out room at Come Unity too, and we also wanted to express that. Then we learned to DJ and so we had a completely new look at how to make records, and so then it all really shifted. But then we accidentally deleted our third album (versions) and we ended up touring it in 1995 without ever releasing it. We started our own label, and then we worked for major labels. We decided we didn’t really like labels, figuratively or literally, and we just wanted to do our thing, and be ourselves, play drums, play synths, sing, play the bass, and get as real as we could. So we did.
I don’t really see any one single piece as being the ultimate expression of all that in one go.
Moonbeam: I love our musical evolution. We wear our hearts on our sleeves and I hear that on every song we have ever written. There isn’t just one piece… it’s a continuum. To know us is to know our discography. No one track is any more relevant than any other, to my mind.
Electronic Groove: How has this pandemic affected you personally, as well as musically/creatively?
Sunshine: Hahahaha… fuck. Well the last year or two have been madness. Really, for me the last 5 years have been madness. Emotionally sometimes I feel like everything just kind of hit the pause button back when Bernie was hoodwinked, and Clinton got the democratic nomination. I might still be trying to get my head around that.
It’s been a really long and strange couple of seasons. A lot of loss for myself personally (62 deaths in the last 18 months – too many people). I have steadied myself with community service, support, and really making every effort that I personally can to lean into my life. Listening more carefully than I would always like to, reacting/responding as slowly as possible, and helping anyone and everyone wherever I’m needed. It seems to me, as California is really getting vaccinated, and people are returning to their lives at last, that the really hard part of the last year has been the isolation of quarantine, and the impact of a life spent on screens. Many of the people whom I have had to say goodbye to were not reckless or stupid, but they couldn’t handle the isolation. Interesting that technology (like this email) which is intended to bring us together actually doesn’t. In my heart what’s really saddest of all to me is that so many people really didn’t feel that they had anyone, not anyone at all, that they could reach out to and say ‘help, I can’t take this.’
I have walked a naked woman I encountered randomly in the street safely home, gave her my jacket, and let her keep it. I have embraced a man in head to toe leather as he burst into tears, I carried a person attempting to drink themselves to death down three flights of stairs and into an ambulance, I moderated several psychotic breaks, I participated in numerous zoom calls with entire families as a moderator, helping to bring fractured, and heartbroken people together again, I have chased yuppie shoplifters out of my local grocery store for the grandmas who run it, I have been heckled for wearing a mask, mocked for my kindness, and spurned for my love and so much more. I don’t mind. Isolation is brutal, and the ego-mind is a formidable opponent. Rather than another mode of the ego, another position to take, it seems to me that this adventure unfolds each day. Each day more fun arrives, and we meet it with fear, or we meet it with love.
Today I choose love.
In the last few months I’ve started to play out again. Write new music and resume work on a couple of new recording projects. It’s good. But honestly it’s all been about being a father, and a good neighbor and my community here at home.
Moonbeam: Wow. Yes. The pandemic felt like a huge black hole. It was like there was no future. No one knew what was going to happen, ya know? So I turned inward. I took it as a time to focus my energies. All of the things I was putting off for ‘someday’ began to reverberate in my mind. There is no someday. There is only now. While that seems pretty obvious, it really was a crushing realization at the time. I did complete an album project with a producer in England. I spent time writing and laying vocals down on tracks he had produced and we exchanged them over the internet. That felt really good and made the shutdown worthwhile. Now that things are opening up I’m taking classes; trying to book myself as a DJ; and hopefully playing lots more Dubtribe shows!!
Electronic Groove: Thank you for sitting down with us guys! We wish you all the best!
Dubtribe will be performing at The Real Deal Party Feel this Sunday, September 19th. You can purchase your tickets here.