A UK native, Garth moved to San Francisco twenty years ago and became an influential figure in the city's then-fledgling rave scene. He formed the Wicked Sound System with Jeno, Thomas Bullock and Markie, and the group of friends climbed aboard an old Grayhound bus to spread the sounds of San Francisco house across the country throughout the '90s and early '00s.
Ahead of his appearance at The Dog & Pony Show this Friday—where he'll share the bill with Taimur, Kevin Osha and resident Paul Raffaele—RA caught up with Garth via email to talk about beach parties, upcoming releases, and all things Wicked.
You're originally from the UK—what made you move to San Francisco?
The lure of sex, sand and sun was just too strong! I had fallen in love with the city backpacking around the States as a teenager. Once I had a degree to show for my time in London I bought a one way ticket.
Tell us about the beginning of the Wicked Sound System.
The DJs (me, Jeno, Markie and Thomas Bullock) and other key players met during the English acid house explosion in '89. We were all involved in some way with Tonka Sound System. Thom and Markie were playing records alongside [DJ] Harvey. I was known as a 'dancer.' To cut a long story short, everyone came out to visit me. In lieu of sitting around my flat getting stoned someone had the bright idea of renting a sound system and playing records on the beach. Full moon and all. We lugged those speakers down cliffs every month for six years. They loved us for it. San Francisco blew up. We imported America's first Turbosound system—customized by Tony Andrews. A '47 Grayhound bus swooped us up and America was taken by storm with annual Wicked tours from coast to coast.
Having been involved in the early days of rave in San Francisco as well as Burning Man, how has that culture changed for you since you first came to town?
It's a bit like finding yourself surrounded by tens of thousands of freaks at a carnival. Sometimes tacky and awful. The Wicked theme has changed very little since we started but the backdrop has been changing constantly! What we did then we still do now. It's really very simple. Underground house and techno music programmed thoughtfully with respect to keeping a strong vibe all night. Quality sound, minimal lighting—but none whatsoever under the moon as God's lightshow really isn't enhanced by black lights and strobes.
The Wicked crew disbanded in the mid-2000s, but you got back together earlier this year for the 20 Years of Disco Glory tour. What was it like getting behind the decks again with your old friends?
We had a blast and the people that came to all the shows really felt that. Jeno and I have never stopped playing together but Markie had to be dragged out of retirement (he is head of science at a high school). Thomas has been busy in NYC with Rub 'N Tug and Map of Africa but came back as a techno DJ! We played thirteen cities in the States and wrapped it up with a Japan tour as they hate to miss out on a good party, bless 'em.
Aside from this Brooklyn gig, what's up next for DJ Garth?
This time last year I was about to embark on a six week tour of Australia with Harvey. It almost cost me my marriage. So this year I will be playing records in Thailand and bringing my wife along. Gigs in Mexico City loom large. Hector Works is about to release my new record with Anthony Mansfield—"Poncho's Revenge" will feature an Ilya Santana remix. Also, our remix of Halo Varga's "The Future" on Siesta. New King & Hound edits on my Golden Goose re-edit label are in the bag as well.
You're headlining the Weirdsgiving edition of The Dog & Pony Show. What can guests expect from your set?
Depends how long they give me. I will play for hours and hours until I'm forcibly removed or everyone's left the building.
Tickets to this edition of The Dog & Pony Show are available here on RA.