His FACE parties and Public Release record imprint are defining a new era for S.F. genre-less music.
Photography Yoko Takahashi
Vancouver native Eugene Whang is one of the Bay Area's most fascinating creatures: an industrial designer for Apple by day and an electronic music icon by night. Using his nickname of Eug, he is jolting the Bay Area with his party organization, FACE, and his DIY music publishing operation, Public Release.
Ten years of crazy nights haven't tamed Eug's love for dance music. He DJs in long, cathartic sessions at tiny dive bars, creating a palpably electric atmosphere with an Ibiza 88 kind of vibe. Whang's San Francisco platform pulls together a tight, international network of serious electro heads, many of them guests at FACE, like 2 Many DJs, DJ Harvey, James Murphy, Eric Duncan, as well as fashion show soundtrack god Michel Gaubert. Eug's late nights and Apple days don't slow down the output of Public Release, which has put out vinyls by luminaries including Tim Sweeney, Jacques Renault, Woolfy, and Mark E. He hand-picks inspired submissions from amateur fans of his Discogs page, like "Scenes" from Moscow's Phil Gerus.
As Eug readies his twelfth 12" for release, by Phil Gerus, this underground player is about to get a lot less underground.
You grew up in Vancouver in the 90s. What was the music scene like there, and how did it shape your tastes?
Originally I was raised on your typical classical music. I also learned violin, which gave me a lifelong aversion to really high pitched notes! My big musical shift came with the first raves. There were these different rooms for different genres: hip-hop, dub, house, techno. Before that, I was really into rap music. I played basketball every day, listening to things like Gang Starr, KMD, Black Moon. My friends did graffiti, danced and MC-ed, I focused on DJing. I was your typical bedroom DJ. I would hit the record store several times a week: Odyssey Imports, Bassix, Track Records. I started buying more house, techno, and rave. While rap was all about storytelling, this music was much more visceral and I could add my own story to the rhythm. It was more malleable. Also, it wasn't my first exposure to this type of rhythm. I was already into groups like New Order, Pet Shop Boys, Happy Mondays, and all the synth wave groups. I just didn't realize this stuff had a name. Everything felt less about genres, and more about the energy. Just as jazz can be linked to R&B, and R&B to disco, then disco to house, etcetera, there was a natural progression of discovering all the music that surrounded rap through its culture of sampling.
What did you study?
Art and design, and that's where hip-hop became less important [for me] as I started to work through the multitudes of micro genres in house, techno, Italo, disco, soul, etcetera. During design school, I was still greatly influenced by all things British. Whether it was the graphic work of Tomato, Neville Brody, magazines like The FACE, i-D, Sleaze Nation, talents like Jasper Morrison, John Pawson. The aesthetics of the house, techno, and rave scenes was really compelling, as was the art at the label Warp Records, for instance. At that time, my soundtrack became all about Aphex Twin, The Sabres of Paradise, Mr. Fingers. I treasured a cassette of Tresor Compilation like it was from another world.
You're running the nights of San Francisco with your FACE parties. How did it all begin?
First, it was a small monthly Friday night called "Weekend", that I started after I arrived in California for my Apple job, in the early 2000s. It was more of a bar situation than clubby. Eventually I wanted more of a proper night with proper sound, and that's when my friends and I moved FACE to a real club in 2010. Before, half of them wanted to hang in dive bars, and the other half in clubs -- I was trying to bridge that gap. Our sound was basically a ton of disco edits, mixed with house, and a bit of rock. It was the party we felt the city was missing.
You are very supportive of other musical talents, it's the core mission of Public Release, your label. Musically, I know that you avoid defining your area, but can you try?
I'd say post punk, disco, house and techno in spirit? But my next 12" will be coming out in June with Earth Boys from Brooklyn and could qualify as low-fi house, although I don't like this term either as it's overused and they don't quite fell into that. It's more raw, more modern. When people send demos, I know if it is worth a release, even with a few tweaks. I try to be very honest. I help edit down the track choices and on some occasions get involved with song composition, timing etc, but I mainly stay pretty hands off. Everything is overproduced nowadays in pop music. It's too shiny, to polished, like when a painter doesn't know when to stop.
You are into this old school experience of music. It strikes me that you put much more energy into producing art for your sleeves, than say, videos. Making vinyls is part of this sensual approach to music.
Well, I am an industrial designer, I am in tune with what objects communicate to someone. I handle mastering with George Horn, a local legend. We cut the vinyl lacquers directly there in Berkeley, and press in Southern California. I like doing everything local so that i can easily keep tabs on all the details. Art is very important, each release is a document in time of what's going on right now. My art director Rishi Shourie is great. Other artists like Takeshi Murata and Barry McGee came from Chris Perez's RATIO 3 gallery in the Mission District. Barry helped us design flyers for a mini-tour I was doing in Asia with Jacques Renault. He became a regular contributor and a friend. He has taken the habit of dropping his original drawings on my doorstep, in a brown shopping bag.
Word on the street is that you might get into clothes soon?
Yes and no! We are just releasing a few pieces with Nonnative. It won't be fancy, just stuff we want to wear ourselves, to come along with the Earth Boys release in June. Just a tee, long-sleeved shirt, and hoodie, in three or four different colors, a DJ bag that doesn't look like a dorky "DJ bag" but hopefully is just as functional! Some graphics are by Fergus Purcell, which I'm super excited about. They will play a bit with a mantra that Justin -- who started FACE with me -- came up with: "It's not a genre, it's a feeling." That's how I see things. Not so much about genres, just good stuff.
Listen to Public Release at Eug's Soundcloud.
Text Carole Sabas
All artwork courtesy Eugene Whang/Public Release