The woman who co-founded the legendary Dubtribe Sound System sits down with us in a rare interview to discuss her history, experiences, and her current career as a DJ in this edition of our Spotlight series.
Hailing from San Francisco, Dubtribe Sound System ignited a global music movement by combining uplifting messages with deep house music, where their records made them an in-demand headliner from the 1990s onwards. With microphones in hand the duo's stage show saw their songs performed live while the artists themselves were kneeling down on the floor, their eyes focused intently on an array of synthesizers, drum machines, and effects pedals in front of them, as passionate lyrics compelled listeners and dancers to rise up, unify, and love one another. Through these performances their group became one of the most sought after acts in the scene, while Dubtribe continued to release music that other DJs were playing around the world, making them a grass roots tour de force. We had the pleasure of speaking with Moonbeam, who is actively touring as a DJ today, to understand more about what shaped the group's storybook rise to international acclaim, and hear never before learned details from one of the foremost beacons of peace and positivity in the history of house music.
Discuji: Hi Moonbeam. Thanks for joining us today. Let's start at the beginning, where did you grow up? What was it like there - the social landscape and the realities of daily life. What kind of music were you listening to, and what events helped shape your formative years?
Moonbeam Jones: Actually, I grew up in East Brunswick, New Jersey. :-) I am the third child in a family of four, and the first born girl. I remember my childhood as being really good. I had lots of fun and friends. I always sang in church. When I was six years old, the nuns had me singing in front of the school at Friday mass and did that for the entire length of elementary school. I always loved singing. I would put on shows for my family and organize plays in the garage with the kids who lived on the street. I have to say that my older brother was a big influence on me with music. He would come home with albums and he would ask me if I wanted to listen with him. He had a really cool stereo so it all sounded awesome. He was really into rock, of course, but he also liked ELO (Electric Light Orchestra), Rush - bands that had a heavy synthesizer emphasis. That's what I loved. I loved the spacey quality that synths would add to that era of music. And then when new wave hit in the early 80's, I knew I had found my music. :-) All in all, I loved anything I could sing along with. I would grab my mom's sock-darning device - it looked like a microphone to me lol - and sing along with Heart, Pat Benatar, Missing Persons, Eurythmics, Ricki Lee Jones .. you name it. I was in a band in high school and did tons of musical theater as well. Music is where my heart lives.
Discuji: According to Discogs.com, the debut album from Dubtribe Sound System was released in 1994 - Where was it recorded ? How did you end up there? Did you have the intuition at that time that you were building something special?
Moonbeam Jones: Our first album - and really all of our albums - were recorded at our home on Bryant Street in San Francisco. I had to get out of New Jersey, truth be told. So, I moved to SF in 1989. I continued my education there for a couple of years. My first job there was at Spitzer Music on Van Ness Avenue. I met so many musicians. It was awesome. I produced and did booking for a now very successful surf band called The Mermen. Ironically, it was an instrumental band, but I sang some atmospheric vocals early on. Anyway it was a great experience for me to go through all of that because I found I loved doing that kind of thing and I was really good at it. Also, one of the guys I worked with at Spitzer's - John Greenham - introduced me to Sunshine. John was playing guitar for Sunshine in another band. Sunshine needed a vocalist. It was a Soul to Soul style band. Lots of vocals and funky beats and beautiful lyrics. When I first met Sunshine, it was as if I had known him forever. We clicked instantly. I loved the music he wrote and his lyrics were brilliant. I couldn't wait to collaborate with him. I had written so many lyrics and songs and we brought it all together. It was a big band, too. There were eight or ten people in it - guitar, bass, keyboards, percussionists, 3 vocalists, with Sunshine playing guitar too. It was really fun. We had a few bookings .. played a few clubs. Then Sunshine met up with an old friend of his, Kevin Wilson. They started going out to clubs like DNA, DV8, 1015 Folsom. That's when the house scene was on the brink of exploding everywhere. They brought me out, too, and i was blown away. It changed my life forever. That's when we decided that was the music we were going to make. That's when Dubtribe was born. I don't think it was a conscious decision to build something special. I think that our philosophy of being a band that approached live performance like being a dj was a novel concept and really opened a path to people in a very deep and profound way. People never expected it. We kind of snuck up on them. The best part about dancing in a dark room with a smoke machine going crazy and the sub-bass pounding and the high hats flying all around your head like stars - well, you lose yourself. It's just you and the music. So us performing live allowed us into people's psyche, i think. And we were right there with them. It's unifying. And we need to feel unified so much. We don't even know how bad we need that. I feel so grateful and blessed to have been a part of that.
Discuji: Speaking from experience it's easy to say with certainty that many people were healed by your music, particularly at these events which were bringing people together in ways they had never experienced. Looking back now, it would appear that you had achieved a level of inner peace that came through in your music, where the lyrics frequently spoke from state of mind that many people may take lifetimes to truly grasp. Did some kind of awakening take place within you for you to be able to speak and sing these things with such conviction and clarity in front of crowds of thousands of people?
Moonbeam Jones: I think the journey of a life is an incredibly serendipitous, metamorphic process. I can't point to any one thing.. but it was a lot of little things for sure. I mean, in the beginning, I was terrified. Really! It's really crazy to find yourself in the position of doing the thing you dreamed about doing your whole life. You come up against the trappings of insecurity and unworthiness, all that toxic thinking. So there's that. And I have never felt like i am anybody special. Everyone is amazing and beautiful and has so much to offer. Everyone. We all struggle. It isn't easy for anyone in this life. But life is incredible! There is so much beauty and possibility in this world. I want everybody to have a kernel of openness and hope and for people and everyone around them to know that there is a universe living inside of them that is perfect and good. In all of our imperfections, we are perfect. There's so much sadness, negativity, fear, anger in this world. It's so easy to see it. But It needs a balance. And I don't think anyone can be too positive. lol.
Discuji: What kind of equipment were you using in your recording and live shows? There were also sometimes musicians and other performers who traveled with you?
Moonbeam Jones: In the beginning, our live equipment was our studio. We had a 909, 707, and 606 drum machines. We had an 808, too, but we only used that during our ambient sets. We had a juno 106, a Korg M1, a 303, an EMAX II Sampler, MMT8 sequencers, various delays and reverbs, a Mackie mixer .. so much stuff!! lol And then there were our percussionists - Chadwick Minor and Rich were our steadiest drummers. They toured with us for a couple of years. After they moved on, we had friends in almost every town we went to who would play with us.
Discuji: We're curious about what factors played into making the jump to becoming an in demand headliner internationally, before the time of social media. I remember when I first heard about Dubtribe there was already great legend surrounding the movement you created, bringing to mind how essential your role was in the entire development of dance music nightlife as it stands today. How did your message and groove end up resonating thousands of miles away - can you tell us a little bit about how you got things off the ground in terms of getting national visibility and give us a bit of the story of what developed from the time you started recording music and the time you were performing in Baltimore and Washington DC in the mid 1990s?
Moonbeam Jones: Right? Before social media, we had a voicemail line. lol. People would call the line and hear where we were playing. We also had a mailing list! We would mail out a newsletter letting people know about our tours and what we were up to. With the "Mother Earth" album being the success that it was, it really got us played by DJ's all over the world. The Chemical Brothers and DJ Icey helped us reach places that we hadn't played yet. And then, I think when we created Imperial DUB recordings that really gave credibility to our work, as well. But that was a little later. In the beginning, we just played. We quit our jobs; bought a van; and headed East. We knew a couple of people and had a couple of phone numbers. Our first gig in New York was a party called Bug. Then, everyone just started asking us to come and play. We would go back home and begin booking more events for the next month and drive back again. It was amazing!! We would always record our albums in the winter - when driving to the east coast became prohibitive because of weather. We were always working, though. Always. Discuji: Can you tell us the story of writing the famous duet "Do It Now" and the outline of how it came to be. Did it start with the chords, or the drums.. When was that recorded, who wrote the lyrics, and who did the vocal processing? What were you feeling at that time? Help us understand the workflow behind the classic song that continues to resonate in the Balearic Islands as one of the greatest Deep House anthems of all time.
Moonbeam Jones: "Do It Now" was written at a very turbulent time for us personally. I was pregnant for most of the writing process. So the writing process was fraught with emotions; my personal exhaustion; and the subtle winds of change spinning around us. Drums and bass began the track. Sunshine wrote most of the lyrics. The vocal processing, harmonies and arrangement were mostly me. The rest was a typically collaborative experience between us. As with almost all of our music, it was written and recorded at our flat on Bryant Street in San Francisco. What I loved most about this track was how we let the track take its time and open up and culminate in something so uplifting and expansive and bigger than us. I think when something is really working it takes you there. While the initial foundations of the track came somewhat quickly, the production was painterly. I love that part the most when writing music.
Discuji: That arrangement is amazing, I was just admiring it the other day in the way it really opens up and builds in a way we don't see much of these days on songs. Switching gears, on a recording of your Live set @ Ultraworld at the DC Armory in 1996 you begin the session with a simple kick drum and the spoken words "We come to check you.. and clean the vibe" - what did you all feel needed cleansing during that era?
Moonbeam: It was really big event for one thing. (~10,000 attendees) Ultimately, though, that era was really not much different than how things are now. By that I mean there is still a lot of bad drugs, greed, and attitude in what remains of our "scene" if it even exists anymore. We, as a society, cannot help but be influenced by all that is around us. It also seems to be more typical than not to see the negative in all things first - whether that be to prop ourselves up or to somehow sound more intelligent by pointing it out. More than anything, to set a vibe of openness, acceptance, positive energy and love was our goal. I want us all to feel connected - to be joined by this music that makes us move our bodies and feel alive and beautiful, without judgment. Just, for a moment, to let go and be.
Discuji: Listening to Sunshine's Theme for the first time in years today I felt as if my entire body was in goosebumps - especially considering how relevant this message is today. I was 16 when I saw this performed live and feel that experience shaped the next 20 years of my life, knowing that there was another path than what the mainstream music and media offered. You created the possibility of a different narrative, which feels like it is needed once again today more than ever. Do you think that the youth culture of today (or even the conditioned culture as a whole) is prepared to appreciate such a message?
Moonbeam Jones: I feel like small parties are the way now. It seems to me that the current trend is about the huge festival circuit - Coachella, Bonaroo, even Burning Man - they offer all forms of music. So, it is the ultimate in instant gratification experiences. I think house music, electronica, whatever you want to call it is best communicated in a dark room with an amazing sound system where the sub-bass moves your hair as you walk by the speaker and it plays all night long. That is the transformative experience of this music. That's our roots. Where ever that's happening, the opportunity exists to reach people with love.
Discuji: Are there any new recording projects on the way? What are you currently working on and what can we hope to hear from Moonbeam Jones in the future?
Moonbeam Jones: Sunshine and I speak often about new Dubtribe music and playing live. We are making strides towards making that a reality. As for me, I am ecstatic to be dj-ing and singing and playing where ever I can. I have some new tracks of my own which I will be bringing to the mix. :-)
Discuji: There's a special place in the heart of people from Baltimore reserved for Dubtribe, any stand out experiences for you in our town?
Moonbeam Jones: I love Baltimore!! I have amazing memories of this town. The Sunrise Festival, Ultra-World, Fever, just to name a few, all incredible moments that have left an indelible mark on my psyche and I am SO grateful to have been a part of that time and space. It was magical then and I look forward to creating more magic now and into the future!
Discuji: Thanks for sharing some of your experiences and thoughts with us Moonbeam, it's been a huge honor.
Moonbeam: Thank you! So much love to you!
For more information about Moonbeam Jones and Dubtribe Sound System direct inquiries to :
DUBTRIBE SOUND SYSTEM
Imperial Dub Recordings, San Francisco