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Ethan Miller

Los Angeles, United States

Breaks, House

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I started DJing in 1993. Inspired by the amazing experiences I was having at parties like The Gathering, Vision, Basics (thanks Martin!), Unity, A Rave Called Sharon, the Full Moon Massives and many, many more, I decided I needed to be a part of keeping that vibe going. So I borrowed $10K from the bank, bought a BIG sound system, decks and a mixer and got down to it.

My first record was Plastikman’s “Krakpot” which I purchased from Gaia Mantra records on Valencia – SF’s only specialty techno shop – owned by Alex Windsor who remains one of my best mates to this day. This was the start of a life-long love of “Acid”, that burbling, bubbling, tweaky-ass, wonderful buzz saw of a sound made only by the Roland TB-303. To this day, now 17 years later, you can always find some acid in any mix of mine you might happen to hear.

My first year of DJing was a total fascination with Acid of all flavors and from all places and yielded my first mix tape, Acid Test in 1994. It is a true homage to Acid with acid house classics from Chicago, UR Acid from Detroit, Belgian acid, piano acid, Robert Armani acid, and of course a couple of massive shredders from the all time acid remixers, Hardfloor.

From there I picked up the tempo a bit and spent a few years anchored in what I’d probably call Thumpy Tech Trance, mainly European. Check out Technosis and Live @ Disco Dave’s for samples of that sound. There were a few interesting side trips during this period: Live @ Tribal Future is drummy techno with a slight house flavor early but also includes some deeper breaky stuff from favorite local producer Astral Matrix.

One of my favorite mixes from this period is Live @ FnF – Joe Rice’s Birthday, it goes from the melodic trance of Platipus records, through some thumpier tech trance, then into some spacey, deep atmospheric breaks, out through a little house and back into some techno. A fun trip. And yes, I even dabbled in Psychedelic Trance for a bit which you can hear on the extended Live @ MAD set (which is odd, cos MAD was mainly a techno party). Go figure.

And then I discovered London Acid Techno. Acid Techno was the unique creation of roughly 10 or 12 english producers in various combinations on a handfull of labels. The labels include: Stay Up Forever, Smitten, Cluster, Hydraulix, Wah Wah, and more, with artists including Dave the Drummer, the various Liberator DJs, DDR, Punk Floyd, Magnum Force, Rowland the Bastard, and many more.

The sound was still trancey, but more firmly techno, longer playing and more arranged (than, for example, the very loopy Swedish techno that was making a mark then) with long builds and of course crazy acid breakdowns. Right up my alley. I’m fairly positive that I was the first active DJ in San Francisco to discover this sound and for the next few years I OWNED it (ultimately bringing DDR out to the FnF campout, which was awesome!)

Some favorites of my acid techno sets are: Live @ Topica, Live @ Sweet which includes (as its first track) “Snowmaker” the one track I produced and released (in memory of my step-brother, Brahm); Calculated Risk (the result of a lost Scrabble bet with ViaJay! =); and, in a slighty retro revival, my Live @ FnF Burning Man 2005 set

But, like all good things, it had to come to an end, and acid techno pretty much dried up a few years later. This coincided nicely (or perhaps of necessity =) with a budding interest in house music. I have to credit the Pacific Sound crew’s legendary Sunset party with instigating the change.

Though I’d played harder music for them over the years, when they booked me to play the season opener at Stafford lake at 2:00 pm, it was clear that there was just no way acid techno was gonna do the job. So I headed for BPM records, bought 50 house tracks and rocked Sunset pretty dang good with em. You can hear that set in my, er, Live @ Sunset set. In retrospect it’s still pretty bumpin for house but settles down as the set progresses.

This ushered in a transitional period of really getting into house music while having a fan base that wanted bangin acid techno =) So I played both depending on what the party called for. There are a bunch of sets from this period that give you a pretty solid sampling of the so-called West Coast House being made at the time. Check out Live at FnF Campout 2001, “Live at ASR’s Fuse” or “Live @ EarthDance”. One of my favorites from this period is Live @ Cloud Factory’s OODE V played outdoors on a National Park Service softball field on the banks of the North Umpqua river in central Oregon at happy hour in a fur vest and sarong… Silly, times ten.

In the fall of 2001, I met ViaJay. She was interested in learning how to DJ and, by chance, I was upgrading my decks and mixer and so had an extra set which I promptly gave to her and which she promptly began shredding on. Turned out she liked Breaks. As often happens in couples, her tastes wore off on me and I got mildly swept up in the Total Breaks Domination that took over the Bay Area for a few years. None of which I regret! When you’ve got a girl that can rock a party as hard as she did it’s only natural to want to play along! And, indeed, there are a few sets from that eight-year era that I truly love. Check out the Live @ Sweet Campout 2002 set. It was the first time I played Breaks out. Jay and I were both obsessed with a producer we’d just discovered, Dan F., and the set is almost an homage to him. I think I play like every track he had out at the time. No one had heard him yet and it was obvious. Very distinctive sound, especially as compared to more obvious New School Breaks sounds. An epic weekend that one. Towards the later end of my breaks era check out the studio mix Breaknosys and the very popular No Limit Hold Em. Though, in truth, I still whip out the breaks every now and then.

Turning my attention back to four-on-the-floor territory (not that it had every really left), I was psyched to see that house had gotten techier, techno had slowed down and gotten funkier, and tech house had kept its silkiness while losing some of the too long and abstract breaks that annoyed me when it started gaining fresh steam in 2007 ish. This meant you could play all this good stuff happily together and with the easy opportunity to take it deep, hard, funky or weird and get back again.

So, while I serviced a few bangin techno requests along the way (see Live @ FnF XI), I’ve been hangin out in that techy, housey space for a while and it’s produced some of my favorite sets of my career, notably: Live @ FnF XIII, the sunrise set I played at the FnF Campout in 2009 (my first ever sunrise set… at an FnF) and Live @ Stratgik’s Valentines Brunch, played on a lazy, Sunday afternoon here in sunny San Francisco.

Along the way, I founded (with many great peeps) the collective known as Friends & Family (whose much loved symbol is the smiling gearhead you see to the top right of this site). It has, since 1994, been our mission to throw collectively-organized, not-for-profit parties aimed at creating meaningful community. That we are still here doing it 16 years later is a testament to our success and the value it brings both those of us that have been here for a while and the fresh faces that propel us into the future. As I hope you can hear from the many “Live at FnF…” sets presented here, we’ve created some amazing experiences over the years. I hope you have had or will have the opportunity to join us. We’re just an email way, so reach out, yo. We’re super friendly.

cheers, ethan

October 12, 2010