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Author of the Month: Oliver Wang

Published: November 3, 2015

Legions of Boom: Filipino American Mobile DJ Crews in the San Francisco Bay Area

Oliver Wang, associate professor, Sociology

Legions of Boom: Filipino American Mobile DJ Crews in the San Francisco Bay Area arrived in April from the Duke University Press as part of its Refiguring American Music series. The 240-page text, Wang’s first, describes the period between the 1970s and the 1990s when Filipino-American mobile DJ crews such as Ultimate Creations, Spintronix and Images Inc. arrived armed with speakers, turntables, light systems and records to rock dance floors throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. In Legions of Boom, Wang chronicles the crews which were instrumental in helping to create and unify the Bay Area’s Filipino-American community. While crews regularly spun records for school dances, weddings, birthdays or garage parties, the scene’s centerpieces were showcases—or multi-crew performances—which drew crowds of hundreds, or even thousands. By the mid-1990s the scene was in decline, as single DJs became popular, recruitment to crews fell off and aspiring scratch DJs branched off into their own scene. As the training ground for a generation of DJs, including DJ Q-Bert, Shortkut, and Mix Master Mike, as well as a unifier of youths living in neighborhoods strewn throughout the Bay Area, the mobile scene left an indelible mark on its community. “These were predominantly high school students, some starting as early as 12 or 13,” said Wang, a member of the university since 2006. “There was no blueprint then. If you want to be a DJ in 2015, there are countless technological and knowledge resources avalable to you. Contrast that with 1979 where there was no road map to follow. They had to figure things out for themselves. They learned how to write contracts, how to solve complicated lighting and audio equipment assemblies. They needed a mastery of record knowledge.” The biggest performances were “showcases” which invited several crews to perform or compete. “A showcase could be held in a venue like a church hall or school gymnasium,” Wang recalled. “Each crew would set up their own stages. In this era, showcases were about more than musical tastes or DJ performances. People expected visual spectacle. Each crew would have its own turn to perform and create

Author of the Month–John Scenters–Zapico

whatever musical or visual wizardry that could imprint itself best on the audience.” The leading groups (Ultimate Creations, Spintronix and Images, Inc.) were popular because of a mix of talents. “For instance, Ultimate Creations were perceived as the most professional,” Wang said. “They revolutionized how crews crafted their stage presence, especially in a ‘clean’ set-up where there were no visible wires and their equipment was color-coordinated in silver and black, Raiders’ colors.” Wang also edited Classic Material: The Hip-Hop Album Guide and has written for NPR, Vibe, Wax Poetics, the Los Angeles Times, the Oakland Tribune and the Village Voice. He earned his B.A. in sociology, his M.A. and a Ph.D. in ethnic studies in 2004 from UC Berkeley before serving there as a lecturer.