7 Questions with Tomas Palermo

1. For those that don’t know your background, tell us a little bit about yourself.

I’m a Bay Area native who grew up skateboarding in the late-80s, going to lots of all-ages shows, underground clubs and house parties. I was friends with a few mobile DJs in high school, and also did radio shows at my high school on 10 watt FM station. I began spinning punk, dirge, avant garde rock, reggae, dub and soul. Anything from The Jam, Joy Division or Subhumans to Steel Pulse, Johnny Clarke, Scientist, Wailing Souls and Black Uhuru. I went to college in LA where I became heavily involved in their radio station, KXLU. I did daytime shifts and the reggae show on Saturdays for 7 years.

I co-founded and played drums in a noise band called Slug (Magnatone, PCP Records) from 1988–2005. I started doing music writing and journalism and was the original reggae columnist for Urb Magazine. I was also DJing a lot of clubs at the time, playing reggae, rare groove jazz-funk, hip-hop and electronic music. I started three main club nights in LA in the 1990s, Umoja Jazz & Ragga Lounge with DJ Daz and Culture D, an after-hours night called Goa Dub with DJ Jun and B-Side with Daz, Cokni O’Dire, Cut Chemist and more. Daz, Jun, Culture D, Cokni and I founded the Umoja Hi-Fi Sound System in 1993 as an umbrella organization for all our DJ activities.

In 1996 I moved back to the Bay Area, and worked in several SF record stores before becoming editor at XLR8R Magazine in 1999. I edited at XLR8R until 2005, and then went to SF State for a teaching credential. Since 2007 I’ve been working as an editor at Wiretap Magazine, doing freelance writing for XLR8R.com, Earplug, SF Bay Guardian and others, as well as continuing to DJ, and do music consulting. I also coach high school running coach. I enjoy running 5K races.

2. What’s your involvement with Voltage Music? What is the label currently up to?

XLR8R founder/publisher Andrew Smith and I co-founded Voltage Music in 1999/2000. We released 10 vinyl singles between 2000 – 2005. Then the label went on hiatus while I was in school and broke. These days its just myself running things. In 2009 I relaunched the label as a digital outlet with distribution from INgrooves and released our first compilation, Dub For The Dancefloor: Voltage Remixed and Unreleased. It came out January 20 and is doing pretty well.

Our next release should be out by May. It’s a five song EP by the Toronto dub producer Earlyworm. He sounds like Twilight Circus or King Tubby. The EP has remixes by SF’s Kush Arora and Roommate (Babylon System). The focus of the label will continue to be “Dub For The Dancefloor” — including all forms of dub, downtempo, dubstep, broken and abstract electronic grooves. Look for the t-shirts and stickers and possibly a CD version of the comp this summer.

3. How about Umoja Soundsystem? What’s going on with the crew in 09?

In 2008 we had a very successful 15-year anniversary at Surya Dub at Club Six in San Francisco. It was the first time all the founding members had played together in the Bay Area. These days Daz, Jun and Culture D live in LA, Cokni O’ Dire lives in Dallas, a newer member, Stevie G lives in Bali, and DJ B-Love and I live in SF. So we do occasional satellite nights in different cities under the Umoja banner. In LA, we have a series of parties called Uprock, and in SF I organize various nights — two or three a year.

We also started a podcast series in 2009 that features new installments monthly from various members. It’s amazing to still be DJing with people I began with, and still respect. It’s a pretty eclectic, amazing crew of DJs — Culture D is a dancehall master, Jun is into disco-edits, rare techno, house and avant garde dance, Stevie G plays dance classics and deep house, Daz has unparalled soul, funk, hip-hop and reggae knowledge, Cokni is deep with his hip-hop and dancehall, and I play a little bit of everything, including dubstep, broken beat, reggae, global beats and soul.

4. Many know your involment with XLR8R over the years. Are you still working with them in any capacity?

Thankfully yes. I love that crew. In fact, Andrew and I got drunk at a Fader/Diesel party a few weekends back. Then last Thursday he was a guest at my roots reggae monthly, Roadblock at Koko Cocktails. I contribute to the mag occasionally, but mostly for XLR8R.com — news bits and reviews. Due to the economic downturn, they’ve had to scale back a bit, but I’m always in the loop. I’m also contributing to an arts weekly called SF Bay Guardian in SF.

5. What’s next for you?

I’m going to continue to DJ and write and coach running. I should have a new single on Voltage from my production alias, Dub I.D. — that’s another whole can of worms, the Dub I.D./Double Identity alias. But regardless, I hope to release a bunch of music in 2009 on Voltage, mostly singles and EPs. I’ll be presenting a scholarly paper with Ron Nachmann (a.k.a. Shockman from Voltage Music) on Lovers Rock at this year’s EMP in Seattle. Recently, I’ve been doing more music consulting for artists and clubs. I’ve consulted for Souls of Rap Folks, Fiyawata and an LA band called Holloys — they’re wicked, look out for their serious tribal indie album.

6. How can people find out more about what you’re up to?

My blog, ForwardEver and my label Voltage Music are the best ways to find out my current runnings. I update those regularly. On the blog there’s a sign-up link for my monthly email update called “Gigz N Thangz” — that’s a good way to stay connected. I also post mixes to a Podomatic page. The other day I realized how many profiles and online things I’m trying to manage — including an Imeem page, True Skool page etc… Way too many!

7. What’s your top 10 right now?

This is a very abbreviated list of the many things I’m musically obsessed with at the moment. A true list would probably have to be a Top 100… But for the sake of space:

Baijie – That’s Life (Truck Back)
Untold – Dante (Hotflush)
Mavado – So Blessed (VP)
Ramadanman – Humber (Applepips)
Amit Shoham – Sufi Life -Ivan-I & Jason Howell Dub (Tarantic)
The Dynamics – Bring It Up (Big Single)
Marcio Local – Samba Sem Nenhum Problema (Luaka Bop)
Vybz Kartel – Life Sweet (Eastern Block)
M-Swift – Play It On The Floor (Jazzmin)
V.I.V.E.K. – Groove On (uneleased)