Sake 1 isn’t your typical DJ. Holding a graduate degree in social work from UC Berkeley, he volunteers for Caduceus Outreach Services, providing aid to mentally ill homeless adults. He is in the middle of a year initiating as a priest of Elegua in the Lucumi faith (more commonly known as Santeria) and, among other restrictions, must wear white from head to toe, refrain from sex, alcohol, and drugs, and avoid physical contact with others. His weekly party Pacific Standard Time regularly donates a portion of its proceeds to community organizations such as DiverCity Works and the Center for Young Women’s Development. And he has continued to be an in-demand hip-hop and soul DJ, playing parties like Little Ricky’s Rib Shack in NYC and mixing compilations for outfits like Fader magazine, while relentlessly maintaining an optimistic outlook — even though 2006 saw the deaths of his brother; his best friend, DJ Dusk; and his protégé, DJ Domino.
“It has been hard to lose my best friend, my brother, and a student-friend all in the span of four months,” Sake said from his home in the Mission the week before he was to play a memorial party in New York for his brother, house producer and DJ Adam Goldstone. “But it reminds me where I come from and why I do what I do as a DJ. And I have angels all around me …”
ANGELS FROM THE AVENUES
Sake 1 (the name is his tag from his graffiti days) grew up Stefan Goldstone in the Fillmore and the avenues and graduated from Washington High School before attending UC Santa Cruz and finally UC Berkeley. He learned to mix by using records like Public Enemy’s “Night of the Living Baseheads” and Ultramagnetic MC’s “Ego Tripping” on one turntable while listening to KPOO on Sunday afternoons. His older brother in New York expanded his world with Red Alert, Pete Rock, and Marley Marl tapes, and Sake 1 soon began visiting the North Beach Tower Records, which at the time had an extensive selection of 12-inch singles. House parties in Santa Cruz followed when he went to college, and to this day the mood of those early parties is something he treasures. “I always feel like that’s something I’m trying to recapture, that house party vibe where you know everybody, where you feel safe even though it’s kinda out of control.”
Following a long list of steadily higher profile events that included Church, Soulville, and Luscious, Sake’s latest attempt to have a club that feels like a house party is Pacific Standard Time, where he is the resident DJ. The PST started in the spring of 2005 at Bambuddha Lounge, eventually moving to Levende Lounge in search of a bigger dance floor. Reflecting Sake’s diverse selections, which range from hip-hop to disco to broken beat, guests have included Daz-I-Kue from Bugz in the Attic, house producer Osunlade, and local favorites such as Mind Motion.
“Pretty much from June of 2005 until [now], it’s been packed every week, so it’s been a blessing,” Sake said. “The struggle part has been trying to keep the music progressive, keep the ideas and the organizations that we support at the forefront, and not fall back on ‘Well, we’re successful, we’re making money, and people like it, so let’s wild out and just have this bacchanal thing.’ When things become successful, it’s almost like a gift and a curse, because then people expect it to be a certain way every week, and it makes it hard to keep it changing. When it’s not successful, you can change, and nobody’s really trippin’, because nobody’s coming!” he laughed.
Saying that the party’s crowd has evolved with its success, Sake acknowledged that at times he finds it hard to strike a balance between playing the more obscure tracks he may personally favor and keeping the party rocking. At the same time, he is well aware that being successful allows him not only to reach a broader audience but to make a bigger impact when he does use his party for benefits. And keeping that success rolling may mean tempering his philosophy of selecting tracks by artists from other countries, female artists, and those that represent genres not easily slotted into the Clear Channel and MTV pigeonholes.
“At PST we struggle with trying to be this sexy, cool, tastemaker thing and then doing these community organization parties,” he reflected. “And the community organizations come and bring their bases, and their bases don’t want to hear SA-RA Creative Partners necessarily. They want to hear commercial rap, because that’s what a lot of our folks listen to.”
Nevertheless, at 11:20 on a recent Thursday night, Levende was rapidly filling up, and the already packed dance floor had no problem getting down to SA-RA’s “Hollywood.” But half an hour later there was a markedly bigger response when Sake dropped “Keep Bouncing,” a track by Too $hort featuring Snoop Dog and will.i.am that the majority of DJs digging SA-RA joints wouldn’t let near their crates.
“DJs should break records, and nightclubs should be places for not just new music but new ideas,” Sake explained. “People should be open to new sounds … and people should be open to having a nightlife experience that isn’t [divorced] from thinking about what is going on in the world outside — that [doesn’t just accept] that you have to step over homeless people to get into the nightclub, you have to disrespect the bar staff to get your drink quicker, you have to touch a girl’s ass if she won’t dance with you.” Walking the line between educating and entertaining, Sake 1 is making San Francisco a better place with a party that might just have it both ways. SFBG
SAKE 1 AT PACIFIC STANDARD TIME
Thursdays, 10 p.m.
1710 Mission, SF