Riverside

On My Block: DJ Day's Desert Inspirations

Few cultural movements are as loyal to a sense of place as hip-hop. Especially in L.A., where geography inspires both pride and peril, hip-hop artists often embrace their neighborhoods as an integral part of their persona. In honor of that tradition, the On My Block series looks at different parts of the Southland through the hip-hop artists who claim these corners. We begin in, perhaps, an unlikely part of "town" -- Palm Springs, as represented by Damien "DJ Day" Beebe.

The desert cites may technically be considered part of Southern California but as any local or visitor can assure you: what separates Los Angeles from the desert communities is more than just some sand and sagebrush. Culturally, economically, climatically - the two draw sharp contrasts to one another. However close in geography, the desert cities stand apart (and seem happy to do so).

Even the catch-all term "desert cities" is a bit of a misnomer since there are many cities in the California desert. What Caltrans points us to are communities stretched over the arid Coachella Valley, bookended by the towering Mt. San Jacinto to the northwest to the optimistically-named Mecca on the southeast, just before you dip into the Salton Sea basin. Of all the cities in between -- Desert Hot Springs, Indio, La Quinta -- none loom larger than Palm Springs in the popular imagination. Ever since at least the 1960s heyday of the Rat Pack, Palm Springs is mostly known as a playground for the rich and famous: all golf course oases and mid-century mansions. However, these associations ultimately paint the city as a destination point; they rarely treat it as somewhere someone might actually be from.

Damien "DJ Day" Beebe is indeed from Palm Springs: born and raised. He may be one of the few prominent musical artists who could make that claim, having built a sterling reputation as a remixer and producer since the early 2000s, burnished by his long-time DJ residency at Palm Springs' hip boutique hotel, The Ace. Land of 1000 Chances is Day's long-awaited debut studio album, an intensely personal bouquet of beats where emotional turmoil and catharsis take on instrumental form. The very first song, "VQ," opens with his own description of what growing up in the desert might sound like: "laid back, it's heavy, there's joy but it's kind of melancholy."

DJ Day: Land of 1000 Chances (PL70, 2013)

As someone who gets to travel for your work and has seen other parts of California, would you say that the desert cities are really a world unto themselves?

DJ Day: Oh absolutely. It's pretty nestled away, literally kind of in a bowl of mountains outside of major metropolitan culture but what's nice is that we're close enough to go dip into the city and come back here. Everything is close, mountains, beach within driving range but we're still kind of far enough to have our own thing going on which is a good thing for me at least.
 
Would you describe the communities out there as being insular? 

DD: Obviously. we get trickle-down culture, if you will, from outside the region but yeah, I would say it definitely got it's own thing going on. There's the whole desert rock scene with a very distinct sound: Queens of the Stone Age...Brant Bjork...It's not like anywhere else I've ever heard or seen before. 

What is the outlay of the different kinds of personalities you're likely to find here?

DD: It depends on what context you're talking about. There's obviously the stereotypical older retiree people here. There's a big gay population here. And there's this new kind of renaissance going on with a lot of younger people coming out especially with things like the Ace Hotel and Saguaro and Alcazar.

Musically, I think more people associate the region with the Coachella festival rather than any homegrown movement. How has the local hip-hop scene evolved?

DD: There's always been a hip-hop scene out here on some level even before I existed doing music out here. We're divorced enough from big cities to cultivate that whole thing. There's groups and emcees like Karmic Basis, there's Desert Eagles, there's Jack Patron coming up [from] the east end of the Valley, Shawn Moore who's a younger MC.  There's other DJs too...there's a dude Alf Alpha out here who did Coachella. There's definitely like a burgeoning hip-hop scene. I still work with a lot of these cats. I'll do cuts or beats or whatever for people just on the strength, just to support the local up and coming kids because I'm like a part of the old guard now, you know what I mean?  

You had mentioned that with The Ace and the scene that you're involved with, this is part of a more contemporary cultural/musical movement happening in the region. What's been building out here and why?

DD: To take it back a bit...Palm Springs was a pretty big hub for The Rat Pack and a lot of movie stars, TV stars, musicians back in the '50s and '60s and eventually it kind of died out and it became this kind of ghost town once Sunny Bono became this mayor and put a squash on spring break. There's been a quiet resurgence. I would say Coachella was a major factor. When they started Coachella out here that was the turning point and once people saw that there was a viable market and there is a youth movement out here, people like The Ace, they came and set up shop. That's another huge thing to reinvigorate that whole renaissance. It's cool to be in Palm Springs, it's cool to come down here. 

Photo by Oliver Wang.

Given that you open your album by talking about the sound of the desert, where do you go around here for your creative inspiration?

DD: The Indian Canyons, which is the dead south end of Palm Springs. It's great for reflection and inspiration. There's something to be said about the actual landscape and being completely ensconced in just that outside of the city itself.

Indian Canyons | Photo by Oliver Wang.

OW: Your album cover has this striking image of a dog sitting down at a bar, seemingly about to enjoy a glass of wine. What's your favorite watering hole in town?

DD: It's funny [you're asking] because I've gone sober. It's been over a month now since I've drank but I have no problem talking about that. If you want a dirt bag bar there's the Fireside...that's way off the beaten path. That's like a "locals only" place but it can get a little dicey there sometimes. I spend a shit load of time at The Amigo Room at the Ace. It used to be a Denny's actually and the bar inside Denny's was called the Amigo Room and so they left the name, darkened it up and made it a little more cozy in there.  

The Amigo Room, Ace Hotel, Palm Springs | Photo by Oliver Wang.

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Top Image: DJ Day | Photograph From DJ Day.

About the Author

Dr. Oliver Wang is an associate professor of sociology at California State University, Long Beach.
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