Midnight Snack: Cactus Taqueria with DJ Jacob Coma | KCET
Midnight Snack: Cactus Taqueria with DJ Jacob Coma
You can work up quite the appetite dancing the night away. "Moons Over My Hammy!" you holler as security pushes you out of the club at two in the morning. We've all been there, but have you ever thought about what it takes to create those nights out on the town? Over tacos and burritos at Hollywood's Cactus Taqueria, dubstep DJ Jacob Coma reveals why DJs get hungry too.
Jacob and I walk right off Vine Street to a tiny kiosk where breasts of chicken and tortillas sizzle on hot grills, carne asada turns on a skewer, and sweet rice water sloshes in the horchata machine. Jacob orders a beef fajita burrito, and though I'm partial to burritos myself, I decide on the chicken taco supreme and a fish taco because, well, when in Rome/at a taqueria. Styrofoam cups of horchata in hand, we stop by the salsa bar to collect ramekins of spicy, pickled carrots and red and green salsas, then take a seat at one of the varnished, wooden picnic tables separated from the speeding traffic by only a thin strip of sidewalk.
Rebecca: Do you ever get the tacos here, or only burritos?
Jacob: Actually, I've never gotten a taco here. Breakfast burritos are my usual at three in the morning. It's always the weird random small little places like this that are the best.
Rebecca: Is this your go-to spot after shows?
Jacob: Yeah, I've been here after DJing at L.A. Beat Down at The Fonda right up the street. If I've finished a really good show, I'll treat myself to a burrito with bacon on it.
Rebecca: What lead you to becoming a DJ?
Jacob: I got into music when I was a little kid growing up in Albuquerque. When I was five I started beating on pots and pans in my mom's kitchen, and eventually she bought me little hand instruments like marimbas. I was always very interested in the sounds of things. I was born with hearing loss. It makes it hard for me to understand certain voices, lyrics in songs sound jumbled to me.
Rebecca: That must be challenging in your line of work.
Jacob: Originally it was only one ear, but over the past 17 years of playing and making music it's gotten worse. I don't think it affects my craft much per se, but I'm sure things would be a little easier if I could hear more.
Rebecca: Got to do what you love even if it's tough. Tell me more about the marimbas and sounds.
Jacob: Well, when I was 12 I was in a Nirvana cover band.
Rebecca: Love that.
Jacob: We were invited to go on tour with a local Chicago band once, but our manager, the lead singer's mom, wouldn't let us.
Jacob: It was probably for the best.
Rebecca: What brought you to Los Angeles?
Jacob: I came out here to escape New Mexico, but I also went to audio engineering school out here. It was between here and New York.
Rebecca: What was the big decider?
Jacob: L.A. has more of an open feel than a dense city feel. I'm much more comfortable here than in NY. I live with my stepdad's cousin; she's in her 80s.
Rebecca: You have an 80-year-old roommate?
Jacob: Yep! I call her my G-Cuz because she's my cousin but like a grandma. We've lived together for the past six years and she really likes what I'm doing. I'll take breaks from production in my room and she'll be like, "I really like that one!"
Rebecca: That's amazing!
Jacob: She grew up during the Depression; she's lived a very different life than me. My life is extremely intense and stressful and living with her has helped me see things more clearly. I don't normally allow myself time to breathe and appreciate some of the things I've done, but because of her, she makes me take a second to take a look at what's really going on.
Rebecca: Way to put things in perspective, G-Cuz!
Jacob: Exactly! Living with her has helped me develop my sound to a certain extent.
We hear a faint shout among the exhaust pipes and shopping carts, and somehow Jacob knows it's our order. He shows up with two white, Styrofoam plates, one folding under the weight of a giant, foil-wrapped burrito and the other containing two tacos. As he de-swaddles his bundle of meaty, cheesy, joy, he catches me staring.
Jacob: I love the way they marinate their beef. The way they sauté it is the first thing I noticed. A friend of mine brought me here for the first time; he lives a couple blocks over. I got a breakfast burrito with the verde beef and it's that beef that blew me away. And I love being able to see their tiny little kitchen because you see everything they're cooking in there.
We munch away at our street-side dinner amid a parade of cars and pedestrians. Something about eating tacos and burritos on a Los Angeles sidewalk just seems right. I swallow the last bite of my chicken taco while Jacob works on his burrito -- a proper monster of a meal. But time is running out, and we have so much to learn about this mysterious genre called dubstep. It's a form of bass-heavy electronic music that, to a layman like myself, can sound very unpredictable, like controlled chaos. It's crept its way into the mainstream, showing up in commercials and pop songs on the radio, so if you think you've never heard it, chances are you actually have.
Rebecca: So dubstep -- what is it and how did you get into it?
Jacob: I didn't start producing dubstep until I moved here, and I got into it through drum and bass.
Rebecca: I remember drum and bass from the late '90s and early 2000s.
Jacob: Exactly. So I started there and then that sound got kind of stagnant and I got bored with it. Five years before that I heard dubstep, and it was boring, I hated it. It sounded like original dub, which is minimal, instrumental reggae, that's essentially what dub is, it's from Jamaica.
Rebecca: So dubstep is related to reggae? I never would have guessed that.
Jacob: Well what you're hearing everywhere today is American dubstep, which sounds nothing like original UK dubstep. Dubstep came from the UK, but the sounds were originally influenced by Jamaica. It was originally 70 [beats per minute] and now it's 140 bpms. With American dubstep, depending on the song, the wobbles or melody will be faster, and the percussion is slower. The melody is at 140 bpms while the percussion is at 70. And dance music is designed to have a certain length for the intro. There's a specific layout per genre to allow you to mix it together, because the DJ needs enough time to mix in and out of a song.
Rebecca: How does one dance to dubstep?
Jacob: I feel the slower, more hip-hop-like- songs, so when I dance, which is hardly ever, it's more of a hip-hop style. I honestly don't go out much these days.
Rebecca: So you're just always working?
Jacob: Production all day, promotion all night. It's a 24/7 job ... It's rough; it's caught up to me. At one point I was doing so much I ended up picking up an assistant to handle agents and filter through things. I get thousands of songs sent to me every day.
Rebecca: That sounds overwhelming.
Jacob: In the electronic music scene, it's easier to put your stuff out. You literally need a laptop, some programs and just upload your songs to Sound Cloud for free. That makes it much more difficult to sift through the crap and find the good stuff.
Rebecca: People send you their music for you to mix?
Jacob: Yes, and if I like it, I'll play it out live.
"Play it out live" means DJing.
Jacob: But back in the day, before the Internet took over, you had to pay money to get your song pressed on a dub plate, which is expensive. The biggest DJs in the world at the time would spend $10,000 at least for a record they'd play for six months to a year. After that, they're worthless. Electronic music doesn't have the same shelf life as pop music.
Rebecca: How many songs does it take for you to make one song, and how long?
Jacob: I've made one song start to finish in a day and one in six months. There are producer habits I'm still kind of learning. I've also had times when I'll write three songs and they don't go anywhere, but the next song I start I'll pull from those three songs.
Rebecca: Do you make your own music too?
Jacob: Yeah, but I hate to play my own stuff out, honestly. Electronic music producers will do a live PA, which is playing your own stuff in a live set; I haven't done that yet. That's something that Deadmau5 does, a live show where you can be more creative, jam a little bit more, do live remixes. I get pretty nuts on stage, by the end I'm drenched in sweat. I used to have terrible, horrible stage fright. When I first started DJing I used to knock the needle off records because my hands would shake, especially if the crowd didn't get into it right away. But now, by the first couple songs, they're into it and it's so much fun.
Rebecca: I've been to places where the crowd never gets into it. No fun.
Jacob: To me, that's the worst thing that can happen. If you start to clear a dance floor you're doing something wrong. A good DJ is always looking at the crowd and always figuring out what they're responding too.
Rebecca: Just play Call Me Maybe and it'll fill back up.
Jacob: Actually, I have a really good remix of that.
Rebecca: A dubstep remix?
Jacob: Actually, trap music.
Rebecca: What in the world ...
Jacob: The next big trend in bass music is trap beats, from southern hip-hop. The main percussion is a very old drum machine, the 808. That big, bassy boom is an 808 kick, like the snare in a Drake or a Lil' Wayne song.
Rebecca: Well what do you know! Okay, here's an obligatory question: How annoying is it when people request songs?
Jacob: It depends on the person or how drunk the girl is. I've had some people get pretty rowdy and other times they're like, "I'm sorry I know you don't really do that." If they're nice I'll see if I can work it in but I won't play that song if it makes me look like a jerk. The type of DJ I am is more like an artist, people usually come to see me, they like what I play, that's it. But if I'm playing somewhere that's promoted to a wider audience, not a clubby kind of thing, more of an open event with people who aren't into the music, I'll get requests.
Rebecca: We just think you guys have every song in the world.
Jacob: I'll get some people who'll ask, "don't you have any dance music?"
Between bpms, 808s and 80-year-old roommates, Jacob teaches quite the crash course in DJ-dom. So next time you're out flailing away the worries of the week, maybe offer your DJ a snack. He or she is probably hungrier than you are.
Listen to Coma here.
950 Vine Street, Los Angeles, CA 90038
Photos by Amparo Rios