In the rapidly evolving world of electronic music, it's all but impossible to keep track of every new artist, label, party, and genre. At the same time, certain names will inevitably pop up again and again at the XLR8R office, some of which we've only given passing mention to on the site. In an effort to get our readers up to speed with some of the things—both new and old—that we've been digging lately, we recently launched a new feature series called 'Get Familiar,' which aims to shine a spotlight on subjects we think are worthy of a little more attention.
For all intents and purposes, thePeople is a house music party—one that focuses on tracks rooted in African and Latin rhythms as well as the more soulful and jazz-informed ends of the genre. Helmed by a DJ collective of sorts, thePeople is centered around a monthly event that began in Oakland, California in the fall of 2007, and in its current form, takes place on the fourth Saturday of the month at The New Parish. "When we started, you could not build big parties in Oakland off house music," resident selector and thePeople co-founder Cecil Carthen (who DJs and produces simply under the name Cecil) says of the party's beginnings. "Now, a lot of those people who were so-so on the music when we first started are like, 'lt's all about the music,'" he adds. "They're diehards."
Like many metropolitan cities in America right now, Oakland is changing fast, in large part due to the Manhattanization of San Francisco and the ensuing flood of people who have looked to the East Bay for a more affordable lifestyle. As Oakland evolves, it has become increasingly important to have cultural institutions that can connect the old guard with the new blood, and thePeople is just that—a melting pot representative of Oakland's immense diversity; as such, the monthly gathering balances an accessible and inviting atmosphere with a respectably curated musical agenda. It also helps that folks come to thePeople get down; once the party gets rolling, there is rarely a dull moment on the dancefloor.
Still, when it comes to electronic music, Oakland is more often associated with the experimental and aggressive ends of the spectrum. (Not surprisingly, there's also a strong current along the more hip-hop-minded side of things.) House music, on the other hand, can be a hard sell in the city, especially with an internationally recognized scene happening right across the bay in San Francisco. Despite these obstacles, thePeople has managed to cultivate an audience with a real appreciation for percussive, soulful house. Overseeing the monthly gathering's musical selections, more or less since the beginning, alongside Carthen are resident DJs Chris McCallister (a.k.a. Cali), Brandon Brown (a.k.a. Orefu Negro), and Melissa Rae Canio (a.k.a. DJ heyLove*). Together, the crew covers a wide range of styles, which means that DJs are as likely to drop some traditional African music (bolstered by extra dancefloor rhythms), as they are Detroit-indebted fare or most anything from the deeper, more hypnotic side of the house spectrum. (Shades of boogie, disco, and funk are never entirely out of the question either.) "For some reason, our crowd is so open, I don’t really understand it," Canio explains. "It's a gift to have people come out who are so open; then we as DJs can play what we want, and people just dance. Whether you're a burner, a b-boy, a hippie, a bougie, or someone from a Berkeley frat, you hear the music and you still feel it." Cali, perhaps the most precise selector of the crew, sums up the residents' freedom behind the decks in simpler terms: "We get away with murder."
On the fourth Saturday of this month, thePeople will celebrate its seventh anniversary. For a party in Oakland, that's quite an accomplishment; for a house music party in Oakland, it's unheard of. When the residents talk about their progress, it is clear that thePeople has been built gradually, to a point where the party's seventh anniversary has almost snuck up on its founders and is not necessarily going to be met with any extra fanfare. In many ways, this is demonstrative of what has made thePeople such a refreshing presence. The party wasn't built on big headliners or fashionable trends; instead, the crew remains humbly focused on simply creating an enjoyable atmosphere and a rewarding nightlife experience for the residents of Oakland (and the larger Bay Area, for that matter). Guest DJs are sometimes a part of the equation, as the likes of Dego, Amp Fiddler, Aybee, and Afrikan Sciences (the last two being former Oakland residents), have brought their talents to thePeople over the years. However, none of these bookings were made in an effort to fill up the party on their own. "The guest DJs are always for us," Cali explains. "All these people that we look up to and that we have come out and play, we always want them to have the best time," he continues. "When I was in London, Dego said thePeople was the best party in the States. We were standing in a circle with a bunch of other people I look up to, and he said that and I was just feeling like, 'Oh shit, that is so huge.'"