Getting to know San Francisco-based producer and Beretta Grey recording artist Christina Chatfield – on live PAs and performing, the Bay Area techno scene and the art of (not) DJing.
You’re in San Francisco now, which much like Chicago is often a way-station for artists who are from somewhere else. Where are you from originally and how did you get to the Bay Area?
I grew up in Dayton, OH until I moved to Boston to attend the Berklee College of Music, where I studied music synthesis. After graduating I decided to try out life on the West Coast. I have family in San Francisco so I’ve made frequent visits to the city over the years, and I knew from a young age that this place really appealed to me. The Bay Area in general is really beautiful and has so much to offer, and I am one of many Midwestern transplants out here.
Many producers start DJing and add to their repertoire as they go. Do you remember who you first heard performing a live PA? Do you ever DJ, and was there a greater learning curve to learn how to do a live PA?
The first live performances I remember really making an impression on me were from a couple of Ohio artists, Todd Sines and Titonton Duvante. Their music is pretty much what introduced me to techno as a teenager in the Ohio rave scene. From that point I started paying attention to the music coming out of other Midwestern cities, making the trek up to Detroit on many occasions. I actually feel pretty lucky to have grown up where I did, getting exposed to so much phenomenal electronic music along the way. I may not have ended up where I am now if it weren’t for that influence.
A lot of people ask me why I don’t DJ. I think it’s because I grew up playing music, so writing and performing are both things I’ve been doing for a majority of my life. As my interest in electronic music grew over time, I knew I wanted to get involved beyond just going to the parties. It seemed like the next step was to start producing music of my own.
I don’t know if there’s a greater learning curve to playing live since I don’t DJ at all… I’ve never even attempted it once. I’d have to try it out before I could give a real answer. But I do know that playing live is a ton of work. My set relies on regularly writing new material, because I don’t want to be playing the same set over and over.
A number of the labels you’ve released music on but especially Beretta Grey have really pushed your name out there and made people like me notice. How did you link up with them – simple demos over the transom?
I’ve gotten huge amount of support from the labels I’ve worked with so far. I like to be part of labels who sort of operate as a collective, where all of the artists support each other, the label has showcase events, and being on the label means more than putting a record out every now and then.
I hooked up with Beretta Grey because I was introduced to Brian Kage by one of the other artists on the label, Keith Kemp. I stayed in touch with Brian and sent him recordings of live sets I was playing, and he picked out some of the tracks that he liked. Being a part of Beretta has been amazing, in part because we’re all friends with each other. It’s one of the big reasons I look forward to the Movement festival in Detroit each year. I know there’s a Beretta reunion in store.
There’s a substantial underground scene in San Francisco, and you’re a part of it with As You Like It. Pretend I’m a tourist. Can you give me a bit of an idea of what the scene is like?
Kontrol is definitely responsible for bringing the San Francisco techno scene to life a few years ago by launching a monthly party featuring international techno headliners. By the time I moved to SF, the party had been moved to the End Up, which is a legendary venue in the city because it stays open well into the night. Kontrol would definitely be a requirement for anyone taking a techno tour of SF.
As You Like It also brings in a ton of great talent. They throw a lot of their shows at two of my favorite club venues: BeatBox and Public Works. The AYLI events go off every time, bringing together a diverse crowd of SF electronic music lovers.
Housepitality is a weekly party every Wednesday, and is one of the best weekly events in the city. They book great artists and consistently get a solid crowd. It doesn’t even matter that it’s in the middle of the week.
When you perform a live set, how many of your tools are analog instruments? Do you bring a laptop with? Is this markedly different than your studio?
The three synths that I usually perform with are the Elektron Monomachine and Machinedrum, and a 303 emulator called the x0xb0x. I also have an Eventide Space reverb unit that I like to bring out.
I do use a laptop, because I have more gear in my home studio that’s too big to travel with. One of my synthesizers, the Alesis Andromeda, is a huge full-sized keyboard and weighs over 50 lbs. It makes incredible sounds, but it’s not something I want to carry on the road so I record it and throw the recordings into Ableton Live. I also can’t think of too many club venues that would have the space for me to bring all my gear, so I try to limit the size of my setup and only bring the smaller synths out.
If I were to introduce someone to your music, which recording would I start with?
The Bloom set is one of my favorites because it the live recording of my first solo live set, at a party called Bloom. The concept behind that party was to feature female artists, and the promoter had been asking me to play for awhile. When she first contacted me, I was still really busy with [her previous partnership with Danny Patterson] Monocle and hadn’t really started working on solo productions yet. So when I finally had a bunch of my own music together, I hit her up and asked if she could get me on a lineup. I was so incredibly nervous going into that night. People liked Monocle, and our sets were getting great feedback from people. I didn’t want to go from that to playing on my own and have it go badly. But so many of my friends came out to support that night, my nerves calmed down and it went well. The recording ended up really good, I was very happy with it.