David Barsanti is a Santa Fe-based musician, drummer, DJ and GIS analyst and has lived in the City Different since the early 1990s. When not playing in various bands around town, he is actively DJing around Santa Fe and northern New Mexico under the moniker Spinifex. He and I created the Twisted Groove radio show that aired in the midnight slot on community station KSFR back in 2000. Although I left Santa Fe for the Bay Area, David has continued the show, going from strength to strength, and in the process, gaining a more sleep-friendly 10pm timeslot. Following up on the 16th anniversary of the show, I recently chatted to David about the Twisted Groove, the Santa Fe music scene and how music and radio has changed in the intervening years.
Tell us about how you got to Santa Fe
I first came to Santa Fe after getting a sociology degree with an anthropology focus from Keene State College where I’m originally from. After college I was still working in New England in archeology, but really looking for a change in environment. I was also really struggling to find work in archeology during the winter – you couldn’t find just work everywhere – it’s definitely hard to excavate then! So in November 1991, my girlfriend at the time had contacts here and we planned to come here together but that didn’t work out but I needed winter work so I was driven to find work here in SF. I was hired to do field work in the winter, and I stayed. Now by day I work as a GIS analyst for the City of Santa Fe.
What got you into music?
I have always been into music, it was a big part of the family growing up. My oldest brother grew up in the Woodstock era so I always heard a lot of music from that time. And although my parent’s weren’t musicians themselves there was always music around the house, my Dad had worked for Sylvania, an early TV manufacturer that was eventually acquired by General Telephone and Electronics. So we always had TVs and radio stereo of the best quality around the house, which was another way I really got into sound and music.
I’m a bit fuzzy on the details, remind me how the Twisted Groove got started?
I think we started because you had heard that somebody was looking for volunteers for late night on KSFR out on the Santa Fe Community College campus. We discussed both doing college radio and thought it would be fun to try something new. We discovered we had a lot of shared musical interests, but also we each had stuff that the other didn’t know about. So we both started around the idea of creating a coherent show made up of a bunch of different styles, some obscure, some not, we both liked and that weren’t well represented on the radio like Krautrock and early electronica like Tangerine Dream.
Back then KSFR was more closely associated with the College, and there was no radio board, and the College was looking to drop the funding. The folks running the station Board at the time – Tom and Donna – said: “just make us a demo”. So we burned a CD (still somewhat novel back then), you did some graphics inserts, and they said: great, you’re on: 12am midnight – 2am (they were just filling those late night spots). That was back in June of 2000. So as of last month, The Twisted Groove will having been going for 16 years!
I think the original concept was something like, “take groove jazz, and electronica and stir”. Is that about right?
Yes it was groove jazz, electronica, noise music, industrial and modern classical like John Cage. I had been into kind of Chill, and trip-hop music when I met, you. I think you guided me more into transition to the dance beat music of the time, like some early Warp techno, big beat, industrial stuff from the late 80s and early 90s – that kind of stuff.
The show seems to have expanded quite a bit since then, how would you describe it now?
Yes I started adding in a bit more indie and rock than we had originally in the show. So it’s broadened a bit, but I still try and keep it fairly close to original concept.
The late night time slot gave us a lot of freedom, which made the show fun. Now that you’ve moved to the 10pm timeslot, has that changed things?
Back in the midnight – 2am days, I used to play 2 hours of say noise music, but I don’t do that so much for 10pm. But I did play hardcore punk rock for 2 hours recently.
I think also time always changes the audience. I mean KSFR still lets you do and play pretty whatever you want. So I could still bombard people with noise if I wanted to. Back in the midnight – 2am days, I used to play 2 hours of say noise music, but I don’t do that so much for 10pm. But I did play hardcore punk rock for 2 hours recently. So I’ll still do that if the shoe fits as they say!
What we were doing in Santa Fe was pretty unusual, electronic music had never been big in the US in general at least back then. But it seems to have exploded in recent years, as “EDM”. What do you account for that?
I definitely agree with you. Although, I am somewhat bored with the some of the newer pure “electronic dance music”. I still find some of the minimal straightahead minimal Berlin techno interesting and I still dabble in house music in general, but it’s got to be of good quality. I did this one show recently with a friend, who brought a lot all pretty new stuff, more modern. But often I find myself going back to the roots of Detroit techno, like the stuff from late 80s album Techno: The New Dance Sound of Detroit with people like Juan Atkins and Derek May. So I’ll spin old stuff like that, along with other people around that time like Richie Hawtin.
You’ve been going for 15 years now, you must be a Santa Fe institution by now! Do people stop you on the street?
(laughs) Well, not quite that! KSFR is still a small station. But the station has changed a fair bit and it seems to have picked up newer audience. Actually we changed from 90.7 when we swapped our frequencies with a commercial station in 2007 to 101.1 with broader reach. This has had some benefits for KSFR because it means now I can get in the car and hear it in Albuquerque, White Rock and even as far north as Taos. I used to lose it when I went south into Albuquerque down the steep La Bajada hill. Anyway, that frequency swap changed our listenership: it gave us more people.
The bottom line is that it’s hard to tell exactly how big our listenership is, but people in Santa Fe seem to know the show. Normally it’s like, I go to a party and I explain to people that I do the show, and so I get people who say “oh I know, I’ve listened to that show”. And I still get on-air calls!
Does living in Santa Fe, which is known as an artist-friendly city, help keep you going?
Yeah, I mean there’s multiple reasons I have stayed for a while. Although I didn’t imagine that I’d still be here back in the early 1990s. In many ways Santa Fe is a pretty ideal environment for me. There’s snow on the mountain, I can ski and coach racing in the winter. It’s also, as you say, a real artist community. There’s plenty of musicians to play with as a drummer, and people who like art. There’s a lot of local Hispanic and native American culture, although it doesn’t always intersect as much as you’d think with the more Anglo arts scene. There’s also a lot of music coming through, both national and international acts, especially for a city of it’s size. They do tend to be usually smaller acts – not the stadium bands. But there’s still a lot of choices. For example I used to have to drive to Denver to see a band like Tortoise but now they visit Albuquerque.
A lot of cities have undergone extreme gentrificiation in the last 15 years, especially San Francisco, has this affected Santa Fe? Do you see fewer artists living in the city, or taking risks than previously?
Certainly it’s been gentrified since the before the early 90. Back then I lived in the Barrio near downtown, and there were a lot needles on the street, but not so much anymore. So it’s been gentrified up quite a bit, but it hasn’t completely pushed people out in the way it has in San Francisco. Most people didn’t leave town, they moved to the southside of town, down in the area along Cerrillos Road by the I-25 Interstate. There’s a lot more housing and development out there. Also some of the artists have moved into the industrial areas around there and near the train tracks. You can still can rent in the Barrio for not insane prices, say a one bedroom for $850 a month or even struggle by in downtown, even though it’s definitely got more expensive over time. I’ve moved around a fair bit, for example.
But, yes it’s still a big problem for artists. New York is a classic example: back in the 70s and 80s artists could afford to live in Manhattan, so places like punk venue, CBGB’s could happen. But not today: after Guliani and Bloomberg, there’s no cheap rent in Manhattan. Recently, David Byrne has been pretty active speaking out on the need for affordable rents in New York to keep art in that city – creating art collectives may be one way for that. As for Santa Fe it’s always had it’s more cheesy, touristy side with that appeals to older folks and snowbirds. But young people are still moving here and creating newer art, Meow Wolf for example.
How has the rise of digital music, streaming services and the like affected community radio?
We still seem to be going along. For a station like ours the best ratings numbers happen in the daytime during the drivetime shows with a mix of news and features. So KSFR gets most of their donations in the pledge drives in the daytime, or early evening. In my show I just tell people to go the website and donate which seems to work better than taking donations over the phone, I think most people like that more now. So I don’t think the streaming has affected us so badly.
A lot of the big radio conglomerates like Clear Channel – they keep changing their name, so you don’t know it’s Clear Channel, I think they call themselves iHeartMedia now – is now something like billion in debt. I think they screwed up radio for everybody more than anybody. By buying up and then making radio more bland and dull, I think it really pushed people, at least those listening to commercial radio, to move to satellite and digital, so they’ve only got themselves to blame. The digital stuff certainly has an affect on us, but it’s hard to know how much that is taking away listeners from a station like KSFR. Anyway, we’re still OK, able to pay the bills, but definitely not wallowing in money.
Clear Channel, I think they call themselves iHeartMedia now – is now something like billion in debt. I think they screwed up radio for everybody more than anybody.
Is there still an audience for live radio in this age of algorithmically-generated “autoplaylists”, Spotify, Pandora and the like?
Well, I remember when the CD shuffles for multiple CDs came out back in the 80s or 90s: they had really shitty options, like, shuffle, random, and that’s it. It seemed to only have a few random patterns so it would repeat the pattern and after a few times it didn’t feel like much of all – still very limited number of songs. Then when MP3s and the Apple iPod with shuffle came, I did ask myself: do I have a job anymore? But really with those algorithmic playlists, I rarely hear anything with heart and soul. For example I did a tribute on Bowie for two hours. I did what I think was a really unique show, pulled rare bootlegs from vinyl, played some early different versions of familar songs and surrounded it with some core songs that I really liked. And I got a Facebook comment from DJ who lives in Albuquerque about my Facebook post/link to that show, Audio Buddha, and he complemented me on pulling together something really special, which was nice. It’s hard to imagine that coming out of a Spotify playlist.
So I kind of go into musician mode, where it’s more of an improvisation of different pieces on the fly rather than planned show, which I really get into it.
Sometimes if I prefigure it out on a laptop, it’s hours of work beforehand and I get bored when I play the show on the air because all the work has been done. But sometimes I’m just pulling stuff out of the bag. So I kind of go into musician mode, where it’s more of an improvisation of different pieces on the fly rather than planned show, which I really get into it. Especially when you’re doing it live on radio, you’ve really got only about 4-6 minutes to make sure you have something set up to go next. So sometimes it’s kind of [John] Cagian accident. And then I say, “oh well”, that’s not what I originally intended, but it’s interesting. It’s serendipity. So what you end playing can be quite unique and it’s more fun that way.
When I was doing the show, I remember bringing in a lot of Australian music, like The Necks, Severed Heads and stuff on the Volition label. Even as the availability of music has gone up, regional distinctiveness seems to me to have faded. Do you still hear regional styles, or has the global availability of music homogenized things?
I certainly hear regional styles, but then again, I’m not normal. (laughs). I don’t know what the answer is for the general listener. For me, I’m always looking in those deep holes of music and finding stuff. So I can’t say that the homogenization, if it’s there, has really affected me. I can still find those regional styles. For example, Ellen Allien and her label BPitch Control does a bunch of minimal tech-house and she’s from Berlin, and it still always really sounds like it’s from Berlin.
Are there any new genres or artists that you’re particularly excited by?
I’m not sure. If there’s a whole new genre or subgenre, I haven’t noticed. These days I often ignore the labels. I was keeping up with it, but then at some point, it’s better to just drop the subgenres. These genres were really originally developed by record labels and marketers back in the 60s and it went nuts in the 90s and early 2000s with electronica. I think at some point everybody said “fuck you” : why do I need to have a label for this music? My old housemate, Tony, studied for a Masters in musical anthropology up at Bowling Greens Ohio, and who’s now in Flagstaff, Arizona. He introduced me to a bunch of metal, and they got into subgenres in a big, big way, but it’s way over the top.
There was part of my life when I couldn’t even write a sentence, which kinds of relates to me why genre labels are bothersome. Now I just ask: does it blend with the show?
So part of my problem is with the idea in the original question: are there really genres at all? Over the years, I’ve stopped thinking of genres, I think musical styles often just run together. Part of that, at least for me, is that I’ve had hard time with words in general. Putting words on paper can be quite difficult for me. There was part of my life when I couldn’t even write a sentence, which kinds of relates to me why genre labels are bothersome. Now I just ask: does it blend with the show?
Has playing as a drummer fedback into the show, or the show influenced your drumming, or music you play with others?
I think my drumming and DJing, really work in parallel. I think that a lot of my timing and segues are in DJing are influenced by my drumming experience. When I do live DJing at a party or club, I pull in large catalog of music, then seeing and watching the dance floor, the timing I use from my drumming has totally helped to be a better DJ. For the other way around, does DJing help drumming? I think it comes in especially when I’m trying to play a new style. Listening to a lot of different kinds of music, now I can more easily replicate any style on a drum set. Basically, if I listen to it, most times I can play it. So it’s not DJing per se, but just extensive music listening.
You were a vinyl hipster before there were vinyl hipsters, do these Johnny-come-latelys annoy you?
No, I’m not so annoyed really. Although I am annoyed by the industry feeding on it. Now I really can’t afford the prices to get a vinyl copy of many things. Buying vinyl has gotten more pricey. Back in the late 90s and early 2000s, when nobody was buying it, I was getting good stuff for cheap. Now it’s $25-29 a pop for a single record new release or a re-release. So also the used vinyl market has also come up in cost because of that. Now I need to search harder to find my deals.
Sometimes I think these people buying them aren’t actuality interested listening to the vinyl. They just like to have it up on the wall on a bookshelf, or wall as an artifact, but end up listening to the digital version anyway, which kind of defeats the purpose.
They are selling more turntables, so people are at least playing them. But sometimes when they do the whole limited colour release, it sells out and I can’t get it. Sometimes I think these people buying them aren’t actuality interested listening to the vinyl. They just like to have it up on the wall on a bookshelf, or wall as an artifact, but end up listening to the digital version anyway, which kind of defeats the purpose. Having said that, I still think the vinyl world is pivotal part of the future, as it is where the growth is for artists. The physical copy of the future is vinyl with a download code.
The CD has gone the way the dodo bird at this point. Even digital download is becoming scarce in streaming world. Many people are happy with just streaming, and be happy to never own a record or anything. Nobody sends out CDs anymore. Spotify and other cloud based “locker” services and the like are the future for a lot of people, people can build playlists and do exactly what they want. The main issue with streaming is that, in general, streaming audio does not pay good royalty rates to the artist, so it’s often not great for them.
What have you been listening to in the last few months?
Definitely a lot of David Bowie, obviously. Also Robert Wyatt, and I’ve been listening to the recent New Order album, Music Complete. I’ve also really been getting into more stuff on the ECM record label and early electronic music. Like stuff on the Warp record label, and The Orb & Youth’s new project called Presenting the Impossible Oddities which is just great. The Heart of a Dog, the new Laurie Anderson film is also really good: it’s just her talking with sound and images, there’s a soundtrack available. I’ve also been listening to a Krautrock-period electronic compilation called Kollektion 01 from Sky Records curated by Stereolab‘s Tim Gaines, it also has a lot of jamming from folks like Cluster, Roedelius, Moebius, Michael Rother. Laetitia Sadier’s (also ex-Stereolab) record Something Shines is also really good: I saw her play live recently in Albuquerque. It was a great show, it reminded me of that Stereolab show we both saw together in the early 2000 also in ABQ which was super awesome!
Thank you, David!