Circuit Chat - DJ Frank Abraham

frankabrahamb DJ Frank Abraham

An Interview with DJ Frank Abraham
by Robby Cahyono

Throughout this past year, DJ/Producer Frank Abraham has become not only one of San Francisco's most popular DJs, but a household name in the club scenes around the nation. This summer, he released "Pride.2001", which quickly became one of the "Dance CDs of the summer." His interesting career as a DJ started only over a year ago and he has spun at coveted events, such as White Party Palm Springs and Southern Decadence in New Orleans.

With residencies in the west coast cities, he has been playing all over the country, from Winter Music Conference in Miami, Austin, Houston, St. Louis, Phoenix, Salt Lake City, Los Angeles, and Hawaii. He also has quite a big fan-base in Vancouver, Canada and Toronto.

Through his record label, AM Records, DJ Frank Abraham has produced several Billboard smash hits, including "Can't Take My Eyes Off Of You", "Keep The Party Jumpin" with artist Jeanie Tracy, which soared to #5 on the Billboard Hot Dance/Singles Chart, and "The Power" which hit #1.

Frank has also co-produced with DJs Ralphi Rosario and Abel Aguillera (Rosabel) on various projects. AM Records has just released a CD by DJ Kimberly S, called "Rapture". Phil B's long-awaited follow-up CD is scheduled for release by the label next week.

This November 11, he will be playing at MASS LA for the second time. He will also appear at The Factory on December 1.

Frank Abraham:

Hey Robby, how are you?

Robby Cahyono:

Hey I'm doing good, swamped like always. How are you?

FA: Doing good!! Swamped, just getting the licensing done for DJ Paulo's (Los Angeles) and my upcoming new CD.

RC: Well, it'll be a crazy weekend. Your new CD?
FA: Yeah, I'm putting out a new Circuit 2K, called After Hours. I was going to do an afterhours but I haven't decided yet. I'm not sure if people are ready for that yet.

RC: Why is that? What is the difference between afterhours music and non-afterhours? What are people not ready for?
FA: Well, I've found that the CD compilation business is very difficult. People don't usually know the song titles, etc, and don't bother asking. So, if the songs aren't recognizable or if the artists are unknown, it will affect the CD sales. Now if my name was Victor or Peter, then that would be a different story. But because I'm just starting out, I have to depend on song/artist recognition to sell CDs.

A good example of this is a CD that I did called TranceXstacy. Sales on it were horrible but I can't tell you how many people come up to me and tell me that it is one of their favorite CDs!

RC: The success of the previous CD sales, of course, help your reputation. "Pride.2001" has been doing so good. It could be the start of your trademark quality.
FA: Pride CD is doing very well! It's funny because it represents only a very small part of how I spin live.

RC: So, is there a specific type of music that AM Records artists have?
FA: Yes definitely, FUN!

RC: Just like you once said, when you work, it's all about feeling good and making people smile.
FA: I picked the DJs because of the energy that you feel while listening to them live. You have fun with the music, and that's also the point that I want to make with the CDs.

My main goal when working with Kimberly S, Paulo and Phil B is to let them express their creativity (with very little guidance) and to create a CD that is truly a representative of their personalities, and their mixing styles.

RC: Most of the artists happen to be from L.A.; is that just a coincidence? Or is there a stylistic reason behind that?
FA: I think the only coincidence is that we are all from the same region. Fact of the matter is that there are a lot of talented DJs here on the west coast who deserve and have earned the opportunity to have a commercial CD out on the market.

RC: How important do you think it is for DJs to have CDs out these days?
FA: I think it's becoming increasingly important as the DJ market becomes more competitive. I actually puCDs out (Circuit 2K volume 1 and volume 2) before ever DJing.

RC: It is really competitive! It seems really hard for new DJs to break in these days, or put themselves out there to be heard among these already established DJs.
FA: The fact that I had commercial product in the stores has helped me with bookings.

RC: And yes, that's the most interesting part of your career's story too.
FA: Exactly! The fact that I already had CDs out in the market and produced some dance singles helped a lot.

RC: That is true. But I also believe that the quality of your live shows are different than your CDs. CDs and other products may help get your name out there, however DJs' live performances are what is crucial. That's what people's judgments are usually based on.
FA: Absolutely, I have been lucky enough so far. Like I mentioned, the CD is a very small part of what I do live.

RC: How long ago did you start DJing exactly?
FA: My first gig was April 28, 2000. I remember being at the White Party last year saying to myself, "This time next year, I want to spin the pool party." When Jeffrey called me to spin 2 pool parties, I was elated!

RC: Like a fairy tale come true. It is very rare that within a year like that, a DJ could make it to a notable event, such as White Party!
FA: Yes. And I feel very lucky.

RC: What considerations would you have when you're selecting songs for a CD then?
FA: Song/artist recognition, whether the song is or will become irritating. I think the overall impression of a CD should be one that is fun to listen to, it should make you want to tap your feet, or even dance. If you play a CD before going out and it winds you up to the point that you can't wait to go out dancing, then I have done my job.

RC: The Pride CD! 'Pride' is a perfect title because that is a CD album that one would buy to collect. It's because of the song selection. They are songs that were hot and hit in the clubs this summer, or maybe the first half of this year. As far as I remember, there hasn't been any other CD that reflect the period like yours.
FA: You're very perceptive. I think that most people who produce CDs feel that the song selection has to have the latest hits or they try to set a trend.

I look at my CD's as a collection of songs that people hear in the clubs that represent a specific timeline, such as the summer or pride, etc.

Don't get me wrong, I think that you should have songs that are new but realistically, by the time you get the licensing and manufacturing completed, the song has been out for a while. There is no way around it unless you are lucky enough to get a song before it is released.

RC: That is true. Some people always say that certain CDs are good but they have old songs. It's right there that they're missing the point. Good CDs are good CDs, the ones you have a good time listening to or maybe listening to over and over again no matter how old the songs are.
FA: Exactly! I think its harder to predict which songs will have a longevity versus a hit. With CDs, it is a fine balance of commercial vs. originality.

RC: So let's talk about playing live now. How do you choose what songs to play then? What factors do you take into consideration?
FA: Playing live can be difficult if you don't know what the expectations are or you don't know your crowd.

RC: Well, you're coming back again to play MASS LA on November 11th. First of all, congratulations!
FA: Yes, MASS LA!

RC: This is your second time here; would you say you've had a chance to know what the crowd is like in LA?
FA: Yes definitely!! Don't forget that we have been to a lot of the parties in LA as well so I think I have a good feel for what LA likes.

RC: You burned the floor and brought the energy off the roof the last time you played MASS LA!
FA: Most likely, I will be spinning Mass on a regular basis. Maybe 7 times in the next 12 months.

RC: It seems like you would be what Phil B is to MASS in SF for MASS in LA. Congratulations again.
FA: Thank you! I had 2 very lucky breaks in LA (MASS and Factory)

RC: Yeah, I remember that. You played a special Saturday night at The Factory just a little over a month ago.
FA: I will be spinning on a regular basis at The Factory as well.

RC: Will MASS LA and The Factory be your 2002 residencies?
FA: My current residencies are BUMP-SF, MASS LA and Factory. I think we have to wait and see how well I do on December 1st (at The Factory). I have been asked to be a rotating DJ at The Factory but I want (them) to hear me one more time to see what I can do.

RC: I think you already established yourself pretty good so far. But that is true, different venues have different crowds, and some personalities work and some not. I wish you the best luck, in any case. And welcome to LA!
FA: Thank you!! The LA crowd is incredible. I don't think you guys realize how lucky you are. You have some of the best venues and the range of DJs and (their) musical styles that come through LA are incredible.

RC: So, what can the crowd expect this time for MASS?
FA: MASS lots of vocals, some new twists on old favorites. I like doing custom remixes, lots of energy and feel good stuff.

RC: Talking about musical style, how would you describe your playing style?
FA: When I first started, all I wanted to do was to play vocals and hits. I think that my style ranges from circuit to tribal. I really enjoy playing high energy and tribal beats. I think that my style has evolved somewhat because of playing BUMP. And Chris (Frank's partner) has also had quite an influence on some of the music that I am exposed to.

RC: Yes, like you said earlier, you're very lucky. You have worked at smaller clubs and the biggest parties. I'm sure your musical style evolved there too.
FA: Definitely. And I hope not to incriminate myself but I go out quite a bit and love to dance and experience different DJs. I think being out there and hearing different types of music is good if you are going to be in this business.

RC: When your business has something to do with culture or society, one has to always put oneself out there to catch up with the trends and adopt the new things that people like in general.
FA: True but also experience it for yourself. You need to know how music translates on the dance-floor. I love it when I see another DJ on the dance-floor having a good time

RC: And once again, you are lucky in this case, since I understand that you have played all over the country pretty regularly too.
FA: Yes VERY (lucky) and I don't take it for granted. I just played Vancouver Pride. It was a blast. It's my 3rd trip to Vancouver to spin (since April 2000). I did Cabin Fever at Whistler, Mac Fashion Cares, and Vancouver Pride.

RC: Where else have you been to now, especially the ones you've been back to?
FA: Utah, Houston, LA, SF, Arizona.

RC: Have you played the East Coast? You're also doing something with Jeffrey Sanker back east, right?
FA: It's called Classic Tea in South Beach at a venue called Billboard Live. It's on Jan 20th. It has gotten some really good reviews and the venue is very cool.

RC: You play from city to city quite regularly. How do you handle that? Is that a good thing or problematic?
FA: Its tough! Thankfully, we have a small staff here that can handle the record label, handle orders and day to day business. It really takes a toll but you just have to remember to sleep whenever possible, eat and not overdo it sounds like advice for the white party! (laughs)

RC: Definitely... even DJs need to rest! (laughs). So, what common problems do you find when you arrive at a new venue you've never played before?
FA: Bad equipment or wrong equipment you just never know what you will end up with. Sound-check is very important. This way if something isn't working, you have time to get it fixed.

RC: I would guess that you adopted the CDs over vinyls because you travel a lot.
FA: Yes, CDs! CDs allow me to bring a much wider selection of songs, over 1,000 titles, which would be impossible to lug around. Also, a lot of stuff that I create in the studio or get from other producers/remixers typically comes on CD.

RC: Any upcoming dates you're excited about? Beside MASS LA of course... (smile)
FA: Axis in (Salt Lake City) Utah yes, Utah! They have an incredible crowd there and the club owners are great! Also, I can't wait to spin in Miami at Classic Tea. Factory in December, Superball for Gus in SF for New Years Eve. And of course BUMP in SF every 3 weeks.

RC: Yes, I almost forgot about New Years.
FA: I'm spinning with Ra and David Knapp. I did MASS in SF this past New Years.

RC: It seems like we have a new association for Frank Abraham now MASS. (smile)
FA: Not a bad one to be associated with. (smile)

RC: Would you eventually produce a MASS LA CD mixed by Frank Abraham?
FA: Who knows? We have thought about it but lets wait and see.

RC: So, what's next for you beside your CD and these dates?
FA: I'm working on producing two more dance singles with diva Jeanie Tracy. In 2 months, we should have something for her.

RC: I also remember hearing about Phil B's upcoming CD, MASS? Is AM Records producing this?
FA: Yes it is! It should be out next week; we encountered many unexpected delays.

RC: In just a very short time, AM Records are releasing two new CDs? Not worried about self-competition in sales?
FA: In the last 4 months, we released twice as many CDs than in the last two years. So yes we are growing by leaps and bounds. No, not at all. And the best competition is your own, right?

RC: That's true. So, what are these recent releases?
FA:Phil B's Mass, Kimberly S's Rapture, Pride 2001, Paulo's Tribal Fusion. A CD by DJ Kio Kio is in the works. One from Dawna Montell is in the works as well.

RC: So, do you know if you will be back to White Party next year?
FA: I don't know yet but I'm hoping. (Jeffrey, are you reading this? - editor)

RC: Do you find that people often associate you with White Party as well?
FA: Some have. I've played at gigs and had people come up and tell me how much they enjoyed my performance. I think that because I played on Friday, that a lot of people missed my performance. I think most people arrive late Friday afternoon/early Friday evening.

RC: Didn't you also play Sunday pool?
FA: Yup, at the Hilton. But I think most people stayed at the Wyndham and were saving themselves for tea (dance).

RC: I'm hoping they will have you play better parties next year or next time. (now we're really hoping! - editor)
FA: All in due time.

RC: How do you find your new music, as a DJ?
FA: Chris!! (laughs)

RC: That's an asset nobody else can get. (laughs)
FA: Actually from a lot of sources. Chris helps out a lot, reading different publications, going online, Perfect Beat thank god, and other DJs.

RC: Talking about music is all relative and difficult because it's art and everyone has their own individual point of view. I want to know about it from a DJ's and/or producer's point of view. What is good music?.
FA: This is the rule: If 80% of the people like 80% of what you play, then you are lucky. You will never please everyone, but if you can stick to the 80/80 rule, you will be doing pretty well.

RC: And it's all relative to your own observation or is there any standard meter where the 80% is?
FA: Just watch the crowd.

RC: And I believe the size of the crowd also counts.
FA: Yes and no, the size of the crowd is dependent on a lot of different factors. If you have only 200 people at a venue and all of them are having a blast and swinging their hands in the air that would be better than a crowd of 2,000 with blank stares

RC: What was the best or most exciting gig then? Next to White Party if that's #1?
FA: MASS LA and Factory because it was a great opportunity for me to show what I can do and there was a lot of pressure on me. I figured if I can please the LA crowd, then I'm off to a great start.

RC: And I believed you have done that quite well so far.
FA: Thanks.

RC: This business, music business, entertainment business and club business is always identified with glamour, parties, and even drugs. This might be a bit political or even personal, so you don't have to answer. What's your perspective on these issues, as far as being part of the community in general? How do you take that in your life?
FA: One word, balance. OK, two words humbleness.

RC: How do you balance your daily life with the pace or lifestyle in this industry?
FA: Balance in that, it can get overwhelming getting caught up in the scene, the politics, the perceived glamour. I just take everything in perspective and keep a healthy balance. Too much of anything is not good.

RC: If given the power, is there anything you would change about the party scene and the music scene or industry and market?
FA: Let's see... music industry, try to relax and stop hoarding the music. Make it easier to license and people will. Club scene, stop trying to do everything in one sitting, be responsible. And finally, lets support each other and make a difference.

RC: Not only talented, but great personality!
FA: Nah. But you know, DJing is a privilege not a right.

RC: Well, thank you so much for your time, Frank. I enjoyed talking with you. Anything you want to say, or comment on, or anything I didn't ask?
FA: No I think that was great!!! You asked a lot of really good questions. I will see you when we get in on Saturday next week.

RC: I'm looking forward to going to MASS next weekend then. Good luck with everything, DJing and AM Records.
FA: Thank you.

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