It is not uncommon for young corporate employees to dream of quitting their day job to fully devote themselves to a creative pursuit. Bay Area DJ CLAKSAARB, aka Chris Nguyen, is one of the fortunate few who took the risk and saw it pay off. He left his 9-to-5 at a mortgage lending company to spend a year mastering the art of DJing, and eventually landed gigs at some of the city's best-known Top 40 clubs, as well as work managing the Castro's Club Trigger and Lime Restaurant. Recently, CLAKSAARB spoke with All Shook Down about balancing two careers, what he looks for when booking a DJ, and the decadent things that can occur during a mimosa brunch. He is currently the Saturday night resident at Club Trigger.
Where does a name like CLAKSAARB come from?
There eventually came a point where I was getting gigs but still didn't have a DJ name. Jokingly, I told my friends that I wanted the longest DJ name in the world. Somehow "Cuts Like A Knife Sharp As A Razor Blade" came to mind. It stuck. I was at least happy that no one else wants to be called CLAKSAARB.
The music and venues you play often get labeled as a "Top 40." How would you categorize the music you play?
I would categorize it as "good" music. I do play a lot of Top 40, but I really only play music that I enjoy, not just because it's on the Top 40. I like to take risks while I'm DJing and mix music together that people wouldn't necessarily expect to hear at a nightclub. I started off playing only electronic music when I began getting gigs. But I think from having a love for all kinds of music, and wanting to challenge myself, I began to believe that no genre is off limits as long as it invokes a good emotion or makes people want to dance. When I think about DJs that mix multiple genres well, I think about Diplo and 2 Many DJs. On a typical Saturday night at Trigger, you'll hear me spinning everything from Top 40, house, electro, indie, disco, and Motown, to dubstep, moombahton, rock, hip-hop, and funk. A lot of DJs try to do this, but I really admire the DJs that have good taste in music and mix all those different genres together at the right time of the night without sacrificing the energy level. I'd like to be categorized in that group of DJing.
What's a song you think can be played and still resonate through DJs of all genres?
"Push It," by Salt-N-Pepa. Doesn't matter how old it gets or how often people hear it, that song always gets a reaction. It's ridiculous.
By playing what's currently "hot" at clubs, you have to listen to a lot of music, and sometimes an excessive amount of remixes. About what percent of it is usable? What can you hear in a remix that will automatically make you say, "I can't use this?"
Maybe 95 percent or more is not good. I spend a lot of time looking for music, and after an hour I might find two songs that I could play at some point. Sometimes I get lucky and find a lot, and sometimes I'll find none. I also get a lot of music sent to my inbox. There are so many variables that go into choosing music that I'm not sure I can really explain it here. I can say that it takes me only about five seconds to decide if I like a song. Kind of like how long it takes for a girl to decide if she'll sleep with a particular guy.
Besides DJing, you also do bookings for S.F clubs, most famously Lime. How do you balance the two?
Bookings are easy and take little time. I just call DJs up and write them into my calendar. But I also manage Club Trigger and Lime restaurant in the Castro, which includes marketing, organizing events, booking VIP guests, etc. It is a lot of work managing the two while managing my DJ career, but I love doing all of it, so it's not hard.
When booking DJs, what do you look for?
Obviously I look for DJs that are versatile, play good music, know how to mix, etc., but there are a lot of DJs that do that. Really, I look for the same things that you would look for when hiring for any job: Reliable, accessible, doesn't get wasted to the point of train-wrecking. Persistence is good, too. If you keep asking me for a gig and you're a decent DJ, you'll probably get booked eventually. But don't ask me for a gig and then ask for more money than I usually pay. That's annoying.
Since you also manage Lime, what's a crazy story you can share with us regarding the infamous mimosa overloads?
There are too many stories like that to really tell, not to mention they're potentially incriminating. On any given Sunday at Lime for brunch, you may see things like people taking off their clothes, giving lap dances, dancing on the bar, making it rain, and spraying champagne. One of our servers, Dale, does backflips. Every so often, someone will bring in a baby and get dirty looks.
Your latest mix is called "The Adventures of CLAKSAARB III" What was this inspired by?
It's not really inspired by anything. Out of laziness, all my mixes are just recorded live sets from the clubs. Sometimes I'll like an hour of my set and turn that into a mix. Sometimes I'll upload the entire set and call it "The Adventures of CLAKSAARB" because it's almost four hours long.
Will there be any new mixes coming soon from you?
I'm not sure. Maybe this Saturday?