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On a recent afternoon, nostalgic oldies echoed through an alleyway just a few blocks south of San Francisco Chinatown’s majestic Dragon Gate. If you followed the sweet sounds of the Supremes and the Fifth Dimension, you’d end up at a storefront nestled between a sleepy hotel and a dim sum restaurant, with big, open windows beckoning you inside.
This is the newly opened headquarters of Fault Radio (670 Commercial St.), which has been a destination for video streams by Bay Area DJs since it launched in 2018. Inspired by tastemaking internet radio stations like London’s NTS, Fault Radio’s profile grew tremendously during the pandemic when performers everywhere pivoted to streaming.
When I arrive at Fault HQ on a recent Wednesday, DJs Vero G. and Motown Mami are deep into their Stoned Soul broadcast, digging through crates for rare 45s under green and blue lights. A handful of Fault Radio staffers and supporters (including Vero G.’s niece and an employee from a nearby clothing store) mingle in the cozy shop, which also includes a small retail space with records, tote bags and art with a squiggly, quirky aesthetic.
“The first night, honestly, it felt like a club in here for a while. It was packed shoulder to shoulder,” says Mohit Kohli, Fault Radio’s station manager who also DJs under the name onemohit in the crew Make It Funky. Fault’s opening week in early July featured sets from artists with cult followings in the Bay Area electronic music scene: house DJs Nina Sol and Chungtech, Dark Entries disco revivalist Josh Cheon and Public Release records’ Eug.
“People keep asking me how it’s been and all I keep saying is, ‘It’s crazy! It’s crazy!’ It’s hard to find the words sometimes,” says Kohli. He’s here every Wednesday through Saturday manning the livestreams and welcoming people into the space, which functions like a clubhouse where visitors can pop in at any time between 4 and 10pm.
Kohli got involved with Fault after losing his job as a booker at the nightclub Public Works during the first COVID-19 shutdowns in 2020. When the pandemic started, Fault Radio kept its momentum by streaming DJs spinning records in their homes. When public health restrictions allowed some small businesses to reopen, they organized broadcasts from record stores and restaurants. The list eventually grew to around 120 locations around the Bay Area, Portland, Los Angeles and even some international spaces.
Since then, Fault Radio’s programming has expanded from five or six regular streams to a packed schedule of 30 shows, with genres like G-funk, drum and bass, footwork and soulful house. “If you’re coming to play on Fault, we are bringing you here to express yourself artistically and creatively,” Kohli says.
All Fault Radio DJ sets get archived on its website, which also includes articles spotlighting local artists and labels. The station doesn’t measure success by numbers or views, so DJs have the freedom to dig deep into niche genres and spotlight specific subcultures.
For Vero G., who grew up hearing oldies in San Francisco’s lowrider scene, Stoned Soul is a way of passing down the music and culture of her parents and grandparents. “We’re keeping the music alive, we’re keeping it going,” says Vero G., whose real name is Julia Veronica Garcia. “And it’s for the next generation. That’s how I see it. I’m leaving something a little piece behind for my grandkids.”
Given the changes and displacement in her hometown, Vero G. says she appreciates Fault Radio’s inclusivity. “It’s something new that brings a lot of people together, a lot of different cultures, a lot of different music, different folks,” she says. “It’s for everyone.”
For Vero’s DJ partner Motown Mami, Fault Radio has provided a much-needed sense of community. “During the pandemic, it was isolating. Especially as someone who lived on her own,” says the artist, whose real name is April Garcia. “It was really nice that we could still connect with soul music. So I’m really happy to be here in the flesh. … It’s the music; it’s the food and the seeing people, the laughing; it’s the beers—it’s everything. It’s a vibe for sure.”
That unpretentious atmosphere is exactly what Fault Radio founders Dor Wand and Dundee Maghen wanted to create when they launched the station four years ago. Both are originally from Israel, and Wand lived in London for 9 years where he worked for influential independent label Ninja Tune, which counts Bonobo and Kelis among its artists. When Wand arrived in San Francisco, he was surprised to find a music scene pushed to the margins despite the city’s storied history of art and counterculture.
“We were like, how can we change that narrative from ‘the artist is the victim of the Bay’ to ‘the heroic artists of the Bay’?” he says. “Because if you manage to do art in the Bay Area—it’s such an expensive place, so you need a fucking medal. It’s hard work. It’s much easier to be an artist in L.A. or New York, even, because there’s a supportive environment.”
Fault has done its part in building up that network of support. Taewook Lucas Kang, a.k.a. disco and house DJ/producer 3kelves, says he found it difficult to get started in electronic music without connections. His luck turned around when he sent a cold email to Fault Radio, after which he got his first show in just two weeks. In the three years since then, he’s been able to secure local and international bookings, make connections with labels and collaborators and eventually quit his job to focus on music full time.
“Fault Radio really opened up everything for me,” he says. “I keep telling everyone Fault Radio is the best thing that happened to the Bay Area, period.”
Fault Radio founders Wand and Maghen have since left the Bay Area. Maghen moved back to Israel, but still assists with grant writing. Wand lives in Los Angeles and is still involved on the business operations side, leaving station manager Kohli and art director Ryan Ormsby in charge locally. Now that the space is open, they want to turn it into a community hub with educational workshops, panels and other events.
“Our whole tagline is ‘The future is local,’” says Kohli. “There’s so many talented DJs, so many talented producers, so many talented visual artists. … We want to big up the local community that doesn’t get as much play as they probably deserve.”