Monday, February 26, 2007

Upcoming: Lucky Pierre at The Stud

My friend Aaron mentioned this last month, and I picked up a flyer at Medium Rare records over the weekend. I already have plans to hear the Dandy Warhol's on Friday night, so I doubt I'll make it, but if anybody out there in blog land checks it out, please let me know.

Lucky Pierre - homoelectrodisco
First Fridays at the Stud
Opening Night March 3rd
Resident DJ Donimo (Shadowplay, Substance)
hosted by
Coco Canal (Miss Trannyshack 2005)
Special Guest
Party Ben (Bootie, Live 105)
Hot Go Go Boys
10PM - 3AM

How Weird Saved!

From an email received this afternoon:

The How Weird Street Faire wants to thank you for your letter of
support. On Feb. 22nd, we won the appeal hearing and the 8th annual
How Weird Street Faire will take place on Sunday May 6th!

This is going to be a great year, and our last Faire at the
traditional location on Howard Street between 11th and 12th Streets.
We couldn't do it without the love and support we've received.

And this year we will be having a Benefit for the Faire on Friday
March 23rd at 1015 Folsom.

How Weird loves you!

Thank you very much,
Organizers of the How Weird Street Faire

Charlie Horse at The Cinch, "PJ Harvey Night"

This past Friday I made it up to The Cinch on Polk Street for another installment of Charlie Horse, this time with the theme of PJ Harvey - yes, drag queens and PJ Harvey are two things that go great together. DJ Dirty Knees once again played a set of generally inoffensive "rock" that made for tolerable background as I hung out with several members of Comfort and Joy who were finally recovered from last week's Afterglow escapades.

Anna Conda was just back from a European tour, including a chance to see The Decemberists in Amsterdam. Her take on Euro club music was that it was "awful," being all "canned house" that reminded her of "mecha-Cher." I was very curious about what she was talking about exactly, and where she had gone to hear this awful music - while it's true that Euro prole-techno is among the most horrible atrocities ever committed upon the ears of humans, my impression is that you would only hear this stuff in the most prole clubs, since the cool kids are all spinning minimal these days. Anna went on to say how lucky we were to have two "gay rock" nights in San Francisco, Charlie Horse being one, the other being Trans Am, also DJed by Dirty Knees. I suppose it makes sense for drag queens to be into rock, since long, abstract tracks with no lyrics don't really present performance opportunities, and for a drag queen, anything that distracts an audience's attention from her has got to go. Personally, I prefer clubs where people dance rather than stand around with their arms folded over their chests, but that's just me.

Upcoming: Kontrol at the End Up with Sammy Dee and Alex Under

Kontrol returns for their monthly at the End-Up this Saturday, March 3rd, with special guests Sammy Dee and Alex Under, the latter performing a "live" set. Sammy Dee is one half of Pantytec, and Alex Under has not only put out some great minimal tracks under his own name, but has also remixed the likes of Mylo. Once again this promises to be one of the hippest nights of new music in The City.

The Stooges in the New York Times

There's an article, with video, in the New York Times about The Stooges new album, The Weirdness. Check it out to see Iggy Pop still rocking at 60, looking hells better than Mick Jagger and Keith (Dessicated Corpse) Richards. The album sounds very "eh," but The Stooges were a hugely formative band for the younger gay DJ, before he became jaded. My cousin's wife, Tony, grew up in Ann Arbor and was briefly courted by Iggy, who sang a Beach Boys song to her in a local diner, and whom she accompanied on a quest one night to score. Both of my vintage Stooges albums come from her, and "I Wanna Be Your Dog" was the soundtrack to my nascent explorations in all things kink.

I have one story of Iggy Pop in person; I was an extra for the John Waters movie Crybaby, in which Iggy had a role. During a fight scene one night Iggy got a huge gash on his leg when a table fell over, the corner slicing right into him. Shooting stopped immediately, and while everyone else ran around, calling ambulances and panicing, Iggy just stood there, watching himself bleed and saying "Oh, that's nothing." Now that's rock and roll.

Throw Down at Planet Big!

Richard, stalwart door guy for Drunk and Horny and various other club nights around town, reported on Saturday night that he got busted for assault last weekend at The Stud's Planet Big after a round of unwarrented belly-bumping caused a beer bottle to fly across the room, resulting in an injury, a pissed-off boyfriend, and a nasty sucker punch.

As Richard told the story, he was at Planet Big to check out the space for a possible job as door guy there. Richard is a large guy himself, and though he's not into the bear crowd, they were waaaay into him, expressing their affection through aggressive belly-bumping. As Richard was getting it from all around, the beer bottle he was holding flew out of his hand and impacted on the head of a skinny guy on the dancefloor, drawing blood. The large boyfriend decided to throw down right there with Richard, but, being the calm and cool guy that he is, Richard invited him to go outside where it was quiet and talk the matter over. At the door there was a bit more of a fracas, with Richard putting the big boyfriend in an arm lock and trying to drag him outside the club, only to get sucker-punched by someone from behind. At this point Richard decided to cut his losses and just leave, but instead of going home, he decided to make the rounds of a couple other bars. Unfortunately, as he was leaving one, a police cruiser came by with the injured guy in it, who pointed out Richard as the guy who had clocked him with a beer bottle. Richard wound up spending the night in lock-up, but the charges against him will likely be dismissed.

Two lessons here kids: one, keep away from those big bellys if you're not ready to bump back (esp. on International Bear Rendezvous weekend, when all those bears are boiling with testosterone), and two, after you've been in a throw-down, just go the hell home and hide out for a while.

Matt Jakes, RIP

I'm very sad to report that Matt Jakes, DJ with the Ambient Mafia, my boyfriend's former roommate, and a tried-and-true member of the San Francisco party scene decided last Thursday, February 22, that this sad and fucked-up world was more than his soul could bear. Matt had been under a lot of strain since the death of his father several months ago, and despite negotiating the sale of his father's multi-national business and the subsequent setting of himself up for life, Matt came to the unfortunate conclusion that there was nothing left for him to do with himself.

Jeremy and I went out to Skylawn Cemetary on Saturday for the viewing before the burial, and the best thing I can say is that there were many people there to send Matt off. I would have been happier to see a big party going on, with friends spinning the crazy ghetto-tech that Matt used to love to play to fuck with people, but instead there were a lot of kids in black, smoking cigarettes and looking very shook up.

Matt and I didn't hang out that much, but I always enjoyed his company when he did. My favorite story about him was a very fucked-up conversation in which he said that he thought of Jeremy as being kind of a little sister, which amused both Jeremy and me to no end. Matt also got me a gig once, playing at a pot club, a crazy night that was very fun and endlessly amusing.

So long Matt, I wish things had gone differently for you.

Friday, February 23, 2007

DJ Philosophy I: The "Funky Yet Familiar" Debate

Among the various debates I have with my DJ friends probably none is as thorny as the “funky yet familiar” debate, which revolves around the central question faced by every DJ: what am I supposed to play?

If you are a member of a DJ collective focused on a specific genre of music, there’s very little difficulty in answering this question: you play tracks from within the genre that you like, assuming that anyone who comes out to hear you is there to hear that kind of music.

On the other hand, if you’re a DJ who has been asked to play a club night, or a party, the challenge is figuring out what to play to make people happy. If you’re playing a certain time of night you can have some idea of what would be appropriate, mood-wise, but if you’re playing a gay bar or club night, you can have a real challenge on your hands.

Guys who come to gay bars are usually not the most discriminating dancers in the world – they want to drink, flirt, and have a good time. You also have to figure that you’re going to have a range of tastes, from pop diva fans to folks who might put on something a little more sophisticated, some real house or electro, when they get home and wanna make out. Between these two very different tastes you then have to develop a triangulation that works – maybe between Madonna and Ricardo Villalobos you wind up with Mylo.

One DJ acquaintance of mine solves this problem with the formula of “funky yet familiar” – stuff that’s not too challenging but can still get your hips moving. This usually means something like a little Prince, some Rick James, the kind of stuff you might hear at a wedding reception after the old folks have checked out. There’s no denying that this works – I’ve seen the kids get down and dirty to it, and they usually stay on the floor for a while.

This kind of music, however, drives me crazy – it’s the stuff I’ve heard a million times before and, honestly, just can’t stand to dance to. When I go out, I want to hear new stuff, I want to moved by a track I’ve never heard before, and most of all I want the DJ to surprise me. This approach, however, is not one that generally appeals to the masses, and if you’re playing a club, the most important thing is to get people in and keep them there, drinking till their livers burst.

When I'm getting ready to play a party there's always a degree of anxiousness that I have to deal with, since I play mostly trance and techno, genres not known as being particularly "gay," and often I'll adjust my tracks to what I think will have more "gay appeal." But I'm also often surprised at how much the boys enjoy it, and have even gotten comments like "this music is terrific," even though the commentor has never heard progressive trance before in their life.

I’ve had long, drunken, stoned, coked-out discussions about the role of the of the DJ and the music he’s supposed to play on many occasions, and inevitably it comes down to me saying that I think the DJ is there to exercise his discrimination and skill and help create culture, while on the other side is the argument that he’s there to make people happy, serve their taste, and, most importantly, keep them in the bar so that they keep drinking. So I’ll put it out there to anyone who might be reading this blog: what do you think the role of the DJ should be? To lay down the funky yet familiar tunes we’ve all heard a million times before but which never fail to make a dance floor move, or to serve as an arbiter of taste and conductor into new musical realms? What do you want to hear when you go out dancing, and what moves you to get on up on the dancefloor? Do you think that there's such a thing as "gay music," or is it all just a big set of stereotypes that we should move beyond?

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Death to Disco

Death to Disco. If there is any trend in contemporary gay culture that I wish would dry up and blow away, it's the resurrection of the moldering corpse of disco. Look at the biggest alternative parties in the city, like Bus Station John's The Rod, and you'll see that shambling vampire sucking the life out of any spark of originality in the gay club scene. For the DJs who spin it, it's emblematic of a nostalgic age when being gay was fabulous and crazy and everybody was into the party-party lifestyle, or, in other words, t's emblematic of gay culture before AIDS, when you could go into any bath-house and get laid and not worry about the consequences - because we all know that's the height of gay club culture.

Death to disco; it makes the past seem like the only time when it was fun to be gay, when parties could be sexy, when we exercised some creative power in the world. Disco is existential bad faith.

Death to disco; it holds us back from being anything except caricatures, freezing our cultural identities in an era when most of us didn't even know we were gay yet. Is this the reason we so willingly embrace it, because it holds out a ghost to us as something real and substantial, a way to think about ourselves when we've become too lazy to create anything new?

Death to disco; it makes for lazy DJs, ones who don't have to think about what they're playing because it's all already been vetted for them, ones who think they can bypass essential skills because that's how they did it "back then," ones who are more focused on the rarities in their collections than trying to uncover something new and interesting. Show me a DJ who only plays disco, and I'll show you a DJ who really isn't trying.

Death to disco; dancers aren't reacting to the music, they're reacting to their own associations to it. Spin a track that no one's ever heard, that has no lyrics, and if they dance, it's because something in the music itself moves them. Spin a disco track and they're dancing because they've been conditioned to do so, dancing that becomes the embodiment of camp irony rather than real emotion.

Death to disco; the gay dance scene will never go anywhere until DJs start taking chances and playing contemporary music, engaging in the real work of digging through what's out there and finding ways to use it to bring a dancefloor together. The mission of the gay club DJ should be to find what exists in contemporary culture and dance music, think about how it can relate to a gay sensibility, and then put it all together in a coherent vision of a gay club experience. Which, when you think about it, is what gay DJs in the 1970s and 80s were doing, not rehashing something that had already been digested for them. Do we want pre-digested baby food, or do we want to cook for ourselves?

Death to Disco; we need a new, joyous, ecstatic, utopian vision for ourselves, not a threadworn hand-me-down. Drive the stake through the heart of the disco vampire, it only sucks away our psychic energy.

Death to disco, death to disco, death to disco.

Upcoming: Lord Kook at Drunk and Horny

It's the fourth Saturday of the month coming up, which means that Lord Kook will be on the decks early at Drunk and Horny. LK usually goes on around 9.30 and takes a break around 11.30 before coming back on later, but if you make it early in the evening there's always room to dance, it's easy to get drinks, and you won't have to go out into the alley to take a pee. Come out and show your support for gay club music that doesn't trade in the cliches of yesteryear.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Philip Sherburne on "New Rave"

Last month the New York Times ran an article on British band The Klaxons and the "rave renaissance" in England. In his "This Month in: Techno" column for Pitchfork last month, Philip Sherburne takes a closer look at the "New Rave" movement springing up in both England and Germany. It's an interesting read, especially in light of the general banality of dance culture here in San Francisco, which had an amazing rave scene as late as 2000. Will we ever see the likes of Toon Town again? Or have we been so demographically segmented, so beaten down by the twin hammers of hip-hop and indie rock, that bringing people together for a night of truly psychedelic experiences is no longer possible? I still hold onto my JNCOs, visor, and binky in the hope that they'll bring me through one more night of genuine PLUR.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The Transfer Sold Again?

Walking past The Transfer bar on Church Street this weekend I noticed a transfer of ownership sign in the window, and all the full-window event posters were gone. It seems that just about a year and a half after purchasing the bar where dreams went to die and turning it into a small sensation, Greg Bronstein has decided to shuck it off on someone else. According to this somewhat dated article in the Bay Area Reporter Bronstein has been steadily divesting himself of his restaurants with an eye toward developing his bar properties, but it's unclear how getting rid of The Transfer, which has been doing booming business with the likes of Bus Station John's Double Dutch Disco, fits in with the grand scheme. Though mere blocks from my pad, I never got into The Transfer, having only been there once for a friend's birthday party. The DJ that night was playing uninspired selections from the feel-good funk catalog, and using the "Jet" setting (known to the rest of us as a flanger)on her CDJ-100s as a kind of substitute cross-fader. The other nights advertised there never managed to capture my attention, and I'm not into BSJs retro vibe, so when I wanted a beer I would just go to the Pilsner. I'll be curious to see what comes back into that space. Perhaps the ghosts of tweakers past continue to haunt that space to such a degree that nothing can grow there ever again.

Update: Getting off the J after work I saw that the Transfer is still serving them up, and a new Double Dutch Disco poster is in the window. I'll be keeping an eye open to see what I can find out about the ownership change.

Further Update: a good source tells me that Bronstein sold the bar behind the back of manager Shawn, then fired him. This has left many of the promoters in a moral quandry as they feel that they should pull out from the night, but still want to support the rest of the staff. Further drama unfolding in the gay bar scene . . . .

Monday, February 19, 2007

Upcoming: 4/7, Bunny Jam

Bunny Jam 7 is coming up on Saturday, April 7, and this year it will be at the infamous Porn Palace (the original shooting sets for a local porn company) on Mission Street, close to the Metreon. The theme is "The Hare-Itics Ball : Ye Ole Bunny Jamme." Anybunny know where I can find some black patent-leather bunny ears?

No More How Weird Street Faire?

This week the How Weird Street Fair had their application for 2007 turned down by SF city agency ISCOTT after complaints by residents about noise and crowds - details are in this San Francisco Bay Guardian editorial. I was there for the first How Weird, and for me it has always marked the beginning of both the Burning Season and San Francisco's ritual feast calendar that culminates with Halloween. According to the SFBG, the venerable Haight Street Fair is in danger as well. Both of these events may yet be saved by determined activist work, but their threatened existence is a sad indicator of how the open civic gatherings that brought together races and classes are being challenged by monied, home-owning elites who are more interested in keeping "those people" away from their neighborhoods than in embracing the values that these events seek to endorse. Let's hope that the coming crash in property prices will also bring about a city-wide attitude adjustment.

Comfort and Joy's Afterglow Afterparty

Queer Burning Man camp Comfort and Joy staged their third Afterglow afterparty at the spacious home of a generous benefactor in the USF neighborhood this past weekend, this time going all out and producing a mini-Trannyshack that featured peformances by both camp members and special guests such as the reigning Miss Trannyshack, Raya Light. The show started well over an hour late and ran about two acts too long, but Raya's performance to Charlene's "I've Never Been to Me" was one of the most amazing and disturbing things I've ever seen, taking full advantage of the "private party" to do some things you could never get away with at The Stud.

Resident DJs Neco D and Lord Kook (also of Drunk and Horny fame) provided the tunes along with guests DJ Mermaid and Xan-X (Ambi-sonic). Neco D laid down a fun, upbeat 80s set, hitting enough well-known tracks to spark nostalgic conversations in the kitchen but also injecting enough unique choices (though I see the t-shirts everywhere, I've not heard Joy Division at a party in a while) to avoid the banality of a This Was the 80s compilation. Faced with what was probably an unexpected "extended" set Neco D soldiered on admirably with support from Lord Kook while the girls got themeslves together, and by the time the show was ready they had such a dancefloor groove going I really wished they had just been able to do away with the show and let us dance. Mermaid took over after the show with a classic disco set that seemed to find general favor with the crowd, but I was too comatose on the couch in the kitchen after eating a brownie to notice much. I was really there to hear Lord Kook, anyway, and after a "command performance" by Erika Kandy Kane I finally got to hear him go on 3.15. Though going on well after the peak and limited to only an hour and fifteen minute set, Lord Kook managed to encompass everything from Modeselektor's "Silikon" to The Infidel's "Love Like Semtex," with enthusiastic and ecstatic (of course) responses from a smaller but hardcore dancefloor. Xan-X picked up from him with more tribal "downtempo" beats from the likes of Sphongle, but this was clearly in prepartion for lowering the flaps and coming down into chillier regions.

The crowd was a terrifically diverse mix of hipsters, Castro clones, bears, faeries, and gay glitterati including Jeff and Gary, John Wood, and Terrance Alan. For the alterna-gay crowd this was clearly the place to be, and after 1.30 the carry-over from Drunk and Horny pushed attendance up close to probably 200 people. As they packed in and the temperature climbed the shirts (and other things) came off. The basement playspace was too hot and too crowded for me to deal with, but clearly that wasn't the case for others. Breakfast champagne was being poured when I left, and a friend reported in at 1PM on Sunday that he, and quite a few other people, were still there.

This was Comfort and Joy's first fundraiser of the season, and word is that they have two more events in planning now, one at a club with two other groups in April, and another for Pink Saturday in June. If you want a party that will remind you of why we love San Francisco, you should check out an Afterglow.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Black Rock Roller Disco

I'm firmly of the opinion that the only time you should ever listen to disco is on roller skates. Fortunately, the Black Rock Roller Disco can provide both, and even throw in projections from such roller disco classics as Xanadu and Roller Boogie. At a recent fundraiser the BRRD held at CellSpace for SF Indiefest they ran out of skates by 10PM and there was a line of 20something hipster kids halfway down the block outside at 11. The BRRD will certainly be having more events as the Burning Man fundraiser season gets going, and there may even be a chance to check them out in Golden Gate Park or at the Embarcadero. Bring a bottle of the stuff you would have smuggled into the roller rink and relive the halcyon days of knee socks and feathered hair.
(An interesting Chronicle article on the BRRD from 2003.)

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Vinyl Addiction

San Francisco has plenty of places to buy DJ vinyl - if what you play is house. Trance, techno, breakbeat, electro, anything else, you'll have to dig through those bins with a sharp eye to find anything that hasn't been played so much the grooves are gone. Here's a tour of some local DJ vinyl shops starting at Amoeba in the Upper Haight, down to TWeakin' in the Lower Haight, and then across Market onto Valencia for Zen City Records, Soundworks, and Community Thrift.

BPM Records - a couple weeks ago I walked up Fillmore to Hayes to get my monthy dose of minimal techno, only to find that the best DJ record store in San Francisco is no more. Here's hoping they're just on hiatus and I'll be able to update this with an active link soon.

Amoeba Records - Upper Haight. San Francisco's biggest music store has a hip electronica buyer and a whole bin labelled "Minimal." Recent acquisitions include Marek Bois "You Got Good Ash" remixed by Gabriel Ananda and Roman Fluegel, the Steadicam EP on Kompakt's K2 label, and several tracks on the Platzhirsch label. Unfortunately, you can't listen to any vinyl before you buy it, and you have to put up with the constant click-clack of shoppers flipping through the CDs backed with whatever horrible music the staff has put on. Get in, get what you want, get the hell out.

Reverb - across the street from Amoeba and formerly known as F8 - I guess they got tired of being associated with candy raves and cyber trance. The only place you can get current progressive trance (unfortunately mostly of the prole-techno variety), and the very few psy-trance releases that come out on vinyl. Decent breaks selection too, but not my field of expertise. My last big purchase here was when they decided to close out the psy vinyl for two bucks a pop and I needed to stock up for Burning Man.

Tweakin' Records - Lower Haight. Let's not talk about the implications of the store's name and just mention that there's a bin of Tech House right by the register that's offered up some nice finds. Recent acquisitions include remixes of Husky Rescue's "Diamonds in the Sky" and Mikkel Metal's "Victimizer" EP. Also carry vinyl from local tech house label Dirty Bird, where you will find tracks by Kontrol's Sammy D.

Zen City Records - Upper Valencia. Where back catalog stock goes to die. At one time I could find interesting minimal psy on labels like Traktor and Plastic Park here, but as far as I can tell the only new vinyl they bring in is strictly house. Another record shop owner once told me he doesn't know how they stay in business, and I haven't bought anything there for a loooooong time. TIS NO MORE - closed as of May 2007.

SoundWorks - Two blocks down Valencia from Zen City on the right. Where Castro DJs come to get their pop house and Club 40 tracks. Owner Sam LaBelle is a DJ and can be heard out on occasion, and is generally better than most of his clientele. Hang out on a Saturday afternoon and you'll hear all kinds of local gay DJ gossip. Sam and his co-owner Tom Seymour are both super friendly and helpful. Techno leans toward the hard, sounds-sampled-from-a-construction-site variety, but you can also pick up offbeat, older stuff. They also run a record pool, which has some pretty horrendous stuff in it, but if you need cheap Club 40 vinyl, this is a way to get it. My recent acquisitions include Gabriel Ananda's "Waehrend die Andere die Mull rausbracht," which would look cooler if I could do umlauts.

Mission Thrift - Valencia and 17th. You gotta dig in those bins, and ninety-nine percent of it is crap, but at a dollar a disc, you can take some chances. Recently found a 12" of Hanzel and Gretyl's "Galaxia Malakia" here for when I want to throw down some late 90s industrial. Oh, those were the days!