Friday, April 6, 2007

Philip Sherburne on House Parties v. Winter Music Conference

In his This Month in Techno column for Pitchfork, Philip Sherburne writes an interesting compare-and-contrast essay concerning his experiences at the Winter Music Conference in Miami with a basement performance by Truckasaurus in Portland OR. As any veteran of house and warehouse parties might predict, he found the basement experience to be more satisfying than mixing it up with the big names of American and European techno. For me there'e no doubt that the "hey kids, let's put on a show" ethos is essential to keeping any scene vibrant, interesting, and fun, and this is what made San Francisco such an exciting place to be in the late 90s and early 2Ks. On any Friday afternoon you could plug in some special URLs and get the lowdown on what was happening for underground parties that night, and then find youself among crazy kids who were putting out the beats and the vibe because it was fun, exciting, and just a little bit risky. My best moment during these times was making a phone call on a Friday night, loading three of my friends into a car, and then driving to a bowling alley in Petaluma that had been taken over by the Happy Kids crew. You've not lived until you've seen candy ravers in phat pants bowling.

The San Francisco housing situation has made it much more difficult to create these kinds of parties. There aren't many folks who have accesss to the necessary space, the basements, the thick walls. Of the few that I've attended in the past couple years, all have been spaces owned by someone who managed to make *a lot* of money, legal and otherwise. We're fortunate to live in a city where there are wealthy folks who still like to throw down, but finding space is the number one problem for anyone who wants to promote events in this city. The seeming inevitable trade-off is to go for a bar or club night, which, by its very nature, changes that grassroots feeling you get when you set up a sound system in your basement, pass out some flyers to friends and send emails, buy a keg, and then let it rip. In those situations the walls between performers, DJs, and the crowd come down, and you're all there together to have a good time. If you want to do a club or bar night it's much more about working angles, promoting on a large scale to make sure you make the nut, and being part of the right crowd to start with.

I think this lack of grassroots ability to build a music and dance culture has especially affected the gay scene, which has largely ossified around certain names, bars, and clubs, and where attempts to bring out something new means insinuating yourself among those who are already established. What we need are more events like the old Loft parties in New York, spaces that are less concerned with commercial success and are focused more on the experience, spaces where new DJs can come and take chances with music that would be harder to put across at a bar in the Castro, SoMa, or Polkstrasse. That, after all, is how both disco and techno evolved, through DJs taking chances with the music, and kids taking chances with their experiences, and when those two things came together, it created a community bond. In a time when the only bond between San Francisco gay men seems to be the fact of their sexual orientation, it would be great if we could create experiences that dissolved the walls of class, race, body type and social standing and brought us all together in a good time.

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