Monday, December 3, 2007

Event Review: Kontrol with Alex Smoke at The End Up

Correction: I've found out since I wrote this review that it was actually Craig Kuna, not Nikola Baytala, who was spinning earlier in the evening. Mea culpa.

As we were getting ready to head out to hear Alex Smoke at Kontrol this past Saturday I realized that it has been over six months since the last time we checked out what was once my absolute first choice for San Francisco clubbing. What I discovered on this past Saturday was that, while I am still quite happy that Kontrol has been successful in bringing minimal techno artists to San Francisco, their migration from a quasi-underground art gallery space in the Tenderloin to one of San Francisco's biggest clubs has brought with it some changes in vibe that, for me at least, outweigh some of the positive aspects of the move.

We arrived at 10.30 with our friend J to find a line at the door; apparently doors at 10 really means doors at 10.30. We got drinks and found seats on the patio by the pool table; inside the music was just too loud for us to enjoy hanging out or even dancing. Not that we felt particularly moved to dance, as the first DJ, who I think was Nikola Baytala, was largely playing deep house; every few songs he would slip in something more interesting and techno-oriented, like Ritchie Hawtin's "The Tunnel," but it seemed more like these were conciliatory gestures toward the night's fan base than explorations into a genre that was of interest to him. We would dance for a track or two, but then it would shift back over into house and we would go outside. Unfortunately, I remember this as being the case the last time we came to Kontrol as well, and at that time our friend Tari was very disappointed that a party that had made its reputation as a minimal techno night seemed to have morphed, under the influence of End Up tradition, into yet another survey of deep house.

We had been expecting Alex Smoke to come on at 2.00, and, as a result, missed the first part of his set when he took to the controls at 1.15. What we did get to hear, however, made up for the dullness we experienced earlier in the evening. He was playing "live," and though there were some disconnects between individual songs, and I could have done without the 92.7 voice-overs announcing "Alex Smoke Playing Live at Kontrol," it was among the most interesting, and dance-inspiring, music I have heard in a long time. His tracks have an abstract spacious quality, with dark textures, that remind me of minimal trance, and the grooves are deep and solid. We heard one track off Paradolia, but all the rest was new to us.

Following Alex Smoke was Samim, who gets the prize for most intense DJ face. I almost enjoyed his set more than Alex Smoke's, as it had a slinky, sexy aspect that minimal techno often lacks. By the time 3AM was rolling around so was the majority of crowd, and when the trio of Marina girls in black cocktail dresses began to huddle and massage each other on the dance floor in front of us, and the lines for the bathroom were reaching back to the front entrance, we decided it was time to head out.

It was great to go out an hear, and dance to, good techno that was professionally put together on one of the best sound systems in the city. But the whole time we were there, the vibe seemed off to us. First there was the long digression into house music early in the evening, then, after 2AM, there was the arrival of clubbers in cha-cha heels and button-up shirts who seeemed to be there only because it's one of the few places in town open at that time. As the boyfriend put it, it was like being magically transported into the middle of 1015. The first time I went to a Kontrol party was to hear ModeSelektor at Rx Gallery, an event that remains among the highlights of my San Francisco nightlife experiences. After that we were monthly attendees, and I still have the memory of standing on the Eddy Street sidewalk, looking across the street to a gay strip club, and thinking how much it all reminded me of Berlin squat clubs after the wall came down. It was a slightly sketchy space in a way sketchy part of town, and that was what made it seem like something special and outlaw. Of course, the sound system sucked, they were likely to blow a fuse if they turned on the video projector, and it got so hot that you could see water coming down the walls, so I was thrilled when I heard that Kontrol was moving to The End Up. The benefits of that move - a better sound system, more space - now have to be weighed against the changes that the night has undergone as a result of becoming more mainstream. It is, in many ways, a much "safer" night out than it used to be, in terms of the space and location, but also in terms of the music, at least during the first part of the evening. This increased safety has widened Kontrol's appeal beyond the heads who helped it take off from the RX, and I'm happy for their success, but I rather miss that sweaty, underground vibe it had in the old days; for me techno always sounds better when it takes a little more effort, both physically and intellectually, to go out and hear it.


Anonymous said...

i haven't been to the endup in ages, and after reading this it sounds like nothing has changed. i have no desire to go back there any time soon.

Lord Kook said...

When Kontrol was at the RX space, it had the feeling of a spontaneous party, a little secret. Now that it's at the end up, it feels like the 'real thing'. I've watched minimal techno do the same thing over the past few years, locally and on the web. It's weird, but it's good.

Remember, though, that minimal techno is womb music. It's best when you can *really* listen to it, and feel it. The End Up, for all it's flaws, has a dancefloor that's like a giant pair of high-end headphones for your body. I can't think of a place where techno sounds better.

Anonymous said...

cheers to your review of the night -- it voices elements i now realize i've been missing since Kontrol moved to the End-Up!

Just want to chime in with a reminder that there ARE still good, more underground 'minimal (?)' events in the city.

I'm wishing you'd made it out to see Alex Smoke's "secret" appearance on Tuesday at the Auralism records crew's monthly party called Lil Brthr at 222 Hyde.
It was a GREAT night -- the best of Alex Smoke in a tiny and VERY sweaty basement with a much better sound system than RX had. Plus, everyone there was thrilled to be freaking out to Alex Smoke in said dark, tiny sweaty basement. Exactly zero Marina girls. Maybe a pair of cha-cha heels on a homeless guy outside, though.

The Jaded Gay DJ said...

Oh shit, I wish I had known! I'd have missed work on Wednesday for that!

Yeah, I've come to realize that I need to start following the Auralism crew more, they seem to be putting on some interesting events!

The Jaded Gay DJ said...

And BTW, anybody who knows of good events like this secret Alex Smoke appearance can always email me via the link on them main page!

Black Market Techno said...

If you're interested in a quality Minimal Techno night, check us out.


Saturday, February 16th 2008
Black Market Techno w/ Monocle (Race Car Productions | SF | Live PA ), [Kontrol] resident Alland Byallo (Nightlight Music, Liebe Detail | SF ) and Barclay (Spektikal | SF) + residents Farzana, dcoy and Razvan @ club Oasis 135 12th Street downtown Oakland.

Monocle is a collaboration between Berklee College of Music graduates and award-winning sound designers, Christina Chatfield and Danny Patterson. Their tracks expose listeners to a diverse spectrum of beats, ranging anywhere from dark minimalist soundscapes to thoughtful analog melodies with a groove. Both producers interject their own unique sound while effortlessly blending together, resulting in dance music that conveys a deep understanding of production and composition. Their debut release Dilleniidae (May 2007, Racecar Productions) was an immediate success, drawing praise and plays from artists like Pheek and Skoozbot. Shortly after its release, Dilleniidae appeared on several minimal download charts, climbing to number 2 on Dance Tracks Digital and securing a place in the top 40 on Juno Records. Since then they have kept busy producing, and are making their Bay Area debut with a fresh new Live PA set at Black Market Techno.

The SF Bay Guardian has called [KONTROL] resident Alland Byallo "SF's own tidal wave of techno," and for good reason. As a resident dj, graphic designer and A&R for what is arguably the States’ most respected and notorious techno night, [KONTROL], Alland is one of the busiest men in the San Francisco techno community. Having produced electronic music for over 10 years and DJed for nearly as long, Alland has come to be an international talent, releasing music on respected US and European record labels such as Liebe*Detail, Floppy Funk, Dirtybird, and Utensil Recordings, and headlining events all over the world. His music, a blend of old and new elements of techno, house and minimal, is regularly charted by the worlds top Djs and has been licensed for CD’s released by Universal and Proton Music. Due to his talents, he has been booked regularly alongside talents such as Superpitcher, Trentemoller, Swayzak, Miss Kittin, Modeselektor, Claude VonStroke, Jeff Samuel, Heartthrob, Ambivalent and many others. After performing live at Seattle‘s Decibel Festival and DJing at Lovefest SF last year, it’s obvious that 2008 promises to be a huge year for both him and his label, Nightlight Music.

Barclay was born in the north east and moved to NYC directly out of high school, were his love for techno began. He grew up sneaking into Twilo nights with Dj's and producers like Sven, Richie, Carl Cox and Danny Tenaglia. Barclay stayed in NYC until he moved to Hawaii in 2004. He moved to San Francisco in October 2007 in hopes of furthering his music career. The move has worked in his favor and is allowing him to play at all the best venues SF has to offer.