Monday, December 3, 2007

Event Review: Paradise All-Night Disco Party at Mezzanine

After a quick couple drinks at The Cinch to celebrate Juanita Fajita's birthday, the boyfriend and I headed out to the Paradise All-Night Disco Party at Mezzanine to meet up with our friends Jovino and Mermaid, two dedicated disco junkie DJs. The party didn't convert me to actually liking disco, which I still consider to be, at best, nostalgia music, but it was a fun, light-hearted time that did showcase some of our local DJs like Robot Hustle and Bus Station John in their element and putting some forth of their best efforts that I have heard so far.

Judging from the line when we arrived, and the fact that the coat check "sold out," Paradise was obviously the party of choice for most of San Francisco's clubbers. It was definitely crowded at 12.30 when Escort came on to perform, but there was still plenty of room to dance, and the crowd was among the most easy-going I've run into in a while. They were also among the best-dressed; though there were some interpretations of classic disco with fros, shades, and leisure jackets that bordered on the tragic, there were plenty of other party-goers who decided that disco fashion could have its own contemporary interpretation, as long as it was bright and sparkely. I saw and talked to a fair number of gay scenesters, including Leo Herrera, Dee Jay Pee Play (who told me he had just been reading about the original New York disco scene that morning and was feeling completely high from this re-creation of it), and Marke B. of the Bay Guardian, but overall the crowd was pretty mixed; I would have liked to have seen a few more gay boys, but I enjoyed the diversity of the scene, consisting as it did of people who seemed much more focused on having a good time than about how they were going to pick up.

The music was better than I expected, but there were also moments when the campy kitsch aspect of tracks like "Funkytown" (as the boyfriend said later, "there's no excuse for Funkytown") had the effect of bringing me out of whatever un-selfconscious enjoyment I was having and making me think that I had wandered into Polly Esther's Culture Club. The DJs in the main room did a technically OK job of mixing it together; there were some glitches, but some consideration also needs to be made for the fact that these tracks weren't constructed for mixing, and there's often so much treble and just plain noise in their mastering that you practically need an audio engineering degree to figure out how to put them together. I realized that this is one of the things about classic disco that bothers me, and why I sometimes rather like the newer interpretations of it from artists like Lindstrom or Prinz Thomas - the old stuff just sounds sonically bad. I think this is also why I don't really like dancing to it; though you could argue that its "the original dance music," I have a lot harder time finding the beat that I like, since the bass component is often muddied up and buried under the high-end of horns and strings.

Escort, the 18-piece disco orchestra from Brooklyn, put on a great but seemingly short show - they started a half hour late, and I don't think they were on the stage for more than half an hour. All I can say is, any band that has both a string and horn section is worth checking out to see how they bring it all together, and Escort was super tight.

My big surprise for the evening was Bus Station John's set in the upper room. First, BSJ has really tightened up on his mixing since I heard him last; this time he was even wearing headphones. Rather than trying to deal with the multitude of issues around mixing disco, he took the simple approach of just making sure everything started and stopped on a beat at the beginning and end of it a measure, and it all went together very well with a sustained energy. His programming was also much better than in the main room; there's no question that the man really knows his stuff when it comes to the rare groove disco, and his selections on this night, in that space with that crowd, made it all sound very fresh. I realized that, taken out of the context of a gay club, where disco feels like regressive nostalgia for the pre-AIDS era, it was much easier for me to get into it, tired though I was, because I could just take it as fun dance music, rather than being thrown into critical reflections on what it means for that music to be played in that kind of scene. It's still not my first choice for dance music, and it will always rile up the punk in me, and the contarian Futurist who believes that the present should be about the future, not the past (wow, that's deep), but BSJ's set made me realize that there are ways in which I can enjoy this music as long as it's not coming with too much baggage or reactionary statements about contemporary dance culture attached to it. So, good job Bus Station John, you got this cranky critic to change his mind just a little bit on something.

We left around 2.30, having stayed rather longer than I thought we would. Though there were moments in which Paradise felt just a bit too campy for me to take it as anything more than a rather safe excuse for otherwise conservative San Franciscans to dress up and "party," there were also moments where I wished that the vibe engendered over the course of the night, one that was sexy, fun, and smiling, could be brought as easily to other parties that feature contemporary dance music.


M said...

First off, I want to say that I really enjoyed your review!

(Mine is at if you would like to see it...)

I had a great time out on Fryday. I do totally hear you about disco being "nostalgia music" - and that, I have no issue with. Oddly enough, while I love the atmosphere at BSJ's usual club night, the party on Fryday gave me pause simply because they chose the name "Paradise Disco" - clearly, a nod to the Paradise Garage. While the club certainly lived up to the concept of creating a disco vibe in the present day, attempting to recreate the legendary (and I do not use that term lightly!) atmosphere and music of the Garage is quite another thing, and I felt they fell short of that in several ways. So perhaps the enjoyment of these things is at least partly dependent on how we think about it, and how they position themselves - it's easy for them to bite off more than they can chew, on any number of levels. I do hear you on the "nostalgia for the pre-AIDS era" thing.

As to the DJing, I thought the spinning was only ok on a technical level, but the selection of tracks (by most DJs) was stellar.

However, god help me if I ever have a gig (especially in a club of that size) and break the beat like these guys did!! I'd want to jump off a bridge.

I know I'm hardly god's answer to DJing, but come ON! I should not be in a nightclub (which I paid to get into) and have to suffer through moments of the DJ breaking the beat so badly that everyone on the dance floor just stands there for a minute, regaining bearings. Sheesh!

I do have to say that BSJ seemed like the least offender here, (and I don't recall seeing him spin without headphones even at his club night.) I certainly agree that that is a particularly egregious offense for DJs!

Anyway... the comment you made about "sexy, fun and smiling" is a big part of what attracts me to disco, and it was in full effect that night. So glad I was there to experience it!

The Jaded Gay DJ said...

I agree that invoking the Paradise Garage is taking on a big responsibility - I can think of several things that the Paradise was famous for that weren't present ( to my observation) at this party (gay semi-sex on the dancefloor being one of them).

There were definite broken beats on the main floor, and at least one time when two tracks that were in the same tempo were comletely flubbed. I thought BSJ actually did quite a good job compared to the main floor DJs. As for the headphones, I watched him DJ on two occasions previously (once at Aunt Charlies, the other at The Rod) when he wasn't using headphones at all, and wasn't even cueing the tracks. This made me kind of crazy, but I thought he seemed a lot more serious about putting forth a more techically developed set on Friday.

The thing is, I have a two-CD set of Larry Levan playing live at The Paradise Garage, and though I know he was a complete technical geek, you can still hear stuff on those mixes that would, today, be considered glitchy. When it comes to disco I'm willing to be less critical because I realize that there are certain limitations that have to be considered, but I also realize that what made DJs like Larry Levan, Francis Grasso, and others so remarkable was how hard they tried to mix things together, practically inventing what we think of as slick DJ set.

D. Love said...

Hey guys, my name's Derrick and I was one of the DJS in the main room at Paradise. I appreciate your comments and criticisms very much (how could we do it better if nobody criticized us?)

I'm only speaking for myself here, bear in mind that there were six other disc jockeys at this night. I know my tone might veer towards speaking for everyone but understand that i'm not so please take it all with a grain of salt.

It was never my intention to present the night as a Paradise Garage recreation. That would be hard to do while still keeping a mix of sexual preferences/genders (or as you say, separate disco from nostalgia for a pre-aids era). Maybe it was a mistake to call the night Paradise, as its obvious now that some people were expecting something entirely different than what we gave them.

Personally, I was trying to make the main room feel more like a mainstream disco like 54 (or Polly Esthers, heh) and thats why I was playing tracks that some might label as cheesy.

The word "disco" is so mercurial that everybody has their own definition. Which is why I went from playing obscure white label re-edits to tracks like "Dance Dance Dance" and "Funkytown." Some people were obviously there to hear the hits...and i'm not the kind of person to deny anybody a guilty pleasure.

The party that I usually do with my friends, The Gemini Disco, is also not a recreation of any one single disco night (though I wish I could recreate something like The Loft!)

We are trying to do our own thing with it and make our own unique addition to the continuum of disco nights. Paradise was an attempt to do a collaborative effort, along similar lines, with other promoters, on a massive scale

My belief is that, though disco is vintage music, new things can still be done with it -as evidenced by the popularity of the disco re-edit right now-. We try and pick and choose things from the parties of old and throw in our own new twists and additions. Basically trying our hardest to make a party that might have existed back then alongside a multitude of other disco nights.

By not being a recreation of a single party, we hope that people wont levy their expectations of "what was" against us (in theory) and either come to the party with open minds or have their minds opened shortly after arrival.

The only thing that I'm trying to recreate with my friends is that positive, do what you feel, big smiles vibe that disco is famous for (and it seems that this was conveyed on the main floor at paradise to some degree).

I feel like re-creation parties (like "Remember the Party" at the glass kat) are best left to the people that actually went to those parties in the first place. They know how it was, what they want, and how to satisfy themselves. I mean, i'll be the first one to admit that the only recollection I have of the Paradise Garage is the 3 minute video clip you can catch on youtube.

Anyway, I guess thats it. Thanks for coming (both of you). I hope the night wasn't a total loss and that you might consider giving one of our other parties a shot.

-Derrick Love

The Jaded Gay DJ said...

Hey There Derrick!

Thanks for the comment! I'll be happy to post about your events in my blog if you'll send me information about them.

As I said in the review, I really did enjoy the vibe of the party, though classic disco makes me wince - I'm actually old enough to have lived through that era once, and even took disco dancing lessons when I was in high school. For me the issue is that I can't break my associations with that music from that time period, and, in fact, that's the problem I have with most mainstream club nights - I go out because I want to hear new interesting things, not something that has become so tied down with associative baggage that I'm reliving those associations, rather than being in the present moment of the music. That's what I enjoyed about BSJ's set; for once I was able to really hear the music he was playing without it bringing up all these other associations. That's my schtick, though, and I don't really expect everyone else to feel the same way.

I'd love to see a re-creation of The Loft - you think you could get hold of a punchbowl of LSD? : )

Seriously, I think I could really enjoy a more "underground" disco party where the emphasis was on creating that big-smile vibe without relying on hits from the K-Tel disco compilation. After all, as I've said for a long time, what made those guys great was their ability to select music from their contemporary popular culture that awoke new feelings in people on the dancefloor, and I think there are ways to do that with the music currently being produced (by Lindstrom, Prinz Thomas, the whole space disco groove, etc.) without needing to reach back to the past. Let's make a new disco movement - we sure as hell need it!

Marke B. said...

Marke B. of SFWeekly? (sob!)

The Jaded Gay DJ said...

Oh, and look what happens when I write reviews before I've had all my coffee! I stand corrected!

Anthony said...

BSJ just clicks in all the right ways. He's damn good.

The Jaded Gay DJ said...

I still have a hard time with BSJ's somewhat reactionary stance to contemporary club music and culture (though I am entirely sympathetic to any critique of the circuit party scene), and for what I see as his fetishization of pre-AIDS gay identity, plus, from what I've seen in the past, he had a somewhat lacksidasical attitude toward the technical side of being a good DJ, but his set at Paradise did incline me toward a much more sympathetic view of what he's putting into the scene.

M said...

I dunno if Derrick will see this... but if so, I thought you were one of the better DJs, both technically and in terms of selection (in fact, as I was on my way out the door, your music pulled me back in!) So please don't take it too personally!

I want to check out your disco night, for sure. And I appreciate your generosity in telling me who did one of your tracks that I especially enjoyed.

I do think the name "Paradise" has inescapable associations with it. I too would LOVE to get to spend just one night at the garage, or the loft - alas, I was too young to experience real disco in the '70s (born in '66, so I was young then and I'm old now.)

Real disco isn't easy to mix, that's for sure. I love it for what it is, as well as for giving birth to house music, DJing, the remix and even early hip-hop! That's a lot of accomplishments for such a maligned style of music.

BTW, I loved the Jaded Gay DJ's recent post on disco over on beatportal! (Is it ok to point that out?) :-)