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.