Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Event Review: The 8th Annual How Weird Street Faire

For me the How Weird Street Faire has always served as the kick-off for Burning Man and the San Francisco festival calendar that ends with Halloween. In some ways I think of it as The City's groundhog day, providing a glimpse into what we might expect in the coming months. This time we saw a lot of shadow, as a consequence of the Faire's re-location along a stretch of Second and Howard among higher buildings, and I did not come away from it with as much a sense of jubilation as in the past, but it was very interesting that the main stage, put together by Symbiosis at Second and Howard, featured techno over the psy-trance that I have always thought of as the primary soundtrack for How Weird.

In an odd bit of coincidence, How Weird was re-located this year to the area around Second and Howard where I have worked three out of my five San Francisco jobs. Standing at the Symbiosis stage I could see all three buildings at the same time, and I think that this association with toil and travail might have had some effect on my overall experience. The main thing about the new location, though, was that it was colder; in the old location I don't think there were any buildings over two stories, and that particular stretch of Howard Street seemed wider and attractive of more sun. In the new location many of the dance stages, particularly those located in the narrow streets off Second, seemed to be in shadow during the majority of the afternoon, spoiling my conception of How Weird as a return-of-the-sun festival. There were a total of nine sound stages this year, and while I really appreciated the diversity of what I heard, the distance between these systems was small and I thought the sound isolation was not particularly good, such that I couldn't really find anyplace to just hang out and talk at normal levels except behind the Symbiosis stage and backstage at the Tantra stage (where I encountered more candy ravers than I would normally have associated with the psytrance scene, which has previously been very candy hostile).

I have usually thought of psytrance as the dominant sound of How Weird, and while this year's psytrance stage certainly roiled up a huge bouncing mass of dancers to sets by Kode IV and Witchdokta v. Liam Shy, among others, I found it very interesting that the Symbiosis stage (a beautiful bit of bamboo construction that was put together starting at 6AM that morning) featured techno during the sets I heard, in forms ranging from tech-house to straight-up minimal, that drew in just as large an audience at what felt like the central stage of the street fair.

I didn't come away from this year's How Weird with quite the same ebullience as in years past, but my own personal experience seemed much less important than the survival, after last year's seeming demise, of what is a quintessential San Francisco experience. How Weird is like the Dore Alley to LoveFest's Folsom Street Fair, the local, insider, personal experience of everything that is wonderful about San Francisco's underground music and cultural scene. Having now gone through the first year in their new location, I'm sure the organizers will use this experience to make it even better next year, once again reminding us all that we are entering into the season of the sun.

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