Saturday, July 30, 2011

Event Review: Comfort and Joy's "Active Touch," July 29, 2011

A few weeks ago I read a post on Facebook in which someone was responding to the closing of The Eagle by complaining that the gay bar/club scene "just wasn't the same anymore," how it had become boring and predictable, homogeneous, lost its cruise/sleaze factor, etc. While in my original post about the closing of the Eagle I pointed out that things change, and perhaps it was time to think about a "new gay" as opposed to waxing nostalgic about the "old gay," events like Comfort and Joy's "Active Touch" demonstrate quite well that there is a thriving, exciting, gay scene alive and well in San Francisco, with all the sleaze and craziness you could want, if you just take the time to go looking for it.

This is, to the best of my hazy recollection, the fourth or fifth year that Comfort and Joy has been throwing the Touch parties, usually in conjunction with a major holiday or event, in this case, Dore Alley. While the parties serve on the practical level as fundraisers for Comfort and Joy's annual excursions onto the playa, they also provide a glimpse into a "new gay" underground scene. Inspired in large part originally by John Cameron Mitchell's film "Short Bus," Comfort and Joy events evoke the vibe of the 70s bath-house, where you can cruise, dance, see some inspired performances, and connect with a community that is truly creating something new, rather than trying to hold onto the past. Comfort and Joy parties have provided a platform for musicians, DJs, drag divas, and visual artists like Honey Sound System, the House of Herrera, the House of Salad, III, and many others, and serve as a nexus for queers of all shapes, sizes, and varieties to cum, er, come together.

I must admit that, for this particular event, I didn't really have the energy to devote to a full-scale party. I went primarily to connect with friends and a community that I haven't been part of in a while, and in that regard, it was a blowout - I heard the words "welcome home" so many times that it convinced me that I really was "home." If I'd had a bit more spunk in my junk I could have certainly found any number of amusing divertisements to keep me occupied until the closing bell at 4AM, since there was a dancefloor (though, admittedly, I am not that great a fan of Bus Station John's retro disco sound), a "gentleman's boudoir," a tiki lounge, and any number of small niches where one could locate oneself for conversation or other social interactions. It was enough for me, though, to just feel like I had found myself back among a community that, like a family, has its fractious and dysfunctional aspects, but are the still people with whom feels that special, intimate connection. I'll take that over being groped at The Powerhouse any day.

Event Review: Honey Soundsystem 4 Year Anniversary at Holy Cow

I signed a lease on a shared space in the Castro last Saturday, and ever since then it's been a whirlwind of moving, cleaning, setting up, and dreaming of the future. There have also been some moments of pure anxiety, as I contemplate the ratio of expenses to savings and how long the latter will last without a job to replenish it. It's a good thing, then, that the Honey Soundsystem 4 Year Anniversary party at Holy Cow came around at just the right moment to remind me of why I moved back to San Francisco.

Honey Soundsystem first came to my attention by way of Marke B. of the Bay Guardian's Super Ego column. We had been having an email exchange about techno in the SF music scene, and he told me I should check out this DJ PeePlay and his comrade-in-arms Jason Kendig. And then, just about the same time, Kitten Calfee of Comfort and Joy told me he'd been contacted by this group calling themselves Honey Soundsystem about playing at an Afterglow party. Did I know anything about them, and could I recommend them? And that, as they say, is how history is made.

Checking out the posters for past Honey events at the party reminded me of what I have always appreciated about them: they focus on the music and creating a big open vibe for everyone, rather than playing to the typical marketing ploys, usually based on identity stereotypes, of other club promoters. Honey Soundsystem has never put a guy on their flyers, never proclaimed that their parties are for this type, or that one, but for everyone. You could see the effect of this at the party - there were club kids and "mature elders" like me, bears and twinks, Asians and Latins, women and drag queens, all there because they wanted to go out and have a good time on the dancefloor with each other. Which brings me around to the music: while I have not always grooved on every musical orientation of Honey Soundsystem, these are guys who always care deeply about the music they play, and who go out of their way to use the music to create something that is a true expression of their ethos. You can go to any bar or club in the Castro and consume pre-digested pop dance pablum, but Honey Soundsystem will always feed your ears and your soul with something substantial and carefully cultivated.

On this particular night, the sound had a distinct acid/retro house feel, and as I danced for the first time in months, on a dance floor full of shiny happy people, I had a flashback to some of the great Sunday night parties of the past, like Pleasuredome at King Street Garage, or the tea dance at The End Up. Sunday night is always a special time in clubland, a time when those who have a different relation to the workweek come out and party, but it's also a night when you're not necessarily looking for the peak experience of a Friday or Saturday. In this case, Honey hit that sweet spot (oh man, I can't believe I wrote that), between uplifting and groovy that, for me, has always defined the essence of a good Sunday night out. I shook it loose for about two hours, had a nice conversation about the Hawaiian lifestyle with a couple of very friendly guys on the back porch, and re-connected with some old friends before I finally gave in to exhaustion and headed out the door around 12.30. At that point, the club was packed and there was a line that looked like something out of Satyricon stretching down the sidewalk, so I'm sure the festivities kept up well until last call.

Honey Sundays at Holy Cow is going onto my list of San Francisco Essentials, things you must do when you're in the city. And to PeePlay, Kendig, Robot Hustle, and Ken Vulsion, my thanks for reminding me of what makes this a great city, and why it's worth whatever it takes to be here. Long Live Honey!

Check out the weekly Honey Potcast for a taste of Honey and special guests.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Hey Bitches, I'm Back!

Hello San Francisco, good to see you, it's been too long.

I've been back in The City for about a week now, and walking around, not much seems to have changed in the two years I've been gone. Checking out club posters in the Castro yesterday I saw many of the same names, and same concepts, that were on those posters when I left, and my traditional watering holes had many of the same faces on both sides of the bar. But if not much has changed in the material world of gay SF during my exile years (putting aside the frankly confusing demise of The Eagle), I've been making the effort over the past few days to adjust my perceptual apparatus, to calibrate it back to that state when I first came to San Francisco in 1999, and perhaps see the same things differently. When I first came to San Francisco, fresh out of grad school and as desperately glad to be out of Atlanta as I am to be out of Baltimore now, there was a glamor that radiated from everyone and everything, and cast a spell of enchantment over me. For a while I was able to give up on being the skeptical, cynical East Coast intellectual and simply be enthralled by the spirit of the City, to find it all quite marvelous and fascinating. Over time, of course, those perceptions changed, and it was difficult, particularly by the time I left, to not find the rot at the center of the bloom.

Whether or not I can find a way to throw wide the doors of perception again, returning to a place should not also automatically entail a return to the same modes of being, falling back into the same comfortable attitudes and ideas. There are some mistakes I think I made during my last residence in SF, and some things I've had ample opportunity to ruminate upon during cold, dark nights in the Baltimore winter. I came back to San Francisco not necessarily to pick up where I left off, but to try and strike out in a way that's substantially new. I haven't really decided what to do with this blog yet, whether the way it focuses my attention, and upon what, is something that that will ultimately help or hinder my efforts in trying to find this new direction, but, for a little while at least, it continues to give me a good excuse for going out and seeing what there is to see.