Looking at the list of performers for this year's All Shook Down Music Fest, you could be forgiven for thinking it's a bit strange. At the top of the list is Crystal Castles, a dark synth-pop duo whose best-known song, "Not in Love," is a soaring collaboration with Cure singer Robert Smith. Next up is Oakland rapper Mistah F.A.B., who's famous for his association with the hyphy movement, but has lately branched out into classic boom-bap hip-hop and even Auto-Tuned radio pop. Then there's Maus Haus, an S.F. outfit known for its spacey electro-rock. The rest of the bill similarly jolts in different directions: folky '60s jams from the Blank Tapes, forward-thinking beats from DJ Centipede of Mophono, and jazzy funk-rock from Con Brio are just a few of the flavors to be had.
So are we crazy? Maybe. All Shook Down isn't quite like any other lineup around — and that's exactly how we wanted it. As everyone knows, there are plenty of music festivals in this town. But there isn't one that aims to grab local artists from a variety of genres — rock, hip-hop, electronic, and more — and put them in one building for one night, along with a big national headliner like Crystal Castles. It just seemed like a good idea.
For this second edition of the festival, we tried to include artists we feel haven't gotten as much as respect and attention as they deserve. One of those is Richie Cunning, the San Francisco rapper whose album Night Train, released last year, seems to thrill just about everyone who hears it. Cunning's hip-hop is old-school, with big beats and samples drawn from the golden era of jazz and funk. His rhymes roll out smoothly, with lyrics that describe the experiences of living in this crazy place: He calls himself the "Zen Buddha of the N-Judah," the "low-revenue professional city slicker," and even manages to make the word "Frisco" sound good. You can tell he loves S.F., but he doesn't sugarcoat the struggle of getting by here, either.
DJ and producer J-Boogie has grabbed more than his fair share of praise over the years, but he's so quintessentially San Francisco — and his sound is so fun — that he seemed like a natural choice. Grounded in hip-hop, he roams through Latin sounds, disco, soul, and even dub. For All Shook Down, he's bringing his endlessly versatile Dubtronic Science band, which includes a horn section, MCs, and Latin percussionists. We could try to classify how it'll sound, but all we can say for sure is that it'll sound like a party.
Oh, and lest you fear we've forgotten how to rock, we haven't: This year's bill features a trio of fun, weird, and loud local rock bands: There's Matt Adams' Byrdsy rambling as the Blank Tapes, whose faded-sounding guitars have rightfully been praised by the likes of Rolling Stone. There's the droning mindfuckery of Maus Haus, whose extended acid trips are alternately freeing and disturbing. And then there's Battlehooch, which is as hard to classify as a local band can be. Is it rock? Is it jazz? Is it prog? Hell, sometimes we even wonder if you could call what Battlehooch does music. But any band that sneaks into a dilapidated New Orleans amusement park while on tour to film a video is okay with us.
On any average night in San Francisco, you'd have to go to at least three venues to hear a selection of local music as diverse as this — and good luck with that. Even at one of the big festivals, you'd be hard-pressed to find this many Bay Area bands gathered on one or two stages. We've assembled them on one bill, thrown a crazy-good headliner on top, and called it a music fest. Sure, All Shook Down is a little different. But there may be no better way to get a big helping of some of the best music S.F. has to offer.