It takes guts to play Steely Dan in a DJ set and make it work. Scene: The interior of a tiny Vietnamese karaoke bar located off the edge of Kensington Market in Toronto. Vancouver's Pender Street Steppers (a hotly tipped duo comprised of Jack Jutson and Liam Butler) are DJing the party, and it's my first night in town. It's 2 a.m., and I've just left another bar see if this party's cracking. I arrive at the bar and notice that the two glass storefront windows are entirely fogged, so much so that I can't see inside. I take that as a sign and claw my way in. The place is packed wall-to-wall with young hipsters sweating so much that the ceiling is dripping and dancing like fiends to the Steppers' selections of vintage house, funk, and R&B. Then, at about 2:45 a.m., there it is: some kind of Steely Dan remix, with the guitar and the vocal and everything. I can't stop dancing. All of my clothes are dripping with sweat. The party ends soon after, and I walk outside, drifting on cloud nine.
Jack J is one half of the Pender Street Steppers, and the Steppers are the premier act on Vancouver's Mood Hut record label-slash-artist collective. The duo appeared seemingly out of nowhere a few years ago, distributing mixes, cassettes, and tracks through their website to whomever was paying attention. Their aesthetic consists primarily of rich, melodic house music filtered through a hazy sheen of weed smoke, funk and soul, a heaping helping of New Age (like Yanni-style; don't think too much about it — it works), and some R&B and pop on the side. It should be a mess, but in their hands, it works supremely well.
On the solo tip, Jack J has been responsible for two of the best house tunes of the past two years. Last year's "Something On My Mind" is the sound of perfection itself, and this year's follow-up, "Thirstin'," is almost as good. He's something of an unknown quantity as a solo DJ — I've only heard him DJ as part of Pender Street Steppers — but this will undoubtedly be a magical experience. Plus, it's all going down at The Basement, a.k.a. the newly revitalized 222 Hyde, one of the city's most intimate venues. Play It Cool's resident DJ Matthew Favorites will handle warm-up duty.
Other worthy parties this week
After Dark IV featuring Aja Vision at The Legionnaire Saloon (Oakland), 10 p.m.-2 a.m. Thursday, Aug. 27. Free; legionnairesaloon.com
For those of you in Oakland, or for the San Francisco readers looking to get a little East Bay adventure going, give this new party a shot, kicking off every fourth Thursday at the Legionnaire Saloon just west of Lake Merritt. The latest edition features Aja Vision, an East Bay duo who create romantic, dreamy electronica that pairs the languid atmosphere of '90s shoegaze with technoid rhythms. The merging of these two sounds has already been done (and will surely be done again), but Aja Vision, instead of focusing on the dancefloor (their music is dancy, but that seems incidental), focus on capturing the moodiness, yearning, and longing that is intrinsic to shoegaze. Also on deck are After Dark's resident selectors, Russell Butler and Jason Stinnett, who'll be mixing up classic house and techno selections along with new, fresh cuts.
PEAK presents Appleblim at Monarch, 9 p.m.-3 a.m. Thursday, Aug. 27. $10; monarchsf.com
In the mid-late '00s, as dubstep began to peak in the U.K. and the British music mainstream laid the first of many bricks that would eventually lead to the genre's implosion in the hands of clueless Americans, a couple of weirdos launched what might have been the genre's most idiosyncratic label: Skull Disco. Helmed by Shackleton and Appleblim, the label took dubstep into outer space and well beyond. Skull Disco eventually shut down after a string of flawless releases, and Shackleton and Appleblim parted ways. These days, Appleblim has shifted his focus to the compelling intersection of U.K. bass and house music, operating in that nebulous sphere where the specter of dubstep walks hand-in-hand with the undying body of Chicago house. DJ-wise, he bounces between techno, house, disco, and bass music, putting them all together in a way that is remarkably eye- and ear-opening.
Monarch and Fantastic Friends present Francesca Lombardo at Monarch, 9 p.m.-3 a.m. Friday, Aug. 28. $10-$15; monarchsf.com
It used to be almost unheard of, but it's becoming an increasingly more common story these days: Classically Trained Composer Gives Up Traditional Instrumentation For Electronica. If you had to sum up Francesca Lombardo's career in a single sentence, that would be a good start. Lombardo began studying the piano at age 6, but she's not showy about it. Instead, she simply produces solid, tightly-composed tech-house without unnecessary flourishes. She's a relative newcomer, releasing her first record on British tech-house label Crosstown Rebels in 2012, but she's quickly garnered a global audience and has become a Burning Man favorite, closely affiliated with the traveling Robot Heart art car-slash-soundsystem. She's also about to drop a debut album, so her performance here in San Francisco could include some sneak peeks of her work to come. On support duty are local selectors Martin Aquino, William Wardlaw, and James Fish.
Modular and Public Works present David August and Rampue at Public Works, 9:30 p.m.-4 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 29. $20-$30; publicsf.com
More classically trained composers producing electronic music! It's definitely becoming a thing. David August, hailing from Hamburg, Germany, is a young and accomplished pianist who has quickly risen through electronica's ranks since the release of his first record in 2009. Unlike some other folks in his composer-turned-producer cohort, August wears his composer's upbringing on his sleeve, and his music is all the better for it. Delicate, finely tuned house and techno is August's M.O., with piano and orchestral accompaniment lending everything a sense of grandeur. August performs live exclusively (with additional band members sometimes in tow) and is fond of improvisation, further blurring the lines between traditional and electronic performance. Also on deck is Rampue, a deep house producer from Berlin who's been gaining traction with his sample-centric, dynamic live sets, smattered with vocal flourishes. Local support comes courtesy of Pedro Arbulu, Modular resident, and IN•SIGHT resident Matt Hubert.