San Francisco LoveFest is our annual parade of DJ-laden floats bumping beats and attitude down Market Street, conga-lining their way to a giant tailgater at Civic Center Plaza. While LoveFest is younger and smaller than Folsom Street Fair and the Pride Parade, it's still a popular annual draw. Organizers estimate last year's attendance at 65,000 — and there are far fewer chaps among LoveFest bodies than at other summer bacchanals.
LoveFest launched in 2004, when it was known as Love Parade San Francisco (an official sister party to Berlin's massive Love Parade). The name later changed to LoveFest, and the fiesta is now established as a separate dance destination from its birth parent.
Over the past few years, the music on display — largely spanning electronic music subgenres like house, techno, trance, and breakbeat — has been pretty good. Occasionally, it's even been exceptional and revelatory. But the real draw of LoveFest is the community it creates for the duration of the weekend. The party pulls together a mix of in-the-know scenesters from the Bay Area and beyond as well as curious locals. LoveFest offers them all a taste of club life without the velvet ropes or (at the other extreme) the dingy sweatboxes. All of which makes for fantastic people-watching, Burning Man outfits and all.
At most parades, music is an afterthought, but LoveFest's mission is to expose participants to the spectrum of electronic dance sounds. To that end, dozens of DJs and acts are participating this year. Organizers have affiliated LoveFest with like-minded club events throughout the week ("LoveWeek"), the highlight of which is popular UK duo the Chemical Brothers on Friday, Sept. 28, at the Concourse at San Francisco Design Center.
But LoveFest's main blowout is really Saturday's parade-cum-party. That's where S.F.'s freewheelin' theatrical side and our reverence for the latest in electronic music take equal billing.
As floats go, Supperclub's "Mile High" offers one of LoveFest's most eclectic lineups, from local minimal techno producer B:Smiley to "Godfather of Hip-Hop" Afrika Bambaataa. "Bay Area Drum N Bass" will be one of the only cruisers to blast the wonderfully rude beats its name announces. The crew's hostess and MC, S.F.'s own Audio Angel, has a keen ability to freestyle powerful vocals over the DJs' tunes. The charismatic lady dishes up a mix of classic soul lyrics alongside her originals. Meanwhile, "The Purgatory Cruiser" will devote its sound system to playing breakbeats that jolt feet into dancing. Sets by Toronto's the Phat Conductor and London's Future Funk Squad should be particularly moving; the latter remixes classic electronic acts like Prodigy, Orbital, and Yaz. And "SF House Music," with planned DJ sets from Mark Farina, Miguel Migs, and Claude Von Stroke — all homegrown international stars — is likely to be one of the most popular floats of the afternoon.
This ain't the Rose Bowl, so some rides will be short on bells and whistles — except, of course, for those blown by the ravers surrounding them. But these flowering tanks will still be decked out in exhibitionist finery. Anon Salon's "The Love Bus" will feature local burlesque circus Vau de Vire Society, and probably a fair share of cheeky nudity. (Or some nude cheeks, at the very least.) The Space Cowboys plan to move atop their trademark "Unimog," the art car straight out of Mad Max's Thunderdome. Both local crews are counted on throughout the year for their countercultural soirees. In fact, Anon Salon is planning a massive afterparty this Saturday called "Cirk O' Love" at the Anon Gallery (285 Ninth St. at Folsom) — where more DJs, sideshow attractions, and tasteful kink awaits adventurous clubbers. Others looking to continue to groove in a more intimate hideaway can hit the "LoveFest Underground Afterparty," held at a secret location (check the LoveFest Web site for details). It features some of S.F.'s most seasoned house DJs, including Jenö, Garth, Galen, and John Howard.
The majority of fuzzy-panted revelers end the parade by traveling the few centimeters from Civic Center to the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, though, for LoveFest's official mega-rave. Headliners include superstar trance jocks Sasha and Ferry Corsten as well as local progressive house stars Gabriel & Dresden. (Several top-billing DJs, including DJ Dan and Donald Glaude, are scheduled to play during the day as well, for those who don't want to shell out the $45-75 for the evening round). But if you hit the Civic, check out the performance from SV2, the audio-visual duo of DJ Sandra Collins and VJ Vello Virkhaus. Collins likes her tech-leaning beats hard and unvarnished, and Virkhaus aims to give brains a lysergic trip without dangerous chemicals.
A few parting party tips: If you go to LoveFest, don't forget the sunscreen — this is an eight-hour-plus outdoor extravaganza, and pasty club kids who don't normally surface before midnight burn easily. Also, reconsider the plan to sport sandals or flip-flops, lest a Civic Center "toothpick" (aka syringe) cross your path. And condoms could come in handy, but just because you're at LoveFest doesn't mean you need to grab that booty in broad daylight. After all, where's your sense of romance? Last year there was a wedding ceremony at LoveFest. The tender-hearted can come prepared by packing either traditional rice or raver bubbles. You can never be too prepared for love, San Francisco–style.