Let's just get this out of the way — this is a party column and the San Francisco Electronic Music Festival is not a party. But it is a celebration of electronic music's myriad forms, textures, and rich history, featuring groundbreaking performers who push the limits of what "music" can be, so it deserves top billing this week.
The festival runs four nights, kicking off at the Kanbar Forum inside the new Exploratorium on Thursday night and then shifting to the Brava Theater Center in the Mission throughout the weekend. Thursday at the Exploratorium features the festival's "bad kids" — Alessandro Cortini, an Italian known primarily for performing electronics in Nine Inch Nails' live band, he also creates magnificent soundscapes with modular synthesizers, and Thomas Dimuzio, a Bay Area noisemaker and experimental musician with a long discography and an even longer list of collaborators. If you're unfamiliar with electronic music outside of a club, rock, or pop rubric, these performances will be accessible and eye-opening.
Afterward, the festival moves to the Brava Theater and leans slightly more academic, but no less compelling. Friday night features Lawrence English and John Chantler, two Australians who create remarkably dynamic, powerful drone-based soundscapes rich in emotion and pathos, and Surabhi Saraf and Horaflora, two local performers. Saturday is the marquee night, featuring Charles Cohen, a composer, improviser, and perhaps the world's foremost expert on the Buchla Music Easel, a rare and quixotic synth designed in Berkeley in the '60s; Robert Rich, a longtime Bay Area resident whose cinematic ambient music is experiential and engaging; and Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith, a new performer whose work is informed by orcas. The festival ends Sunday with Olivia Block, a composer who creates site-specific sound installations; Doug Lynner, a vintage synthesizer aficionado; and a new work by Kevin Blechdom, a former Bay Area resident affiliated with Matmos and Kid606.
Other worthy parties this week
NightLife Live featuring Moon Duo and Peaking Lights Acid Test at California Academy of Sciences, 6 p.m.-10 p.m. Thursday, Sep. 10. $12; calacademy.org
In hindsight, the Academy of Sciences launching its NightLife party was an act of sheer genius. Launched in 2009, a year after the museum opened, it began as a monthly Thursday night event but became so popular that it switched to a weekly schedule. It's now something of a San Francisco institution, with almost every other museum in the city (science and otherwise) now offering "evening hours for adults." This time around, the music on offer comes courtesy of San Francisco locals Moon Duo and L.A.'s Peaking Lights: Moon Duo is actually a trio (with connections to mid-aughts local psych band Wooden Shjips) who perform trippy psychedelic rock jams, melodic and groovy, but never self-indulgent; and Peaking Lights (normally a husband-wife duo, this time a solo performance by bandmember Aaron Coyes, hence "Acid Test"), who'll be performing instrumental, dance-centric versions of the group's lovely psych-pop tunes.
Outpost presents Urulu, Nackt B2B Tyrel Williams, and more at F8, 10 p.m.-3 a.m. Friday, Sept. 11. $7-$10; feightsf.com
Although Outpost bills itself as a "garage, bass, and techno" party, it's secretly one of the most open-format parties you'll find in SF; anything tends to go off at an Outpost party, from hard acid techno (like the party's last guest, Worker/Parasite) to post-dubstep sounds from the U.K. (that's the "bass" in Outpost's motto) to easily accessible deep house, like Urulu, a young producer from L.A. (now based in Berlin, as one does) affiliated with Let's Play House, an NYC-based record label that is, for all intents and purposes, the spiritual successor to LCD Soundsystem's DFA Records. His productions are well-produced disco-flavored house tunes — there's a bit of that disco-punk DFA spirit intact, but Urulu's music is definitely house, with nods and throwbacks to the classic Chicago sound. Outpost resident Nackt will go back-to-back with local selector Tyrel Williams, too, and fellow resident Woo will warm up the floor.
Post-Playa Dreams featuring Rodriguez Jr., Jon Charnis, Bedouin and more at Public Works, 9 p.m.-4 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 12. $17-$25; publicsf.com
For the scads of folks returning to California after a week-plus spent in the desert of Nevada looking to kickstart "decompression" before Burning Man's official event in early October — or for those of you who simply groove on melodic, delicate techno — Saturday night at Public Works is the place to be. Headlining is Rodriguez Jr., the alias of Frenchman Olivier Mateu, who kicked off his career as half of The Youngsters, a sort of après-Daft Punk duo who took the French filter-house blueprint and infused it with hard techno, electro, and more. As Rodriguez Jr., though, he's honed his sound to a fine point, releasing numerous refined minimal techno records on renowned German label Mobilee. He's performing live in Public Works' main room, with support from up-and-comer Jon Charnis (whose first release was hand-picked by European mega-DJ Dixon); upstairs, Brooklyn DJ duo Bedouin will take center stage.
Surface Tension 11 featuring Ron Morelli and more at F8, 10 p.m.-4 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 12. $15-$20; feightsf.com
What do punk, noise, techno and disco have in common? A lot more than you might think. Ron Morelli is an old-school New Yorker, a grit-and-grime kind of guy who came up in that city's punk scene but spent just as much time in nightclubs, dancing to house and disco. This combo led to Morelli launching his record label L.I.E.S. (Long Island Electrical Systems) in 2010, which focused on New York producers pairing house and techno rhythms with punk production techniques, spurring a new "lo-fi" trend in dance music. Morelli has since built a DJ career making difficult music work on the dancefloor, so come ready with an open mind (and dancing shoes). Local stalwarts and purveyors of strange music Solar, C.L.A.W.S., and Its Own Infinite Flower will hold down F8's back room, while Surface Tension DJs (disclosure: your humble author is one of them) will warm up the floor.