Over the past couple weeks I've taken shelter from stasis inside venues filled with all-senses-go offerings. A prime example: the Gray Area Gallery , a 3-month-old loft space sandwiched between Slim's and the DNA on 11th Street. Take the stairs next to the pizza joint and you're immediately transported from the Folsom corridor to an arty party atmosphere curated by lesbian couple Josette Melchor and Carrie Martin. On a recent Saturday night the pair circulated through crowds eyeballing carnival balls strung from the ceiling and a giant column of cassette tapes, among other installations, for a show titled "Fast Forward Rewind." While musical headliners the Mall offered the sort of wonderfully jilted-and-tilted synth-punk that gives crowds motion sickness, it was Official Tourist who nailed the time-traveling theme of the event. These semi-locals (based in "Oakland and Bosnia") regularly scramble minds with a battalion of audio-visual tricks.
At Gray Area, Official Tourist band members Jeremiah Nadya, Jasko, Kamau Amu Patton, Matt Scullin, DJ Maurey, and Aziz Habibi set up (per their usual) cloistered in a back room. They projected themselves via video onto television screens around the gallery and used surveillance cameras to incorporate real-time images alongside unusual footage resulting in a hyper-color, public-access-television-from-the-VCR-age aesthetic. "The video backgrounds range from stuff I find during my travels," says Nadya in an e-mail following the event. "In [previous shows], we used a lot of African hip-hop and dance party footage as backdrops. The blue screen lets us composite the image so that it seems like we are there with the dancers, like they are our backup dancers. For the Gray Area Gallery we used footage from B-boy gay vogue balls in New York. We just want to share a variety of cultural perspectives that folks might not see otherwise." Add to the mix band members wearing handmade masks, and instrument tweakers producing "thermoelectronic" sound effects and samples, and Official Tourist is both a total head fuck and a cattle prod to the dance floor.
The night of Fast Forward Rewind, Official Tourist mangled, melted, and chilled pulsing international rhythms into provocative dance music. Mara Sohn, development manager of events over at Yerba Buena Center, booked the group for the opening of Oakland East Side Story last year. "Official Tourist is a complete assault on your senses," she says, "from their crazy visuals to their spazzy performance art and their contagious beats." As for the band's future aspirations, Nadya ventures, "We're looking to perform at the MOMA. I want our sound waves to vibrate those Jasper Johns pieces upstairs." While they wait on that particular invite, Official Tourist will just have to settle with keeping electric currents live in that S.F. sweet spot where musical performances meet performance art.