The Tubesteak Connection
Sept. 22, 2011
Better than: Partying in a room full of iPhone screens.
In a city whose edge is slowly being dulled, Aunt Charlie's is a bar on the fringe. Located on a decrepit stretch of Turk street evocative of Escape from New York, it's one of the city's oldest gay bars and plays host to a counter-cultural vibe that's getting harder and harder to find. One event that takes advantage of this is DJ Bus Station John's long running (seven years now) Tubesteak Connection party. Dedicated to recreating the hedonistic (and humanistic) atmosphere of San Francisco's vibrant '70s and '80s bathhouse culture, Tubesteak Connection provides a vital link to a San Francisco that once was. The party also provides one of the best examples of good DJing this city has to offer in Bus Station John's mindblowing four-hour sets. I got the word early last Thursday that he was doing a rare, all hi-NRG set in honor of the Folsom Street Fair. Curious to see how that would pan out, my photographer and I hopped a cab down there.
A door guy named "Little John" collected a cover from us and directed our attention to a large sign: "No cell phones or texting in the bar. Thanks." The function of the no cell phone policy is two-fold: it keeps the party period-specific, but it also encourages a social atmosphere. Why don't more clubs have such a policy?
Aunt Charlie's has the look of many San Francisco dives: it's a narrow bolthole of a place with wood paneling, a giant neon sign, and mottled carpets throughout. Bus Station John takes great care in decorating for Tubesteak Connection: Running from the front of the room to the back were giant, blown-up, and ragged posters of men in various poses and states of undress. All throughout the room, on every surface, were posted cutouts and clippings from a lifetime's collection of pre-'90s porno magazines -- a sea of mustaches and groins. Above the bar floated some of his favorite LP covers by artists like Grace Jones, Munich Machine, Chaka Khan, and many others. These decorations literally transformed the room into something more than itself. The album covers, lovingly kept posters, and porno clippings all acted as fetishes and icons to invoke some ancient and forgotten spirit of San Francisco's bathhouses. Complimenting the look was a barrage of video screens -- tinted red with cellophane -- showing off homemade collage tapes of male strip shows, '70s porn, and scenes from Paris is Burning.
The dance floor at Aunt Charlie's is located at the back of the room. It's an intimate affair with a modest sound system that gets the job done with a surprisingly good lighting array. Over this setup stands the imposing and bearded (but paradoxically boyish) figure of Bus Station John. A rare breed of DJ, he's principled in his devotion to vinyl and has developed a unique style of DJing that relies more on feeling than rhythmic precision. He didn't mix his records so much as surgically cut between them (almost like a hip-hop DJ), using the percussive breaks as cue points. This rough style of DJing injects a fallible and human element into his sets that's a far cry from the unfortunately widespread bland perfection of software and laptop DJing. The de-emphasis on the mix allows the tracks he's playing to standout, breathe, and speak for themselves.
In terms of song selection, it's hard to comment, as Bus Station John prides himself on playing unknown and obscure disco records. Dancing, every song that he played seemed to fit the moment perfectly. During peak time he brought the dance floor to a fever pitch with Valerie Allington's cool hi-NRG track "Stop." Working with the track, the lighting array shot blobs of neon green and red over the crowded floor. From 1 a.m. onwards, he played hi-NRG at a blistering tempo. We stumbled out of the venue a little while after last call following Carol Jiani's explosive "Hit 'n Run Lover."
None this week! Bus Station John kindly asked that I not include a list of the songs from his party. If you'd like to hear him DJ, your next opportunity is at his new late-'70s/early-'80s R&B party "Love Will Fix It" at Hot Spot on October 8.
Lost in the Night is a new column that follows the adventures of former promoter Derek Opperman as he reviews the shifting world of San Francisco nightlife. If you have a party that you would like covered, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow All Shook Down on Twitter @SFAllShookDown, follow Derek Opperman @DerrickLove, and like us at Facebook.com/SFAllShookDown.