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Monday, February 13, 2012

Lost in the Night: Back 2 Back Provides a Wicked Good Time at Mighty

Posted By on Mon, Feb 13, 2012 at 8:28 AM

click to enlarge KAHLEY AVALON EMERSON
  • Kahley Avalon Emerson

Back 2 Back Seven-Year Anniversary


Feb. 10, 2012

Better than: Mr. Peabody's time machine.

San Francisco has a long history of nightlife and vice. Take a walk through the city, and the architecture seems to call out at you with images of days gone by and long-changed ways of doing things. This goes double for San Francisco's clubs, many of which have gone through multiple ownership changes and bizarre makeovers. The youngest specters of our city's past all seem to emanate from the 1990s, an era that's popularly considered the last great boom to occur in local nightlife. Back then, raving was novel, and new money from the dot-com boom pushed the city's nocturnal culture to a critical mass. Last Friday I might as well have had an encounter with a ghost, as Avalon and I found ourselves knee-deep in the detritus of a city that once was, as we enjoyed ourselves under the mirror balls at Mighty for Garth and Jeno's Back 2 Back Seven-Year Anniversary.

Navigating down 16th street, our taxi found its way to 119 Utah. Mighty, our destination, is located on a desolate industrial strip on the border of Potrero Hill and SOMA. Like everything around it, the club's facade looks like a nondescript warehouse, the kind of place you'd imagine would be filled, floor-to-ceiling, with cubicle partitions and boxes of forgotten Aeron chairs. Nevertheless, it stands out from its surroundings. Unlike the real warehouses next door, Mighty always seems to have a colorful crowd of smokers milling about out front, with a weird mix of baggy raver pants, designer jeans, and expensive stilettos all huddled together in a cordoned-off area below a mellowing yellow light.

Inside, where the spirit lies, it's a brick-lined box with a spacious wooden dancefloor that seems to throb with each individual beat. The four corners of the room are each guarded by huge Greyhound bus-sized speaker arrays that deliver a sound quality that few clubs in the city can rival in character. It's not the best (or most clear), but it's definitely unique, with a midrange and bass that just seem to get inside you.

click to enlarge KAHLEY AVALON EMERSON
  • Kahley Avalon Emerson

This is due to the installation's old-school East Coast origins. The system at Mighty is pieced together from the remnants of an installation by the famous Richard Long Associates, the same people behind the sound at New York discotheques Studio 54 and Paradise Garage. San Francisco's lone RLA setup found its way to Mighty after Club Townsend, its original home, was redeveloped into luxury condos in the early '00s.

Sound is an addictive thing, and that RLA system is so unique that it seems many of Townsend's DJs still make Mighty a point of pilgrimage. This is definitely true in the case of Garth and Jeno, whose Wicked Soundsystem had a long residency at Townsend before its closure. Wicked itself has been disbanded, but Garth and Jeno kept the fire alive with Back 2 Back, an occasional party that sees the duo working together to provide a similar ambiance.

click to enlarge KAHLEY AVALON EMERSON
  • Kahley Avalon Emerson

On Friday, they deejayed to the crowd from the dancefloor, their turntables and monitors set up in the thick of it. Playing one after another, they worked the room with an expertly programmed set that mixed together newer disco-infused fare with Italo, disco, and break-heavy West Coast house. Tracks like Meat Beat Manifesto's "Radio Babylon", Tantra's "Hills of Katmandu," Benoit & Sergio's "Boy Trouble," Neal Howard's "The Gathering," and Sly Mongoose's "Snake and Ladder (Rub N' Tug Remix)" reverberated out of the speakers and onto a grateful dancefloor. Their DJ style was laidback and humble. Instead of relying on complex tricks or harsh EQ work, they seemed to focus on programming: playing the right track at the just the right time. The energy of the evening moved in peaks and valleys as Garth and Jeno played sentences of three or four uptempo records before retreating into dubby lulls. This constant play with energy and tempo ensured that the dancers had time to cool off before the next hyped-up segment.

click to enlarge KAHLEY AVALON EMERSON
  • Kahley Avalon Emerson

Speaking of the dancers, this was no ordinary crowd. Many in attendance acted as though they had known Garth and Jeno for a lifetime. Each new track introduced was met with hands in the air and cheers of encouragement. A hardcore group of dancers crowded around the DJ booth and lost themselves in the elaborate sonic narrative being spun. At one point in the evening, a large circle broke out and skilled dancers performed elaborate maneuvers dictated by the vibe of the music. Two b-boys in matching Adidas tracksuits performed a dead-on imitation of Wildstyle-esque downrocking.

click to enlarge KAHLEY AVALON EMERSON
  • Kahley Avalon Emerson

Finally, to give the evening an absurdist flair, the proceedings were under the constant observation of a pirate-like man with a living blue macaw on his shoulder. But then, in San Francisco would you have it any other way?


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