Wednesday, June 7 2012
Better than: Another Wednesday evening at home.
There are still strange things in San Francisco if you know where to look. For instance, a friend of mine once told me that while wandering through Golden Gate Park, she came across an entire field of ballroom dancers rehearsing for a performance in absolute silence. I wasn't there, but the image of such a thing, with its total surreality, has always stuck with me. Ever since, I've wondered what it must be like for a deaf person to first experience a room of clubbers dancing. It's not something that I always think about, but the thought crossed my mind last night as I slipped into the crowd at Icon Ultra Lounge.
I was covering Housepitality, the year-and-a-half old party that's quickly become a weeknight home base for San Francisco's dance music community. Deep in the dancefloor, I looked up and realized that we were all dancing towards a large, crystal-clear projection of a hairy insect. Wringing its hands and twitching out towards the audience, it resembled an alien Mussolini. And, for a moment, the sound drifted away, leaving only the reality of the situation to sink in. Looking around at the people cheering while dancing beneath the bug's creepy visage, I concluded that we all probably looked pretty ridiculous -- like some imagined horror fantasy in a Jack Chick tract relating dance culture to satanism.
A filter sweep here, a delay effect there, and the beat was back in. Michael Tello was behind the decks at the front of the room. Pushing the faders around, he blended together a set of tech-leaning house full of heavy basslines, incomprehensible (but percussive) vocals, and snappy hi-hats. He put the club's soundsystem through its paces, with some tracks literally massaging the dancefloor via subwoofer vibration. Behind him, the insect faded into a slug, and then into geometric shapes. On the ceiling, mood lights shifted through the spectrum, casting a changing glow over shattered clusters of laser dots and black paint.
The party has a near-familial atmosphere, with an accepting vibe that takes all comers. While talking with a friend of mine outside, I watched as the bouncer checked IDs: first there was an older man in Oracle-branded fleece, then a troupe of fashion girls in leather, next a guy that resembled a BDSM Jack Sparrow, and then, finally, a literal pickup truck-load of dedicated old-school ravers.
Ten minutes later, and I found myself on the secondary dancefloor in the back room. Much smaller, it's a box-like space covered in bright lights and cream leather. Housepitality usually offers a DJ counterpoint to the front room in this auxiliary, and last night was no exception. "White Lines (Don't Do It)" blasted out of the speakers as Tyrel Williams looked through his record bag, searching for the next song to play. Meanwhile, a b-boy in a Mickey Mouse pattern shirt stalked around, throwing off complicated floor moves and sweat. A wallflower in a fedora nodded his approval. A girl in purple threw both her hands in the air with the Furious Five as the speakers shouted "freebase!"
Back in the main room, Tello's DJ partner Ray Zuniga was working a less techy angle, with a set of straightforward house. The crowd bounced beneath a rainbow of moods as a remix of Roy Ayers' "Chicago" plunged the atmosphere into a Moodymann-ish murk. He stayed there for a while, letting things simmer in the song's hypnotic chord progressions and paranoid phrases.
Behind him, the projections of geometric designs reconstituted themselves back into the insect. I decided it was time to call it a night.