It's still a tough call, but this week sure feels like the end of a significant chapter in San Francisco nightlife history. The catalyst is, of course, the decommissioning of Mighty's epic RLA soundsystem. But while it might be a sad note for some, remember that these kinds of ends usually signal new beginnings. That said, it's not too late to pay last respects, and to help you get oriented we've gathered together a few of your best opportunities for saying farewell. And for those of you who aren't into goodbyes, we've also included a fair showing of killer events at other venues as well. Read on -- your weekend awaits.
Thursday, March 21. 9 p.m. No cover
As previously reported, a bittersweet goodbye will be said this Saturday when Potrero Hill nightclub Mighty holds the last-ever party with its beloved Richard Long Associates sound system. The club's storied speaker towers will be replaced in a week with a brand-new EAW setup that's the first of its kind in the world. The current system, now almost 30 years old, features pieces taken from the Paradise Garage, a club that many regard as the birthplace of East Coast house music. The change means San Francisco is losing a direct link to its dance music's past.
"Although there was much love and praise for the massive, classic RLA system at Mighty, we felt it was time to move forward with a brand new state-of-the-art soundsystem," says owner Sean Manchester. Mighty will keep the RLA, but put it on permanent loan to local party outfit Pink Mammoth, which plans to renovate it for use at Burning Man.
In the '70s, Richard Long revolutionized club sound by taking a boutique approach that emphasized horn-loaded, bass-heavy designs. His work would provide the soundtrack at many of New York's most famous discotheques, including Studio 54. The booming low-end and visceral punch enlivened the then-popular disco music, giving it an edge that would pave the way for the popularity of electronic dance music in the '80s and '90s.
Parts of the Paradise Garage sound system made it to San Francisco in the '90s, when a New York transplant named Audrey Joseph moved to the city and brought with her a passion for the high-end sound of her hometown. Now known as a founder of Mezzanine and a member of the city's Entertainment Commission, Joseph back then was involved in the fledgling club 177 Townsend. When it needed a new system, she looked eastward. "Big sound with high definition of sound clarity and separation is my passion," she says. "The RLA system we had was pieced together from the Hippo in Baltimore and Paradise Garage in N.Y. We sent two guys [and] a truck back east with all the money we had -- which was not very much -- and they came back with a truck full."
When Townsend was demolished and turned into condos in the early '00s, much of its sound system went to Mighty. There, it provided a visceral and aggressive counterpoint to the city's newer, more gentle clubs, and was a favorite of touring DJs from New York. Paired with Mighty's wood floor and warehouse-like atmosphere, the raw sound helped create the feeling that the club was one of the last bastions of an older way of doing things.
While the RLA was historic, it did have its faults. Some dancers were critical of its sometimes ear-bleeding rawness and tendency to distort at high volume. The new EAW setup promises the same volume level with 50,000 watts packed into a more discrete arrangement that will hang from the club's ceiling.
Though it's not the last party this weekend with the RLA, tonight's "Throwback" event will be the best to experience all this history firsthand. Dubbed the "RIP RLA" party, it features four of the city's best house selectors playing sets exclusively comprised of the kind of '90s house and garage that the system was originally designed to exhibit. DJs David Harness, Deron, Jayvi Velasco, and Derek Hena will all be laying it down right: with three turntables, a rotary mixer, and piles of vinyl records. As has been the case with previous iterations, this one has free admission all night, and there will be an open bar, 9-10 p.m. We're usually hesitant to say that a Thursday party will be the best of the weekend, but in this case it's pretty much guaranteed. Get ready for the night by listening to this live-from-the-board mix of David Harness laying it down on the speakers at one of Townsend's notorious Club Universe parties back in 1997.
Thursday, March 21. 9 p.m. $10-$15
Not every producer acknowledges dance music's debt to Jamaica, but U.K. artist Kevin Martin (aka The Bug) certainly does. Over the years, his many projects have grafted dub reggae production techniques to the rhythms and sounds of electronic dance music. His latest sound is called "acid ragga," and melds the wriggling undulations of acid house with the bass lines of electronic dancehall to create a music Resident Advisor described as "fueled on pure dread, paranoia, analogue circuitry, and digital deviancy." Sounds like a good fit for the often gothically themed Future | Perfect party. Listen to "Hardcore Lover" for a more concrete example of what he's all about.
Friday, March 22. 9:30 p.m. $20-$25
Just who are Tiger & Woods, anyway? The European re-edit duo has gone to great pains to ensure that its identity remains a secret. While this might normally be annoying -- since the mysterious producer archetype has gone well past cliche in 2013 -- in their case it makes practical sense. In this litigious age it can be awfully hard to get away with making sample-based music, and Tiger & Woods' entire catalogue is like a playful trip through glorious loops of '70s disco and '80s R&B. Tracks like "Gin Nation," "Kissmetellme," and "Girls Like Boys" all demonstrate their infectiously danceable sound pretty well. In case you didn't get the memo, Daft Punk moved on to Tron, so this is about as close to Paris in the mid-'90s as you can get without grabbing the attention of a lawyer.
Friday, March 22. 10 p.m. $10-$20
Tonight may be the official RIP party for Mighty's RLA soundsystem, but it will be in operation over the weekend, too. That's a good thing, because old-school French house producer Agoria ought to sound fantastic on it. His name roughly translates from ancient Greek as "meeting-place," and it fits his music -- which embodies the communal spirit at the heart of house and rave culture -- rather well. Deeper than your average producer, his complex arrangements and quirky sound palette have earned him the distinction of being featured in a number of films, and the honor of working as music director for ultra-modern haute couture fashion label Courrèges. Have a listen to "Les Violons Ivres."
9 p.m. Saturday, March 23. $15-$20
Not a whole lot of producers can say they were there in the early days, but Fred Peterkin grew up during the golden age of New York dance music. As a young man he spent his time listening to Tony Humphries on the radio while breakdancing in famous clubs like the Sound Factory, Tunnel, and Red Zone. Yet though he's of this scene, it wasn't until 2005 that he first began to release music. Recording as Black Jazz Consortium, his sound is murky and heavily imbued with emotion. And while he owes a debt to the past, his music never feels like refried nostalgia. Read this recent XLR8R feature (written by yours truly) and get a better artistic picture by listening to the shifting textures of "It Is What It Is."