Second City Sessions with Colette & DJ Heather
Saturday, March 30, 2013
My vision became a blur of Nike and Adidas, with legs and arms shooting out to occasionally grab onto the rhythm. I was standing at the far corner of Mighty's dancefloor, on the periphery of a house dancer's circle that was twice its usual size. Those with a bit of bravado, not to mention experience, would occasionally lift off from the edge and glide with precision toward the center to execute impossibly coordinated maneuvers. In many ways it was business as usual at the Potrero Hill nightclub, except it wasn't, as last Saturday marked the introduction of its brand new Avalon by EAW Club.Two soundsystem, an occasion christened by Chicago house DJ pair Colette and Heather.
"Hang on, I wanna show you this speaker over here!" yelled a girl in faded daisy dukes to her small group. They ambled off and, like many others last Saturday, gawked at the unusual design of the club's new array. It's flown from the ceiling, with four jet-black cubes casting a discreet presence from the eaves. The girls in question were standing near the new subwoofer tower, comparing their height to the monolithic slab. Yet while the new setup is indeed distinct looking, it really is amazing in the way it manages to disappear into the background. The club, once dominated by its huge speaker clusters, is now totally open and feels, for lack of a better word, modern.
While the club's speakers are now much less conspicuous, they announce their presence much in the same way the old ones did -- with intense volume. The system has brute force, with a kind of consuming intensity that brings to mind only a small handful of other electronic dance music-oriented venues in San Francisco. Unlike the old system, it's able to achieve these high decibel ratings without distorting to an uncomfortable degree. It's less growling and more defined, but still with enough bass to balance out the midrange.
"You've got to squeeze her! Don't tease her! Never leave her!" Screamed Otis Redding over a looped-up and punchy four-to-the-floor beat. DJ Heather was on, and she was ducking and weaving her way through a set of relentlessly high-energy house music. There were no breakdowns, there were no breaks -- what she offered was wild catharsis. To get at those ends, she employed all the subtlety of a freight train, with huge disco orchestration, catty divas, and pounding rhythms strobing into the air from the room's four corners. She hunched over the decks and cued up another record, this time conjuring a phantasmal approximation of Missy Elliott via a remix of "Work It." The crowd, comprised of a pretty broad slice of older clubbers, reacted in unison, with screaming and hands held high to the familiar voice. From there she moved back into relatively obscure territory with a track full of jazzy electric piano riffs.
Then I was standing drink-in-hand with friend next to the subwoofer stack, waiting for the beat to drop back in. Colette was at the reigns now and she was driving the sonic narrative toward the abrasive harmony and heavy drops of contemporary big-room EDM. My friend turned to me, "I don't think it's on, the bass pressure is only in my ears." And, as if on cue, the track kicked back in, sending billowing waves of low end through our spines. I was briefly reminded of that famous commercial for Maxell cassette tapes.
The big beat and funky chant of Fatboy Slim's remix of Wildchild's "Renegade Master" flowed freely as Colette moved towards even more accessible selections. But the defining characteristic of her set was not her DJing. This became apparent when she began to tease in the vocal hook from Daft Punk's "Harder Better Faster Stronger." Putting the rhythm on repeat, she held a tiny microphone up to her mouth and began singing her own "What Will She Do For Love" in a kind of on-the-spot mash-up. A whole row of cell phones went up and started recording, and the action slowed down a little as everyone took a moment to focus intently on what she was doing. My mind drifted elsewhere. I began to wonder how other DJs might sound on this new system. My conclusion? Probably pretty damn good.