We're not sure who decided that the end of July was going to be the time for parties, but if we did, we'd buy them some kind of thank you beverage. Whatever the reason, this Friday bringsthe promise of a weekend spent luxuriating in the escapist embrace of truly world-class techno -- which is kinda rare in S.F. If that's not your thing, don't worry; we've got plenty of recommendations that should help limber up even the most frozen of feet. Read on -- your weekend awaits.
10 p.m. Saturday, July 27, and 3 p.m. Sunday, July 28. $12-$15
Things have gone dark in the San Francisco club scene. Throughout the city, new parties, bands, and labels are popping up, many of them dedicated to a sound called minimal synth. The name is new, but the music is not. It's a record collector term used to describe music from the late '70s and early '80s that's defined by bleak atmospherics, depressed vocals, and primitive synth work. That describes a lot of music from the era, but minimal synth distinguishes itself, like all good collector genres, by focusing on the rare and undiscovered -- music released on cassette tapes and other, more obscure media. Its growing popularity is largely due to the efforts of New Yorker Veronica Vasicka, who in 2005 started Minimal Wave, a label and party dedicated to championing these under-heard sounds. This weekend, her label is coming to San Francisco to take over Mission art gallery the Lab for what amounts to a two-day minimal synth festival.
The main event is on Saturday, and it's a full 10 p.m.-to-2 a.m. multimedia experience, complete with DJs, a live band, and immersive visuals courtesy of local new media artist Caitlin Denny. The headliner is Vasicka herself, who'll bring her vast knowledge of the genre (and a bag of ludicrously obscure records) to somewhat replicate the experience of the Minimal Wave parties held in New York City (check out this mix). Joining her is Juan Mendez, a man better known by his globetrotting techno alias Silent Servant. Working with the Sandwell District collective, he and his releases have helped change the face of contemporary techno by injecting a dark undercurrent informed by his own interests in the heavier side of '80s club music. (Listen to this live mix, recorded at Honey Soundsystem earlier this year)
The night also features DJs representing other leading minimal synth labels. Josh Cheon is the founder of local imprint Dark Entries, whose sizable catalog focuses on archival compilations, beautifully rendered reissues, and new releases from artists who take cues from the past. Alessandro Adriana is the man behind Mannequin Records, an Italian label with a similar focus. Finally, Chicago group Streetwalker will offer a live-with-hardware performance that promises to meld the night's Eurocentric aesthetic with raw elements from the early years of house music.
On Sunday, the party reconvenes at 3 p.m. to showcase the local side of the movement. The highlight should be a live performance by Max + Mara, an Oakland-based group affiliated with Dark Entries that takes a dancefloor-oriented approach reminiscent of acts like Chris and Cosey. They will be joined by a long list of local DJs that includes OK Hole promoter C.L.A.W.S., Twitch resident Rachel Aiello, and, a collaboration between Mathew Dryhurst and Holly Herndon (whose debut LP Movement is a critical favorite of 2013). Put it all together and you have what amounts to a weekend-long crash course in one of the city's thriving underground musical subcultures.
9 p.m. Friday, July 26. $12-$15
In the land of abrasive underground dance music, Regis (aka Karl O'Connor) is a king. Since the late '90s, the British producer has been introducing tough industrial noise into the framework of techno, first with his influential label Downbeat, and later as a part of cult favorite DJ collective Sandwell District. Fair warning: This one's going to be rough, loud, and sweaty. Listen to this mix he recorded for Boiler Room last year.
10 p.m. Friday, July 26. $10-$15
Menacing isn't a word normally used to describe house music, but it's applicable in the case of James T. Cotton, an alias of Tadd Mullinix (who also records hip-hop as Dabrye). The sound is hard, utilizing outboard analog gear to create screaming beat-tracks best heard late at night on cramped dancefloors. Which makes Underground S.F. quite a fitting venue indeed. Listen to "In the G" and this mix.
9:30 p.m. Saturday, July 27. $12-$15
Four headliners is better than one, or at least Public Works seems to think so with its latest megaparty. Check the main room for disco and house courtesy of LCD Soundsystem drummer Pat Mahoney, Beats in Space radio host Tim Sweeney, and Italians Do It Better label head Mike Simonetti. Or, if you're adventurous, head to the Loft for deep techno courtesy of Detroit spinner Terrence Dixon.
9 p.m. Saturday, July 27. $15-$20
It's been a big year for British producer Duke Dumont (aka Adam Dyment). In March, he broke out of the underground and onto the mainstream UK charts with "Need U (100%)," a summer anthem of a track that matched the soul of '90s vocal house with slick Ibiza-ready production chops. It's catchy and accessible, and so is his DJing. Listen to this mix.