So Stoked for Frequency 8
Friday, Aug. 23, 2013
If you've been in San Francisco for any significant amount of time, chances are good that you've at least heard of the Frequency 8 crew. Since the '90s, the outfit's done a lot to further the position of trance in the Bay Area via its lavish raves, record label, and now-shuttered Haight street record store. Not being too familiar, I enlisted the help of a good friend of mine who grew up in the genre. I asked him if he wanted to to go the party, and his response captured the theme of enthusiasm that began to course through the rest of the night: "F-8!? No way! I used to drive down from Sac just to go to their parties, that's what got me into dance music!"
We had a group of about five situated in the middle of a packed dancefloor at DNA Lounge. We stood out like sore thumbs, wearing drab clothes next to the clubland equivalent of a tropical aquarium. Everywhere there was eye-piercing color: neon blue, bright red tracing off the edge of a light glove, flashes from highlighter yellow glowsticks, and mounds of multi-colored "kandi" bracelets -- fog did little to obscure the rest. The music was melodically lush, but played at an arrhythmia-inducing speed. It was trance. The DJ, Thomas Datt, moved like an orchestra conductor, emulating the superstars of the late-'90s with carefully chosen poses that gave the illusion he was controlling every element from the patter of high-hats to the genre's tell-tale rushing drops. Below him, a flat-white geometric construction reflected psychedelic scenery of endless clouds, '80s vector graphic mountains, and other assorted digital landscapes. Two girls in white bikinis and feather boas walked by, their mouths a garble of confusing rainbows generated by LED-saturated pacifiers.
One of the most startling things about the night was how young everyone was. Going into this blind, I assumed that Frequency 8, being one of the older trance crews, would draw an older crowd. This wasn't the case; instead everyone present appeared to be between the ages of 18 and 21, with relatively few outliers -- those who were older blended in by virtue of the kandi kid subculture's fixation on pre-teen accoutrements. This had a nice fringe benefit in that none of the bars were ever busy, though I imagine that says more about the consensus choice of substance than anything else. Age aside, it was a very diverse crowd, with the aforementioned kandi kids mingling easily with a misfit assortment of anime otaku, unabashed Redditors, furries in full garb, and a troop of people clearly invested in totally losing their minds.
Trance as a musical genre, when listened to for long enough in a club setting, has a weird effect at high volume. It sucks you into its swirling melodies and ambient wafts of synthesizer. It's immersive in a way that's similar to techno, though the feeling is more dreamy. At the front of the room, a small group of partiers rested standing against the stage with their heads tucked into their arms. I felt my own consciousness drift away into the music, catching myself five or 10 minutes later almost dozing off to the monotonous ebb and flow of the rush. It was at that point that we decided to gather our wits and leave the main room for a while to visit "The Observation Deck," the party's second room dedicated to hardcore, gabber, and drum 'n' bass.
I'm not the most eloquent notetaker while out reviewing these parties. Looking back though, my one sentence about the upstairs room seems relevant: "worm of pure energy, drilling thru my ear." This was indeed a much more hardcore experience than the comparatively pleasant dream music of the main room. It was pure aggression, with a similar crowd hyping themselves up and pogoing to blasting hits of 180 BPM+ hardcore. The DJ, whose name I didn't catch, mixed these sounds on the fly in truly old-school fashion with the crustiest looking box of vinyl records I've seen in the wild. Hyper remixes of Skrillex's "Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites" mingled with more esoteric fare, but proved a huge hit with a dancefloor that rarely wavered throughout the night. Eventually the music switched, moving towards futuristic interpretations of drum 'n' bass with little bits of dubstep thrown in for good measure. The aggression was awesome, but even better was the earnest party spirit and unironic punk ethos that filled the air.
By the time we made it back to the main room, the tempo had caught up with the music upstairs. Now it was Scott Brown on the decks and he was working fast to cram in as many heavy-hitting hard-trance tracks as he could before the 2 a.m. cutoff. Booming hoover basses and near incomprehensible kick drum patterns flashed from the subwoofer in five-minute blurts before melting into gooey synth pads played beatlessly as interludes. With each track he pushed faster, playing a string of tracks that included Captain Tinrib vs Mars & Mystrë's "Save the Rave," Art of Trance's "Madagascar," and Mars' "Pachelbel 8000." Throughout it all he wove in a repeating spoken word vocal that affirmed again and again, "You're rocking with the best!"
Finally, when there was nowhere else to go but up, he faded his last track out, honoring the rapidly approaching hard deadline of 2 a.m. All at once, a roomful of arms shot up, revealing a wall of jangling multicolored beads. They demanded, "ONE MORE SONG! ONE MORE SONG!" We grabbed our jackets and made our way to the door, but on our way out I heard DNA Lounge's floor manager shout back, "ALRIGHT! ONE LAST SONG!" We stumbled into DNA Pizza just moments before the final huge operatic sweeps of synthesizer tore through the club, causing one last euphoric groan before comedown.