Surface Tension presents Sandra Electronics // Face presents Eric Duncan
Thursday, Nov. 8 // Friday, Nov. 9
If nothing else, the view from the penthouse suite at the Battery, San Francisco's controversial new members-only country club, is stunning. It's all floor-to-ceiling glass. And, if you step out onto its generous patio, as I did, you might just feel a swell of pride as you take in the city's landmarks. It's an experience that some pay a lot of money for. In the case of last Thursday, it was Yves Saint Laurent footing the bill, with a reception in honor of the opening of his newest retail location. This was a 40 to 50 person party, consisting of national reps, some local sales associates, a handful of the store's most deep-pocketed clientele (two girlish Academy of Art students from Beijing and a bald man in a leather blazer who looked like Kim Dot Com), a few local tech celebrities, The Battery's owners, one or two curious members, and my friends and me. Most everyone was dressed in a configuration of black and leather. Someone from Yves Saint Laurent corporate worked the room socially while he simultaneously "DJed" off a hidden iPod.
Given all the hype, the actual space is somewhat underwhelming. There are multiple bars, a cozy library, and various nooks and crannies -- all furnished in a kind of plush, old-school leather and mahogany suggestive of an updated simulacrum of the Union Square Elk's Lodge. There were no photos permitted, an omnipresent staff of suits with earpieces made sure of that. With all this said, however, the Battery is not without its charms. Much like a really nice bar, it's a relatively comfortable place. "Bring your business cards," I was told before entering. And the environment inside of that penthouse (and the rest of the space) really seemed geared towards networking and conversation. The extent of that, however, only really pushed into the development of social media schemes, fashion retail woes, and trumped up work histories ("Oh yes, I used to do A&R at Atlantic, then I got a job at San Franpsycho."). We got our fill from the open bar and then made our way out, noting a large depiction of a bull in the basement emblazoned with the word, "dopamine."
And then it was Friday, and I was outside of the renovated Project One. The party was Surface Tension, a newly created techno-focused event dreamed up by the people behind the gothy and popular Warm Leatherette nights. As recently as a year ago, this would have been a strange combination, as Project One had traditionally suffered from poor sound as a result of its prior owners' angling of the venue as a mixed-use art gallery. Now, it's a black box powered by the same Turbosound speaker array that was once installed at 222 Hyde.
"I really feel like I'm in some club in Germany," said a friend of mine as an ethereal wash of industrial noise synced up with a thick blast of fog. The music was abrasive--a raw-edged synthesis of hypnotic techno and the anti-establishment occult ethos of early industrial. This was all courtesy of Sandra Electronics, a joint project consisting of hard techno luminaries Regis and Silent Servant. They played from a red-dotted booth at the front of the room that looked like something out of a 1980's dystopia -- I mean that in the best way possible. Their music moved through synthetic environments of noise and clanging percussion, with commanding-yet-muffled vocals drifting somberly throughout (as can be heard on the track "Her Needs") Their set came in waves, hitting a few chin-scratching lows, and occasionally happening upon a moment of brilliance. "It was good, but I feel like there were only a few instances where it was like, 'Yeah, I get it!'" explained a friend afterwards at the bar.
The crowd was black-clad and punky. Much like prior Warm Leatherette parties, this was a thoroughly gothic affair, with sub-culturally specific fashion playing as much of a part as anything else. In some ways, it felt like the crystallization and legitimization of a scene that's been growing in underground dive bar parties for the past few years. One of the promoters was particularly ecstatic about the venue's soundsystem, "This sounds waaay better than anything we've done before." In that he's correct, and the benefit of high-fidelity added an extra dimension to the proceedings that made the newer techno sounds come alive while simultaneously putting a new perspective on older '80s favorites.
Two-fingered whistles and screams came when Veronica Vasicka, the head of New York's Minimal Wave label, took to the booth and bludgeoned the crowd with classics like Front 242's "U-Men" and Throbbing Gristle's "Hot on the Heels of Love." Her set was more conventional, with a non-stop string of classics seamlessly welded together via a unique setup that involved a midi controller and a computer running Ableton Live. "It's so good! I grew up with this music, I love it!" said an enthusiastic local DJ who insisted on wearing a balaclava all night.
My night ended across town at Monarch for the latest edition of Face with New York disco personality Eric Duncan. It was past last call and the vibe there was more open and playful. Despite his reputation, Duncan leaned hard on the more trippy end of house, with long instrumental segments of chugging basslines and proggy hits of synthesizer reminiscent of his recent work on Golf Channel, like "Instrumental Fantasy". As he played to his crowd of die-hards, the basement's support beams shot the room full of multi-colored splashes of light from a discreetly placed assortment of strobes. I stuck around a while longer, but then stepped out and grabbed a cab off Mission Street. As we swerved home, the cab driver told me how his previous fare had given him six "toots" of cocaine and an eighth of sour diesel as a tip, "I dunno why, I guess he was a grower or something. Some people make a lot of money in this town." Unfortunately, I wasn't so generous.