La Boîte and Uni4rm present Juan Maclean
Friday, Dec. 13, 2013
Our Uber turned onto 11th Street, angling towards Folsom from Market. I was rambling about something to my friends in the car when someone interrupted me and pointed out the window, "Holy shit, is that Juan Maclean?" It was about 11:30 p.m., we'd just crossed Howard, and John "Juan" Maclean, the DJ we'd come to see, was hauling ass across the sidewalk, pushing bumbling crowds of pedestrians aside in a mad dash towards Audio Discotech, the club he'd presumably be headlining in 30 minutes. If you didn't recognize him, you probably would have assumed he'd just robbed a gas station.
When we arrived, we were held in line, watching from afar while security tried to grasp what to do with this sweating bald guy in a beat-up white V-neck who claimed he was the talent. A bouncer came over to us, "IDs please?" He waved us in while they were still trying to figure Maclean out.
"Sometimes it's fun to go places where you don't feel like you belong," she said to me. I thought about Maclean's hold-up at the door downstairs and considered the crowd of moneyed clubbers mingling around us in their glad rags. I had an idea what she meant -- half of the club was rendered inaccessible by a network of velvet ropes and bottle service areas that clearly marked who would and would not be pouring their own beverages for the evening. "Aw, we don't want to go there, that's for sad old men and people with more money than social skills," I said. "But cocaine comes with it, right?" She asked. "Maybe in the '80s, but not today. Though I do think you get a complimentary pack of girls to drink your Grey Goose for you."
This was not my first time at Audio Discotech. However, it was my first night at the club during normal business hours. My previous evenings were all marked by some occasion: I was there at the comparatively less attended soft opening, and then later when Deviants took it over for Folsom Street Fair (still the best use of the space I've so far experienced). Neither of those prior instances felt so intensely segregated. By comparison, this was a real turn-off.
While Maclean was busy getting sorted, the duo behind the party dropped a succession of clubby tech-house tracks, with soaring, white noise risers and breathtaking drops that teased squeals and honest-to-god fist-pumping from the clubbers on the Funktion One-powered sunken dancefloor. As the music played, the walls breathed to life with shifting psychedelic images that pulsed and flowed to the rhythm of the drum. I watched as a man in a Patagonia fleece and a large cowboy hat tried to figure out how to navigate into a pocket of Filipino girls in sequined bootie shorts. For a brief moment, the lights in the back of the room flashed on, illuminating a couple who appeared to be trying to make the Guinness Book of World Records for "Longest Hug." My friend took a swig of Stella Artois and turned to me, "This is your brain on drugs, this is your brain on ecstasy, heh-heh, get it?" They didn't budge all night.
Then the vibe changed. The slick buildups of the resident DJs' soundtrack gave way to a percussive onslaught sampled from the intro of the Sugarhill Gang's "Rapper's Delight." Maclean was at the decks, and he thrilled the crowd by running this passage of congas and latin drumming through a delay unit, turning familiar sounds into washed-out smears of feedback that built up and dropped out in a way that suggested the predictability of the music before, but which felt somehow better and more improvised. (I later learned his signal chain included two Pioneer's RMX-1000 effects units.) I spoke with one of the DJs behind the party, and he pointed at Maclean in the booth: "It's why I like him, he's not afraid to party-rock. He's a party-rocker DJ."
Though many were receptive to Maclean's sounds, not everyone was so enthused. The dancefloor, which was previously slammed, thinned out as people went to smoke or grab a drink at one of the bars. A small group of people dressed in terrible sweaters and Santa hats used the space to flail around and presumably do a dry-run for SantaCon the following day. The music made a subtle shift at that point, as Maclean moved the vibe into one that featured the kind of '90s house diva vocal contortions that can be heard on Masters at Work records. This pulled the floor back in line, causing a few girls to get up on the bassbins and freak out to the sounds. A rush of dancers got busy, the party kicked back into gear, and I nearly tripped on a velvet rope on my way out the door.