Isis presents Kim Ann Foxman, Avalon Emerson, Brittany B, and Hi, Today
Saturday, Jan. 11, 2014
From an outsider's perspective, San Francisco party Isis appears to draw quite a few cues from A Club Called Rhonda in Los Angeles. The two parties employ very similar ideas: they both anthropomorphize their club with a persona (Rhonda is a bitchy Amanda Lepore-ish arch-deacon of club kids; Isis is a demanding-yet-playful goddess); they both use slick, bold-lined flyer imagery vaguely evocative of '80s New York club life; and they both feature a shared core ethos of "polysexual" partying. Yet this is about where the comparisons cease, as beyond the surface-level similarities, the two are as different as the cities they reside in. And in much the same way that the Rhonda experience pulls heavily from the flash and glamour of Los Angeles, Isis parties lean hard on the communal spirit and sexual diversity at the heart of San Francisco.
You can learn a lot about a party by showing up early. In the case of Isis, we arrived right around when the doors opened. My girlfriend, Avalon Emerson, was slated to play one of the early slots, and it's considered good DJ etiquette to show up well before your time. The loft was sparsely populated, with a crew of about 20 girls limbering up to a barrage of upbeat '90s retro-house selections. The feeling was positive and festive. Balloons, each containing an LED, swayed across the floor. Commanding posters lined the walls, bearing slogans like "Put my potion in your motion" and "Get yo disco." An LED pyramid sat in the corner, offering a real-time VU readout. There were also a lot of headless mannequins, with one standing prominently in front of the stage wearing a pink feather boa. The DJ booth was illuminated by a projected highlight reel taken from Paris is Burning, and Willi Ninja's balletic strutting seemed entirely appropriate, considering the night's soundtrack of dayglo-hued, throwback house.
The vibe at Isis is, for lack of a better description, feminine. The decor speaks to this, as does the overall feeling. But in a more tangible, physical sense, the party's crowd is predominantly female, which makes it a welcome outlier in a city whose nightlife often feels all too masculine. The femininity of the party is matched by a laidback and inviting atmosphere that feels very inclusive. The polysexual ethos, boasted about it in its marketing literature, is not an idle claim -- it's one of the few parties I've been to that's felt like a cross section of sexual preferences, with gay men, lesbians, straights, and every stripe between and outside, mingling freely on the dancefloor.
Early on, the sounds were provided by Hi, Today, a local spinner previously known for his work as Mountaincourt. He performed from the booth wearing a double-breasted bellhop's jacket, affecting an appearance vaguely reminiscent of cult film Liquid Sky. His tracks were rooted in the contemporary revival of '90s New York garage-house, with repeating chunky chords, shuffling hi-hats, and cut-up diva vocals. Occasionally, he'd dip out to switch things up, with a full-blown soulful house anthem or string-heavy classic disco cut. His style of mixing involved a lot of filter use: he'd sometimes scoop the song's low-end out to let his divas deliver their vocals unencumbered by bass.
Avalon took over around 11 p.m. She picked up on the '90s garage current, but ran in a much more vocally driven direction, cutting into a beatless gospel a capella that helped her to pivot into Kerri Chandler's moody and growling "I Got That Feeling." Much like Hi, Today, she stayed dynamic on deck, using the mixer's EQ section to sculpt the lows and mids to play with emotional tension on the fly. Later, the dancefloor reached full-on hands-in-the-air saturation during the epic swells of River Ocean's "Love & Happiness (Yemeya Y Ochùn)" and her own acid-tinged Belgian new beat edit, "Zsa." During the peak of her set, she was joined onstage by Brittany B, the party's guest host, who danced herself into ever more outlandish positions while wearing a full-body fishnet jumpsuit.
The arrival of Brittany B to the stage allowed for a smooth transition into a brief live performance. I've seen her once before, at High Fantasy, a drag-centric Tuesday night party at Aunt Charlie's in the Tenderloin. This was a little different, with Brittany B singing her own material -- a track which, as far as I can tell, has yet to be released -- over a pre-recording of cut-up breakbeat rhythms and reverberating basslines courtesy of local producer Adeptus. "I don't like four-to-the-floor dance music," he informed me prior to her set. And true to his taste, the rhythm was more scattered, but still fit within the predominantly house-oriented Isis spectacle. That owed much to the magnetism of Brittany B's dramatic stage presence, which used crooning and posing to draw the eyes of the whole room with only a lone spotlight for assistance.
"Do-do-do what you like, cause I ain't goin' home!" Screamed a diva over stuttering snare drums. Kim Ann Foxman took the stage and got down to business, with a set of manic contemporary house records that quickly brought the energy back to a peak, and locked it in for the long haul. In comparison to both DJs before her, Foxman's style was more driving, preferring to use an unstoppable bedrock rhythm of instrumental beat tracks that blended together into a seamless block -- there were no recognizable songs beyond the occasional sample or call that would ring out above her percussive assault. It was 2 a.m., the dancefloor was churning, and it continued that way for some time longer.