As You Like It and Honey Soundsystem present Bicep and Derrick Carter
Saturday, April 12, 2014
At what point does a club become a work of art? This question has been on my mind lately, as I've been reading Eric and Jennifer Goode's Area: 1983 - 1987, a retrospective of Area, the famous Manhattan club that served as an interesting meeting point between '80s club culture and the downtown New York art avant-garde. Reading the book has me jealous for a period of time that loosely coincided with my baby years -- Area was a wildly creative space that continually reinterpreted itself through elaborate installations with themes like "suburbia," "boxing," "surrealism," and "gnarly" (which, to give you an idea of the level of detail, apparently featured a speedboat in a swimming pool with a gargoyle driving it). Basically, it was partying as installation art and vice-versa. Today, this kind of thing is fairly rare -- people seem to be okay with less cerebral environments. However, in San Francisco, Honey Soundsystem has explored a similar idea for quite a while now. A good example of this was Saturday at Mighty, where the Honey crew teamed up with As You Like It to transform the Potrero Hill venue into a simulated gym.
Everyone in attendance seemed to agree that nobody had seen anything quite like it before. I was at the bar, a friend was buying me a beer, and I pointed out the comically oversized lateral pulldown bar hanging above the dancefloor. A girl next to me turned and said, "I know! I don't even recognize this place, it doesn't even look like Mighty in here right now." It was quite a feat of creative installation, and somehow managed to top the spectacle of last month's Icee Hot/Honey Soundsystem party at Public Works, which radically altered that space into a dystopian street scene complete with trash cans and a ridiculous number of police lights. Dancers at Mighty did their floorwork amidst a spectacle of strung mesh, beehive barbells, and large, light-studded signs that read "towel boy," "gym bunny," and "steam queen."
Music for the early portion of the night came from Bicep, a London duo known for its worship of '90s-era house music. In this regard Bicep did not disappoint; its set strutted with a peak-ish intensity full of rushing stabs, filter-tweaked breakdowns, and retro samples. The two DJs swapped off, taking turns guiding the room into strobe-shocked drops from center stage. The alarm-bells insanity of Tronco Traxx's "Walk For Me" careened from the speakers. "Damn, this is like some Junior Vasquez shit, it's like arena gay or something. I'm waiting for Derrick to play some handbag tracks for the divas -- clear things out," said a friend. Bicep's set was intense; it played like '90s New York house music as updated for the concerns of today's larger European dance floors. It was extremely fun in a party sense, but it didn't offer much in the way of a larger narrative. Beyond the up-down dynamic of build and drop, there just wasn't much of a sonic narrative tying things together. However, I got the feeling Bicep was going for this kind of sustained energy level on purpose, to set a pre-headliner mood. On cue the room turned green, and Derrick Carter took over.
This is just a casual observation, but house DJs from Chicago tend to go harder than spinners from just about everywhere else. Carter, a Windy City veteran, fit the mold. He opened up his set with a long passage of funked-out tech-house, with heavy basslines that coaxed a deep low-end purr from the subwoofer stacks. The room took on a sharper quality and everything suddenly became cinematic and flashy -- then he dropped a remix of Destiny's Child's "Bug-a-Boo," which threw the room into a fit. Throughout the set he managed to continually push the envelope further, pushing through whatever benchmark for intensity he'd set with the last. Somehow he managed to do this all with a kind of relaxed ease: whenever I looked up at him he was either taking a sip from a continually refreshed cocktail or snapping photos with his cell phone.
By 3 a.m., the party was still moving at full speed with sound at ear-shredding maximum volume. A predominantly masculine crowd of shirtless dancers sweated it out in circles to pounding disco selections like MSFB's "Love is the Message," the Brother's Johnson's "Stomp," and Jamie 3:26 and Cratebug's "Hit It N Quit It." Carter hand-looped these on the CDJ, doing rough edits on the fly that emphasized small phrases -- like the "They buck like broncos" from Don Armando's 2nd Avenue Rhythm Band's "Deputy of Love." He also worked the filter, throwing out singeing high frequencies that just seemed to add to the mind-flattening sensory bombardment. He got to Diana Ross's "The Boss," which caused people to absolutely lose their minds and scream while fist pumping between choruses.
I got hold of my senses momentarily and realized it was after 4 a.m. The club was still completely packed. With headphones in hand, another DJ approached Carter to presumably take over for him. Carter regarded him, but then shook his head, pushed the DJ back, and got right back to what he was doing. Later, I asked one of the promoters when the night might end. "I don't know, he was supposed to finish 30 minutes ago, but I'm not going to be the one to get up there and tell him to stop," the promoter said. And, truth be told, I don't think anyone in that room wanted him to stop either. There was something about the party that was just perfect; it was the kind of thing that felt divorced from reality, like a good feeling that promises to wave off into infinity. I'm not entirely convinced it was just the music, but rather the combination of all factors that led to such an experience: excellent DJs, great sound, good crowd, and, most importantly, ridiculously good decor. I know it sounds trite on paper, but taken as a whole, it was about as close to art as a party experience can get.