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Drink 2013: Dance Music Goes Live at S.F. Clubs 

Wednesday, Mar 6 2013

DJs may soon need to cede the dance floor — there's a new movement in town, and it's all about playing live. Laptop producers and hardware fanatics alike are emerging from their studios to treat dance floors to densely textured sets of on-the-spot performance. Accordingly, the city's forward-thinking party promoters have been busy accommodating the desires of San Francisco's dancers by throwing events that mix a traditional club environment with the thrill of music played in the moment.

At the fore of this movement is Haçeteria, the '90s rave-themed party that sits at the center of the city's burgeoning retro hardware scene. Every first Saturday at Slate (2925 16th St.) Haçeteria organizers pump the club full of fog juice, kick out the break-laden house jams, and open the stage to local gear-hoarding luminaries like Bobby Browser and Roche.

On a closely related tip is relative newcomer the Chase, sporadically held at Public Works' OddJob Loft (161 Erie). Organized by the team of DJ Ash Williams and visual specialist Caitlin Denny, it offers a night of multimedia spectacle that's so far featured the disco-sampling wizardry of Magic Touch and the jammy looseness of The Pharoahs.

The hardware takeover isn't just happening in slick clubs, though. If dives are more your thing, check out Push the Feeling, held every second Friday at Underground SF (424 Haight). Promoter and resident DJ Kevin Meenan has taken advantage of the space's rickety, makeshift stage to bring out big guests like the DFA-signed electro-pop group YACHT and smaller, artier acts like Amanda Brown's new-wavey LA Vampires.

Heavier sounds can be found at No Way Back, which has moved its base of operations to the dimly lit basement at Monarch (101 Sixth St.). There, organizers throw occasional parties featuring killer DJs and performances by the likes of Detroit electro originals Dopplereffekt and Chicago-based industrial provocateurs Mutant Beat Dance. Darker still are the depths plumbed by OK Hole, which turns Mission watering hole Amnesia (853 Valencia) into a baroque-appointed avant-garde techno club every third Saturday. The variety of the beer on offer is only matched by the eclectic artists performing — lineups so far have included bleak Dutch electro act Rude 66 and the gothy tunes of local duo Max & Mara.

The live phenomenon isn't just relegated to the keepers of the old-school — a newer set of laptop-oriented producers has also found a waiting audience. Armed with Ableton Live software, an MPC, and sometimes a MIDI controller, these artists are stretching imaginations with mind-bending soundscapes that look far into the future of dance. Ground zero for this is Low End Theory every first Friday at Mighty (119 Utah). A satellite of the Los Angeles-based party, it offers a chance to get lost in the bass-heavy rumblings and hip-hop-derived rhythms of artists like Flying Lotus, Ras G, and Nosaj Thing. On a similar tip are the free parties held at 1015 Folsom (1015 Folsom) by its in-house promotions team, which fills the club's four dancefloors with a wildly divergent set of sounds that includes regular live performances by big name acts in styles as diverse as techno and trap.

Then there are those seemingly open-minded parties that mix both laptops and hardware. Old favorite As You Like It continues to bring some of the most in-demand artists in European house and techno to its occasional events at BeatBox (314 11th St.), like Israeli house duo Juju and Jordash's experimental live set earlier this year. Icee Hot also continues to delight with its own scattered but futuristic parties at Public Works, where Chicagoan Hieroglyphic Being made a rare appearance with a hybrid DJ/live set that sequenced esoteric drum machines with alien landscapes. And finally, the glitzy and long-running Lights Down Low has found new life jumping from venue to venue, occasionally pausing to leave space for rising L.A. indie house producer Octa Octa and Washington D.C. based pop-house phenomenon Benoit & Sergio.

As we've noted before, San Francisco is undergoing a nightlife renaissance. The arrival of live performance, whether it's on laptop or otherwise, adds some variety to cut through the sheer number of seriously talented DJs that perform in the city every weekend. Things are always changing, but for the moment the future of clubland seems to lie in the province of the live performer.

About The Author

Derek Opperman


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