Some of the best clubs are the ones you barely have any memories from. In hindsight, the nights you spend there become one long smear of joy, with one or two hopefully not too embarrassing moments rising to the surface before sinking back into the happy murk. (Someone recently mentioned the late Club Deco to me, and wow, my mind whirred and popped like a blurry film strip.)
It’s not that you forget, exactly, it’s that these spots become so much a part of your nightlife flights that if you reach for the details too closely it all crashes back to earth.
And then there are other terrific establishments like Public Works that are glitterboxes of fond recollections— the 28-hour rave, the 30-hour rave, the time you saw Too $hort tear it up with a full band, parties like Donuts, Icee Hot, Honey Soundsystem, Polyglamorous, Non Stop Bhangra, As You Like It, so much more—although to be honest I barely remember much of those wild times either, which is great! I know I’ll find my people there, as well as some of the DJs I love and others I am dying to check out live.
Now, Public Works is celebrating 12 years of “giving the people what they want” with a four-night extravaganza, featuring big names Detroit wizard Jeff Mills, Brazilian trailblazer Amon Tobin (as DJ Two Fingers), the excellent John Talabot and Axel Boman as Talaboman, and beloved German weirdo Acid Pauli, plus New York house hero Dee Diggs, as well as a cavalcade of local talent like Mophono, Fawks, J.Phlip, Rachel Torro B2B Benjamin K, and the Mystopia and Soundpieces crews.
It’s going to be a weekend to remember (or absorb into your fabulous ongoing party psyche). I asked owner Jeff Whitmore what it’s been like to survive 12 years in the kooky party business. “It feels great that we’ve been able to change and pivot with both the times and the shifting music scenes, to provide folks with a variety of things they want and need,” he said.
“For some its a place to listen and dance to music that invigorates them, for others it’s a place to find and feel a sense of community, and for still others its an escape, a three or four-hour getaway from the stresses of their lives and the City. l’ve got one friend who gets most of his exercise on the dance floor to the tune of 40K+ steps a night.”
The COVID years, of course, have been especially challenging. “The past 2 years have been interesting and exhausting. Suddenly nightclubs were far less about the music and putting on a party, and much more about seeking loans and putting together grant applications. Things quickly went from flashing lights and pounding beats to PPPs and SVOGs. At this point the Public Works team and I are super grateful for all of the fans, new and old, that have helped us thru this period so we can once again do our best to ‘give the people what they want.'”
OK, so about those memories… as someone who sees things from the other side of the dance floor, are there any favorites Jeff can share? “There has been a lot of amazing music over the years, but the most memorable times have been directly related to the crowds’ involvement in the events or parties,” he said.
“One of my most favorite/terrifying memories is from our official Folsom Street Fair after-party. It was a very-close-to-sold-out street closure soiree. Shortly after opening doors, as people made their way in and hundreds lined up down the block, a “performance art” piece kicked off in the main room. A procession carried a large waterbed with a performer on top to the stage. It was not an easy task.
“When they got on the stage, the bed broke and water cascaded onto the dance floor. As I watched what seemed like an endless flow of water completely cover the dance floor, one thought quickly arose “We’re fucked!” There was no way we’re going to be able to safely clear everyone out and clean this up in time for the event to continue. I started gathering security to help Usher folks out to an already crowded street when Honey Soundsystem’s Jacob grabbed me and asked, ‘Where’s toilet paper?'”
“I led him to a pallet of paper. He and I think it was a couple folks from the Hard French crew started handing out toilet paper rolls to every one on the dancefloor and throwing them in the air. The whole crowd joined in and within a short period of time the people, the lights… everything was covered with toilet paper, including the floor, where the vast majority of the water had been absorbed.
“Security staff brought out the big round garbage cans which everyone proceeded to fill. Calamity avoided due to some quick, creative thinking and a wonderful crowd.”
But most of Jeff’s memories are of a less panicky sort. “The first time we had Big Freedia, it was like she and the sold-out crowd collaborated on the party: The whole venue was on fire. At one point I looked over the room, from the stage to the dancefloor, from the balcony to the bar, and every single person (including security and bartenders) was grooving and dancing together. Its the only time I’ve ever seen everyone, all together busting their moves.
“There was also Too $hort’s Orchestra collaboration with Ankh where we brought in a couple of LGBTQ+ promoters (if memory serves Stay Gold and possibly Swagger Like Us) to mix with Too $hort’s usual crowd, and it it worked in the best possible way. I just love it when we can bring different crowds together.”
PUBLIC WORKS 12-YEAR ANNIVERSARY Thu/15-Sun/18, Public Works, SF. More info here.