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Sunday, June 16, 2024

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Arts + CultureNightlifeDissecting SF's big surprise rave

Dissecting SF’s big surprise rave

Fred Again.. and Skrillex brought 25,000 smiling revelers to Civic Center Plaza on little notice. Was it good for the city?

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The most devoted fans caught the early hints that Fred Again.. and Skrillex were going to throw a rave in San Francisco’s Civic Center Plaza last Saturday before it was announced, and they were ready to pounce when they went on sale. 25,000 tickets for the June 1 event sold out just a half hour after they went on sale on May 27.

Actually, the most devoted fans climbed trees in order to catch a glimpse of the action when the DJs took the stage at 6:30 pm—which Fred thought was just wonderful. Skrillex also gave them respect as he asked them to please come down a few minutes later. The longtime friends and collaborators performed a three and a half hour set that included remixes of Taylor Swift, Kendrick Lamar, and Benny Benassi, Skrillex’s jam with Missy Elliott, and his Dog Blood collaboration with Germany’s Boys Noize. They brought out surprise guest Anderson .Paak to debut his brand new duet with Fred. It wasn’t exactly underground in terms of material, but a rave it was nonetheless.

“Sonny and I do not take for granted playing in this absolute madness of a place,” Fred said in between beats.

“This looks like we’re in Dune or something!” Skrillex exclaimed, shortly after mentioning that he grew up in San Francisco, attended West Portal Elementary School, and still considers the city his second home. 

“I don’t think we are in San Francisco anymore,” he said. “I think we transported somewhere else!”

Drone view of the rave.

Fred Again.. and Skrillex specialize in surprising their fans with huge “last-minute” events—they pulled a similar move with an instantly sold-out show at Madison Square Garden in New York City in February 2023. There are Fredheads who travel to different shows, but they don’t identify as such. On Saturday, several t-shirts from Fred’s shows at The Shrine in Los Angeles and Forest Hills Stadium in Queens, New York were spotted, as, incidentally, were several brightly colored folding fans from EDC, Vegas’ annual EDM bacchanal. 

Saturday’s organizer, Another Planet Entertainment, shared that 40% of ticket buyers traveled 50 miles or more to get to San Francisco. I thought I could spot at least some of the out of towners in the crowd. However, assuming that someone came from somewhere warmer just because they came to the party in a thong isn’t exactly a foolproof method around these parts, especially since the party was on the first day of Pride Month. People took influencer thirst traps in front of City Hall like it was the Coachella Ferris wheel, and it was adorable.

Despite the 25,000 tickets sold, it was possible to find as much personal space to dance or chill as desired. Some extralegal imbibement was evident, but I personally saw just one person who didn’t look conscious receiving medical assistance. There was also a clearly marked tent for medical concerns. People were respectful in crowded areas and that’s a source of comfort to claustrophobic partygoers, speaking from experience. (I did leave 20 minutes before the 10pm curfew in order to get a seat on the bus and avoid sardining all the way home; my genius plan was foiled because a Giants game had just let out.)

Springing sudden downtown road closures on area businesses and the public at large just days before it happened may have caused some serious inconveniences, especially on a weekend when BART had interrupted service between Daly City and San Francisco for some time, and service cuts have rendered evening Muni transit a rare luxury.

The event, which ended promptly at 10pm, employed 1000 workers and brought tens of thousands of people to a usually still eerily quiet downtown, where some of them spent money on hotel rooms, food, and beverages while they were in the area. (Fred and Skrillex had drinks nearby at The Felix afterwards, according to Eater SF.)

However, KPIX’s Kevin Ko reported that business was “hit and miss” for merchants in the area. Umit Senar owns Gyro King, which is a block away from Civic Center on Grove Street. He told Ko he was looking forward to getting customers from the concert, but couldn’t because his block was cordoned off. He was ready for thousands, but estimates that he got just 30 to 40 customers.

Noise traveled far outside the event. There’s anecdotal evidence that it was heard in Potrero Hill, SoMa and the Castro, yet a friend who lives around the corner on Market Street said they couldn’t actually detect the music.

Doors opened at 5 pm and, even though it seemed like I was pretty far back in line, I was inside and pondering the idea of ordering a Metallica burger from the nearby Rock Club food truck within four minutes. It was a pleasure to be introduced sonically to San Francisco DJs Vertigo and Clearcast, who wasted no time in dropping bass-heavy tracks and building a dance floor vibe. I took this time to see what it was like to party in the front, because I knew it would not be something easily accessed later on, and was greeted with more smiles than I’ve seen in a long time. And skipping—there were a lot of adults skipping. One dude was blowing bubbles, and they looked beautiful.

A golden hour in Civic Center. Photo by Tamara Palmer
Enjoying a Metallica Burger from the Rock Club food truck. Photo by Tamara Palmer

Tickets cost $79.50 plus hefty fees. There have been several published gripes about that price, but none have noted that it cost significantly less than the three shows that Fred is performing this week (Tue/4-Thu/6) at Stanford’s Frost Amphitheater. That trio of shows, produced by Stanford Live and Goldenvoice, costs $122 plus fees for general admission. Another Planet will also produce a series of free downtown music events this year, which was promised in October when SF supervisors approved a proposal to host a concert in Golden Gate Park the weekend after the company’s marquee event, Outside Lands, is held on August 9-11.

Civic Center Plaza is an incredible space to have a concert and bring people together, as attendees of past Pride Parades and all flavors of music festivals and concerts can attest. There’s video evidence of the Ramones captivating a crowd with a cover of “California Sun” in front of City Hall in 1979, part of the Summer in the City festival hosted by BAM Magazine, which launched in 1976 and covered and supported local music for 23 years. 

Setlist.FM notes that Dicks (whose singer and Sister Double Happiness founder Gary Floyd recently passed away) performed in December 1984 and Liza Minnelli held court there over two days in August 1995, though sadly no one has shared an actual set list for the latter to the site. LovEvolution—previously San Francisco LoveFest, the local answer to Berlin’s once-massive and techno-centric Love Parade which culminated in the plaza—gave tens of thousands ravers a reason to travel here in the early Aughts. Pride still packs half a million people in, somewhere. And Bruno Mars and Metallica themselves headlined Dreamforce benefits for UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospitals in 2014 and 2018. 

Knowing what Civic Center Plaza is like on most days, it was natural to feel emotional about the event and to long for some of its amenities, like the giant tanks dispensing free water, to be a permanent part of the area. This was a wonderful day for the cultural heart of San Francisco. I left swelling with gratitude to the artists and organizers as well as a sense of excitement for everyone who gets to say that this was their first party here. 

Tamara Palmer is the founder of Music Book Club.

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