Disco-jazz-funk legend Cerrone is coming to Public Works Fri/26 for a show that is sure to be out of this world. And we’ve got three pairs of tickets to give away to lucky dancers.
To win tickets, please send an email to email@example.com with the subject line “Cerrone” and your full name in the body. Winners will be chosen at random on Tuesday night and notified by email, good luck!
Need a refresher on one of the seminal figures of the international dance scene? We couldn’t;t put it any better than legendary writer Michaelangelo Matos in the New Yorker:
Few figures sum up the lavish sonic excesses of seventies Euro disco like Marc Cerrone. The Parisian drummer and producer’s classic albums, “Love in C Minor” and “Supernature,” displayed his facility for airy grooves and carnal themes—the side-long title track of the LP “Love in C Minor,” for example, is about Cerrone being seduced by a trio of women. He’s since eased up on such overt libertinism, but a pair of recent EPs, “Afro” and “Afro II,” retain his lithe bounciness of old.
Fado, the mournful and soul-stirring music of Portugal, is coming to San Francisco this week. Whether you’re a fado fan or new to the genre, it’s time to hear Mariza, one of the world’s great fado singers. (She’s here April 12-14 at SFJAZZ.)
Rooted in the early 19th century, fado draws on some of the same inspiration as American jazz and blues.
“Fado was born almost the same way as blues because of the slaves and what they were singing,” Mariza explained to me during an interview in Barcelona, Spain and in a subsequent email. “They were singing about feelings of life. Fado explores those same feelings.”
Like the early days of jazz in the US, fado was a popular urban music style distained by the countries’ elites. The Portuguese upper crust considered fado to be the music of pimps and prostitutes.
“Fado was born by the sea, produced by the sailors and African slaves,” said Mariza. “It’s a music from the working classes.”
Fado, which translates as destiny or fate, combines European melody, African rhythm and Arabic cadences into a unique musical form. It’s a stripped-down musical style usually featuring a singer, one musician playing the round-shaped Portuguese guitar and another playing classic guitar. The singer carries the plaintive melody while the guitars provide rhythm and some melodic interludes.
Mariza explained that in the early days, fado lyrics served as a “newspaper with singing. People didn’t know how to read. So they used music to spread the news.”
Of course conditions are different today. She reads a lot of poetry to gain inspiration for new songs. “I work with composers and writers who compose for me. Then I choose what I think is the message.”
Mariza, whose given name is Marisa dos Reis Nunes, was born in 1973 in what was then the Portuguese colony of Mozambique. She moved to Portugal with her family at the age of three.
Mariza, who is white, periodically visits Mozambique. “I always go there when I can to get in touch with my family, to be in touch with my roots. With age I feel more this African side calling, it [is] part of who I am.”
Mariza started singing fado in Lisbon when she was five years old. “My parents had a little tavern. In the neighborhood where I lived fado was a kind of living school of music.”
Then as a teen she started listening the popular rock bands of the time such as U2, Supertramp and the Rolling Stones. She wanted to sing rock. “I was trying, but my English wasn’t very good. I didn’t understand it. Fado was always my first love.”
In Argentina, tango lost popularity among the youth for many years until undergoing a revival in the 1980s. To this day some young Brazilians consider bossa nova old geezer music. So it’s not surprising that fado his seen popular peaks and valleys in Portugal.
Fado luminaries such as Amalia Rodrigues (1920-99) brought legitimacy to fado and modernized the art form. But the next generation listened to more rock and roll than traditional Portuguese music.
Now the young generation shows their emotional support for fado, said Mariza, part of their appreciation of Portuguese culture. “They are trying to protect this music, trying to pass the message.”
“You don’t’ have schools to learn this music,” she continued. “You learn on the streets. It’s passed down from older generations.”
Mariza noted that fado is part of the Portuguese culture, an urban music that expresses emotion and true feelings. “Even if you don’t speak a word of Portuguese it is difficult not to be touched by the intensity of fado.”
For non-Portuguese speakers, fado can sound uniformly mournful. While there are happy, up-tempo fados, the genre does indeed feature a lot of lament and longing. In fact, the Portuguese concept of saudade (longing) plays a central role in the music.
For example, Mariza sings “Ja Me Deixou” (He Already Left Me). The song’s protagonist suffers a lot because of a love who left. He says the “saudade walks with me.” But suddenly the lover returns and the longing goes away. “It has a happy ending.”
Fado has become one of the most popular musical styles in Portugal, and has spread throughout Europe and the Americas. But for Mariza, who regularly plays large jazz clubs and concert halls, fado always takes her back to her parent’s small bar.
“If you go to Lisbon, to a taverna, you see people commemorating life with a bottle of red wine. Sometimes you listen to a very sad fado. But they are enjoying life. They are cleaning the soul. Then everyone is smiling and happy.”
ALL EARS The monster that is Outside Lands (August 9-11, Golden Gate Park) coasts less on San Francisco’s rock ’n’ roll reputation these days than when the music festival was new—which means on the one hand the music is more youth-oriented, and on the other we get a lot of the same artists who’ve been making the festival rounds for a few years.
Last year’s fest was dull aside from Janelle Monàe’susualextravaganza and an astonishing but poorly-attended Janet Jackson set. This year’s lineup, its 12th, was just announced: It finds a happy medium, with some predictable perennials—Childish Gambino, Hozier, The Lumineers, Twenty One Pilots—and a nice cast of oddities.
Only two real ’60s icons show up. Expect a hell of a sing-along from Paul Simon, retired and now freshly un-retired. And Mavis Staples, who’ll perform not long after her 80th birthday, is still a fearsome presence and has made some of the best music of her career in the last decade (check out 2010’s You Are Not Alone).
Nineties nostalgia is in vogue, hence sets by Counting Crows, Edie Brickell & New Bohemians, and, of all the bands in the world, Blink-182. The Killers, so dull at 2014’s fest, were a distressing early rumor. Blink might be a cheap nostalgia ploy, but at least they’re a fun one.
Outside Lands has fixed its former rap problem and gives us but a few prime picks, most notably Lil Wayne. He’s unpredictable live, and G-funk polymath Anderson.Paak is likely to put on the better show, even if I prefer the bemused wit of Weezy’s best tapes.
Denzel Curry put on a fantastic set at L.A.’s defunct FYF fest with Badbadnotgood in 2017; I’m excited to see how he does on his own. I’m hesitant to promote Harlem shouter Sheck Wes after allegations of domestic violence against him emerged this year, but at least bros will show up to his set for “Mo Bamba” before bouncing to Flume or Kygo.
DJ Koze might be the decade’s best dance-music album artist, a psychedelic sentimentalist who makes vocal samples cry the same way yesteryear’s guitar heroes did with their strings. He and hip-house wunderkind Yaeji represent the cream of underground dance music’s crop.
Flying Lotus will bring his immersive 3D experience to the fray. When I saw him at FYF, he sent a 3D starship rocketing over the audience, then chuckled like a demon as the crowd recoiled in shock.
The artists I’m most excited about are Kacey Musgraves and Tierra Whack. Musgraves is a cosmic cowgirl who broadcasts the vistas of her mind outward from a down-home vantage point. Whack is a killer wit who writes better than anyone since Joni Mitchell about how the multitudes of her mind go unnoticed because she’s a woman—a mistake no one who hears her poignant, eccentric art-rap should make.
The fest is far too Solange-free, and I’d trade at least five of the headliners for a Seun Kuti & Egypt ’80 set. But even as Outside Lands falls victim to the homogenization of the American festival, at least it’s focusing on now rather than then.
ALL EARS As the decade began, all eyes were on San Francisco’s rock scene. Sic Alps, Thee Oh Sees, White Fence, and the Fresh & Onlys found adoring fans and astute imitators. Pitchfork wrote a love letter to “San Francisco’s new garage rock” and gave big red Best New Music stamps to Mikal Cronin’s MCII and Ty Segall’s Slaughterhouse.
Sonny Smith is one of a few holdouts from the old, weird SF. He’s lived for 12 years in the Sunset: appropriate, as his band is Sonny & the Sunsets. And though it may seem like tech killed the city’s last DIY cells, Smith says San Francisco is very much alive.
His new label Rocks In Your Head will debut April 1. The label’s name comes from a record store Smith visited in New York once. He remembers it as a certain type of store “where you go in and there’s record covers all over the walls and you gotta dig around,” as opposed to the boutique record shops prevalent in San Francisco, which Smith compares to “galleries.”
An Indiegogo campaign spilled well over its $15,000 goal. Smith will inaugurate the label with a new Sunsets album, Hairdressers from Heaven, with production from the Shins’ James Mercer and instrumental contributions from fellow SF holdout Kelley Stoltz. Then he’ll release a compilation of mostly little-known San Francisco bands, Hot Sick Vile & Fun: Rocks In Your Head Records Volume 1, on July 25.
Among the bands on the compilation Smith is most excited about are the Gonks, fronted by a teenage singer, and Galore, whom he compares to the Velvet Underground.
He’s also pumped about the Balboa Theatre across the park, whose young staff has been booking hip acts like Harmony Tividad, Thou, and Tony Molina between movies.
“The narrative became so much about SF being dead and being over and being, like, not interesting anymore,” he says in the same sleepy, slightly old-mannish voice in which he sings. “I thought that was a little heavy-handed and disrespectful.”
Maybe it’s easier for a musician than a music journalist to think small. The music news is so much about what’s new and what’s rising rather than what’s simply there.
“I don’t know if my ultimate intention is to put [San Francisco] on the map,” Smith says. “But it has been my desire to just embrace what’s around me rather than put out some band from Australia or something like that. It’s been really gratifying to embrace what’s actually happening in the community. Whether or not it’ll garner national attention I have no idea—that’s not my main mission.”
Despite featuring an instrumental called “The Bad Vibes From LA Are Killing Me” on his great 2011 album Hit After Hit, Smith doesn’t really think about that city too much. “I’ve never had any interest in Los Angeles,” he says. “I don’t know how Los Angeles became a thing in the last few years.”
Smith speculates a lot of musicians who moved weren’t priced out but simply wanted to be with their buddies. But he seems to be making plenty of new friends. “I’ve met more musicians in the Sunset than anywhere else in the city,” he confides. “I don’t blame anybody who was living in the Mission and finally had enough of it and left, but the Sunset has been somewhat unscathed by tech.”
The eerie quiet, yawning skies, and salty sea air of the Sunset seem like they belong in a different world than the dystopia of downtown, where security robots roll past people who had homes five years ago.
“I honestly don’t have some totally great objective like a lot of people do,” he says. “I’m just in my own little world over here.”
ALL EARS This is the first time I’ll be making this presentation, but I’ve been preparing for it all through my career,” composer and musician Mark Montgomery French told me over the phone. He’s giving an immersive, multimedia talk at the Museum of the African Diaspora Wed/20 called “All Your Favorite Music is (Probably) Black” which investigates how and why so many Black music pioneers have been erased from the standard American music narrative.
“I’ve led two parallel lives. I’m a musician who’s played in bands and composes film scores, which I’m currently doing with my partner under the name Spiky Blimp. I’ve also been a creative director in the Bay Area site the late 1990s, back when the Internet was called the Information Super Highway, so I’ve made presentations for clients around the world. This combines both of my loves into one thing.”
Beyond his bona fides, however, Montgomery French is telling a vital story: Even today, people are amazed that black people invented rock and roll, let alone techno. I had a lively conversation with him that touched on topics like music stereotyping, the Grammys, and Spotify’s almighty (and biased) algorithm.
48 HILLS Can you give us a little taste of what to expect from “All Your Favorite Music is (Probably) Black”?
MARK MONTGOMERY FRENCH There’ll be lots of music, and moving graphics. It’s sort of like a minor Ted Talk in terms of style, but I find that talking about music is rather dull unless you’re actually playing some. [Laughs.] In terms of content, I start with rock, but then rock subdivides. In 10 years, you get into other subcultures. I also get into country too, which is pre-rock in a sense.
This is what I want to audience to think about: Imagine you’re in school and you see two different groups of people who aren’t talking to each other. There might be the stoners on one side of the cafeteria listening to metal, and the art school kids on the other side listening to Kate Bush. And they don’t like each other, so they ignore each others’ music. At least not until later, when they all get Spotify. [Laughs.]
But there’s a whole image that goes with the music that defines these groups, from the way they dress to the way they act. And much of the time, that image has been packaged for you by someone at a record label, and their rationale is to maximize profit as much as possible. The way for them to do that is to basically take everything out of it that could be “questionable.” And that’s how you get something like Pat Boone singing rock on TV in the ’50s, because he’s much more “presentable,” relatable with a certain audience that’s permitted to buy his records and image. This principle extends to race, and to all genres. The music gets sanitized by the marketing. And if you control this narrative, you control the history.
MMF Yes, and it was one of those things where you had to ask, “Why has no one done this? I guess it’ll be me.” It was such a great excuse to watch a great number of music documentaries. An you also realize how many there aren’t. You would think, after 68 years in the game, there would be a comprehensive Isley Brothers documentary. There is none, I’ve looked!
48H What germinated the idea behind “All Your Favorite Music Is (Probably) Black”?
MMF Part of it goes back to being in a band in the ’90s. I would walk in with an acoustic guitar and the booker at the club would go, “Oh, blues!” and we’d say, “Uh, no.” And then my drummer would walk in with dreads and they’d say, “Oh reggae!” And we’d say, “No…” And this would happen every club, every booker. The band’s name was Endangered Species and we played what was called progressive funk, but it was definitely rock and roll. That was never the assumption, however.
Everyone knows Jimi Hendrix, but Hendrix was an anomaly. And there have been others, like Living Color, Lenny Kravitz, who were big. But for the most part, if you’re a Black guy with a guitar, you’re anything but rock. You’re probably a ska guy—well, maybe! And I knew enough about history to think, “Well there were Black people doing these things. In my parents’ lifetime! The first 10 acts who got into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame were Chuck Berry, James Brown, Ray Charles, Every Brothers, Buddy Holly, Little Richard, Sam Cooke, Fats Domino, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Elvis Presley. That’s 60 percent Black people. This year? There’s one: Janet Jackson. That’s not because Black people stopped making music. There’s an erasure.
Even from behind the scenes, it’s the same thing. Tom Wilson was a producer: He produced the first Frank Zappa record, he produced the first Simon & Garfunkel record, He took “The Sounds of Silence” and expanded it from being just voice and guitar to the song that we know. He produced “Like a Rolling Stone” for Bob Dylan. His career is completely erased, almost no one know who he was, one of the major Black guys working in rock and roll at that time. And then there’s the offshoots. On of the biggest names in rock is Led Zeppelin, and Zeppelin basically started by raiding Chess Records. It’s things like this that inspired me to put this together.
It seems like step by step the deck chairs are moving to the right, and suddenly there’s no Black people in country, there’s none in pop… there’s none in techno, started by three Black dudes in Detroit, and now the face of techno is a European white guy with a giant mouse head mask.
48HRight now I’m watching people on my Twitter feed discover that Ariana Grande is a white girl. And then we just had the Grammys …
MMF I wish that the Grammys had as much gravitas as the Oscars. One can look at an Oscar awarenesses, especially in the technical categories, and for the most part say, “That person rocked. That really was the best of the year.” I’ve always found the the Grammys, because they don’t go out of their way to get more of the unpolished but brilliant musicians into the voting categories, you’re going to get a more super-shiny group of nominees, much less winners. So if you do get someone who wins who deserves it, it’s a miracle. Stevie wonder won Best Album three times in the ’70s, and everybody agreed, “Yep!” Those were the best albums.
Was Cardi B’s the best rap album of the year? Not for me, but I wouldn’t take it away from her, especially since she’s the first woman to win it since Lauryn Hill won 20 years ago! Was “This is America” the best song of the year? I don’t know, but I’m impressed that something that uncompromising managed to get the voters to agree. It’s very hard to write a song that’s actually of the moment and good. Usually you have to pick one or the other.
48H You mentioned Spotify earlier. How do you feel about the new environment of streaming music, where almost everything is available, and does it help or hinder the rediscovery of the Black roots of a lot of music?
I’m of two mind. If I could only tell my impoverished high school self, “One day, for $10 a month, you can listen to just about anything until you pass out…” That to me is fantastic. One summer recently, I committed to listen to every Miles Davis album in order—because I could! There’s no way I ever could have afforded that. After a while I sort of bailed, I mean he did like 50 albums. [Laughs.]
But there is still an inherent bias in the algorithms that present things to you. For example, Prince is a rock star. We all know this. It’s in the way he dresses, and he plays crazy shredding guitar. But if you go onto his Spotify and you hit “Fans Also Like,” everybody in that category is an R&B person. It’s Rick James, it’s Gap Band… Who I love, but if you like Prince, it is possible you like Carlos Santana. It is possible you like Stevie Ray Vaughn. It is possible you like Eric Clapton. But none of those people show up. Prince himself loved Joni Mitchell, you can definitely hear the influence in him. But good luck seeing her name pop up. So you can see that even the most faceless technology is biased when it comes to music and who makes it.
“ALL YOUR FAVORITE MUSIC IS (PROBABLY) BLACK” Wed/20, 6:30pm, $10. MOAD, SF. More info here.
“Defender of androgyny and living life at the top of your lungs!”
Anyone who came into the chaotic, inspiring, often obnoxious but ultimately priceless orbit of perennial club kid Bubbles will recognize this as a perfect encapsulation of their mission here on Earth. It’s been over a year since Bubbles was gunned down near their Tenderloin home—despite the police issuing a warrant for a suspect, no justice has been served and a lot of questions remain unanswered.
Nevertheless, the puckish spirit of Bubbles lives on—now in new track “Bohemian Berlin Disco,” which they conceived before their death with SF dance music duo Thrillhammer, freshly released on legendary label Hardkiss Music, with some nifty remixes to boot. Other signature lyrics include “I got cum in my hair” and “Don’t leave San Francisco for some Bohemian Berlin Disco.” (At the time of their death, Bubbles had been looking for funds to return to Berlin, where they had spent a recent, tumultuous summer). The track will officially be released this Friday, Feb. 8, but you can have a listen below.
“I heard a demo of Bohemian Berlin Disco from [Thrillhammer member] Duserock and thought that it had an energy and bravado that reflected Bubbles’ aesthetic,” Hardkiss label head Gavin Hardkiss told me. “Plus the lyrics spoke to the current state of San Francisco—”DON’T LEAVE SAN FRANCISCO.” I started working on a remix and then thought that the single should be released on Hardkiss Music. Why not keep it in the family?
“Bubbles was a fanboy to all of us DJs,” Hardkiss said. “He’d show up to every gig and kick the dance floor into gear. As as artist, he used Facebook like Andy Warhol would have, trailing us all along on his messy adventures and absurd debacles. I see Facebook as a broadcast channel that few people took advantage of (other than the Russians). He seized the opportunity to broadcast his life in all its gory detail and twisted reality.
“Now we have this song, which will be played in bars in the Castro, Tenderloin, and Marina long after we all leave San Francisco.”
I talked to Thrillhammer members Coltorious and Duserock about how the track evolved from a late-night Whip-Its-fueled jam session into an endearing tribute. (I also got a sneak peak of the forthcoming supercuts video, when Thrillhammer filmed last Thursday at the Stud—stay tuned to my Party Radar column for its release.)
48 HILL I’m listening to “Bohemian Berlin Disco” and thinking, This is so quintessentially Bubbles. How did the track come together, and how did you know Bubbles?
COLTORIOUS I heard Bubbles coming before I saw them. Seven years ago, I was the night manager of a little hotel on the Tender-Nob border. My days were free so, I was wandering down Geary Street when I began to hear Nancy Sinatra echoing off the buildings. Then, I saw them; hot pink high heels with matching sunglasses and classic cat eye sunglasses, matching mani-pedi, Daisy Dukes, a sleeveless Rolling Stones half-shirt, and a blonde beehive wig to top off the ensemble.
I stopped them and said, “Wow, you are amazing! Who are you?!
“Hi, I’m Bubbles, cutie!”
“Of course you are, wow, we are going to be friends. This will not be the last time we see each other!” Three months later I was at Public Works running the photo booth at 3am. Guess, who walks in? Uh huh, Bubs! We were friends from that moment on. When a guitar my mother had given me was stolen, Bubbles gave me their electric guitar. It’s guitar I used to record the track and is my regular love show guitar.
Once Bubbles announced they were leaving for Berlin, I had been attempting to write the “swan song of Bubbles” for a year or so. I wanted something that captured their ultra unique attitude and style, but couldn’t settle on a topic or story line.
One night in August after a raucous session of karaoke in Japantown with Bubbles and company—side note, Bubbles brought their own PA system to the karaoke bar!—we ended up at my place doing Whip-Its and sometime around 4am I showed them where I was at with the song. We scrapped everything I had except for “smacked with a rubber d-cup,” because I love that imagery!
The goodbye San Francisco, hello Berlin theme was settled on pretty quickly, “I don’t care, I don’t care, I got cum in my hair” was an immediate keeper, and the rest flowed from there. The lyrics and basic arrangement are completed that night.
Two weeks later, they were gone… Not much had happened with the song since that karaoke, Whip-Its, songwriting night but, when I heard the news I knew the song must be completed.
This is where Ryan enters the story. A mutual friend of ours reintroduced us, because even though we had met each other, we were the kind of friends you make at an afterparty at 3am. It takes a few times and possibly even meeting sober during the day to really be friends who remember each other’s names.
We got together and I showed what I had worked out. Some guitars riffs, a vocal melody, and what Bubs and I had done to the English language. The puzzlemaster Ryan started piecing it all together and before you were know it, we had a song.
DUSEROCK As Coltorious mentioned, we had met several times over at the Red Vic on Haight. I was heavily involved with another project which was becoming problematic. As that situation was on its last legs, the woman I was working with brought Colton over and he pitched the Bubbles track idea to me. I immediately liked it and wanted to work on it with him.
I had known Bubbles for eight-nine years already and thought it would be great to shine a light on gun violence, Bubbles, the LGBTQ community and San Francisco. Colton laid down the lyrics and guitar riff and I started formulating the direction of the song. It came together pretty quickly, we enjoyed working together and a solid friendship began to form.
Shortly after we started working on more songs and decided to make a whole project out of it, spawning ThrillHammer. So, not only did Bubbles co write “Bohemian Berlin Disco”, technically he is responsible for spawning the group. I then spoke to Jenn Stokes, who manages the SF Pride main stage, and she thought it’d be great to have us perform live and do a tribute to Bubbles. We teamed up with Conn Cianci-McGraw and Trent Berry from Dreamrack studios as well as Andy “Ammo” Schneider to fully flush out the songs and live performance, as well as create the visuals for the backdrop. You can view the performance here:
48H The track really captures Bubbles’ glam-rave-apocalypse-Beat-poetry aesthetic. Did you feel Bubbles’ spirit hovering over you as you put the track together?
COLTORIOUS Definitely yes, Bubble’s is and has always been my goddess of debauchery, androgyny, and rock n’ roll.
DUSEROCK The spirit of Bubbles was definitely important to the creation of the song. Bubbles wasn’t just one thing. There was so much going on with them, that we felt the track needed to be a bit of a melting pot. Disco, punk and rock and roll with a hint of house. Once we had the initial demo done, I shared my enthusiasm for the track and the track itself with Gavin. He liked the concept, agreed to do a remix and than we enlisted other close friends/SF luminaries to round out the project with more remixes, thus becoming a family affair. We are very proud of what’s been created and hope to spread the legend of Bubbles and overall message far and wide. Having the release on Hardkiss Music 100% tightens the whole family vibe.
48H It’s been more than a year since Bubbles’ horrible murder and there’s still been no justice. How do you hope the track helps keep Bubbles’ singular legacy alive?
COLTORIOUS Anyone who needs to know that it’s OK to be a “Bubble’s”, or whatever form your mind, body, and soul conspire to create. The message is, Don’t be afraid to explore your depths because it’s not as dark down there as some may believe. It is a tunnel to a brighter part of yourself and only those who are brave enough to tread the path will discover the light on the other side. And if you get lost along the journey, this song is your beacon in the darkness to show the way. There is a Bubble’s waiting to be discovered by anyone willing to explore the depths of themselves.
DUSEROCK Again, our goal is to shine a light on San Francisco, Bubbles, the LGBTQ community, the current state of gun violence, and the injustice of hate crimes and murder. Where Bubbles was certainly notorious and a polarizing figure, there is absolutely no reason for murder. If we can get our message out to a larger platform, ideally we can open up the conversation more and lessen this type of situation. People absolutely have the right to become who they are and express themselves accordingly, providing it’s not directly harmful to another. If we can achieve this, possible we make some good out of this tragedy.
Music critic Daniel Bromfield lists some of his favorite songs of the year—which you may or may not find on Pitchfork or Rolling Stone.
The Internet, “Come Over”/”It Gets Better (With Time)”/”Hold On”
The Internet’s 20-year-old boy genius Steve Lacy was the talk of the town this year, but the funk crew’s most stunning talent remains founder Syd, who dares to be Aaliyah and Timbaland at once. This year’s Hive Mind album contains three of the most gorgeous funk ballads ever written, all built around the union of Lacy’s scratchy, precise chords and Syd’s impossibly tender voice (notice how the low note acts as the emotional crux of “It Gets Better”).
Prince, “International Lover”
By subtracting lyrics rather than adding, the Purple One reimagines 1999’s airplane-sex ballad as an affirmation of desire that echoes to the heavens. Rather than a playboy flashing diamonds and pearls, he’s an awkward kid asking his crush to prom. There’s not even a plane in this version.
1010 Benja SL, “Tragic X”
A young American takes the Drake-Weekend aesthetic of feeling alone in an endless city to the extreme, wailing like a claustrophobic madman as a hallucination of a radio announcer declares him “the avatar.” This is R&B in hell.
Lonnie Holley, “I Snuck Off The Slave Ship”
One of the most visceral depictions of human suffering ever committed to record, a trail of bodies leading us from the Middle Passage to the far future.
Tierra Whack, “Pet Cemetery”
It seems like a goof until you realize she’s not singing about a dog.
DJ Koze, “Moving In A Liquid”
No one can make a vocal sample cry like DJ Koze. Here, he introduces a snatch of looped chipmunk, then lets it fade away—then, as Eddie Fummler’s vocals come back, the loop bounds back into the frame with enthusiasm, like a dog greeting its master. It’s heartwarming.
Teyana Taylor, “A Rose In Harlem”
The Grace Jones-channeling singer gives us year’s best pop song as affirmation of self, with a surreal and hilarious line: “So many fake smiles/These chicks musta just came from the dentist.”
The Carters, “Summer”
No album this year boasts such a royal opener. “Summer” is all red carpets and royal fanfares, inviting you cordially to the Carters’ endless penthouse champagne party.
Ariana Grande, “thank u, next”/Ryuichi Sakamoto, “Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence”
With Sakamoto’s sappy piano under her voice instead of the spry snap of the original, the titular chorus of Grande’s tabloid-pop blockbuster sounds less like a subtle flex (i.e. “I never have to worry about a man”) and more of a bemused observation on the transience of life.
Ashley Monroe, “Paying Attention”
Here just for the lyric “I remember your birthday/now that you’re gone.” Ouch.
Wolfgang Voigt’s music as Gas is inexorably tied to the forest. The project was inspired by Voigt’s youthful acid trips in Germany’s Königsforst, and appropriately the sleeves for the project’s six albums (with the exception of its apocryphal self-titled debut) are adorned with psychedelically blurred trees and shrubs, all bathed in unnatural colors coordinated to the mood of the music and stamped with the name Gas in a formidable serif font. How this specifically sylvan music would translate to the spartan constraints of the live electronic show intrigued me. It seemed inappropriate to have a Gas show anywhere but the most remote and tangled stretches of the Black Forest, maybe with a trail of breadcrumbs leading to the stage.
Gas’s first-ever San Francisco show was part of the first night of the Recombinant Festival, an ongoing multimedia and experimental music event at Mission Street’s Gray Area. While most of the artists aren’t well-known outside deep avant-music nerd-dom, Gas was undoubtedly the popular headliner. His music enjoys the same critical acclaim and rare crossover appeal outside ambient music as Brian Eno or Tim Hecker, and 2016’s sumptuous Box set of his 90s albums was enough to bring him out of a decade-and-a-half hiatus to drop 2017’s Narkopop and this year’s Rausch. By popular demand he’d added a second early show after I’d bought my tickets for the late show at 9 pm.
Opener Marcus Schmickler, was not an artist I was previously familiar with—and not one I’ll easily forget. His performance was defined by bone-rattling bass, emanating up from the floor through our bodies, numbing us for minutes at a time at prodigious volume. Every now and again he’d let up for a couple minutes, his tones would settle somewhere in an eerie treble range, and our bodies had a moment to breathe. Then the waves would come crashing down again. Some of the noises he made resembled sirens or alarms, and I initially thought he might be trying to evoke some sort of dystopian prison, but it soon became clear that what the sound was “of” was moot. What mattered was the pure fact of the sound, and the generosity with which it was delivered.
Even the mighty Gas seemed a bit dainty coming after Schmickler. Voigt started in orthodox Rausch mode, and the visuals emerged from a sort of Matrix murk, not dissimilar to what you’d see projected at a run-of-the-mill noise show. But then dendrites began to form, and soon we were seeing abstracted sapling-fairies dancing in a weird, circular sort of pagan motion, bathed in the gold of his Königsforst sleeve. Instead of taking us deeper on a linear route, he’d show us bits of forest, then let the trees disappear into clumps of data, which sometimes resembled gnarled witch-faces—or maybe my imagination was just inflamed by grotesque Germanic thoughts of Hansel and Gretel and erlkings and babes lost in the woods. At one point he circled in monochrome around what appeared to be a dead tree, like the one in Lord of the Rings. Later he’d give us clear footage of a forest, then blur it until we were looking at endless dark passages between snaking gray pillars that could have as easily been stone. It was a snapshot of what makes the Gas project so good: the experience of being lost from the comfort of our chairs.
The music itself was a thick soup from various records that progressed the way his records do: placid plains of beatless drift, divided by long stretches of linear material defined by the thrum of a four-on-the-floor kick that sometimes sounds like a will-o-wisp bouncing just ahead and sometimes sounds like a malevolent emanation from the earth itself. For a while towards the end some letters appeared in the fractal fudge behind him, and he seemed to be teasing the end, when of course the name Gas would come onscreen. But then he meandered back down the scenic route for a few minutes, with more kick drum and an intriguing lavender color palette onscreen that might grace the cover of a future album. At the end the man stepped down from the podium and bowed, looking as hermetic as you’d hope: white hair, white beard, black clothes.
Gray Area, a nonprofit which occupies an old movie palace, was founded 10 years ago to promote the connections between art and technology, and it’s an ideal place for this kind of audiovisual experience. Speakers are positioned all over the room, and sounds travel swiftly from one to the other. The performances I’ve seen there have all been dominated by a towering screen, often filled with fractals and other psychedelic accoutrements. The space can host an 800-capacity dancefloor, but tonight 500 seats had been laid out for us, allowing us to focus on the music far more easily than were we standing—and to better feel its impact on a physical level. For Gas’s music to work well live, the audience has to forget they’re in a room with other people. And, yes, there were times when the walls of the pitch-black venue started to shrink away, as if the forests of Voigt’s imagination had left the screen and started to take root right there in the building.
Hundreds packed into relatively new and quite lovely venue August Hall (formerly Ruby Skye) on Friday, October 19 for DJs Black Madonna, Honey Dijon, and David Harness. The Black Madonna, a Chicago party stalwart who plays classic house and disco grooves as if they were deep techno (pyrotechnic on the fader, all about the driving beat) sparked the place rave-y after hometown opener David Harness fired up some soul. She’s also a tireless advocate for inclusion as the prime principle of dance music ethics, bless her flying Twitter fingers, so the atmosphere was more than vibing.
Closing it all out was the awesome Honey Dijon, one of the few huge touring DJs with actual roots in the frenetic ’90s big room house she pumps into crazed dancers’ veins. She was a regular at the End Up with David Harness back in the Fag Fridays days, and it’s been so lovely to see her get the recognition she deserves while staying outspoken about black, trans, and womens’ rights. Oh yeah, and the crowd that night was cute, too. Photographer David Schnur caught the excitement. — Marke B.
The night features live music from the Deadliners, a band of local writers you just may recognize:
Jonathan Alford, keyboards
Zoe Carter, rhythm guitar and lead vocal
Mark Hertsgaard, rhythm guitar and another lead vocal
Gary Kamiya, lead guitar
Dan Keller, bass
Greg McRae, drums
Mark Schapiro, harmonica
The Bay Guardian and others local organizations will also be on hand to distribute voters’ guides, and there will be lots of rallying energy to face the midterms! Oh, and a full bar!
Come out and support local media, so we can keep getting the word out about what matters.
THE DEADLINERS: A ROCKIN’ BENEFIT FOR 48 HILLS Thu/18, 7pm-10pm, $10 (but we’ll take more!) The Bindery in the Haight, SF. More info here!