Art is based on the inability to predict how it will be received. Sometimes as a DJ you get tired of breaking fools’ ankles. Kumail Hamid did. So after spending his early years delving into textural lo-fi electronic and ambient music, sharing the stage along the likes of Shigeto, Four Tet, DJ Koze, and Teebs—including a guest slot at the 2018 Dimensions Festival in Croatia—it was time for the musician, producer, and DJ from Mumbai, India, to hit reset.
Exchanging ambient for illbient, Yasmin his half-hour beat tape of sorts, with weary R&B feels, is a nine-song mood-board of lush voicing and explorations beyond just beat-making. It sees tempoʻs regulated to hook-driven slow jam speed. With music, at times, that sets you up for some type of silk-shirt, rub-you-down sitch. The lyrics, the ones you can decipher, question what’s real and imaginary. Fully dopamine paced on some glowed-up psych-groove type expanse, with many tasteful production salutes to DʻAngelo, Kumail gets the humidity correct.
This is a celestial radio show, captured on cassette, where the host has gone rogue, filling his air time with instrumental slow darts that get stuck in your ear. Instead of sleep appearing, itʻs the woozy bump supplying comfort. Comprising random 80ʻs r&b ideas matched up against modern neo-soul and experimental hip-hop, Kumail uses his real-life struggles with insomnia and trepidation to find the pace. Transforming those countless nights of being isolated in a room in Bombay, India, while recording this project, those yips get fed into the patchwork.
A chance record digging trek in Istanbul inspired much of the project. Discovering 1980ʻs Japanese funk, vivid gospel, bright disco, and twisted bass music from the LA underground set a unique path. New ideas bring contradictory feels and rules, so in honor of the project, Kumail dedicated two years studying music, sharpening his piano chops, lending his ear to new arrangements and employing different production techniques.
With the first track, “It Ain’t In My Head”, a packed two minutes of dribbling bass and looped vocals, sets us up. ‘Cause next track “Kkwy,” takes us directly to Questlove snare hits circa 2000, caramel chords, and horn lines. “For youuu” makes the quiet storm, connect the dots parade, oh-so-self-aware. Those wind currents blow imaginary music video white curtains, helping Kumail find the right place to spread his voice over the tastefully inserted vinyl crackles.
“Same Shit,” featuring Los Angeles singer and rapper Pink Siifu, marks a bounce moment, a major change in Kumail’s trajectory as a producer. But it’s “All U Know” where we get the closest to something that bumps along. It’s a head nod directive for sure, with silvery hummed lyrics, vibrating over the bass drum like Yoda over the Force, we get that needed energy push.
While researching Mae Jemison, the first Black female astronaut, PursuitGrooves, aka Vanese Smith, read about her bringing Bessie Colemanʻs photograph along for the journey into space. A sign of solidarity and respect. Coleman, the first Black American female pilot, who left for France to get her international pilot’s license in 1921, studied with master pilots in Europe and returned to the US as a spectacular performer and air trickster. Appearing at schools and theaters, presenting her skills on film footage. Brazenly infusing flying as a metaphor, she celebrated her achievement by encouraging others. In spite of extreme racial and gender bias, she fulfilled her dreams.
Smith, a Maryland-born Toronto-based, veteran electronic music producer, makes ambient, experimental, and funky arrangements that morph into sneaky great hangs or moody ambient tones. Going between genres and sounds she maximizes the opportunities to use and twist up all the good bits into unknown regions. “How someone else describes my music really depends on their palette and knowledge of various styles.”
“When I was a teenager just starting to make music, I was most influenced by hip hop and R&B. But of course New Jack era days, there were soulful jams just as much as uptempo dance tunes. I also enjoyed New Wave before that time. The 80s & 90s R&B on the radio in Washington DC, you’d hear Newcleus, next to Culture Club, Duran Duran, Colonel Abrams, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis productions, not just Janet Jackson, but Human League as well. So I think I really took hold of the synthesizer sound crossing different tempos and moods” said Smith.
Bess, PursuitGrooves’ predominantly instrumental tribute to Coleman the maverick, emotes a sense of physical and spiritual elevation over 15 tracks. With its interludes and song names inspired by Bessie Coleman’s brief yet audacious life, a sense of passage—via bass music structures, twisted soul, different sounding R&B and inspiring house music—speaks dual stories.
“I am often in spaces where I am the only or one of few black women in the room so I thought it was extremely important to highlight a true hero who had no role models to show her what was possible” commented Grooves. “I had never heard of Bessie so I dove in. I was amazed by her story, which was truly inspirational for the 1920s, she set her mind on it and made it happen. I love documentaries. And I believe there’s music for every mood and occasion. So when I learned of Bessie’s story I immediately saw the cover in my head. Anything I can do to inspire the next generation of creators and dreamers, I’m all for it.”
Bess is an about-face turn from Smith’s 2018 Felt Armour. That record, with cross-pollinating trip-hop aesthetics and mid-tempo arrangements fused with bass-heavy textures, put forth an industrial soul vibe. “Cloud Pusher,” from Bess, comes close to those machine-like clicking tracks. Synths, get wrapped up in the mechanical narrative, giving sight to the sky before us, and all the sacrifice it takes to get there. The beautiful struggle captured in song. In contrast, “The French Connect,” an upright house music structure, filled with stuttering snares, kick-drum boom, dub-wise bass lines, and air-raid type melody, allows us to see how weightless Bess felt, upon reaching Europe.
“There are different aspects of experimental electronic music. There is a part of it that is very academic. Very white man history driven. Lots of John Cage (just realized we share the same birthday!) and a bit of Delia Derbyshire. There aren’t many black women in that conversation. Pamela Z is an innovator, in terms of technology and performance. But wouldnʻt it be awesome to see more diversity in certain facets of that world, areas beyond urban and dance floor, for sure! Moor Mother seems to be in that space in the present.”
But Smith has trademark swag too. Industrial drums collide with recorded words, shaped and clipped into shouts, permeate Smithʻs compositions with machine-like movement. Cold snares and grimy kick drums, stay at the center of a PursuitGrooves track, wanting all the smoke. Sheʻs covered environmental and technological topics in the past and has a decade’s worth of full-lengths and EP’s that teeter back and forth, in and out of distinction.
“Vanese like many greats solidly follows her own voice. That, I have always admired her for” chimed in Aybee, the Oakland born, Berlin-based label head for the vanguard electronic label Deepblak. PursuitGrooves’91 Fellows project from 2012 was released on the imprint. “She is super creative in a multitude of directions, but with her music, it is always honest. Authentic… and in these times, authenticity is the most precious of human endeavors.”
While contemporary music remains a hotbed of iconoclasm, one rarely finds punk-like figures pumping out the standard classical repertoire. That situation is slowly being changed (and queered) by flamboyant performers like pipe organist Cameron Carpenter who for good or ill are at least adding a bit of flair to their church and concert hall appearances.
But if you’re looking for some OG daddy attitude at the harpsichord, you can just reach back a few decades to Scott Ross, who managed to be “downtown” while also engaging with Bach and other stalwarts of the classical tradition.
Ross blazed a trail during his short life—a gay man, he died of AIDS-related pneumonia in 1989 at the age of 38—striking a rough-and-tumble pose (he was born and raised in Pittsburgh) while living a relatively secluded life in the South of France. Famous for being the first to record all 555 harpsichord sonatas of Domenico Scarlatti, and sometimes voicing abrasive opinions about fellow artists like Glenn Gould, Ross seems a perfect character to be brought back to light in these days of queer historical recovery and discovery.
“I became fascinated by him when I saw an album cover, and here was this scruffy, bearded guy in a leather jacket, smoking a cigarette,” says musician Kevin Devine, who will be paying homage to Ross on Sun/17, at Saint Mary Magdalen Church in Berkeley, as part of the MusicSources series from the Center for Historically Informed Performances. “He was an attractive guy. In another photo, he looks like John Lennon, with long, flowing hair and round glasses. You just don’t see a lot of that in classical. He wasn’t your standard player. So I started listening to him, and getting to know his style. It was someone in this world I could relate to.”
Devine, a San Francisco native currently residing in New York, will recreate a 1986 recital Ross gave at an abbey in Montpellier, near his home in Assas, France. Devine says recreating the recital on the 30th anniversary of Ross’s death is in keeping with such recent homages to queer nightlife figures as Patrick Cowley and Sylvester.
“In the queer nightlife community, we’re so good at remembering people and how they died,” Devine, an accomplished early music and classical performer, told me over the phone. “It’s never been a secret that Scott was gay or died of AIDS. We know things about his personal life, that he liked cats and orchids. But in the classical music scene we’re not as good at remembrances like that. This is my way of aligning with that practice and honoring Scott.”
Despite Ross’ quiet life in France, Devine says “the Pittsburgh never left him”—he loved the punk scene and singers like Nina Hagen. He brought that swagger into the classical world, not only with cruise-y album covers but also in his performing style. “One of my mentors served with Scott on competition juries, and told me that he was anti-establishment to the nth degree. If it went against the grain, he would flaunt it. Sometimes he would show up late to a concert and just blithely stride through the audience to the harpsichord. He didn’t give any fucks.”
Sunday’s program consists of Rameau’s “Suite en mi” (from Pièces de clavecin, 1724); Scarlatti’s Sonatas K. 27, 215, 492; and J.S. Bach’s Partita no. 4 en ré majeur BWV 828. “There’s a really great suite of dances by Jean-Philippe Rameau—very rustic, melodic, evocative of village life and peasantry with foot-stomping passages, bagpipes, birds… Scott lived a very rustic life himself in the South of France, so I think he really connected with these. And with the Scarlatti, it’s party music. It really shows off what the harpsichord can do. Scott was a real showman with his fingers.”
“The Scarlatti sonatas are poignant because he’s known for recording all of them, this enormous number—but what’s less remarked on is that he did the bulk of his recording in the last couple years of his life,” Devine said. “He knew he was dying, so he quit his job and just decided to embark on this monumental task.”
How does recreating the recital specifically invoke Ross’s spirit? “There’s a live recording of this concert available. It’s really interesting to hear how this live concert was performed, and I feel he really hovers over the proceedings. I performed this recital last week in New York, it was terrible weather, but we had a crowd. We lit candles and displayed his picture near the front, it was really great experience. And with World AIDS Day coming up on December 1, it seemed timely.
“The formalized nature of classical music doesn’t really match how we live now,” Devine said. “The way it’s presented doesn’t help people connect, and I think it’s important for them to lean how to connect. This is my attempt at forming a different kind of connection.”
KEVIN DEVINE, HARPSICHORD A TRIBUTE TO SCOTT ROSS Sun/17, 5pm, $10-$30 Saint Mary Magdalen Church, Berkeley More info here.
Itʻs been three years since Son Little, the musical nom de plume of LA’s Aaron Earl Livingston, earned a Grammy Award for steering the production work on Mavis Staplesʻ lauded “See That My Grave Is Kept Clean,” but one could argue the real magic is just getting up to speed. On his most recent “invisible EP“, the five-song appetizer sees Livingston, a preacher’s son, unfurl his stylized penchant for gritty rock and r&b from a non-digital recording era.
This updated musical conversation between Bobby Womack and Keith Richards, where raspy vocals and bluesy warped strumming meet, is the sound Little will be procuring when he opens his North American tour at Swedish American Hall Mon/11. “Hey Rose/Your soul is a picture/But your body Is a frame’ is a half-stanza, where antiquated genres keep borrowing from one another. Eventually swirling into Son Little’s ‘hey rose’. The riffy guitar licks, dock just north of Cody Chestnutt “The Seed 2.0” territory. Even the first seconds of the song, a couple of bass notes away from the intro to Curtis Mayfield’s’ “(Don’t Worry) If There’s a Hell Below, We’re All Gonna Go”, rewind time and esthetics.
“about her. Again,” the following song on the EP, another knockabout bluesy trek, uses a vintage studio production stratagem to imply lyrical phrasing from the past. A quaint swirling of the drum tracks, used with sterling dreamlike perfection, a recording trick made famous by Jimi Hendrix circa Axis: Bold As Love, then popularized by Lenny Kravitz during his mid-’90s run, designates a certain analog sensibility. But it’s the nasally sung chorus “Itʻs something about her” that makes you trip. Didnʻt Mick Jagger sing the same, or similar, depending on your mileage, “What’s different about her I don’t really know” on the iconic hit “Heart of Stone”?
No matter the influence Littleʻs versatility and drive remain unslippery. After he first came to international prominence with his self-titled début released in 2015, he collaborated with The Roots and RJD2 and made a name for himself in Philadelphia. While creating aloha, his anticipated full-length release slated for January 2020, Little began writing and assembling album demos in Petaluma. However, after his hard drive fried and he lost nearly a dozen detailed demos, he was forced to begin with a blank slate, leading him to write aloha in only eight days at a tiny house and its adjacent barn. While Little plays nearly every instrument on the album himself, it was recorded in Paris at Studios Ferber by producer Renaud Letang, known for his influence on Feist and Manu Chao.
So what the verdict?
Through sight and sound ‘hey rose’ is pulling a shell game on us. Guitar riffage, coming and going, stay tranquil but threaten to get real loud in a hurry at any second. Little keeps his vocal raspiness near, with hum-sung segments that vary between church and a jukebox. While the video, animated by 60’s betty-boop dancers, filmed with soupy dreamlike veneer tricking us into believing, all of this, could have happened last week on a backlot? Or in a more “urban” version of “Twin Peaks” from the late ’80s. Either way, Son Little has you.
When I spoke with storied music producer Scott Mickelson last month, San Francisco was in the midst of a nationally covered anti-homeless kerfuffle. Housed residents of Clinton Park street had fundraised to install huge boulders on the sidewalk, to prevent unhoused people from sleeping or gathering.
Mickelson, an internationally touring musician who works out of his Marin studio when home, hadn’t yet heard about the rocks. But the sentiment behind them didn’t surprise him. “It just goes to show that San Francisco wants to project itself as liberal and open-minded,” Mickelson said. “But if something might potentially lower property values, all that goes out the window.”
Blanket the Homeless, launched by Ken Newman with other local musicians in 2016, works with volunteers to hand out kits containing emergency blankets, socks, first-aid supplies, and other essentials—more than 3500 have been handed out so far.
“What I love about Blanket the Homeless is that it’s a direct action organization,” Mickelson told me over the phone. “It doesn’t just trickle down to the street level. You know your contribution will immediately make a difference.”
Mickelson teaming up with Newman to help the homeless highlights a wonderful web of Bay Area talent stepping up. Blanket the Homeless was originally inspired by the #BeRobin fundraising campaign, launched by comedian Margaret Cho and others to combat homelessness, which in turn was directly inspired by Robin Williams’ philanthropy and activism.
In 2017, Mickelson produced After the Fire: Vol 1, a charity album which raised thousands of dollars for victims of the devastating North California fires—he partnered with Undocufund, which focuses on helping the estimated 38,500 undocumented immigrants in the Sonoma County. For that record, Mickelson had asked local musicians to contribute original, stripped-down or acoustic songs
Later, as Mickelson was working with Newman on an album, they hit upon the idea of approaching Bay Area musicians to record something to benefit Newman’s organization.
“For this record I wanted all original work again, but I wanted it to be bigger in terms of production. After the Fire‘s sound reflected the moment of devastation; for Blanket the Homeless I wanted to go all out to show we could help.” Artists were invited for a one-day session in Mickelson’s studio to engage with his state-of-the-art technology and production skills.
“At first I was banging my head against doors in terms of getting artists aboard,” Mickelson said. “But once Fantastic Negrito signed on, the floodgates opened.” The Grammy Award-winning local act enthusiastically submitted a track, and Blanket the Homeless quickly evolved into a 15-song enterprise, including contributions by Con Brio, Stone Foxes, Whiskerman, King Dream, and Rainbow Girls.
Newman contributes his own song, “We Should Do This Again.” As does Mickelson, whose nearly epic “Odd Man Out” reflects his own musical aesthetic, a rock journey with a rootsy twinge that starts quietly and grows into a statement. “I like to write songs that really go somewhere. I had spent so much time on producing the other songs, that I was suddenly like, I have to come up with my own good track now! ‘Odd Man Out’ fit in perfectly with the others and is also a track I’m really proud of.”
“There’s so much depth to the whole record,” Mickelson says. “It’s a beautifully packaged double-album, a real collector’s object. We had to ask ourselves, What format do people buy music in these days? This is a great answer to that.”
“You don’t want to miss the release show, either—it will be full of special guests, and you can buy the record there. It’s going to be a true celebration of the Bay Area music scene, and what we can do together.”
BLANKET THE HOMELESS RECORD RELEASE CONCERT WITH KING DREAM, MICKELSON, SHANNON KOEHLER AND MEMBERS OF STONES FOXES, BEN MORRISON OF BROTHERS COMATOSE, MEMBERS OF GOODNIGHT, TX, KEN NEWMAN
Thu/7, 7:30pm, $15-$17.
Independent, SF. Tickets and more info here.
Michael “Flea” Balzary told 48 Hills that he credits three things with keeping the fiery Red Hot Chili Peppers together for almost four decades.
First, each member of the flamboyant three-time Grammy-winning funk-rock band has a “diligent work ethic,” so when they commit to performing a series of gigs the following year — they always follow through.
Second, when the quartet of singer Anthony Kiedis, bassist Flea, drummer Chad Smith, and guitarist Josh Klinghoffer get together to rehearse for the said shows, someone often says or plays something interesting that triggers a new song or album idea that the group simply can’t resist exploring.
Last but certainly not least, there’s a “mysterious alchemy” between Flea (rated the number two bassist of all time by Rolling Stone readers in 2009) and Kiedis, who first befriended each other at Los Angeles’s Fairfax High School in 1976.
It’s never been the easiest of relationships, as Flea describes in his new memoir Acid for the Children, which chronicles all the pivotal moments that shaped him as an artist, starting with the departure of his biological father and ending with the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ first show in 1983, for a crowd of 27 people at Hollywood’s Grandia Room.
Not fully understanding how or why he and Kiedis work so well together makes him reticent to delve too deeply into their time in the Red Hot Chili Peppers in his new memoir, which he’s promoting in San Francisco this week (Fri/8 at JCCSF), preferring instead to focus on his formative years growing up in Australia and New York state and his teen years spent running wild on the streets of Hollywood. For Kiedis’s perspective on the band years — the addictions, infighting, and departures as well as tremendous commercial successes — read Scar Tissue.
“There are times that Anthony and I argue, fight, and hurt each other and then times when we’re incredibly supportive, loving, and understanding of each other,” said Flea. “But we always end up drawn to one another. It’s something that I wanted to understand in the book, but it’s still this raw, emotional, open thing, and I don’t know that I understand it well enough that I could look at it in a way that wouldn’t be swept up in emotion. Maybe I never will.”
I spoke to the musician and perennial actor — who is currently in the middle of co-producing the next Red Hot Chili Peppers record and next appears in the film Queen & Slim, opening in the Bay Area on Nov. 27 — about Acid for the Children, overcoming childhood traumas, and helping his book readers to feel less alone.
48 HILLSWhy is now a good time to release your first memoir?
FLEA I had been asked many times to write a memoir. I’d always declined because I felt that my life’s still going, so it doesn’t feel right to write one. To tell you the truth, when I agreed to do one, I don’t know why outside of the fact that it just seemed like a good challenge to write one and I finally felt ready to do it.
48 HILLS Did you look to Anthony Kiedis’s 2004 memoir, Scar Tissue, as a model?
FLEA I’ve never read his book, because I knew that we’re very different people with very different world views. So I was kind of scared to read his take on our shared experiences because they might be so different.
I know he worked with someone else in writing it, but it was very important for me to write mine on my own without a ghostwriter.
48 HILLS What was your process for writing the book?
FLEA I wrote it in fits and starts. But when I broke my arm in 2016, and I had a couple of months where I was immobilized and just had to sit on the couch, that was the time when I wrote most of it. Once I got off the painkillers and my mind was clear, I would write every morning.
I read about Toni Morrison’s writing process and how she would write freely in the morning without thinking about organization or grammar and would go on later in the afternoon and revisit what she wrote and then organize it into a more palatable format. So I did that.
Also, when I first wrote it, I wrote in a ranting, sprawling style. Then I decided to refine and simplify it and to only write about my childhood through the period that The Red Hot Chili Peppers started. Later, I went in with an editor and took everything out that didn’t specifically shape me and wasn’t pertinent to the story I was telling.
48 HILLS You talk about some very powerful things in your memoir — from the abandonment and abuse you experienced as a child to being a petty criminal in your teen years as well as your earliest drug experiences — in a very analytical way. At what point in your life did you begin to make sense of these traumatic events?
FLEA To be honest, I didn’t really begin to understand what I went through as a kid or begin to make peace with it till I was in my early 30s. That’s when I stopped doing drugs and drinking alcohol and became conscious of what was around me.
I went through a period of a lot of anger and frustration because I realized that I was faltering in my life a lot. I was failing in relationships, acting in ways that were embarrassing and hurtful to others, and had been kind of a mess — and I was kind of mad at my parents for it. When I started realizing, especially being a father myself, that they weren’t there when I needed them, I had this real anger at them. Then after going through that, I started realizing, “OK, how do I deal with this in the best possible way?” That’s when I started finding forgiveness.
Also, I’ve been in a shitload therapy. For a good 25 years, I’ve been seeing a therapist on and off.
48 HILLS So many people wouldn’t have overcome even half of the things you’ve experienced in your life. What helped you to persevere?
FLEA Music, literature, art, and film are a huge component. Then my connections with people who I’ve felt have seen me and whom I’ve been able to see in profound ways.
But the running thread through all of those things — even when I felt my most alienated, sad, frustrated, and disappointed with things around me or in myself — is love. I’ve always felt a deep love inside of myself and I think that that’s been the main thing that’s guided me and helped me to survive all the difficult things in my life.
48 HILLS What do you hope that readers take away from your book?
FLEA It’s my true heart as best as I’m able to express it, so if reading my stories can help anyone feel less alone in what they’re going through, then that’s my greatest hope for it. Beyond any rockstar Red Hot Chili Peppers thing, I hope that it can just be a book that can sit on someone’s shelf and be of value.
FLEA Fri/8, 7pm, $75-$95 (Includes a copy of Acid for the Children) JCCSF, SF. More info here.
I never heard so much disco at a music festival as I did at Dirtybird West Coast Campout 2019 earlier this month. One of my longstanding complaints about festivals — that the genre is shunned because performers fret that attendees will associate it with “Disco Duck” and the like — got addressed in what I imagined to be the least likely of places. I’m not talking about Modesto Reservoir, but in a sense, that also applies.
It was not the only surprise of the weekend, which otherwise included lots of rubber-tipped archery, not-technically-sanctioned renegade stages that never stop, and extremely fucked up people holding forth intelligibly on minor distinctions between remixes. Dirtybird, which started as a series of free, barbecue-filled parties in Golden Gate Park almost 20 years ago before expanding to a full record label that now throws quarterly parties and annual campouts, is a vessel in which people place whatever looks and energy they have left over from Burning Man.
Good vibes are absolutely paramount, so even if it took you and your friends five hours to drive in the gates, it’s unseemly to complain too hard about it in the Dirtybird Facebook group afterward, much less demand a refund. The group is lively, hilarious, meme-filled, and surprisingly kind. The biggest argument seems to be over the question of whether it’s OK for large groups of people to sit in front of the stage, and the winning side is neither “It’s fine” nor “Not cool,” but “Who cares? Let people do what they want.”
Generally speaking, Dirtybird is rooted in house and techno, but its constituent DJs each have their own style, with hip-hop squaring off against acid house and plenty of drum-and-bass on the sidelines. East Coast Campout seems to be on permanent hiatus, but West Coast Campout is where California can flaunt its endless summer for one last hurrah, where the same lit-up pineapple art car keeps appearing like a glitch in the Matrix. It’s where in-jokes become totems, the best of which was “White Clawde,” a mashup of White Claw and cofounder Claude VonStroke, who’s kind of a daddy but mostly a dad. (“All Aboard the S.S. Crackhead” was a surreal second place.)
The ratio of genuine fans to sponsored influencers is very good even if the food, by and large, is not. Something as corny-sounding as a weekend-capping “family set” that lets every DJ on the label command the decks for two songs actually turns to be a highlight. Unique among festivals, there isn’t a headliner per se. But it’s definitely Claude VonStroke’s party, with undying support from Christian and Justin Martin, the somehow-underrated J.Phlip, and plenty of others. Among increasingly high-profile label signees like Ardalan or Walker & Royce, plenty of non-Dirtybird acts like Bob Moses, Pillowtalk, and Josh Wink perform, too. And the line between between performer and audience is blurred like nowhere else — partly because a third of the Dirtybird attendees are DJs in their own right. You might see a partied-out but laser-focused Steve Darko at somebody’s renegade stage at 6 a.m., just because it’s a good venue to try something out.
That’s just as ordinary as seeing a little cordoned-off “hatching area” for future Dirtybird eggs, or a makeshift memorial to Grill$son, aka Chris Wilson, the longtime barbecue master who died suddenly in 2018.
It’s not quite as ordinary, though, as seeing a woman squirting breast milk while dancing by the AstroTurf that’s the only thing keeping the main stage Birdhouse from feeling like a parking lot. #TiddyMilkGirl was such a hit that she even made Tosh.0. I hope she at least won a Bravocado Avocado merit patch for being uninhibited to the max, and also a little extra, because her likeness already graces a fan-made commemorative patch for 2020.
Campout is where you might hear the same song during several sets, including the as-yet-unreleased collaboration between Green Velvet and Claude VonStroke “Jolean.” It is much more fun than your music-snob acquaintances will ever admit. I know this because I texted a friend who’s kind of a hater that Philly rave pioneer Josh Wink’s set was one of the most brilliantly constructed things I’ve ever seen, and I think I made him a little jealous.
Even though the word has lost practically all meaning, Dirtybird is first and foremost a genuine community.
You have to do it the right way, though, which involves a bit of giving in. It’s hot and it’s cold and it’s not for beginners.
In a burst of end-of-the-decade sentimentality, I totted up the number of days I’ve spent at festivals since 2010. It came out to 115. That’s almost four months, roughly half of which I spent sleeping in a tent.
What little camping gear I own lives in a storage unit on the ugliest block of Potrero Hill, because I live in a small SF apartment. While walking around the reservoir, I felt a twinge of jealousy for the first time in my adult life of people who live in suburban houses where you can park an RV in a driveway and stash your Mars-colonizing ShiftPod on a shelf in the basement. The trick to Campout is making friends with full-on glampers, keeping their coolers replenished with the extra 30-packs of Tecate you filled your shopping cart with in Modesto. Although my sense of self-satisfaction for remembering toilet paper is near-total, there’s probably always going to be an echelon of festival pros with massive packing checklists far above me and my rat’s nest of a pup tent. I’ve never left a festival so determined to do it better next time.
There’s also the fact that this is basically summer camp. Divided into four randomly assigned teams — red, orange, green, and purple — everyone’s competing to win at volleyball, cornhole, or kickball. Nothing matters and no one cares, but you’re instant buddies with everyone who has the same colored bandana as you, and during the Opening Ceremony, the captains of each team made their case through dance. Joyful nihilism, or maybe the reluctance to ruin the good vibes with excessive competition, wins out. (“It doesn’t matter!” was Purple’s rallying cry.) If people were sensitive about Dirtybird’s reputation for sometimes putting partying above the music, it came out mostly in bashing Fisher, a just-press-play DJ who also has a really good song in “Losing It.” He wasn’t there this year.
Part of this always feels like tempting fate, but it never ceases to amaze me when you have large groups of people — mostly young, largely male, mostly intoxicated — come together for four days and nothing completely terrible happens. (That’s not always the case, of course.) Sexual assaults are almost certainly underreported, but even for people like me with virtually zero crowd anxiety, the specter of a few thousand drunk-and-high people funneling through a choke point at 2:15 a.m. without a lot of yelling or shoving is incredibly impressive.
Dirtybird Campout is incredibly impressive. There was Eprom B2B Barclay Crenshaw (Vonstroke’s government name) on Friday night at the Bass Lodge, there was Shiba San, there was Sacha Robotti, there was the afternoon dance-off between the Counselors and the Lifeguards set to a Billie Eilish remix, Ardalan’s Mardi Gras parade, and Sammy Legs’ silent disco set late on Sunday night when nobody wants to think about Monday. There was Claude’s nephew who had just turned 21 and was attending his first Campout, and there was the somehow-perfect choice of Sade for the transition between Justin Martin and Claude during the family set. It led into — what else but? — “Jolean.”
So: How do you like your eggs? With a lightning bolt through it.
Tamara Palmer is a writer, DJ (as TeeMoney), and publisher of food zine California Eating. We asked her to make a mix of some of her favorite SF-centric tunes.
I created this continuous mix, which was recorded live on two turntables with digital vinyl using Serato DJ Pro, as an ode to the musical soul of San Francisco and an expression of fond nostalgia for the sonic subcultures that have made their mark from the city limits to the world.
You’ll hear moments of genuine darkness as well as dark humor, because laughter and music are the best salves for staying happy in this city, but there’s also plenty of light to remind of a time when we were a beacon for diversity and unity — and that’s thankfully still on record.
Crime — “San Francisco’s Doomed” (1978)
“San Francisco’s out of tune,” the late Crime frontman Johnny Strike sung on a song that was made in 1978. “San Francisco’s Doomed” was passed around the city and beyond via live bootleg recordings until it was officially released in 1990. 41 years since it was born and it still holds up pretty well, don’t you think?
Sellassie — “Cops Keep Firing” (2016)
Activist and rapper Sellassie released this song memorializing victims of police brutality shortly before going on a 2016 hunger strike as part of the Frisco Five to protest such violence in San Francisco.
Dead Kennedys — “Kinky Sex Makes The World Go Round” (1987)
Jello Biafra’s fictional phone sex session featuring an American secretary of war on the phone making a prime minister climax with delight over manufacturing international combat could be ripped straight out of today’s not-so-fake news headlines, but it’s 32-years-old, so it’s a lot more chilling to hear now.
J Church — “Last of the Famous International Playboys” (1995)
It’s very 2019 to say fuck Morrissey, but fuck Morrissey and his era of overt racism — this brilliant cover version of his solo hit by SF punk band J Church and its late, great frontman Lance Hahn is henceforth the only version of this song that exists.
Until December — “Until December (12” Version)” (1986)
Leather rockers Until December preceded the local band Consolidated (and shared two members). It’s an early reminder of a local sound popular during the first years of KITS FM, which was known as Live 105 from 1986 to 2018.
Sylvester — “Disco Heat” (1978)
Couldn’t have a rebelliously fun mix about the city without Sylvester bringing some of that “Disco Heat!” Though his life was tragically short, his musical legacy brings continued pride to San Francisco.
Two Tons O’Fun — “I Got The Feeling (Patrick Cowley Megamix)” (1980)
Sylvester’s backup singers Martha Wash and Izora Armstead were best known as the Weather Girls, the duo behind the soaking wet dance hit “It’s Raining Men.” But this earlier single as Two Tons O’Fun is a much better showcase for their powerhouse vocals.
Patrick Cowley — “Menergy” (1981)
I didn’t know that this in-depth story on Patrick Cowley was going to be published by 48hills’ Marke Bieschke over at DJ Mag right as this mix was being finalized, but it helpfully provides vital context to how the late SF producer impacted dance music across the globe well beyond his lifetime.
Romeo Void — “Never Say Never” (1982)
In the early Eighties, it was more than everything to see Debora Iyall, the plus-sized, Native American lead singer of Romeo Void, scoffing at the patriarchy and singing about sexual freedom on MTV. “Never Say Never” still throbs today and could serve as the perfect anti-slut shaming anthem.
Thee Oh Sees — “You Can Have It” (2014)
Taken from the compilation album “San Francisco’s Doomed” (also inspired by the Crime song of the same name), “You Can Have It” by Thee Oh Sees, which became just Oh Sees in 2017, waves the white flag on San Francisco. The raucous song, and this mix, concludes with some expletives to big tech and a sarcastic, “Well done, internet.”
It’s 2019: do you know where your little art, fashion, and music freaks are? At Sex Cells, of course, a traveling genre- and gender-fluid LGBTQIA-centered extravaganza drawing the coolest club kids around with up-and-coming musicians, world-class techno and house DJs, drag queens, and renowned cultural icons — all curated by Los Angeles’s Lethal Amounts Gallery.
Legendary Soft Cell singer and solo artist Marc Almond, who first made a name for himself illuminating London’s dark, seedy underside with his iconic synth-pop outfit Soft Cell in the early ‘80s is headlining the club’s current tour, which is parking in San Francisco this weekend (Sat/26 at The Castro Theatre).
I spoke to Almond, best known for tracks like the chart-breaking “Tainted Love,” “Torch,” “Tears Run Rings,” and “Something’s Gotten Hold of My Heart,” ahead of his San Francisco tour stop about his storied career, inspirations, recent Twitter scandal, and maintaining his rebellious spirit at 62.
48 HILLSWhat was it about Dave Ball, personally and creatively, that made him the perfect musical partner for you in Soft Cell?
MARC ALMOND We were both in college together and we both had a very black sense of humor, so we gravitated toward one another.
48 HILLSSongs like “Youth” and “Numbers” speak to the issues that many young gay men still face in 2019. What kinds of experiences were you drawing from when you wrote those songs?
MARC ALMOND The song “Numbers” was inspired by a novel I read with the same title by John Rechy, who was a progressive gay writer and influenced me deeply. “Youth” is a song for everyone about aging and looking back on life.
48 HILLS You’ve worked with so many greats over the years, like Gene Pitney, Nico, Jimmy Somerville, Jools Holland, etc. Who is your most cherished collaborator and why?
MARC ALMOND The most memorable was meeting with Gene Pitney who was a real gentleman and star. We met for the first time in Las Vegas, which was extraordinary. Meeting Nico was truly unforgettable as was working with Nick Cave and Tony Visconti…there are so many!
48 HILLS“Tears Run Rings” seems more topical today than ever. Could you speak to what inspired the song and its continued relevance today?
MARC ALMOND The song is particularly relevant because it’s about displacement. Our present world feels so out of kilter — whether it’s Trump or Brexit or what’s happening in China or the Middle East. It just feels like we’re on the edge of tomorrow.
48 HILLSYou’ve said that London isn’t the same London you grew up in, so you divide your time between London, Barcelona, and Russia. In what ways has the city changed and what makes you happier in these other cities?
MARC ALMOND Like any city, London is constantly changing. Perhaps it’s me that’s changed as much as the city. We’ve become separated from each other. As for Barcelona and I, we’re fully divorced and my new mistress is Moscow.
48 HILLSAs someone who’s toured Russia extensively, lives there part-time, and works with many acclaimed Russian artists, how do you balance your love of Russian culture with the country’s oppressive politics toward the LGBTQIA community?
MARC ALMOND I balance it with great difficulty. Culture, politics, and personal life are very different beasts. You can’t make a change by staying behind closed doors.
48 HILLS Would you follow up Tainted Life and In Search of the Pleasure Palace with another autobiographical book? What would you want to talk about this time around?
MARC ALMOND The rest of my life. I’m not dead yet!
48 HILLSHow did your 2004 motorcycle accident change you? Do you still ride motorcycles?
MARC ALMOND After an accident like that everything changes. You’re not the same person. I now support Headway Charity, which is very dear to my heart. I do ride a motorcycle but not a moped.
48 HILLSYou’ve hinted before that you might stop writing new albums. What keeps you motivated to continue?
MARC ALMOND You live in fear of having nothing to say, but I do have things to say that I can’t be quiet about and, for me, that comes out in song.
48 HILLSWhat can you tell me about your new album of original material?
MARC ALMOND I am working on a new studio album for BMG with the producer Chris Braide, which is due for release in February of 2020. It is really different and I hope people will like it as much as we do.
48 HILLSYour work has been so often inspired by the seedy underside of life. What appealed to you about this world? Also, with so much gentrification and with so many people scrolling online porn or hookup apps to get their jollies, do these seedy worlds even still exist?
MARC ALMOND It was the underside — exciting and interesting — and I was an outsider, so I was led there. It was part of my growing up. These worlds are now so different. Everything is in the open, so there doesn’t need to be an underworld like there was when I was growing up.
48 HILLSYou were truly one of the first major LGBTQIA performers to come out, yet you recently received backlash on Twitter for a series of “transphobic” tweets. What were you trying to say in those tweets and why was there such a backlash?
MARC ALMOND I was accused of being transphobic, which is absurd. Me, of all people!
48 HILLSYou’ve said that rebellion is for the young, but I think that the younger generation can be a total bore and uninspiring. Isn’t it important that we, from a more transgressive time, keep the spirit of rebellion alive if many millennials aren’t willing to do it?
MARC ALMOND All you can do is try and not let things get on top of you. Look, Greta Thunberg is trying, and I applaud her.
SEX CELLS & (((FYP!))) PRESENT MARC ALMOND PERFORMING FULL SET OF SOFT CELL (WITH FULL BAND) + TR/ST LIVE HERCULES & LOVE AFFAIR DJ SET ROMY LIVE DJS MATTHEW PERNICANO & DANNY LETHAL HOSTED BY HEKLINA Sat/26, 6:30 pm, $37.50-$275 The Castro Theatre, SF. More info here.
While hardly as wild as it used to be, Halloween is still a hoot in this devilish town. Let us never forget the year (1982) when the Bay Guardian combined its election issue and its Halloween issue, celebrating the infamously gay Halloween in the Castro by portraying Board of Supervisors candidate Sister Boom Boom as a flying witch on the cover. (Nowadays our candidate choices are a bit less flamboyant.)
Good times. Now here are some tips. For a real Halloween experience, head to Aunt Charlie’s Loungestarting this weekend with the Hot Boxx Girls drag shows and through the week to Halloween night’s Tubesteak Connection party. It’s truly one of the last fabulous gay dive bars that really gets into the Halloween spirit. There are a ton of great terror flicks happening (from Get Out with the SF Symphony to “The Horror of SF Jazz at Grace Cathedral”)—here’s our full Halloween movie roundup.
One hallowed tradition, the annual Cramps concert, has obviously evolved as Cramps members have made their way to the other side of the void. But the ghost of this grand event stays undead, with the Cramp-Ons tribute band playing Sat/26 at Bender’ss and, in the same psychobilly/horror punk vein, the Misfits tribute band The Astrozombies playing Thur/31 at the Chapel.
And for the scariest time of all, of course, don’t forget to scream your way through Peaches Christ’s “haunted immersive experience” Terror Vault! (through November 10). PLUS! Don’t miss one of our best and campiest drag personalities play the role she was born to play, Dr. Frank N. Furter, in Ray of Light Theater’s Rocky Horror Show, through November 2.
Finally, start the week on a truly horrifying foot: We are losing one of our best DJs, Jackie House of Honey Soundsystem, to Berlin—but first a night of psychedelic ambient music at the cavernous Gray Area, with Jackie House’s Ambient Goodbye on Fri/25. There’s nothing scarier than seeing might lifers cry!
Here are some other bloody good spots to celebrate:
THU/24 LES GHOULS ENCORE!After you attend our free Best of the Bay party, stay for this outrageous celebration of legendary lysergic theater troupe The Cockettes’ epic Halloween show Les Ghouls. Drag queens, performers, and DJs all pay tribute. 10pm-2am, The Stud, SF. More info here.
FRI/25 SMITHSFITS HALLOWEEN EDITION I mean, this party plays all Cure (Robert Smith), all Smiths, and all Misfits. And it has been popular for nine years! Nothing beats our nightlife. Dress up in a costume for the contest. 9:30pm-2am, The Knockout, SF. More info here.
FRI/25 MASQUERADE BALL WITH THE MAGICIAN Smooth and sophisticated Belgian electro-pop wizard Stephen Fasano, aka The Magician, brings his magic touch to this Halloween blowout at Mezzanine, which is closing soon (booooo). 9pm-late, Mezzanine, SF. More info here.
FRI/25 STRANGER THINGS GO BUMP IN THE NIGHT This Halloween party’s theme promises a “1980s-era land of supernatural phenomena.” The night will be perfectly soundtracked by moody, melodic Kentucky producer, Amtrac, and wiggy Canadian house DJ, Eddie C — plus enough local support to fill the Upside Down. 9:30pm-late. Great Northern, SF. More info here.
FRI/25 PAUL OAKENFOLD The absolute legend of progressive trance grooves who’s shaped the genre for more than three decades and headed the legendary Perfecto label, pops in for a Halloween party? We have it so good. 9:30-2am, Audio, SF. More info here.
SAT/26 HORROR STORY: DARK MATTERTwo of our big gay parties with Burning Man roots, Polyglamorous and Mystopia, team up for a journey into (I think) space and terror, but expect lots of shirtless revelry, unicorn horns, and sparkly leggings. The music—by Portland’s DJ Sappho, Chicago’s Colette, and DJ Rolo—will be terrific. 9:30-late. 550 Barneveld, SF. More info here.
SAT/26 CREATURE: NEON DEMONS A creepy cavalcade of drag and gory-glorious music at this wonderfully open affair at El Rio. There will be horns sprouting out all over! 9pm-2am, El Rio, SF. More info here.
SAT/26 GLOW IN THE STREETSThere’s still some of that Castro Halloween spirit floating around—this exuberant neon-wow block party put on by queer Burning Man camp Comfort & Joy will light your way to Hallo-bliss. With DJs, performances, and more. Noe Street between Market and Beaver, SF. 4pm-9:30pm. More info here.
SAT/26 MOTHER: HALLOWEEN, A PARTY Drag behemoths Heklina and Peaches Christ host this annual, beloved affair with oodles of drag queens spilling out in all directions. 10pm-3am, Oasis, SF. More info here.
SAT/26 SPACE COWBOYS: HAUNTED HOEDOWN One of the original Burning Man camps, Space Cowboys have been throwing wild parties for decades. This Halloween mashup of burner rager and audio-visual overload brings house, breaks, funk, and world-renowned DJ headliner, A.Skillz. 10:30pm-late, Great Northern, SF. More info here.
SUN/27 SUNSET SOUND SYSTEM HALLOWEEN COSTUME BOAT PARTYThis annual wild float and its afterparty at the Great Northern will be your best bet to hear some outstanding techno, with guests Wajatta, Tel Aviv’s Autarkic, and a special synthesizer seance with ambient masters Jonah Sharp and Its Own Infinite Flower. 5:30pm-11pm, San Francisco Belle, Pier 3. More info here.
MON/28 DEATH GUILD: THE DARKEST NIGHTUm, this is the oldest weekly party in the city and the second-oldest goth party in the world—you probably don’t want to miss its Halloween celebration. With DJs Decay, Joe Radio, and Melting Girl plus a special sexy-scary performance by Hubba Hubba Revue. 9pm-afterhours, DNA Lounge, SF. More info here.
MON/28 DOG COSTUME CONTEST & HALLOWEEN PUB QUIZ“7pm: gather, drink, make merry, get excited. Virgil’s Sea Room has a fabulous patio where you can chill with your doggo before the event. 7:30: DOG COSTUME CONTEST!! Red carpet, weird prizes, edible participation trophies! On-leash doggos and their human escorts will prance on the catwalk and compete for ETERNAL GLORY. 8pm: PUBQUIZ O’CLOCK! Teams of 1-6 players will compete for free drinks and strange prizes over five delicious rounds of trivia, including current events, general knowledge, a music round, Halloweeny witchy weirdness, and the powernerd challenge. Human costumes will be judged and awarded during the game. 7pm, Virgil’s Sea Room, SF. More info here.
WED/30 HOUSEPITALITY HALLOWEEN W/ DAN BELLOne of SF’s best weekly parties brings in a Detroit wizard of techno, Dan Bell, sure to wreck the floor with his decades of DJ sorcery. 9pm-2am, F8, SF. More info here.
THU/31 ESG Hell yes! The dance music legends from the South Brownx invented their own kind of underground jam in the ’80s—they still rock live, get ready to dance. 9pm-late, Public Works, SF. More info here.
THU/31 IN YOUR DREAMS: A NIGHTMARE ON NINTH STREETA dastardly drag and dance marathon at the Stud, with DJ Keenan Orr from DC and Rich King from NYC. 1, 2, gonna cut it up with you … 8pm-2am, The Stud, SF. More info here.
THU/31 CYBER RODEO HALLOWEEN: GRAVE RAVEThe cyber rodeo crew combines cowboy aesthetics with rave rumble — not unlike the Space Cowboys, maybe, but with a wilder music. Yee-haw! With DJs Kawasaki + Baby J. 9pm-2am, F8, SF. More info here.
THU/31 ALL HALLOW’S EVE “If there was ever a holiday created just for DNA Lounge that holiday is Halloween, and this is our eighteenth spoooooky year throwing this party! We’re bringing you a double-sized Halloween madhouse in all four rooms! Bewitching burlesque, ambient ghostly aerialists, skillful circus syrens performing all night….” Plus a plethora of DJs. 9pm-afterhours, DNA Lounge, SF. More info here.
THU/31 SPOOKY NATURE It’s a haunted Halloween affair with ghosts, goblins, vampires — and two of the smoothest, sharpest house DJs around. Naked Music pioneer Miguel Migs defined the super-popular West Coast house sound of the 2000s, while Philly’s Rich Medina is a crate-digger’s delight. 9:30pm-2am, Monarch, SF. More info here.
THU/31 CREATURES OF THE NIGHTLIFE This yearly treat sees the Cal Academy of Sciences up to some spooky tricks, with a live performance by the queen of squirm, Heklina, plus tunes from the scarily terrific DJ Omar. Drag show, costume party, and science fair all mixed together! 6pm-10pm, Cal Academy, SF. More info here.
THU/31 MAD HATTER’S BALL Slide down a rabbit hole of thumping bass and electrified pop remixes as 19-year-old headliner, Whethan, who’s collaborated with Dua Lipa and Charlie XCX, brings the frightening beats. 9pm-2am, 1015 Folsom, SF. More info here.
THU/31 TRUTHContemporary dubstep aces Truth hail from New Zealand, rupturing subwoofers and layering enough wavy synths to fuel a wobbly mothership. Hop aboard their UFO at this special Halloween party. 9pm-3am, Great Norther, SF. More info here.