All Ears

Ding-dong aesthetics

Resounding meaning in the ubiquitous. Photo by Marc Weidenbaum.

ALL EARS Bay Area experimental music composer and legend Pauline Oliveros, who passed away last Thursday, once described her famous Deep Listening practice as seeking to “inspire both trained and untrained performers to practice the art of listening and responding to environmental conditions.”

Extending Deep Listening (and another of Oliveros’ theories, Sonic Awareness) into a culturally informed, laser-attentive meditation on everyday technological encounters, local writer, teacher, and electronic music community organizer Marc Weidenbaum’s latest project looks and listens deeply into the social history, jury-rigged aesthetics, and political implications of SF’s doorbells — an instantly recognizable yet overlooked class of appliances we all find ourselves fumbling with.

Weidenbaum, whose incredible sonic diary disquiet.com was one of the first blogs on the Internet and whose recent 33 1/3 book on seminal Aphex Twin album Selected Ambient Works Vol. II met wide acclaim, is giving a talk Thu/1 at Oakland’s Futuredraft called, naturally, “For Whom the Doorbell Tolls.”

"Many attempts to jury rig the fix of a doorbell would qualify as art as much as craft." Photo by Marc Weidenbaum
“Many attempts to jury rig the fix of a doorbell would qualify as art as much as craft.” Photo by Marc Weidenbaum

Taking a special interest in “the look of sound,” Weidenbaum has been posting his photographs of local doorbells, among other curious objects, for several years on his disquiet Instagram account. In Thursday’s talk, he’ll “discuss the intercom’s development in Japan, the rise of the domestic surveillance apparatus, the consumer-product soundscape of everyday life — and, ultimately, what lessons the humble, ubiquitous doorbell provides in regard to the Internet of Things, the smart home, and the role of sound in user interfaces.” He also brings up questions that will ring a bell in all of us, like “How long until you ring again?”

I talked to Weidenbaum via email about how such a tiny buzzer can cause enormous cultural reverberations.

When is a doorbell not a doorbell? Photo by Marc Weidenbaum
When is a doorbell not a doorbell? Photo by Marc Weidenbaum

48H You’ve been photographing and posting doorbells from around SF for how long now? What are some of the curious things you’ve noticed? 

MARC WEIDENBAUM I looked back and found that my first doorbell shot on Instagram (/dsqt) was April 25, 2012. Previous to that I’d been focusing on images that looked like speakers but weren’t speakers, such as circular drains and air vents. The caption to that first doorbell photo is, presciently, “Warning: increasingly smitten with intercoms and doorbells.”

Disrepair is at the top of the list. I don’t need to go looking for the broken doorbells that largely populate my Instagram account. They’re everywhere. Doorbells are in all states of shoddy shape, from being outright broken, with the wires hanging out, to being repaired in a manner that looks like it was a quick fix, but then a decade or three passed. I’m amazed, as well, by the poor user experience of almost all multi-unit dwellings, from inconsistent ordering of buttons to clumsy menu-driven apparatuses. A close second to the widespread disrepair are situations where there’s a sign with the word “doorbell” and an arrow pointing to the doorbell. If a doorbell isn’t clearly a doorbell, then whose fault is it? The doorbell manufacturer, the developer, the general contractor, the landlord, humans in general? 

Why does a bell make sense in an elevator? Photo by Marc Weidenbaum.
Why does a bell make sense in an elevator? Photo by Marc Weidenbaum.

48 HILLS Describe your very first encounter with a doorbell that sparked such an interest.

MW It’s not a specific geolocated-temporal memory, but I can piece together the circumstances that led to it. It happened while I was wandering around my neighborhood, the Richmond District. I spent 20-odd years working at a desk — various desks, that is, at various large companies. Shortly before my kid was born I quit full-time employment, and then slowly built up a freelance operation that balanced well with being a parent. I was out and about a lot with the stroller, and then after daycare kicked in I was out and about a lot because I could be, because I was no longer tied to a desk. That has been great for various reasons, a key one being that my single greatest addiction may be walking.

Meanwhile, I’ve long had an interest in how we represent sound visually, and that is always in the back of my mind. I edited comics about music for over a decade — primarily in Pulse! magazine, long ago the house publication of Tower Records — and I teach a course at the Academy of Art about the role of sound in the media landscape. In class I have my students do an exercise where they take photographs of things that “signify” sound, which leads to a discussion about the distinction between signifying sound and having an association with sound — why, for example, a megaphone or speaker symbol makes sense on a computer keyboard and a bell on a phone or in an elevator.

At some point I came to focus on doorbells as unique musical gadgets, as everyday pushbutton objects. I didn’t intend to peer deeply into them. I just started taking pictures, and then thinking about the pictures, and then writing about the pictures, and then researching deeper and further.

"Things decay differently down by the ocean." Photo by Marc Weidenbaum
“Things decay differently down by the ocean.” Photo by Marc Weidenbaum

48H What are some highlights you’ve come across from the development and cultural history of doorbells?

MW There’s a pretty direct regal vibe connection, at least in Western culture, from the horns resounding in castle turrets to the retro-simulated grandfather-clock dong of many contemporary doorbells. That continuity of pageantry defines the home — no matter its size, from studio apartment to McMansion — as a castle. That isn’t merely a metaphor. It’s built into American law as the “castle doctrine,” which has come to the fore in recent years due to its connection to  “stand your ground” lawsuits.

Anyhow, among the major highlights in the history of doorbells are the move from door knockers to bells to electric doorbells, the introduction of intercoms and video, and the so-called Internet of Things, bringing us up to the present. I’d add text messaging to that list, as it just may do away with doorbells entirely. I’d fold in, on the cultural side, door-to-door salespeople, religious missionaries, political canvassers, and, more recently, the on-demand economy, which is a subset of or corollary to what is called the gig economy or, generously, the sharing economy.

Photo by Marc Weidenbaum
Photo by Marc Weidenbaum

48H In your Thu/1 talk, you’ll be connecting the doorbell to methods of surveillance and the ambient sound of consumer capitalism — can you talk a little about that?   

MW Sure thing. On the surveillance side, we’re well through the looking glass in terms of entering a new world where there is ubiquitous technology capable of listening to us and taking our pictures. You know how in many versions of the vampire legend it’s a rule that the vampire can’t enter your home unless invited by the inhabitant? We have welcomed surveillance into our homes, eagerly, sometimes in the name of convenience, often simply out of novelty, rarely with an awareness for the sheer pervasiveness of the technology — all those “always on” devices that let us ask questions, the proliferation of microphones, of voice-enabled technologies.

The consequences as to what that means for privacy is yet to unfold, yet to be taken stock of. However, the doorbell is a useful harbinger, a canary in the panopticon coal mine. The major recent advances in doorbells have been almost entirely about domestic surveillance, about having a camera, for example, that takes a photo or activates a video camera every time the doorbell is rung. What, I wonder, does it mean that the bell intended to welcome someone into your home automatically treats them as a suspect? One thing’s for certain: we’re currently more suspicious of our visitors than we are of our technology.

As for the consumer-appliance soundscape, and the doorbell’s role in it, there are a lot of ways to look at the situation. Proliferation provides a useful vantage. Give thought to how many beeps there are in a home today with all modern conveniences, versus 20 years ago: not just the doorbell and the alarm clock, but the cellphone, the dryer, the dishwasher, the alert from the fridge that you left the freezer door open, the voice-enabled AI bot on your dining room table, the whir of your DVR, the pinging of cellphone alerts, and so forth. That is the low-level ambient cacophony through which the doorbell might be heard.

The doorbell was, once upon a time, pretty much alone with the telephone as a way that an individual outside your home caused sound in your home, putting aside things like TV and radio, which inhabit a different category. Today our homes are beacons of communication. They’re both more secure and more porous. The ancient doorbell has to navigate this new normal. When it’s easier just to text someone from the car or from down the block as you approach the front door, I sometimes wonder if the doorbell as we’ve known it has much of a future.

The ornate, broken doorbell outside Weidenbaum's home. "The vestigial doorbell. The doorbell emeritus."
The ornate, broken doorbell outside Weidenbaum’s home. “The vestigial doorbell. The doorbell emeritus.”

48H What is your doorbell? 

MW I kind of have two doorbells. The building I live in was built in the early 1920s, out in the Richmond District, the same year as the Legion of Honor, though my home is a tad more humble. Next to the front door is a somewhat regal-looking doorbell, except it doesn’t work. The button is missing. By the time I moved into the place, in late 2008, there was a gate at the front of the house, across a postage-stamp-sized tile porch from the front door. I don’t know when the gate was installed, but there it is. They’re on so many buildings in the city, buildings that were initially not designed to have gates.

Anyhow, there’s a functioning doorbell on the gate itself, just a little white button in the black iron. It’s funny we call that thing the “doorbell,” when the real bell is, of course, inside the house, in my case above the entryway to the kitchen. The bell is loud. Even when I know someone is dropping by, the hair goes up on my arms when the thing is rung when they hit that button. Sometimes I jump out of my seat. I think there’s a reason it’s difficult to get a truly “pleasant” doorbell sound, which is that even in the best of circumstances, the bell ringing is an annoyance. 

“FOR WHOM THE DOORBELL TOLLS”
Thu/1, 6pm, free
Futuredraft, Oakland
More info here

8th Annual Switchboard Festival dials in new sounds

Eight-hour sonic cornucopia attracts a local community of contemporary musical adventurers and longtime groundbreakers, Sat/4.

Age of discovery: Real Vocal Quartet plays the Switchboard Festival, Sat/4
Age of discovery: Real Vocal String Quartet brings its unique sing-and-string sound the Switchboard Festival, Sat/4

By Marke B.

ALL EARS One possible positive about the so-called tech boom? Truly culturally curious newcomers to the Bay Area may have spurred another boom — one in contemporary music. And not just the electronic music kind, as one one might expect of computer geeks (although edgy techno has been doing very well). Fresh, genre-hopping compositions and good ol’ experimental music are having another heyday. Shows by obscure recent composers, diverse ensembles, and longtime apostles of oddball sounds are regularly packed by young people eager to hear the next new thing first.

From the SF Symphony’s recently opened, cavernous Soundbox to performances of Steve Reich by the SF Contemporary Music Players and the SF Conservatory of Music (and supercool, smaller productions from Wild Rumpus, The Living Earth Show, the San Francisco Tape Music Festival, Soundwave, and many, many more), a thirst for complex aural landscapes and beautiful-strange ideas has come upon us to match our current drought.

Percussive duo Black Spirituals play the Switchboard Fest.
Percussive duo Black Spirituals play the Switchboard Fest.

“Especially over the last couple of years, I think audiences are starting to explore and look for something new,” Annie Phillips, co-director of the thrilling, marathon Switchboard Festival, which takes over Brava Theater Sat/4, told me. “That’s always been a very Bay Area thing, but actually the tech industry boom may have helped a little — everyone’s in a constant pursuit of newness.”

Newness is definitely on the menu on Saturday — the sonic palette ranges from lovely leftfield indie and folky strings to jazz-inflected electronic and full vocal chorus (listen to most of the artists here)  — when Switchboard, also directed by Ryan Brown and Jeff Anderle, features Brass Magic, Kitka, Powerdove,  Black Spirituals, Friction Quartet, Random House, Nathan Clevenger Group, and many more contemporary acts. Honestly, you will hear the world here in eight hours, for only $20 dollars! Get on it.

Megapolis Audio Festival builds a sonic wonderland

Perpetual sound machines, stimulating hip-hop, light theremins, Fantastic Negrito, rapid prototyping, brain-wave encephalophones, and more, June 5-7  

Fantastic Negrito, whose NPR Tiny Desk concert blew everyone away last year, performs at a block party, as part of Megapolis Audio Festival.
Fantastic Negrito, whose NPR Tiny Desk concert blew everyone away last year, performs at a block party, as part of Megapolis Audio Festival.

By Marke B.

ALL EARS Somebody may have built this city on rock and/or roll, but this weekend the wonderfully sprawling Megapolis Audio Festival plans to stretch its borders into truly mind-expanding territory, with a lineup that includes everything from block parties, experimental sound installations, potluck dinners, and wild afterparties to truly creative demonstrations of cutting edge technology and live performances from the likes of rapper Doseone, beloved sound collagists Matmos + Kevin Blechdom, soul powerhouse Fantastic Negrito, violinist Mia Zabelka, hypnotic ensemble Gamelan X, and more.

“We put a call out to basically anybody who had a good idea,” Managing Director Justin Grotelueschen told me. “We wanted to see what the Bay Area would come up with — and, as expected in a place as creative as this in terms of music and technology, things blew up from there.” Grotelueschen, along with creative director Nick van der Kolk and a team of  10 set to work trying to include as much as they could in the fest.

Kevin Blechdom at Megapolis Festival: 48 Hills
Kevin Blechdom performs with Drew of Matmos at the Megapolis Festival.

That means the opportunity to experience dozens of local musicians, engineers, scientists, inventors, and artists pushing the boundaries of sonic possibilities (and charming you with sweet performances). Experience an encephalophone that makes music from your brain waves! Make your own perpetual sound machine! Take an “unsettling audio walk” through the Omni Commons! Or just dance and eat a bunch of food at a really cool block party.

Lydia Lunch: “I’m still the enemy within”

No Wave pioneer brings her band RETROVIRUS — and 38 years of music — to DNA Lounge, Wed/29. 

48 Hills: Lydia Lunch by Jasmine Hirst
Lydia Lunch, 2015. Photo by Jasmine Hirst

By Marke B.

ALL EARS It’s a perverse thrill it is to revisit the brazen music, poetry, and art of Lydia Lunch. In late 1970s and early 1980s New York, she and several other essential downtown No Wave figures were fighting a tide of Yuppie-fication, represented then on the music scene by sophisticated New Wave types, by fusing aggressive punk sounds with bleak, hyper-realist spoken-word poetry, avant-garde noise experiments, and confrontational performance art.

It’s a period that’s held up incredibly well, and has sparked its own industry of nostalgia for a “grittier” time, when art and expression ran as freely as heroin through the city’s veins. And it’s hard not to look at the No Wave period in parallel to our own times, as a new tide of gentrification washes over us — and our musical villains are much more odious than Talking Heads and Blondie.

48 Hills: Lydia Lunch by Godlis
‘Lydia Lunch, Delancey Street Loft, 1978.’ Photo by Godlis

Lunch could have spent her creative life trading in on her No Wave bonafides — her band Teenage Jesus and the Jerks’ records fetch up to $200 used online — but she’s an incredibly restless, collaborative, and productive artist. A string of albums throughout the past four decades have taken different conceptual tacks, but retained her in-your-face vocal delivery and created new fans along the way. (My first introduction to her was via keening, goth-strut “Suicide Ocean,” off her 1982 1313 album, which was, oddly, a staple of late-night Canadian public radio).

Synth City

Legendary Bay Area synth wiz Suzanne Ciani appears at Sync 01

It may not officially be National Modular Synth Day, but it’ll sure feel like it Sat/5 in San Francisco. Not one but two synthesizer expos will be held in the city on Saturday.

Sync 01, at Codeword in SoMA, will feature live performances and hands-on exhibits from an assortment of small and longtime manufacturers. Across town in the Mission, at Gray Area Art + Technology, synth maker Moog sponsor will sponsor Dial-Tones, an event that combines workshops and an evening concert headlined by Suzanne Ciani. Both events are free, though Dial-Tones has emphasized limited capacity, especially for the workshops.

Legendary Bay Area synth wiz Suzanne Ciani appears at Dial-Tones
Legendary Bay Area synth wiz Suzanne Ciani appears at Sync 01

More than a dozen electronic instrument manufacturers will be hosted at Sync 01, including local legends Roger Linn and Dave Smith, as well as newer outfits including Synthrotek, Makenoise, and Audio Damage. It’s Audio Damage’s co-founder, Chris Randall, who created Sync 01. There will also be live performances by Rodent, Bana Haffar, James Cigler, and Tyler Thompson.

Reached via email in Phoenix, Arizona, where he lives, Randall explained how Sync 01 came together: “I was thinking about having an Audio Damage clinic at one of our retail partners in the Bay Area, since your city is one of the main loci of experimental music (and thus our customer base). The opportunity presented itself, through the good graces of the owner of Codeword [a new venue from the owners of DNA Lounge], to have an event with a somewhat larger scope, and it just kind of fell in to place.

“It’s worth noting that, as experimental and boutique synth makers, we don’t really have anywhere to advertise, and our products aren’t in every Guitar Center in the country,” said Randall, who was born in 1968 and is best known outside the synth realm as a founding member of the industrial rock band Sister Machine Gun. “These sorts of events are how we connect with the users, so we’re always looking for ways to make them happen.”

Dial-Tones is a spinoff of the annual Moogfest, a kind of patch-cord Coachella held in Durham, North Carolina, not far from pioneering synth manufacturer Moog’s Asheville headquarters. The two March 5 events will overlap, and Sync 01 ends early enough that you can head across town to catch the 9pm headlining set by Bay Area synth legend Suzanne Ciani.

Ciani, who is based in Mill Valley, will be performing at Moofest in May this year, along with Grimes, Laurie Anderson, the Orb, sunn 0))), Gary Numan, and numerous other acts. At Dial-Tones she’ll be playing what’s been described as her first solo performance on the Buchla synthesizer in four decades.

Asked via email how she’s rehearsing for Dial-Tones, she explained, “I’m preparing by just spending time with the Buchla system. If you just be with it and interact with it and continue to get to know it, things start to happen. My new system is very, very different from the old one, as I am discovering, and it’s been a challenge to let go of ingrained expectations and focus on what is possible now.”

Ciani, a five-time Grammy nominee in the New Age category, will be performing in surround sound, which is a requisite for her. “I always insisted on performing in quad,” she says, “and even turned down a concert once at Lincoln Center because they wouldn’t put up two additional speakers.”

Ciani, who was born in 1946 and studied with computer music legends Max Matthews and John Chowning at Stanford University, says she uses lots of different tools in her recordings, but the Buchla is the focus of her live shows. She keeps up with the newer technology, such as Moog’s expanding instrument catalog and the sort of equipment that will be on view across town at Sync 01.

And with Ciani’s experience comes some advice. “I recently went to NAMM,” she says of the annual National Association of Music Merchants trade show, “and was awed by the number of young modular synth designers. This reminds me of the exciting period of early analog synths when instruments were identified with their individual designers as opposed to a generic company: Don [Buchla], Tom [Oberheim], Dave [Smith], etc. I hope that this time around the inventors stay in control.”

SYNC 01
Sat/5, 4pm-8pm, free
Codeword
917 Folsom, SF
More info here

DIAL-TONES
Sat/5, 12:30pm to 11:30pm, free
Gray Area Art + Technology
2665 Mission, SF
More info here 

 

Gays Hate Techno loves techno

GHT 2.0 Comp artwork by Vera Rubin

ALL EARS As contemporary music lovers, we’re all floating, flags raised, on an almost unnavigable sea of current releases, backlog reissues, surprise leaks, and floods of streaming digibits and terabytes. For the past several years, the main liferaft I cling to in the world of techno and esoteric electronic music has been the incredible, ironically-named queer collective Gays Hate Techno. It really buoys me on the sonic rapids, lapping new shores of queer-attuned taste.

What began as a lively Facebook group for people at the intersection of “wishing the gay club scene had better music” and “wishing gay people in the techno underground had a better way to connect” has grown into an influential queer nightlife force, uniting DJs, music-makers, writers, and promoters from around the world who’ve managed, in the past decade, to revolutionize the scene with, gasp, some actually decent tunes on the dance floor.

Some of the folks who have released mixes on the gayshatetechno.com page
Some of the folks who have released mixes on the gayshatetechno.com page

Ascendant queer party players like Honey Soundsystem, Honcho, Men’s Room, Horse Meat Disco, Spotlight, Needle Exchange, Club Called Rhonda, The Black Madonna, Mike Servito, Midland, and many more have gotten a signal boost from the GHT crew, which has helped spawn alternative techno scenes throughout the world. But Gays Hate Techno also acts as a giant curator to the endless stream of new techno releases — I can’t wait to pick apart the latest Randomer or Apex Twin or Thomas Brinkmann with my fellow geek queens. (“Geek queens” here includes a healthy portion of women, transpeople, and others as well.)

Launched by Matt Fisher (visual artist, curator of rad live experimental film and music showcase Unseen, and designer of this very website), GHT also has a hankering for supporting and broadcasting its members’ studio work, and just dropped the brilliant GHT 2.0 compilation, 21 tunes for a mere $7 on Bandcamp. It’s a cluster-bomb of handmade underground tunes, from the deep swivel-groove of StrikeStone!’s “Detune Lucy” and awesome onslaught “Goodnight Red” by DJ Shiva to the cosmic ambient of Bocaj’s “Marta” and acid buzz of “Tread Lightly” by Nackt.

Here’s a taste of all the tunes, mega-mixed by DJ Lady Fingers.

Here’s a taste of all the tunes, mega-mixed by DJ Lady Fingers.

So yeah, great stuff. Get it, and support some underground queer artists, many of them local. I spoke with the longtime DJ and artist who helmed the comp’s compiling: Benjamin B. Orphan Eksouzian aka orphan (his deliciously wiggy “DRK NRG” is included) about the release:

48 HILLS Can you tell me a bit about the diversity of the tracks contained in the comp –as you put it, “caressed by the arms of Mother Techno” — and how they may reflect the diversity of the community?

ORPHAN The styles of “techno” are all over the place on this comp. We have the very straightforward, what I like to call “proper techno,” from DJ Shiva to the drone sounds of Marc Manning and really everything imaginable in between. The diversity of sound is only matched by one thing: location. One of the things that I was most impressed by with this group of tracks was where they originated from. A few years ago this was fairly small group of members from the Bay Are, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Detroit, and New York. On this comp we have member’s works from St. Petersburg (which has a truly underground and dangerous queer nightlife scene), Italy, Prague, and Slovakia, not to mention San Diego, Colorado, Virginia, Maryland, and DC.

bborphan
Benjamin B. Orphan Eksouzian aka orphan

48 HILLS What was the process for bringing this all together, and what do you think it says about how underground, handmade techno gets around in our current moment?

ORPHAN The process was very open and inclusive. Basically we said if you are a member of this group you have the right to submit a track. We did not turn down anyone from this community for aesthetic purposes. Meaning, I wasn’t sitting in the studio just picking the songs that I personally liked and rejecting the ones that I didn’t like. When we asked for submissions we said that you can’t use samples that were not yours. That was about it. To be honest the whole point of this comp is to promote the artists in the group. That’s why we didn’t put a cap on the tracks. Of course the diversity of tracks made it very difficult for Lady Fingers to blend a cohesive mix but she really knocked it out of the park.

I would be remiss if I didn’t state how proud I am of the women in this group. Techno and dance music, like everything else in this world, are dominated by men. I was very pleased to say that we have multiple submissions by female artists, and honestly they are dominant tracks on this record, in my opinion. Our mastering engineer, the DJ who created the promotional mix/podcast, and the artwork for the album where all by female artists.

We also said that these tracks are the exclusive property of the artists. My dream is that some of the tracks get a more commercial release as a result of our little queer comp.

GET THE GAYS HATE TECHNO COMP 2.0 HERE. 

DJ Minx comes through

DJ Minx, spinning in Detroit

A couple of weekends ago, SF saw a genius cluster of female DJs headlining various parties: Honey Dijon at Public Works, Carrie Morrison at Polyglamorous, and, at F8, exhilarating new-ish female- and trans-promoting DJ/producer collective Discwoman. It was a wondrous conjunction, one that we’re slowly starting to see more of, but one that still requires not just the deliberate hand of promoters but outstanding support of the local community.

This weekend, we’re about to get hit with more excellent, female-powered dance floor energy, this time courtesy of Honey Soundsystem at Public Works, Sat/16. That rapidly rising queer collective is bringing in two of the biggest names in techno right now, Steffi and the Black Madonna. But they’re also bringing in someone who’s been burning up the underground for decades — including with her pioneering Women on Wax project that sought 20 years ago to bring more equity behind the decks: DJ Minx.

Minx, giving you looks.
Minx, giving you looks.

“Twenty years ago the atmosphere was so very different,” Minx told me over the phone from Detroit. “There was such a lack of bookings for female DJs. In fact, the major reason I started Women on Wax was that so many frustrated women were approaching me asking how I did things, how it was that I was getting gigs and traveling, how to establish themselves to be successful. I realized there was a lack of anything out there that specifically promoted women.

“And I really feel we all helped boost each other up from those days. However, the fact that there are a few more women out there doesn’t mean it’s necessarily gotten any easier. There’s still a lack of respect out there for female DJs that still goes on. That’s the the only way I can really describe it: a lack of respect. As they say, it’s a man’s world. But as I say, ‘If you can bring it, you can do it.'”

Minx was long a fixture on the Detroit house scene — as a resident of the legendary Motor club, she opened for everyone from Derrick May to Africa Bambaataa. She hosted the essential Deep Space Radio show, and was one of the DJs to perform at the first Detroit Electronic Music Festival in 2000.

But she got a surreal international big break when one of her tracks off a 2004 EP she put out started taking Europe by storm — completely unbeknownst to her.

“I got this text from Berlin from (former Detroit DJ and label head) Magda saying, ‘that track is really slaying out here!’ I had absolutely no idea what she was talking about. And then Richie Hawtin’s manager Tim Price called and told me he wanted to know more about that one track everyone was playing, and if I had any more like it. I heard Richie in the background yelling ‘I want to meet with you next time I’m there!’ I still had no idea what they were talking about,” Minx told me, laughing.

The track was “A Walk in the Park” — a simple, addictive, yet uncanny groove that Minx told me she put together in a matter of minutes. Little did she know that it was ruling dance floors in Berlin, Amsterdam, and beyond.

“Richie told me, ‘You have no idea what this track does to dance floors.’ I finally got to meet up with him and hear him play it — in fact, he had just finished playing it when I arrived, but he said, ‘Watch this,’ and threw it on again, and the place went absolutely crazy. I couldn’t believe it,” Minx told me.

“A Walk in the Park” was eventually released on Hawtin’s Minus label and remixed by Ricardo Villalobos, and is now regarded as a minimal techno classic. Since then, Minx’s Women on Wax label has released a bevy of deep and groovy yet singular-sounding records that have upped the profile of several other women in the techno world.

Minx herself brings an intensely glamorous energy to the decks, bouncing around with her fan in hand, one side-step away from vogueing as she works the EQs. Although I’ve followed her for years on the deep-and-soulful underground circuit, it’s been a treat to see her reach new audiences via what’s been labeled “the new gay underground,” and to continue building momentum while remaining true to her hometown, Detroit.

“Let’s just say about 85 percent of my bookings aren’t in Detroit,” Minx told me with a bit of ruefulness. “It’s not like the days of Motor, there is nothing like that now, although the scene is still here.”

Instead, she’s been in demand at queer parties like Hot Mass in Pittsburgh (“They dance hard as hell at Hot Mass, so much the walls drip!”) and Honey, where she headlined Pride last year, and now will join the all-female headliner line-up on Saturday.

“When I heard it was all females playing this party and gay people organizing it, I knew I had to be a part of it,” Minx told me. “I can’t wait to be out there with you.”

“I think one of the keys to my success is that I don’t just stick to one particular genre of music,” she continued. “I play stuff that makes me jump around. And when I can play a party and look out and see a broad spectrum of people, every kind of person dancing out there with me … well, that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?”

HONEY SOUNDSYSTEM WITH DJ MINX, STEFFI (LIVE), AND THE BLACK MADONNA 
Sat/16, 9:30pm-4am, $20
Public Works, SF.
Tickets and more info here

 

 

To be blunt, a blast

Smoked out Soul: VJ Johnny Diamond (left) and DJ/instrumentalists Will Magid (center) and Zebuel. Photo by Dirk Wyse.

ALL EARS Smoked Out Soul is a dance party for people who like their funk with a side of exquisitely choreographed chaos. At its most stripped-down, Smoked Out Soul (or, cleverly, S.O.S.) is two DJ/instrumentalists with live drums and percussion. That would be enough to distinguish it among DJ parties, but those are just the core members of a collective that includes trumpet, sax, and guitar, and adds guest DJs and musicians to the stew every Thursday night. It’s a recipe that keeps you, not just grooving, but whirling around to see what new treat has jumped onstage, until you find yourself out ’til 2am on a weeknight, again.

48 Hills joined DJs Zebuel and Will Magid and drummer Paul Oliphant at Monarch – during the multi-hour “labor of love” that is setting up a show with so many moving pieces – to find the magic glue that holds it all together. (The prolific Mr. Magid also offered a preview of his Alligator Spacewalk project’s upcoming album release, Fri/22 at SF JAZZ.)

S.O.S. began with some technical wizardry in the woods, and it involves a fair amount of mind-reading (as evidenced by Zebuel and Magid’s tendency to finish each other’s sentences). But the collective’s success ultimately comes down to an earthly kind of special sauce: a real community that is as much about mixing people together as it is about mashing up styles of music.

48 HILLS Zebuel, do you remember how you first fell in love with funk and soul music?

ZEBUEL I grew up right outside of Memphis, and I got way into the music from where I grew up, but not until I moved to Alaska. I remember the day I went into a record store, and they were playing Muddy Waters, and I just got chill bumps. It hit me, like, “Holy fuck. This shit was recorded 30 miles from where I was born!” Then when I moved back to Memphis, I started working in blues clubs, saw blues music every night of the week, and just became kind of obsessed.

48 HILLS How did Smoked Out Soul begin?

ZEBUEL Smoked Out Soul started as a mixtape that I made. The whole concept was: I love funk and soul music, but at the time, I was kind of a bass music DJ, and I wanted to fuse those two worlds. The name has a Memphis tie too: this hip-hop group Three 6 Mafia, they’re always talking ‘bout “smoked out this” and “smoked out that.” People really liked the mixtape, so I started DJing that style to bring soul music into the bass world.

48 HILLS When did Will enter the picture?

ZEBUEL I first met Will –

WILL MAGID The origin story of our love is hilarious.

ZEBUEL At a crazy music festival.

TOGETHER Wood Womp.

ZEBUEL He was DJing and playing trumpet, and you had a drummer too –

WILL MAGID I love that festival and everyone that puts it together, but they were not set up for live music. We had cables that wouldn’t fit into whatever inputs they had. We were waiting for the sound guy – there was no sound guy. And Zeb showed up out of the woods. He’s like, “You guys doin’ alright?” I’m like, “No!” I’m freaking out! He’s all calm, cool, collected. He’s like, “Here’s a beer. I’ll figure it out.” And he has some adapters, and plugs things in, and he’s like, “You guys are good to go.” I’m like, “Who is this guy?”

I’m forever indebted to you for that.

48 HILLS One of the things that really distinguishes this party is that it has live drummers and percussionists. Paul, can you describe your approach to drumming when you’re working with a DJ?

PAUL OLIPHANT If you’re playing along to a track, the track is the ruler, so I have to mold to what the DJ is doing. A lot of drummers – myself included, a long time ago – their approach is to solo a little bit more, do more busy stuff. My approach to drumming in general is more of a groove-based approach: match them [the beats in the track] and accentuate them a little bit, as opposed to playing around them.

48 HILLS How many drummers are regularly part of S.O.S. at this point?

WILL MAGID We’re at a point where, a couple weeks ago, I looked over at the stage: you had Enrique Padilla, Brandon Lee, Diamond Vibes from Afrolicious – like four or five of my favorite percussionists – and Paul onstage playing. It made me so happy.

48 HILLS You also have a lot of guest DJs. It’s cool to be able to go to your regular party and also expect to see an awesome DJ who you haven’t seen before. How do you find the people you bring in?

ZEBUEL A lot of times it’s people who we’re way into their music, like Captain Planet, who does the Mixtape Riot blog, and Jeremy Sole, another L.A. guy. mALaRkEy, who does the jUkE jOiNt party in Sebastopol and does an electro-funk kind of thing.

A lot of DJs don’t have the opportunity to play with live musicians, so it’s fun to bring in DJs who are just in the DJ scene, and then we have our musician buddies who aren’t really in the DJ scene. And everyone gets to mingle.

Percussionist Enrique Padilla (left) and drummer Paul Oliphant. Photo by Dirk Wyse.

WILL MAGID I think that’s such a big part of this project. It started off as a mixtape, and the whole point of a mixtape is to put different things you’re listening to together, and then people might be attracted to one song and discover a new song. That’s how this party is with people.

48 HILLS There are so many musicians who rotate in and out throughout the night. Half those people are guests, and there’s no set list, so nobody has any idea what’s about to happen. How does that work?

WILL MAGID The fact that we’ve all known each other for a long time is really important for that. Beyond just the mechanics of it working, it’s open and can blossom because of that.

ZEBUEL There’s an unspoken connection thing. I can tell by the look on his face if he’s not feeling that song, and then you can just mix another tune.

WILL MAGID Also, mechanically speaking, having a steady beat and keeping the key consistent, sometimes, is a big part of what makes it work. If there’s a horn player up there [soloing] and we’re in [the key of] F, I’m gonna play something in F in the same tempo. Even if he doesn’t notice that the song’s changing, whatever he’s doing will kind of work.

At its core, even though we’re playing dance music, it’s like an art project because there’s this risk associated with it. There’s always the chance that something bad or amazing will happen.

ZEBUEL And the visual aspect too. Gotta give a shot-out to Johnny Diamond for crushing the visuals.

WILL MAGID And he’s always really thoughtful: When a guest is up, he puts their logo on the wall. Sometimes those little things make you perform better.

48 HILLS What are the trickiest parts of your party for musicians who haven’t played with you before?

WILL MAGID Songs don’t really begin, or end – that’s the biggest thing. When you learn how to play music, those are the two most important moments, and that goes out the window with this because songs just flow into each other. It’s more of a continuously evolving collage.

Also, a lot of great musicians came up playing jazz, and in jazz you can just rip. There’s certainly a time and place for that here. But then there’s other times: when Aretha Franklin’s singing, you don’t really need to play right now. She’s got it.

Will Magid (trumpet) and horns breaking it down on the dance floor. Photo by Dirk Wyse.

48 HILLS Have you ever had a guest who you’d never worked with before, who just got it immediately and nailed it?

WILL MAGID One time a woman named Iva Lamkum showed up, and she wanted to sing, but we didn’t know her. The two hardest instruments to do well with a DJ are bass and vocals. So she’s super-nice, but in the back of our minds is, “This person may be a terrible singer, and in their mind they’re going to be singing tonight.” And then she started singing, and she was a mind-blowingly good singer.

ZEBUEL It turns out she’s pretty well-known. She’s from New Zealand.

48 HILLS What was the most epic night at S.O.S. for each of you?

ZEBUEL Bonobo horns were probably my favorite. Those guys just fucking crushed it hard. They had a blast.

WILL MAGID Nice pun. This was the horn section that was playing with Bonobo when he was in town last year. They’re friends of mine, so I invited them. It was a surprise too: two amazing horn players just pop out of nowhere and lit the place up.

My favorite night was probably the Poldoore night.

ZEBUEL Oh, shit! That was a good one.

WILL MAGID He’s a producer from Belgium. We were playing his shit all the time at our party, not even knowing who he is. Then I went out to Belgium and did some shows with him, and he came to the States and we got in the studio together while he was in town [Zeb and Poldoore later released the song “Hangover Blues” from those sessions], which culminated in a performance at S.O.S. It was his first U.S. date.

ZEBUEL And his first time playing with a full band, too.

WILL MAGID I just love that about music: people that live on opposite sides of the world, you’re all attracted to the same wavelength, and then you can actually connect your wavelengths together and make new things, in front of people who also are on that wavelength.

48 HILLS What’s next for S.O.S.? What else do you have up your sleeve?

WILL MAGID We’re putting out a compilation record real soon – sometime this fall. It’s gonna be a benefit for the ACLU. And it’s largely people that have played this party, many of which we didn’t know two years ago, when this was started.

ZEBUEL Smoked Out Soul is crazy because it started out as a mixtape and then ended up as the party, and then we got booked for Guitarfish [music festival] a few years ago, and then it was like, “Oh, shit. I guess we’re a band now.”

48 HILLS Will, you’re also releasing new music with Alligator Spacewalk at SFJAZZ this weekend. How does that project compare to Smoked Out Soul?

WILL MAGID Alligator Spacewalk is taking the Smoked Out Soul concept, but with three string players and three horn players – a ten-piece group – and with all original compositions. The DJ side of my personality is really satisfied, so Alligator Spacewalk has become an outlet for orchestrating and exploring these more wild artistic concepts.

48 HILLS Tell me about the composer of the piece you’ll be performing.

WILL MAGID Teddy Raven may be the only person who intersects with all these different things from my musical universe: Balkan music and funk and jazz and also electronic music a little bit, and is a really good composer. He plays sax with Midtown Social, different Jazz Mafia projects, Inspector Gadje, and studied Bulgarian flute on a Fulbright fellowship.

So Teddy wrote this piece called the Lunar Conquest Suite [commissioned by the Yerba Buena Gardens Festival]. It’s five movements, each about a different time period of what culminates in the U.S. moon landing in 1969. The first movement is after WWII, when the Soviet Union and the United States were fighting over Nazi scientists, one of which was the main guy that made the rocket ship that landed on the moon. It’s this bizarre part of U.S. history told through music.

And it’s also a two-part record. After Trump was elected, I just felt this deep sorrow, and meanwhile I’m really inspired by Teddy’s composing, so I wrote all this other music. It’s a double-disk: Resistance Rising and the Lunar Conquest Suite.

SMOKED OUT SOUL

Every Thursday, 10pm to close, $5-$10

Monarch, SF

Weekly lineups and advance tickets here.

ALLIGATOR SPACEWALK PRESENTS THE LUNAR CONQUEST SUITE

Friday, September 22, 7pm and 8:30pm, $25

SFJAZZ

Tickets and more info here.

Champagne supernovas, spilling over

The Brothers Gallagher. Photo by Jill Furmanovsky

SCREEN GRABS/ALL EARS The biggest noise of 90s Britpop, Manchester’s Oasis was briefly as massive as their hype — not to mention their self-estimation — before too much ego, overexposure, and repetitive musical bombast brought their comet crashing to ground. While they were up there, the spectacle was vastly enhanced by the dynamic between brothers Noel and Liam Gallagher, erstwhile ‘council flat lads”’who’d been at each other’s throats since childhood. 

Fame only heightened their sibling rivalry, with trashed hotel rooms, open drug use, fistfights and at least one deportation (from Holland) providing ample, tabloid-ready evidence that they were obnoxious pricks even by rock-star standards. The finer feelings expressed in songs like wistful classic “Wonderwall” were hard to reconcile with the middle finger extended toward everyone and everything save slavish fans. Still, the bad-boy thing worked as theater, only heightening their mystique for a while. 

Oasis: Supersonic blends archival materials and latterday audio interviews to chronicle the five years from their founding to a 1996 commercial peak—when, among other things, they played to an extraordinary quarter-million people in just two outdoor U.K. concerts. As the Gallaghers’ long-suffering mother Pattie notes, “It all happened too quick.” Too quick for these personalities to handle, that is. 

Their personal and professional power struggle could only get worse: As another observer notes, “Noel has a lot of buttons, and Liam has a lot of fingers.” After a certain point, the latter started walking offstage mid-concert whenever he felt like it, leaving the former to take over lead vocals — which, absurdly, Liam resented. Then there was the recording-session moment where Noel took a cricket bat to his younger bro’s noggin. Yes, violence is bad. But by that point in this telling, you have no doubt the boy was asking for it.

Mat Whitecross’ elaborately assembled documentary gets a lot of mileage out of both the band’s offstage excesses and its then-seemingly-unstoppable musical success. But after spending two full hours exhaustively charting their rise, it’s rather exasperating that the film simply stops… ignoring the fact that Oasis staggered on yet another twelve years to diminishing returns, till the Brothers Gallagher simply loathed each other too much to continue. 

Without that follow-through, even this warts-and-all partial history ends up feeling like an overly “authorized” whitewash. Ultimately, it’s rather like Oasis themselves: Too bloody much of a just-pretty-good thing. Of course, diehard Britpop devotees may feel otherwise. 

Supersonic plays one night only, Wed/26, at theaters nationwide. More info here

Party Radar: All the Bowie bashes

48bowieparty

PARTY RADAR Hey, all the young dudes, the Starman has ascended. And while Sir David Bowie’s influence on nightlife has already been incalculable, from placing club legends Klaus Nomi and Joey Arias on an SNL stage to inadvertently inventing dancehall reggae, we’ll still feel the after-hours ripples for years to come.

So naturally, local nightlife is rising to pay tribute to the always fabulously dressed shape-shifter. The sun machine is coming down, and we’re gonna have a party.
Here are highlights so far (let me know of any more at [email protected]).