All Ears

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

Rocky Horror Picture Fail

Laverne Cox is amazing, but the show isn't

SCREEN GRABS The Rocky Horror Picture Show was an important part of my young life. I first saw it in a theater in Greenwich Village in 1979, at midnight, sitting in the back row, fooling around with someone I had just met. The floor was sticky; the air was sweet smoky. The audience was throwing rice and toast and toilet paper, and everyone knew every line. Drag queens jumped up and danced on the stage, before, after, and during the movie.

It was all so deliciously dirty. I was hooked.

This is how the movie is supposed to start

I watched it again and again while I went to college. I bought the soundtrack and late, late at night, after all the parties ended, we would sit in my friend Paulo’s room and listen to the whole thing, start to finish; with the lights off, you could imagine the rest.

When Paulo and I left the East Coast for San Francisco, we caught a midnight show along the way in Salt Lake City, where all the jokes were about the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. And I thought: If they can fill the house in Salt Lake City with kids watching this, there must be hope for the world.

See, in 1975, when the movie was made, there were no drag queens in Hollywood. There were no “sweet transvestites from transsexual Transylvania” in popular culture. This was more than edgy; it was radical stuff, gender-blurring, punk-ass, sex-positive slutty cinema in all its musical glory. Plus: Meat Loaf!

So now I’m old and I have teenage kids, and I try to share the great moments of my life with them, and when Fox decided to air a remake – with Laverne Cox, and Adam Lambert, and Victoria Justice (who my daughter Vivian loved from this stupid show) … sorry, the Cubs were playing the Dodgers in Game Five, but the Redmond-Field Household was going to watch Rocky Horror.

I told Viv she had to sit down early on the couch with me. The first part of the movie is the best; we’re supposed to wait for it to roll and shout “LIPS!”

And then it was 8pm. And no lips.

The brilliant, iconic opening – featuring the mouth of Patricia Quinn and the voice of Richard O’Brien, the two minutes that defined Rocky Horror? Gone. Instead, we had some dumb Marilyn Monroe look-alike who jumped out of World War II singing the theme song, badly, lip-synching, badly. Rocky Horror’s original opening scene defined lip-synching; there’s been nothing like it since, ever. And now: Boring.

It didn’t get much better.

Laverne Cox is amazing. She did the best she could. Adam Lambert was the real star, channeling Meat Loaf and showing how you can make the old into the new. Victoria Justice was fine as the innocent, Virginal Janet, but unlike Susan Sarandon, who played the role in the original, she never quite made the necessary transition to Slutty Janet.

Laverne Cox is amazing, but the show isn't
Laverne Cox is amazing, but the show isn’t

Riff Raff (Reeve Carney) and Magenta (Christina Milan) start off just fine, but the scene at the end when they appear in the audience with ridiculous sci-fi outfits on is just pathetic.

Oh, and Rocky? Not anywhere near as studly as the original – and he’s not even wearing the tight gold underpants. No package.

The wonder of the original Rocky Horror was the feeling that anything might happen at any moment; this version was made for Fox, and totally controlled.

It’s one of those strange things in culture: Rocky Horror gets its energy from its time, from the idea that you could actually pull that off in 1975, that audiences all over –even in Salt Lake City – would love it and let it change their lives. Today, you need more than a decent musical performance to do that – and the new version takes absolutely no risks. I would have loved a little wardrobe malfunction.

Oh, and there’s the really, really stupid fail of trying to do a “movie within a movie” and show scenes of what the audience might have been like in the early days, which was wrong (I was there, we were nowhere near that well-behaved) – and the whole idea undermines the wonder of the film. How are you supposed to participate when the participation is already scripted?

I know I am old, and I try not to be a curmudgeon who hates everything new, but Rocky Horror was A Moment, and meant something, and this new version is just a TV movie that nobody will notice when it’s gone.

Too bad. My kids are missing something.

If you want the real experience, Ray of Light Theatre’s powerhouse stage version is coming to Victoria Theater Oct. 26 to Nov. 5. And it features one of our most theatrical drag queens, D’Arcy Drollinger, in the role of Dr. Frank N Furter.


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

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.


Megablast for a minimal giant

Steve Reich, New York City, May 2005. Photo by Jeffrey Herman

ALL EARS One of the most incredible yet undersung developments of the past decade on the SF scene has been the explosion of interest in contemporary music. It’s kind of nuts! Of course, for decades the Bay Area has been a locus of new sounds and acoustical experiments — we’ve been home to “contemporary classical” legends like Pauline Oliveros, John Adams, Harry Partch, Terry Riley, and a whole lot more. (Where, oh where, is our definitive history e-book/indie doc/Netflix series of experimental music hereabouts?)

But lately I’ve been blown away by the youthful crowds and inspirational oomph I’ve witnessed at festivals like sfSound, Switchboard, Tape Music, and the upcoming Electronic Music Festival to series like Unseen, performances by the SF Contemporary Music Players and others at the SF Conservatory of Music, and venues like the Lab and the SF Symphony’s epic Soundbox. Artists and performers may be fleeing our high-priced environs in droves, but there’s an efflorescence of audience for contemporary sounds — could it be the innovation? The disruption? The hyper-dynamics? The ambient weirdness? — that has been a boon to this music.

The 'Steve Reich at Berkeley, 1970' album
The cover of the ‘Steve Reich at Berkeley, 1970’ album

Another composer with deep Bay Area roots, trailblazing minimal composer Steve Reich, has emerged as the trend’s patron saint: if the avant-garde prizes iconoclasm, at 80 Reich has somehow evaded it and ascended into reverence. Relatable yet sophisticated, spare yet lush, splendidly propulsive and emotionally cinematic, his work has been everywhere in the past few years. He’s become the totem of contemporary music festivals, his name a reliable “in” for any fence-sitters, his music a blast for performers and a spectacle for the audience. Anyone who caught the awesome SFCMP performance of 1970’s “Drumming” last year, in which an alien, phase-shifting reverberation was let loose to arc throughout the music hall, won’t soon forget it. But his music can also be touchingly intimate, as saxophonist John Ingle’s ragged, playful rendition of 1966’s “Reed Phase” at July’s sfSound Festival attested.

I could fly into my pet theories here about how the hypnotic repetitions of Reich’s music jibe perfectly with tech-obsessed culture, a balm for our ADD moment with just the right amount of pathos and intellectual heft behind it. But really, I’m just dang grateful we get so much of him. Ever since I stumbled on the ECM recording of his “Music for 18 Musicians” when I was a kid I’ve been hooked, and my techno DJ heroes are the ones who’ve slyly slipped snippets of “Octet” into their sets (or in Derrick May’s case, the whole darn thing once or twice).

Which is why I flew right out of my Nikes when I heard that the SF Symphony was putting on almost a week’s worth of Reich, Sept 7-11, in honor of his 80th birthday. With the symphony’s resources, I knew we were going to get big things. And so we are: the sweeping, orchestra-on-steroids “Three Movements” (Opening Gala Sept. 7 and Sept. 9 and 10); the Pat Metheny-originated “Electric Counterpoint” (Sept. 11) with Derek Johnson multi-tracking himself on guitar; “Double Sextet” (Sept. 9, 10, 11), commissioned by Chicago ensemble Eighth Blackbird (they’ll be here to play it), which snagged the 2009 Pulitzer Prize; and the thrumming, meditative “Six Marimbas” (Sept. 11), which brings in students from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.

It’s all fantastic — who else but SF Symphony conductor Michael Tilson Thomas would drop 19 minutes of soaring minimalism into the Opening Gala? Bravo, dude. But most exciting for me will be the special September 11 concert titled “Steve Reich: An American Maverick” which, besides the pieces listed above, will also feature Reich’s masterpiece tour-de-force (and another Pulitzer winner), “Different Trains,” performed by our own brilliant Kronos Quartet, whose 1989 recording of it won a Grammy.

“Different Trains” heralded a more narrative stretch of Reich’s work, using recorded voices of Holocaust survivors and others to tell the sometimes harrowing parallel-track stories of train travel in the 1940s in occupied Europe and here in America, when a young Reich thrilled to childhood train trips. (Another narrative piece utilizing similar techniques, “WTC 9/11” was originally scheduled to be performed, but was axed, perhaps for being overly-literal.)

Michael Tilson Thomas, always a champion of “American mavericks” in contemporary music, is ideal to take us through Reich’s work, having conducted his friend’s compositions since 1973. “I had first heard his music at a late-night party in downtown Los Angeles,” MTT wrote in Vanity Fair. “It was unique—both beautiful and confrontational, entirely different from other ‘avant-garde’ music I knew. It had beautiful notes in shifting layers of time that made ever changing melodies. It was elating and somehow spiritual. It reminded me of Rabbi Nachman’s saying, ‘So all things turn over and revolve and are changed . . . and in the transformation and return of things redemption is enclosed.'”

Despite the growing ubiquity of contemporary music events, we don’t get too many chances to experience so much otherworldly avant-garde in our “high art” spaces. Jump on this.

Sept 7-11
Davies Symphony Hall, SF.
Tickets and more information here

A month of listening adventurously

Flower Piano

ALL EARS Why July? This month seems especially full of experimental, experiential, and just plain extra-lovely live music, much of it contemporary. SF has this kind of thing all year round of course, from last month’s Switchboard Festival at Brava Theater to the stunning (and almost impossible to get into) Soundbox. But for those looking to step into a warm womb of acoustical hijinks in this wintry month, here’s a brief guide. (For more great adventurous listening, check out the Lab, the Center for New Music, SFJazz, and the SF Conservatory of Music.)

A symphonic version of the Final Fantasy videogame? OK!
A symphonic version of the Final Fantasy videogame? OK!

Get your feet wet (no chills, please!) with this peppy little series from the SF Symphony folks. Summer in the City may seem on the popper side — but let’s face it, hearing Beethoven’s monumental, ecstatic Ninth Symphony (Fri/8 and Sat/9) performed by the SF Symphony is a real treat. I’m particularly jazzed for An Evening in Paris with Madeleine Peyroux (Thu/21) who honed her guitar chops busking the Parisian boulevards, and A Russian Celebration (Fri/22), in which you get soaring Shostakovich, Rachmaninoff, and Tchaikovsky. Also, the lovely, global-lounge-y champagne sounds of Pink Martini (Thu/28 and Fri/29) are always cool. The Symphony is also canny enough to hop on the soundtrack train, packing ’em in for glorious symphony accompaniment to Ratatouille (Sat/16 and Sun/17), Star Trek: 50th Anniversary Celebration (Thu/14 and Fri/15), and legendary videogame Final Fantasy VI, VII, and X (Wed/27). Check out more Summer in the City here.


This biennial festival blows most others out of the water, both in length — it runs throughout the summer and sometimes beyond — and depth. This year there’s a sonic-architectural takeover of Fort Mason (check it out until July 10), a “Subliminal Cities” club night at the Cal Academy of Sciences, “Sounding Bodies” and “Invisible Fortress at Grace Cathedral, and the really cool AudiBus which takes you on a tour of the city, but sonically. Check out the full program here.


This is the annual freak out for contemporary music lovers (well, one of them anyway) — and if the massive interest in the SFSound organization’s Tape Music Festival earlier this year is any indication, you might want to get there early all three days to snag a seat (or bring an inflatable). Held in the gorgeous Gray Area space (the former Grand Cinema in the Mission), the sfSound Fest takes as its theme “[NOTATIONS | ORIENTATIONS ]” — “A three-concert celebration of 20th and 21st century music covering a wide range of graphical notation performed by some of the most passionate interpreters of such music in the Bay Area.” There are dozens of performances of works by tons of forward-thinking (and literal-notating) composers, including Earl Browne, Paulin Olivieros, Steve Reich, Morton Feldman, and more. Check out more here.

Flower Piano
Flower Piano

I went to this last year and it was one of the truly loveliest things I’ve encountered. And so simple: place 12 pianos throughout the 55-acre SF Botanical Gardens grounds, and allow whoever wants to to play them. The result? Professional duets, kids goofing around, flush-faced adults reliving the anxiety and joy of their childhood recital years, groups of enraptured listeners strewn at the bases of large trees. More info here.

The city’s chillest annual musical festival — hey, some local people are actually playing! — might be bursting at the seams this year with great talent, including The She’s, Hot Flash Geat Wave, Chairlift, Adam Vida, Alvvays, and many more. Also: skateboarding! Food! Sunshine (we hope!). All held in Potrero del Sol Park, natch. Check out more about the fest here.

An image by visual artist Kerry
An electrographic image by visual artist Kerry Laitala, who will be performing at Unseen.

This insanely clever series by our very own 48 Hills web developer Matt Fisher pairs up local live visual projection artists with live musicmakers — and there is a real thirst for that, if recent sold-out happenings are any indication. The inspired pairings take the Gray Area building into other acoustic-visual dimensions. July 23 sees guests Wobbly,
Bill Thibault, Kerry Laitala, and Cyrus Tabar. More info here.

Danishta Rivero
Danishta Rivero

Secrets! There is an awesome new experimental music series happening in the Upper Haigh, deep within the Red Victorian. Here’s the scoop for the July edition: Drummer’s Secret Handshake #2 (percussionist performing an action entitled “Economimesis”), John Krausbauer and David Kendall (wondrous washes of noise), and Danishta Rivero (“It’s no longer a question of whether you’re a brain in a jar, but what qualia is the jar made of and is the brain yours alone? Danishta Rivero pokes pitch dark fun at these questions, probing an actual jar filled with CSF and surrounding lightforms. Using multivalent circuits and specialized contractions of the laryngopharynx, Rivero agitates rods of Corti, gypsum, superior temporal gyrus, glass, epidermis, and concrete in stochastic sympathy. If during her performance you remain unaware of any jar, continue to row row row, gently.) How heady, how rad. Check out more info here.


Switchboard Music Fest lights up with new sounds

Tyondai Braxton headlines Sat/18's Switchboard Music Festival

ALL EARS Festival fatigue can come on quickly — I’m exhausted just looking at the recently rereleased Treasure Island Music Festival lineup — especially when you’re confronted by the prospect of one more baking afternoon/freezing evening watching familiar performers trot out well-branded performances (if you can even see them through the see of trendy felt hats and flower crowns).

An antidote, a refresher? Saturday’s Switchboard Music Festival, which takes over Brava Theatre, 1pm-9pm. Focussing on eclectic, experimental, and just plain humanly beautiful sounds, Switchboard — now in its ninth year — is almost more an environmental happening than a typical festival.

Listeners wander in and out of Brava all day, taking in wildly varying sounds, from local vocal choruses and jazz soloists to quirky string quartets and mad scientist electronic wizards.

Tyondai Braxton headlines Sat/18's Switchboard Music Festival
Tyondai Braxton headlines Sat/18’s Switchboard Music Festival

Last year, the festival swung from Bay Area treasure Kitka’s haunting Bulgarian folk songs to a huge, all-star ensemble’s hour-long “re-do” rendition of Berkeley composer Terry Riley’s legendary 1971 “In C” without missing a beat.

The SF Girls Chorus performs works by Philip Glass and Lisa Bielawa at Switchboard
The SF Girls Chorus performs works by Philip Glass and Lisa Bielawa at Switchboard

This year offers the same eclectic wonders, this year with a few recognizable indie names int he mix. There’s still plenty of invention. Witness Tonal Masher, aka Aram Shelton (“To find a new application for the use of his 1937 Conn alto saxophone, Shelton has chosen to remove the reed and mouthpiece, and work with the tones that are a result of feedback via microphone and amplification, and the percussive elements of keys and pads”).

Or how about a piece called Body of Your Dreams. (“JacobTV’s Body of your Dreams for piano and soundtrack samples an Abtronic Pro commercial — ‘It’s one of the easiest ways ever to get your body in the shape you want it…’. Paired with a rhythmic solo piano, performed by Anne Rainwater, it’s a humorous and on-the-nose portrayal of a society obsessed with slimness.”)

Beyond that, one of our most thrilling experimental duos, The Living Earth Show, is taking a detour into unexpected pop, teaming up with avant-garde opera composer Ken Ueno and throat-singer Majel Connory — now there’s an experiment! Well-known indie names include former SFer Dominique Leone, trio Religious Girls, and Tyondai Braxton, who’ll be headlining the show.

Add to that the SF Girls Chorus singing Philip Glass, the Del Sol Quartet performing electro-acoustical music by local composer Mason Bates, piano duo ZOFO tackling another Riley piece, “Prating Mantis Rag” …… I’m kind of freaking out about it.

Switchboard programmers Ryan Brown, Jeff Anderle, and Annie Phillips never fail to bring something new to the table each year. I asked Annie over email what she felt was particularly different or new this year.

“One thing that’s special about Switchboard this year is we’re bringing back a couple of artists who have relocated to New York City — Dominique Leone and Aaron Novik — which to me is interesting because that seems to be the #1 location competition: NYC or SF?” Annie replied.

“Dominique’s playing music from a record he wrote about San Francisco with a group of all-star locals, and Aaron’s performing new music with his project O+O+ with a really similar group of players, and throughout the day you’ll notice many familiar faces on stage.

“I think that speaks to the broad interest and abilities of the Bay Area’s music scene: So many of the musicians are incredibly diverse, and very talented across a wide spectrum of genres, which makes us listeners very lucky.

Julius Eastman’s 1973 piece 'Stay On It' is one of the first minimalist works to show the influence of pop music. Written for an indeterminate ensemble, 'Stay On It' will be performed by festival artists, co-directors, and Switchboard alumni.
Julius Eastman’s 1973 piece ‘Stay On It’ is one of the first minimalist works to show the influence of pop music. Written for an indeterminate ensemble, ‘Stay On It’ will be performed by festival artists, co-directors, and Switchboard alumni.

“From speaking with many of our artists this year, it seems like they are treating Switchboard as a platform to perform something they wouldn’t have a chance to otherwise, which as a co-director makes me very happy. That’s true of the first set, Julius Eastman’s Stay On It, and of the third set, with Majel Connery, Ken Ueno, and The Living Earth Show, and to a certain extent all of the others. It makes us very happy to be able to present so much music that wouldn’t get a chance to be seen this way otherwise.”

Sat/18, 1pm-9pm, $20-$25
Brava Theatre, SF.
Tickets and more info 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?”

Sat/16, 9:30pm-4am, $20
Public Works, SF.
Tickets and more info here



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.”

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

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


Pussy Riot, unmasked

A couple of weeks back I found myself scrambling around the internet trying to glean the password for the Citibank Visa Card ticket presale to… an Iggy Pop concert.

Kind of a depressing moment actually, in realizing such a corporate avenue as my only angle on Iggy. And by the time I caught wind of the hefty ticket prices to match, I was not only left dejected of purpose, but exhausted with the dismal state of rock music in 2016. How did we get to this point? When did it require a small bank loan to see a concert? Better yet, where did all the edgy and dangerous bands go? In light of the attacks on Paris, of Donald Trump as a viable U.S presidential candidate, and a long laundry list of appalling police shootings, why is there so little urgency?

48 HIlls: Pussy Rioters Maria "Masha" Alyokhina and Ksenia Zhivago. Photo by Charles Russo.
Pussy Rioters Ksenia Zhivago (left) and Maria “Masha” Alyokhina. Photo by Charles Russo.

As I entered the Warfield theater last Wednesday night to see the Russian punk-activist collective Pussy Riot, all of these questions resurfaced on my mind, but with a glimmer of hope. After all, if anyone could offer a glimpse of activism and urgency, it would be these young women from Russia. Consider this — as if taking on the oppressive policies of walking-human-rights-violation Vladimir Putin was not enough of a monumental task, Pussy Riot somehow still found time to address social issues here within the US, by tackling the Eric Garner killing at the hands of NYPD with their 2015 video “I Can’t Breathe.”

Still active at home, their most recent video — “CHAIKA,” released earlier last week — is a scathing parody of the Russian prosecutor general, Yuri Chaika, who jailed three members of the group for hooliganism in 2012. In this regard – Pussy Riot, seemed to be the logical antidote to my earlier anxieties.

Wednesday night’s event at the Warfield was not a performance, but rather a discussion moderated by local writer and Russian native Zarina Zabrisky, covering myriad topics of activism, LGBT Rights, political prisoners, and a general state of existence under the policies of Putin. The evening started with an abbreviated screening of the upcoming documentary Pussy vs. Putin (by Russian filmmaker Alexander Cheparukhin), which showcases a wealth of raw from-the-trenches footage of the group staging protests around Russia in the face of belligerent police and hardline religious zealotry.

Amid the footage of their now infamous 2012 Punk Prayer protest at Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior, a beleaguered clergy women, confounded by the scene unraveling in front of her, simply blurts out, “What a provocation!” Indeed.

48 Hills: Pussy premiered an early version of documentary 'Pussy vs. Putin'. Photo by Charles Russo
Pussy premiered an early version of documentary ‘Pussy vs. Putin’. Photo by Charles Russo

Yet for as interesting as the film and the discussion was at times, the event was pretty disjointed. Ranging from issues with translation, to an awkward rapport with the moderator and clunky handling of the Q&A session, the evening just never quite seemed to gel. And while Pussy Rioter Maria “Masha” Alyokhina was in attendance (joined by Russian prison reform activist and seemingly newer Pussy Riot member Ksenia Zhivago), her well-known counterpart Nadezhda Tolokonnikova (who carries the new “CHAIKA” video) was not.

48 HIlls: More footage from the 'Pussy vs Putin' documentary. Photo by Charles Russo
The duo spoke of their support for Russian artist Petr Pavlensky. Photo by Charles Russo

It was unfortunate to see this event plod along, because the members of Pussy Riot had an array of interesting topics to speak on, including Zhivago’s insight into the dismantling of Moscow’s once vibrant LGBT movement, and the group’s support for Russian political performance artist Petr Pavlensky. There were some great lighter moments as well, such as when Alyokhina explained that since their Cathedral protest, a few different Russian citizens have formally filed charges against Pussy Riot for causing them severe mental distress.

As the night progressed, the main issue with the discussions seemed to be a mismatch of expectations within the audience. After all, a seated talk about human rights is simply not the same experience as a rebellious rock performance under looming threat of police repression.

In fact, when the lights came up after the documentary screening, a heckler shouted, “Enough with your unedited footage, bring out Pussy Riot.” Moderator Zabrisky addressed this issue at one point, explaining how many people seemed to desire a “fashionable” experience from Pussy Riot, as opposed to the hard realities of a “real” human rights struggle.

There were still moments of satire. Photo by Charles Russo
There were still moments of satire. Photo by Charles Russo

Here’s the thing though: Pussy Riot should absolutely tour as a band, because all of these things can be successfully merged. Both their activism and passion for punk agitprop could fuse into something formidable. To begin with, the concerts would garner a huge amount of media (and therefore awareness) for their causes, while also inspiring a much greater cross-section of younger fans towards activism. Most notably though, a Pussy Riot tour would generate the kind of resources that the band needs if they are going to continue going head-to-head with the Putin regime. And if a few spectators get a “fashionable” experience in the process, the benefits still outweigh the nonsense.

However, both Alyokhina and Tolokonnikova have already received criticism from other segments of the collective from deviating outside the lines of the group’s principles, for attaching specific faces to Pussy Riot, and for participating in for-profit events. And in this sense, maybe a tour isn’t the right fit for them. If they begin openly shedding their founding principals one after the next, well … from there the Citibank Visa Card Pussy Riot presale probably wouldn’t be far off.

Party Radar: All the Bowie bashes


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]).