Demon Days review (finally)
The solstice is always a tricky time when dealing with San Francisco’s prickly weather, will it be warm and balmy like the rest of California in June or standing frigidly alone buried in a freezing cloak of fog? For the June installment of Demon Days the weather was surprisingly warm. However this kind of climatary Russian roulette does leave club goers with a confusing array of choices when it comes to outerwear, will it be a fashionable hoodie or a windbreak, maybe even a jacket for the wee hours? The unique patchwork of outerwear choices seen on display at Demon Days on the 22nd was perhaps psychologically indicative of the freewheeling and independent Northern California dance music scene. Not hemmed in by an unposted set of rules, maybe even with a glint of the Haight-Ashbury counter-culturalism still running through the city’s sewers, San Francisco still represents some of the best aspects of American hedonism and refusal-to-listen-to-the-Man attitude still left in the post 9/11 world. It may even be the overtly DIY attitudes of the community that have lead to an unspoken worship of all things Jerry Garcia and Bob Marley, regardless this bizarre and seemingly undying love of the noodly Phish jam has held back the development of darker styles of dance music, such as techno, in the city by the bay for many years. It wasn’t until dubstep landed like a bomb in the SoMa district a few years back that SF took off its rainbow colored lenses and saw that the world was bleeding and dance music everywhere beginning to embrace a new found grittiness which left little room for cheesy Vegas-style acts like DJ Dan anymore. From that nexus point San Francisco (and the West Coast) has launched a blistering counter-offensive hurling a cabal of techno artists and DJs to national and international prominence perhaps even birthing a techno renaissance in the process. One such group is Kontrol SF, who have been hand selected to play the upstairs room at the popular Mezzanine nightclub for the first two of the San Francisco Demon Days performances this year. Residents Craig Kuna and Alland Byallo laid down a refreshing groove equally informed by the minimal sounds of the East as well as Matthew Dear’s vision of 21st century
While they’re may be a riot goin’ on currently in the San Francisco techno scene, Demon Days’ founders Carl Craig and Gamall Awad are championing a darker Motor City meets Sheffield vision of contemporary techno than anything coming out of San Francisco. It’s always been a big question mark as to whether clubbers out West would accept such a sinister mechanized funk attack. Feel good house music veterans like Mark Farina and Miguel Migs dominate this city’s dance floors while Uncle Jerry’s mangled finger specter still holds noodly sway over the public consciousness. Unfortunately the first installment of techno’s answer to the Velvet Underground’s Exploding Plastic Inevitable (complete with twisted visuals from a true Warhol disciple mysteriously named Parra) featuring Lindstrøm did not answer the techno question. Sure, it was a packed dance floor but it was a whole swarm of clueless indie dorklets who filled the Mezzanine like vile locusts clinging to the every one of Lindstrøm’s cosmic disco moves.
The solstice edition of Demon Days finally promised a night exclusively of techno with Swiss duo Lazyfatpeople’s Mirko making what was apparently his first San Francisco appearance alongside residents Gamall and legendary Detroit DJ Carl Craig. And while the crowds were undoubtedly smaller for the second go round it was apparent watching DJ Gamall taking a small early night group milling about to a hyped up crowd on the dance floor during his opening set that people came for something new. Gamall found instant approval with the crowd with a tasteful mix of Sheffield’s electronic melodies and bleeps with strong old school New York house bass lines ala Dennis Ferrer. If Gamall found middle ground way out West with Joris Voorn then Lazyfatpeople’s Mirko was the DJ of the night for this crowd. His solidly Germanic and mid continental mix of minimal house of was exactly what the Mezzanine crowd was looking for, a look back to the old Wicked and Sunset outdoor parties of ages past when OG electrohippie noodlers like Garth, Jeno, and the Hardkiss brothers held sway over the Bay Area. Some of complained about Mirko’s reliance on bonafide club hits like Villalobos' remix of Depeche Mode and mixing that spent more time meandering than getting to the point-moving bodies in gyrating frenzy. Well I’ll be honest that Mirko’s mixing didn’t excite me and minimal is not my deal but it was nice to go to a club and see the women getting something they wanted for a change, a night of great club music instead of chin stroking techno boys spending the night armchair deejaying and trainspotting. The feel good vibes were high and Mirko’s huge grin infectious. Mirko for the night was a quintessential San Francisco house DJ and the crowd could feel it. Carl Craig played a much more driving set of well-heeled tracks than at his previous appearance. Many of those tracks were re-worked by Craig and some met instant approval by the sea of heads there for him such as his remixes of “Into The Trees” by Faze Action and “Kill 100” by Xpress 2. While I was less impressed by this leaner Carl Craig set of dancefloor jams than his more loping affairs the crowd for this Demon Days was definitely a techno crowd and Parra’s dark visuals only served to cement the crowd’s loyalty to the dark bangers. When it was all said and done, Carl ended with the beatless version of “Strings of Life”, the lights came up, the euroboys got in line to kiss Carl’s feet, and we left along with the rest of the crowd feeling like we part of a very special thing. This special vibe is what makes Demon Days one of the premier parties in the world and here’s to their continued success in SF and around the world.