Full Speed Ahead

House DJ Hyper D moves from behind the scenes to behind the turntables

Night comes early to 111 Minna. At 5 p.m., Pieter the doorman takes his seat outside, ready to make sure no minors find their way into the club. Inside, the SOMA space is sharp and white, with crisp music -- techno dusted with jazz's precision sway -- snapping through the gallery.

On a small, semicircular stage, a DJ tilts his ear to a pair of headphones, one hand on the fader, the other holding a beer. His name is Hyper D (aka Dave Richardson) and he's playing to a mostly empty house whose patrons are more interested in mingling than moving.

But as the gallery lights dim and the beats pick up speed, the first intrepid dancers take up positions on the floor. Hyper D peers out through a wall of dyed black hair, glancing at the growing strands of dancers. As he turns the sound system up another notch, the rhythm slips from background ambience into something more insistent, more electronic. With each passing minute, more dancers fall into the unoccupied spaces.

J.D. Brumback
J.D. Brumback


Friday, March 23, at 5 p.m. Admission is free before 7 p.m., $4 after; call 552-1346. He also DJs on Wednesday, March 28, at 6:45 p.m. at "Qoöl," 111 Minna (between Second and New Montgomery streets), S.F. Tickets are $5 (free with "Qoöl" card); call 974-1719.
"Activate," Light, 839 Geary (at Hyde), S.F.

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By 6 p.m., the floor is shaking. The crowd moves easily, hands reaching toward the ceiling, buoyant. It's partly the beer, but mostly the music. Hyper D finishes his set, hops down from the stage, and disappears into the back of the club. Now his real workday begins.

Richardson, it turns out, is the bar manager at the club. And while his hectic job takes up most of his evenings, the fringe benefits are good: Working at 111 Minna puts him at the epicenter of one of San Francisco's most creative electronica scenes.

It's not the first time Richardson has been near the shining lights of the dance world. For more than a decade, he has been involved with some of the music's most seminal moments, as when he manipulated video for throbbing Tokyo warehouse parties or brought new levels of lighting to San Francisco's exploding rave scene. But now his job at 111 Minna has led to something unexpected: It has transformed him, at 39 years old, into one of the area's most exciting DJs.

When Richardson was looking to leave his native Australia in 1988, he chose Japan for its close proximity and its technological bent. He had been tinkering with electronic music for a couple of years in Sydney, and it took only a few months in Tokyo before Richardson hooked up with other kindred souls and began throwing warehouse parties. Early on, Richardson established himself as a manic jack-of-all-trades -- organizing the events, spinning records, and running the video and light shows. It didn't take long before he found himself worn out and at a crossroads.

"I was 28 years old, standing in front of a room full of 700 people all going crazy," Richardson recalls. "And I just kind of had this epiphany. I decided that being the DJ and throwing the party and doing all of it at once was too much."

For Richardson, deciding which hat to continue wearing was easy. "It's like, here was a fork in the road. And if I looked over to the left towards the DJ thing, there were 50 million people walking down that road. And over to the right to the visual sort of thing, there was no one."

The decision to go with the lower-profile video gig was partly a business decision and partly an ideological one: Richardson harbors a Groucho Marx-like resentment about being in any club that would have him as a member.

"I'm just not a joiner," Richardson says. "If everybody goes left, I go right. I don't know why ... head injury from an early age, maybe. But if everybody is doing something, then that's enough reason to head in the opposite direction."

Instead of following others, Richardson led: He and a friend founded a company, Hyperdelic Video, that became an integral part of the underground Tokyo warehouse party scene. When other light teams were training beams on disco balls, Hyperdelic was creating an experience that rivaled the auditory fireworks coming from the DJ booth.

"We'd build pyramids of TVs and have crash-edited video," he says. "We would mix the video while the DJ was mixing the music, live. And we would mix it very aggressively. So if the beat was going "boom boom boom,' we would cut from one image to the other on the beat."

For Richardson, good party visuals not only enhanced the audience's experience of the music, but they also politicized a form of music that had distanced itself from any sort of ideology.

"In the late '80s, the words were slowly but surely going out of house music," Richardson explains. "By virtue of that, most house music is completely apolitical. ... It doesn't upset the apple cart. With the visual stuff we could be a little more political. The early Hyperdelic Video was really confrontational."

Richardson pauses, and grins. "Then it got California-ized."

A visit to San Francisco in 1993 ended Richardson's Tokyo sojourn. Dropping by the offices of the massive Toon Town raves, whose promoters had read about Hyperdelic Video in the magazine Mondo 2000, Richardson and his partner received an unexpected offer.

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