The Birth of BOCA

SF venue brings new hope for cutting-edge dance music

San Francisco is overrun with meat-market clubs and parties peddling your garden-variety dance jams: commercial hip hop, nth-generation ragga and dancehall, mainstream house, and Burning Man-styled tribal trance. So as an alternative, it's damn cool that Blasthaus has opened its second and newest space, BOCA. Located where Jessie and Mary streets meet, in a moody little alley that sits just off of 5th, BOCA — short for Bar of Contemporary Art — is a 2,000-square-foot combination dance club, bar, restaurant, and art gallery. It sports an open-plan design, with concrete floors, elevated ceilings, expansive wall space for exhibiting art, large storefront windows, and a sparse collection of tables 'n' chairs. In all honesty, it's an aesthetic — which I'll tag "elegance d'industriale" — that isn't anything out of the ordinary when considering the modern urban landscape and this city's love for the renovated loft space.

But that's where the music comes in. You see, Blasthaus is William Linn and Monika Bernstein, and over the past decade, their parties, as well as BOCA's predecessor, their still-extant RX Gallery, have earned a cultish reputation as expertly curated affairs specializing in underground electronic dance music, indie hip hop, and seriously legendary DJs. And it's Bernstein and Linn's plan to continue this tradition when programming the jams for BOCA.

"Will has really good taste," Bernstein says of Linn, Blasthaus' chief music director, during BOCA's grand opening weekend at the end of March. We chat as the house DJ sends beats pulsating across the room, Linn runs around dealing with technical issues (the gallery's decor is a work-in-progress), and well-dressed urban denizens peruse a collection of large, richly colored photographs by Russian-born artist Nathalia Edenmont, including one of a large peapod bursting with marble eyeballs. "Will is going take a chance on an event," Bernstein adds, "because it's important to bring it to San Francisco. Otherwise, I don't think anybody else will take the chance."

Case in point: Over the past several years, most of Europe and New York has been driven absolutely bonkers by the driving, polyrhythmic grooves of minimal techno, as pioneered by such labels as Basic Channel, Plastikman's M_nus imprint, and the ever-hip Kompakt. Hell, even such experimental indie rockers as Animal Collective, Black Dice, and Sightings are heavily influenced by this pivotal movement, which strips techno down to its barest rhythmic components, often recalling in spirit the music's original Detroit-derived incarnation. Blasthaus is the reason for local appearances by such genre heavies as Isolee, a German-based producer by the name of Rajko Müller; and the ferocious Swiss duo Galoppierende Zuversicht, whose massive, static-crackling e-beats blew out the power at RX Gallery, inspiring a wildly writhing woman dancing next to me to freak the fuck out screaming, "This is like some old-school hardcore raver shit!" This string of classic gigs will only continue when Spectral Sound's Matthew Dear appears at BOCA on Saturday, April 22. Dear is a Detroit DJ, producer, and remixer specializing in microhouse, a house-based version of minimal techno emphasizing these pristinely designed melodic grooves.

However, BOCA will be featuring much more than just techno and house. By the time this article sees publication, Norman Jay, the mythical English selector who coined the now-omnipresent phrase "rare groove" for his mixes of hyper-obscure American funk, soul, house, and R&B, will have brought the roof down on a thoroughly sweaty Friday night. This dude really is one of the more famous DJs on the planet. And if instrumental hip hop is your thing, then France's DJ Cam is your ticket, appearing on Friday, April 28.

So there's hope that BOCA will be, as Bernstein half-jokingly says to me, a "goldmine," because when it comes to dance culture, Blasthaus is a uniquely noble creature. It's dedicated to placing the art before the commerce while continuing to import new sounds into San Francisco like no one else.

 
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