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Two massive electronic music events, one small spotlight

Wednesday, Sep 13 2006
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According to the San Francisco Convention and Visitors Bureau, business and leisure travelers are responsible for bringing more than $6.3 billion into San Francisco each year. Those polled cited the diversity, scenic beauty, weather, and restaurants as the chief reasons for their visits. Not mentioned in that rarefied list is the local music culture, which is as historic and diverse as the other tourist attractions. Two organizations aim to change those statistics, though, attempting to attract worldwide fans and creators of electronic music.

The combined efforts of the San Francisco LoveFest (formerly known as Love Parade San Francisco) and the brand-new Summer Music Conference (SMC) could help lure international fans of house, techno, breakbeat, and drum 'n' bass music. If successful, S.F. could be added to an annual itinerary that includes such global electronic music cornerstones as Miami's Winter Music Conference and M3, Detroit's Movement, Montreal's Mutek Festival, and Barcelona's Sonar Festival.

But there's one potential obstacle in achieving that status: LoveFest and SMC take place over consecutive weekends with no overlap (LoveFest's "Love Week" starts Sept. 20 and culminates with the parade on Sept. 23, while SMC takes place Sept. 27-Oct. 1) and there's also no real cooperation amongst the organizers. While neither group publicly projects a competitive attitude about the other, two large-scale productions in such a short amount of time is causing some social and financial strains.

The older of the two parties is LoveFest, a nonprofit event funded by audience donations and commercial sponsorships. It started as Love Parade San Francisco in 2004, an offshoot of an annual free party in Berlin that attracts over a million techno revelers dancing to wildly eclectic floats. This year Love Parade Berlin decided not to renew its worldwide licenses, and undaunted, San Francisco Love Paraders rechristened themselves San Francisco LoveFest. They've carried on with the mission of bringing an interactive celebration of electronic music and culture to Northern California. Last year's event attracted 75,000 people, according to Syd Gris, a local DJ/promoter who serves as a LoveFest board member and heads its promotions and marketing. Organizers expect "minimal" loss of attendance from the rebranding of the name, although it's still a struggle to broaden the reach.

"Dance music in America is still pretty underground. Even on the commercialized end like [radio station] Energy 92.7, it's a very small market here," explains Gris. "There's just not a lot of avenues to reach people. So we have kind of an uphill struggle to make the event as massive as other places where there's a much bigger audience for dance music."

As in previous years, LoveFest is surrounded by LoveWeek, with more than 20 club bookings beginning Sept. 20. Standouts include a special edition of weekly progressive house/trance party Qoöl known as Sööperqoöl (Sept. 20 at 111 Minna), breakbeat night "Thrust for Love" (Sept. 22 at Mighty), and the giant parade afterparty with marquee DJs Paul Oakenfold, Junkie XL, and Christopher Lawrence (Sept. 23 at Bill Graham Civic Auditorium).

Adding to the challenges facing LoveFest is the addition of a new electronic music festival a week later. The Summer Music Conference is a for-profit venture geared toward digital music makers and industry professionals. Its programming features two days of panel discussions, a technology expo, and a free party on Sept. 30 featuring local artists Landshark, J Boogie, Zeph and Aleem with Collossus, and Iz and Diz.

Like LoveFest's "Love Week," though, the SMC will be accentuated by several live performances. Highlights include a one-off residency of New York house club the Sullivan Room (Sept. 27 at the End-Up), the 15th anniversary of underground house night Come-Unity with original DJs Garth and Jenö (Sept. 29 at 1015), and the electro/hip-hop throwdown "Further" with Montreal's Tiga and S.F.'s Gold Chains (Sept. 30 at Mighty).

It seems like LoveFest and SMC are working a bit at cross purposes by not collaborating efforts, yet the division of the organizations stems from deeper issues. SMC founder/CEO Jennifer Manger and Vice President of Entertainment Pete Fraser previously worked for Love Parade San Francisco — Manger was its sponsorship and marketing director while Fraser was its treasurer. Manger says that she wasn't paid for her work as a contractor for the Love Parade 2005. LoveFest's Gris disputes this claim, saying, "The fact is we did pay her. We actually overpaid her. She feels that we owe her more money, but she didn't go about [securing paperwork] the right way and we have no way to verify the amount."

In the end Manger says she wishes LoveFest "all the best." "I think there would be nothing better than for San Francisco to have multiple electronic festivals throughout the year," she continues. "It builds tourism and value for San Francisco. It'll bring more talent and business into town. But I think it comes down to general economics: You're going to work with the people who work best with you. If someone burns me, I'm definitely not going to get into business with them again."

LoveFest board president Joshua Smith declined to go into detail of any "drama or airing of dirty laundry," saying, "We sent e-mail to their leadership months and months ago inviting them to build coalition, to build unity. We did not receive a response to that and we felt it important to leave it at that and focus on making sure that the LoveFest lives up to its potential as much as possible. We challenge them to come to us to discuss in the future how we can build unity while respecting the individual goals and missions of the Summer Music Conference and the LoveFest."

Manger hints that she might be amenable to syncing up the two calendars in the future. "This is our first year, and we at least have to establish ourselves," she says. "One of the things that I think was a concern was that if we did Summer Music Conference at the same time as LoveFest, we would have been very overshadowed, and we wouldn't have been able to get our point across."

At last year's Love Parade, Gunnar Hissam and several of his co-workers and artists at S.F.'s Om Records sailed down Market Street in a pirate shipÐthemed float. The leading local electronic label plunks down serious dollars each year to throw parties during Miami's M3 and Winter Music Conference. But this year it will forego hosting a float at LoveFest to instead sponsor one of the two stages at the SMC main event and host a massive party at 1015.

Hissam says he looks forward to both festivals, noting that the totality of what's on offer is important for this area. But he laments that Om had to choose when and where to best direct its resources. "We'd rather do it all," he reasons, "But you can't really do two weekends in a row."

Om's decisions are representative of smaller labels, club promoters, and DJ collectives that can either become spread thin this month or decided to focus on one event over the other. Manger explains that SMC's business model could spur activity that would make that less of a problem in the future.

"Our whole idea is to hopefully bring more money and more resources to the table for everyone," she says. "We can highlight our artists, get San Francisco back on the map as a major hub of entertainment, get people flying here more often. Then they'll have the resources to do more things."

Hissam notes that it will be a challenge for even an enthusiastic city like ours to support two major electronic music events back to back. If they come off lackluster, it won't do us the greatest of favors in attracting outside attention. "But, if that shit goes off and it's just a big two-week party with people going bananas," he predicts, "then people will notice."

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Tamara Palmer

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