Oddballers

BLVD: the only live band at the rave

It's almost 2 a.m. on a recent Wednesday night and the crowd at Mighty has distilled down to the hardcores. A holiday party for a local culture Web site has drawn a schizo smattering of dress styles, musical preferences, and income brackets that ebbs and flows as the evening turns. The tucked-in, after-work crowd was injected with a fashionista vibe early on, which took on a weird, scruffy Burning Man flavor around midnight. By now, jerking to bass-heavy house rhythms and twirling in front of the speaker stacks, the only ones left are the enraptured dancers from each contingent. That's exactly how BLVD, the band onstage that's moving the room, likes it.

"We're used to being the only live band at the rave," says guitarist Curtis Sloane, sipping a beer in the band's Balboa Park practice space a few days later. "Going 'til 3 a.m. on a Wednesday is no big deal — this town is crazy like that. That's why they put us in that slot."

Sloane, along with drummer Dylan McIntosh and bassist Tripp Bains, are crammed into a stuffy, low-ceilinged room, putting the finishing touches on an upcoming EP and getting ready for an extended national tour. Francisco Studios is a far cry from the high-profile dance clubs, like Mighty, 1015 Folsom, and Club 6, where BLVD made its reputation. It's even farther from Black Rock City and Burning Man, where the band has leveled revelers with its very rock 'n' roll take on house and breaks for the past three years.

"A big part of where we are at right now — which is obviously not a very glorified place," Sloane says, "is that we've managed to accomplish a lot of club playing in San Francisco over the last few years. We're doing exactly what we wanna do, being a part of these collectives — Lowpro Lounge, the Fringe, Anon Salon, Burning Man."

"And we've been doing it all on our own the entire time — all of our booking, our recording," McIntosh adds. "It's what we devote ourselves to in whatever way we can."

Sloane and McIntosh had been playing music together for a couple years before the 2001 epiphany that lead to BLVD.

"We were doing this guitar-based Phish shit," says Sloane, "and we were playing a lot at Last Day Saloon. And we debuted this song, 'Superphaser,' that was this more dance-music kinda thing. It totally changed the crowd."

"Everyone started dancing, they totally got into it," McIntosh says. "We were like, 'Shit, we gotta figure out this dance-music thing.'"

"Six years later, we're still trying."

They met Bains in 2002, a veteran bassist of various jazz and experimental outfits around the city. The trio started playing low-budget, unlicensed "candy raver" parties, wowing blissed-out teenagers in grungy basements and warehouses all over the city. The band's propulsive sound enamored them to dancers: McIntosh and Bains lock into deep, subwoofing grooves, mostly of the house variety, slower to wallow in funk or faster to slip into psychedelic space. Sloane delicately shreds on top, looping, layering, and warping himself electronically. All three improvise just enough to lead crowds through unexpected segues and hands-in-the-air crescendos. They self-released a pair of albums, the first self-titled affair close to their live sound, the second, titled Before We See the Sun, a more produced studio labor with MCs, vocalists, and guest musicians. Word spread, and BLVD began infiltrating the city's underground upper crust. Their unnamed EP, set for February release, comes out on S.F. Web-based indie Cyberset.

"It seemed really exciting, and it still does, to be the only live band in the club environment," Sloane says. "Now the parties are more mature and the audiences are full of our friends. At this point we're accepted into that scene, but I think part of what this tour is about is branching out, doing live venues. We're still watching as it all evolves."

 
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