By Ian S. Port
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By Emma Silvers
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By Alee Karim
By Ian S. Port
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When you imagine hundreds of chic indie twentysomethings crowded into a cramped San Francisco dive, it's hard not to include Jefrodisiac and Richie Panic in that vision, with the DJs taking off their clothes as they spin records (and command MP3s) into the wee hours. The shirtless wonders are largely responsible for Frisco Disco and Blow Up, two of the most eclectic and popular parties in town. They appeared at a time when light-hearted, multigenre playfulness seemed altogether absent from the city's clubs.
"It just seemed like every scene was very particular, and musically rigid," Jefrodisiac says. Sitting at an outdoor cafe table in the Lower Haight, the DJ looks every part the electropunk in jeans and a leather jacket, with a long turquoise feather hanging from his left ear. "There was a Britpop scene, a hip-hop scene, a very traditional house scene. Everything had its place, and that was fine, but when we started about five years ago we were like, 'Let's break all the rules!' and just played we felt like playing — house, rock 'n' roll, dance, electro, hip-hop, party jams — anything."
That spirit of stretching musical limits remains at the core of Frisco Disco. A typical evening will start with a mélange of musical styles, making transitions from '80s freestyle to Phil Collins to the cheesiest pop song of the moment, and gradually building up to a final hour of banging, current electro dance tracks.
Frisco Disco started as a small, iconoclastic party at Arrow Bar in June 2002, when Jefrodisiac remembers its inception held little mainstream appeal. The raw energy and inspired sounds, however, eventually drew the attention of better-established musical peers. "For a while we were known for really big-name DJs coming to San Francisco and sneaking over to Frisco Disco to play a gig unannounced," he recalls. "Junior Sanchez, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Pet Shop Boys, 2 Many DJs — these guys would be playing enormous shows, then come over and play for our crowd of 100 people." Since moving to the Transfer in March 2007, Jefrodisiac says Frisco Disco draws a weekly crowd of 200 to 300 and has featured such guest DJs as Blake Miller, Chelsea Starr, and Juan Maclean. It has also incorporated live acts like Glass Candy and hip-hop group Starski.
Blow Up, a larger club that takes place three Fridays a month at the Rickshaw Stop, consistently draws about 600 attendees. Since its inception in March 2005, it has received national press from SPIN, and spun off a monthly satellite party in Los Angeles and one-off parties in Tokyo and Osaka. The sound leans more toward current indie electro music — essentially the kind of tracks you would hear during the last hour of Frisco Disco. Noteworthy guest DJs and musicians have included Vito of the Rapture, Tommie Sunshine, DJ Funk, Micky Avalon, and Steve Aoki.
Jefrodisiac (aka Jeffrey Fairchild) moved to San Francisco from San Diego in 1998 to pursue fashion design and became the frontman for the new wave/hardcore band the Calculators — the other members of which eventually formed the Rapture. He met Richie Panic (aka Jason Letendre) in the dorms of SFSU, and asked him to sign on as a resident DJ and co-conspirator at Frisco Disco.
In Jefrodisiac's estimation, if any specific influence came along to decompartmentalize a new generation of musical tastes, it was the Internet. That trend fits right in with his aesthetic. "When I was eighteen, if you were into indie rock, or emo, or hardcore, that's all you were supposed to like," he says. "If you also liked 'Pass the Dutchie' or something, your friends would be like, 'What?! That's not cool.' But once you had music on the Internet, you could download the craziest noise band that had, like, two songs, and download Madonna and Britney Spears a minute later without anybody thinking you were lame. I think Richie and I really tapped into that influence before it was going strong the way it is now."
Jefrodisiac adds that evolving along with that technological shift is a necessary part of keeping his club nights sounding fresh. "Everything new is pretty much on the Internet," he says. "That's where people put out their songs. If you want the newest thing, it's either your friends sending you tracks, your friends making music, or your friends who have friends who are making music. Or you get it on a blog."
The disintegrating musical and social boundaries online may also help explain the uncommon pull that clubs like Frisco Disco and Blow Up continue to have for a range of local subcultures. Vinyl disco tracks and MP3s of Vandalism remixes intersect with live hip-hop and electro dance productions — and, occasionally, performances by local drag talent. It's an unusual dynamic that, as noted by Jason Stinnett, who produces Hot Tub — a local electro-girl rap trio that has performed live sets at both clubs — offers a unique forum for exposure. "Other promoters and bookers started paying more attention to us after Jeff put us on," Stinnett says. "And there aren't a lot of other parties like that; they bring an excitement to the scene that I haven't experienced in a long time."
Read more articles in Listen Up 2008