Electronic music, as most folks know by now, operates according to a different paradigm than other genres of music. Electronic music releases are generally (with many exceptions, of course) marketed specifically to DJs, not the average listener — so in lieu of the traditional “Top 10 Releases” for Bay Area electronic music, this column takes a different tack, instead focusing on the Top 10 Reasons Electronic Music Is Thriving In The Bay Area In 2014. That's a mouthful, but the Bay Area's electronic music scene is more vibrant than ever, and what follows are 10 reasons why (in no particular order — this isn't a ranked list). Without further ado:
The underground: For regular readers of this column, it will come as no surprise that it's the esoteric stuff, the house and techno underground, that really floats my boat. The Bay Area has always championed left-field dance music, but for myself and fellow fans of out-there dance music, 2014 was a banner year, as promoters regularly took risks booking small, lesser-known names from across the United States and throughout Europe, and our clubs made space to accommodate them. As they're oftentimes paired with more mainstream artists, big crowds warmed up to them, too.
The mainstream: 2014 is the year that the mainstream truly embraced electronic music (for better or worse), and the Bay Area did it better than anywhere else in the U.S. Our music festivals — Outside Lands and Treasure Island — presented electronic music crowd-pleasers, like Disclosure and Massive Attack, on carefully programmed bills that gelled with the other festival lineups without feeling tacked on. (On a more somber note, we also avoided the overdoses and deaths that plagued numerous other festivals, especially those dedicated to EDM.)
The lesser-known producers: Some of the best music I've heard in the past year has come from local producers, many of them young, who have only a single release or two under their belts (or none altogether). As the internet has made listening to anything imaginable a relatively simple task and the bar to producing your own music lowers with every passing year, the number of people trying their hand at making their own electronic music is at an all-time high. Many of these folks are already awfully talented — and are only getting better.
Matrixxman & Vin Sol: For some of the Bay's already established producers, 2014 was a very good year indeed. San Francisco-based Charlie Duff has been producing top-tier electronic music for some time, but it wasn't until this year that the world really began to take notice. As Matrixxman, he released a handful of the year's best techno records on a number of renowned record labels, both international and domestic, cementing his place in the uppermost ranks of the global techno order. More than one of those records was produced with frequent collaborator Vin Sol (who is also receiving well-deserved international recognition), who also runs local record label Soo Wavey.
Dark Entries: San Francisco-based record label Dark Entries, owned and operated by Josh Cheon (also resident DJ for San Francisco party crew Honey Soundsystem), celebrated its fifth anniversary by releasing an astonishing 25 records in 2014. Most were reissues, including many of the year's most coveted, like Charlie's Italo-disco classic “Spacer Woman” and Severed Heads' “Dead Eyes Opened,” one of the best industrial-EBM anthems of all time. There were a number of superb new records too, like local artist RedRedRed's paean to modern industrial music, Pattern Completion. For fans of dark, romantic, and delicately gothic dance music, Dark Entries was as good as it gets this year.
Jason Kendig: It's a very poorly kept secret that Jason Kendig (like Cheon above, a Honey Soundsystem resident) is one of the best DJs in the Bay Area — and well beyond. On more than one occasion in 2014, after leaving a party featuring an internationally renowned headliner with Kendig on opening or closing duty, all that went through my mind was “Man, Kendig's set was so much better than [headlining DJ]'s.” Simply put, he is a DJ virtuoso, able to mix house, techno, disco, electro, and more flawlessly, with a knack for musical narrative that makes every set feel like a journey — the real mark of an excellent DJ.
Oakland: What does Oakland have that San Francisco doesn't? This was a very fraught question in 2014, but one thing is for certain: Oakland has a thriving DIY electronic music underground that the rest of the Bay Area couldn't even dream of. I attended numerous parties, shows, and events at art galleries, warehouses, basements, and homes in Oakland this year, nearly all of which had local, home-grown talent headlining. If you're looking for the raw, unpolished underbelly of the Bay Area scene and all the vitality and energy that goes along with it, Oakland is where you'll find it.
Aaron Dilloway in a cave: It was one of those magical moments lost in time, like tears in rain: Aaron Dilloway, a long-active Midwestern experimental musician (formerly of noise-supergroup Wolf Eyes), performed live in a beachfront cave in San Francisco. An all-too-rare experience where space and sound came together in a way that it's hard to imagine one without the other, the performance was a fleeting study of contradiction. Deliriously soothing, refreshingly nauseating, and violently comforting, it was seemingly over before it began, like a fever dream. A tip: Careful searching on YouTube will reveal a recording of the entire performance.
The record stores: Not one but two record stores dedicated solely to electronic music opened up this year: Vinyl Dreams, in the Lower Haight, and RS94109, in the Tenderloin. Vinyl Dreams stocks almost entirely new releases, with a magnificent selection of deep house and disco edits; RS94109 is mostly used records, with a number of fresh experimental techno and industrial releases available, too. Both shops played host to a number of in-store parties and performances, some of the most exciting and intimate gigs of 2014.
Names to watch: Last but certainly not least is a (woefully incomplete) list of Bay Area artists who made a big impression on me in 2014 (besides those already mentioned), and who are not to be missed when playing live or DJing in 2015: Russell Butler, Aja Vision, Josh Brooks, Nihar Bhatt, Jason Polastri, Kerri LeBon, Skander & Sohrab, Jack Murphy, Eula, Austin Cesear, Joe Moody, Wilmot, Group Rhoda, Its Own Infinite Flower, A Magic Whistle, RPTN, Dimentia, Katabatik, Brandon Nickell, Exillon, Cube, Cherushii, Carlos Souffront, Worker/Parasite, Doc Sleep, Jackie House, Ghosts on Tape, Chasms, Region of Attraction, Kit 'n C.L.A.W.S., and many others whose names are currently buried in the caverns of my feeble memory. What a year — onward to 2015!