Merriam-Webster defines “deviant” as “departing from usual or accepted standards, especially in social or sexual behavior.” Turns out that’s a perfect name for this annual official closing party of the Folsom Street Fair. Now in its seventh iteration, Deviants Adult Arcade is a sassy, sexy, psychedelic mind-warp, a showcase of underground electronic music capping off a weekend dedicated to deviance in all its forms. Unlike the rest of Folsom weekend’s affairs, which are aimed exclusively at gay men and feature a circuit party-style soundtrack (read: big, neon-lit EDM-style progressive house, Top 40 remixes, and the like), Deviants celebrates cutting-edge techno, house, and disco, and invites partygoers of all stripes — those partial to sleaze and perversion, at least — to let their freak flags fly high.
For the last five years, Deviants has been hosted by Honey Soundsystem, the four-man San Francisco DJ collective and party series that revolutionized gay partying in the United States by modernizing its soundtrack, reconnecting contemporary deep house and techno with the queer roots of early disco and house music. Highlighting sex and fetish culture is a cornerstone of Deviants’ programming, Honey Soundsystem co-founder Jacob Sperber says, but so is providing alternative, less mainstream music — deviating musically, if you will.
“So much of the music associated with these ‘sex weekends’ is Top 40, circuit party music,” he says. “I don’t want to take out the circuit parties. The older I get, the more I appreciate and understand what they’re there for. But I do feel like it’s important that people feel like they have options.”
The options this year are fine indeed. Headlining the whole shindig are Tuff City Kids, the playfully named duo of German artists Gerd Janson and Phillip Lauer. It’s hard to put into words how good these two are, both together and solo — simply put, they’re sublime. Both mine similar territory, plumbing disco, synthpop, and house in equal measure. Both understand that subtlety and selection are crucial to first-order DJ sets, and both know when to pull back on the throttle — or let it go completely. (I must add that one of Janson’s pristine disco DJ sets once moved this humble author, a noted grouch and seeker of negative vibes, to sheer ecstasy and delight — an unexpected reaction when faced with disco, speaking personally.)
Also on deck is Lena Willikens, a rapidly rising selector affiliated with Düsseldorf’s freewheeling Salon Des Amateurs club, noted for its anything-goes cosmic music policy. Willikens is a surreally good DJ. In her hands, tracks that should have made no sense together — Shackleton records played at the wrong speed, Krautrock techno edits, forgotten minimal synth gems — come together in extraordinary ways.
Both artists will perform at the Fair itself, aboard the Deviants Dance District, the Fair’s southernmost dancefloor at 13th & Folsom. The DJs alone do not make the party, however, and at 6 p.m., the party moves to Mezzanine, where the décor, the production, and an ineffable something else elevate the experience.
“A lot of people walk away from this party as bigger fans of the DJs than at any of our other parties,” Sperber says. “It’s this festival vibe thing that happens. The production’s on a very high level, and it’s a full day experience.”
Mezzanine will be transformed, visually and thematically. Sperber explains: “The theme is a hybrid between a red-light district and a video game arcade. We wanted a friendly theme and a nonfriendly theme, something that wasn’t political and something that was. For some people, Sunday might not be the end of a long vacation — it’s also the night when people get off work, having worked that weekend. We wanted to celebrate a blue-collar sensibility. … It only costs a quarter to play a video game, you know?”
I end my conversation with Sperber by asking him what a Deviants newcomer can expect.
“It’s what we like to call the ‘coffee filter’ of the weekend,” he says. “Some people will have waited to party. Some will be the loosest versions of themselves. And some people will be totally gone. It’s a psychedelic experience. Everyone working the event — from the production side to the artists and performers — are all people looking after the idea that Folsom is home-grown weirdness. They’re all people who live in San Francisco who are geniuses at what they do.”