San Francisco is blessed with a number of excellent nightclubs — more so than any other city its size can boast. Public Works, one of the finest clubs in the city, is turning six (that’s about 17 in club years, for those counting) this weekend, and it is throwing a two-night rager to celebrate.
Friday night is headlined by none other than Leftfield, the visionary British duo whose early works had an outsize impact, bringing the gospel of electronic music to new audiences. After a hiatus, Leftfield returned in 2010, now simply as Neil Barnes. He’s taken to DJing, plumbing the depths of contemporary techno, which he’ll be showing off here. Martyn, the Dutch breakbeat techno wizard, will be supporting in the main room; upstairs, German artist Powel will keep things dreamy.
Saturday night switches gears, showcasing the smooth, groovy selections of Rob Garza, frontman of downtempo legends Thievery Corporation. Desert Hearts’ Mikey Lion joins him, alongside Spanish deep house DJ El_Txef_A and Anjunadeep’s Hisham Zahran.
Public Works’ Six-Year Anniversary featuring Leftfield, Rob Garza, and more at Public Works, 9:30 p.m.-3:30 a.m. Friday and Saturday, Sept. 16-17. $20-$25; publicsf.com
Other worthy parties this week:
Modern Funk Fest featuring The Pendletons and more at Elbo Room, 9 p.m.-2 a.m. Thursday, Sept. 15. $15-$20; elbo.com
Funk’s not dead. Not by any means in fact. Underground funk and boogie are thriving, in no small part thanks to San Francisco outfits like Sweaterfunk, the eight year strong Sunday-night weekly at The Knockout, dedicated to all things funk, and Voltaire Records, a local label purveying funk, boogie, and more. Both came together to host the first Modern Funk Fest, featuring East Bay act The Pendletons plus Mexico City’s Shiro Schwarz and L.A.’s Diamond Ortiz.
SET presents James Zabiela at Verso, 10 p.m.-2 a.m. Friday, Sept. 16. $10-$20; versosf.com
Big-room, bottle-service DJs generally play very slick, very safe, very dull music — think dance music as background noise. James Zabiela often plays big-room, bottle-service venues, but his DJ sets are anything but dull. His musical taste is wide-ranging. He’ll reach for dark, brooding techno; warm, melodic house; and polyrhythmic breakbeats all in the same set. He also possesses astonishing technical skills, chopping and layering tracks together with the flair of a turntablist.
NuTropic presents Sounds Without Borders at Legionnaire Saloon (Oakland), 9 p.m.-2 a.m. Friday, Sept. 16. $7-$10; legionnairesaloon.com
L.A.-based party and DJ collective NuTropic are making their way up north for a one-off affair at Oakland’s Legionnaire Saloon, featuring their residents (Mano, Maple Syrup, NewLife, Seano) plus like-minded locals J-Boogie, Mr. E, and Kush Arora. “Sounds without borders” accurately describes their ethos, showcasing bass music from the Caribbean and well beyond. Dancehall, reggae, dub, funk, bhangra, tropicalia, cumbia, hip-hop, downtempo, and much more feature in their DJ mixes.
Parameter and Sure Thing present Hodge and Randomer at F8, 10 p.m.-4 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 17. $15-$20; feightsf.com
British artists Hodge and Randomer have spent the past several years brazenly reconfiguring the borders between techno and U.K. bass music. Both are rooted in the worlds of dubstep, grime, and garage, but have steadily brought their work into a techno frame, creating some of the most crucial club records in the recent past in the process. They operate in similar territory as DJs, commingling bits of grime, jungle, and other hardcore continuum music into their sets.
Notable Local Records
Grape Blueprints Pour Spinach Olive Grape by Dilute; Obsolete Media Objects
Leave it to experimental musicians, and the people who write about them, to be obnoxiously pedantic. Nowhere is this better illustrated than in the infinitude of genre names and the proliferation of sub-sub-sub variants thereof, like “math rock,” for instance. As ludicrous as it sounds, it’s a weirdly accurate descriptor, used to describe indie- and post-rock composed of interlocking layers and polyrhythms, often in unusual time signatures. Grape Blueprints Pour Spinach Olive Grape (even the title is math rock) is a lost gem from 2001 by San Francisco four-piece Dilute, reissued this year on cassette and digital by small label Obsolete Media Objects.
Grape nails the math rock sound from minute 1. “Planet,” which opens the album, is little more than a lush guitar phrase, repeating and folding in on itself, with a spare hi-hat to keep time. Simple, and perfectly beautiful in its simplicity.
Vocals appear sparingly, mostly courtesy of Melanie Lowey, who sounds a great deal like Jesse Sykes. There’s just enough vocals on the record to lend it a human touch without distracting from its instrumental prowess.
I can’t recommend this album highly enough. It’s a perfectly balanced listen, pairing mellow, moody sections with bursts of rapid-fire intensity, and shorter pieces with long movements. Anyone interested in outré rock music will find a great deal to love here.
House, Disco, Boogie, and Other Oddities by Various Artists; Easy Bay
Once more, with feeling: Funk’s not dead! As I mentioned above, the Bay Area is home to numerous artists, DJs, and labels keeping the spirit of funk and boogie alive. To this list we can now add Easy Bay, a bicoastal cassette label with roots in Oakland and Morgantown, W. Va. Their first release, whose title tells you exactly what you’re gonna get, is a stacked (17 tracks!) compilation of artists from the Bay Area and well beyond, reaching as far as Estonia, Colombia, and Australia.
Atlanta producer Buscrate kicks off in top form with “Petrus Dish,” a booty-shaking, bassy, synthy boogie ditty that’s woefully short, inducing repeat listens.
The sound palette opens up after that. Ajukaja’s “Walk” is retro-stylized house, like the soundtrack to a club scene from a Nintendo game that never was. Cream Dream’s “Spice” hits hard and fast. North Country’s “Lourdes” utilizes dusty piano samples brilliantly. Boogie Butter’s “The Merrymaker,” however, sounds uninspired, like little more than big band samples set against a kick drum.
Therein lies the rub: Any compilation of this size and breadth is going to have its hits — and its misses. On House, the hits outnumber the misses, without doubt. Still, I can’t help but wish that it were a bit shorter and a bit more tightly focused.