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Techno to the People: The Egalitarian Underground of DJ Ben Klock - By - November 4, 2014 - SF Weekly
SF Weekly

Techno to the People: The Egalitarian Underground of DJ Ben Klock

Magic Touch

Ben Klock is kind of a big deal. He might not be especially well-known in the United States (although, among a certain breed of techno-obsessive, his name is uttered in a reverent, hushed whisper), but across the pond in Europe, he headlines massive techno festivals on the regular, often DJing before crowds numbering in the five digits. He has been a resident DJ at Berlin's techno-Mecca Berghain since it opened in 2004, and has been steadily producing his own material since the late 1990s. In short, Ben Klock knows techno.

It's fairly easy to pinpoint what makes Klock such an excellent and successful DJ: In a genre known for hyper-specialization (and a not-insignificant amount of elitism), where DJs pride themselves on playing music so rare it hasn't even been released, Klock is refreshingly egalitarian — make no mistake, his bread and butter is underground techno, but he focuses on tracks that have strong melodic elements, vocal hooks, and catchy rhythms: In other words, the kind of underground techno you don't have to be a techno-obsessive to lose your mind to.

Joining him is Efdemin, a fellow German known for his lush “post-minimal” productions on Hamburg's Dial Records. On record, Efdemin's music is understated and beautiful with a touch of melancholy; when he gets behind the decks, he ramps up the party factor, bringing a selection of modern dub-flavored techno and crystal-clear deep house (Prince of Denmark, STL, Marco Shuttle).

Last but certainly not least are Alex From Tokyo and Titonton Duvanté, two lesser-known up-and-comers with their own twist on the techno and house continuum. Local selectors Solar, Mossmoss, and William Wardlaw round out this heavily-stacked bill.

Other worthy parties this week

Gray Area presents Lusine at Gray Area Arts & Technology Theater, 9 p.m.-2 a.m. Friday, Nov. 7. $20-$30; grayarea.org

Pinning down the music of Seattle-based Jeff McIlwain, aka Lusine, isn't easy. His career began in 1999, with a self-titled album that used British “intelligent dance music” (Autechre, Aphex Twin, etc.) as a jumping-off point, but incorporated glitchy, disjointed hip-hop rhythms, much like many of his American peers at the time (Machinedrum, Prefuse73, and others). Some time later, after a couple albums and EPs on Ghostly International, he found his calling: light, airy, melodic techno-pop that sounds like bright sunshine cutting through treetops. His latest work often features female vocalists, whose breezy, cut-up voices ground his futuristic productions, making them feel somewhat like an American take on Björk. Bay Area visual artist Colin Evoy Sebestyen will be performing live video accompaniment in Gray Area's new performance space.

Monarch presents Clint Stewart (Safeword), Jeniluv, and more at Monarch, 9 p.m.-3 a.m. Friday, Nov. 7. $10-$20; monarchsf.com

Clint Stewart, better known as half of the duo Safeword alongside Marc Smith, is but one of the many former San Franciscans who decamped to Berlin to climb the house and techno ladder. He has since returned, bringing the experiences he gained in the gray, foggy techno Mecca back with him. Now embarking on a solo career with a new 12-inch on Germany's Second State Audio, Stewart produces pristine tech-house, pairing the beats and rhythms of minimal techno with melodic, synth-heavy overtones. Another expat San Franciscan, Jeniluv (now L.A.-based), is joining him — an old-school San Francisco staple, she mixes in vintage techno, acid house, and a fair amount of cosmic disco sounds into her DJ sets. Finally, local DJs Jaime James and Davi A will be supporting throughout the evening.

Big Fun featuring Tom Trago and Hard Candy at Vessel, 10 p.m.-2 a.m. Thursday, Nov. 6. $10; vesselsf.com

The Netherlands has a way of producing particularly funky electronic musicians; many Dutch producers have a knack for blurring the lines between techno, electro, disco, and house. Tom Trago is just that kind of Dutchman — since 2006, he's been releasing records at a rapid clip, with more than 20 singles and three albums already under his belt. Stylistically, he's all over the place, but he seems to work in two modes, either blending vocal-centric deep house with disco flavorings or going for an electro and breakbeat-influenced sound, often collaborating with some of the Night Slugs folk. As a DJ, he throws all of the above into the mix, hyping up the crowd in party-monster fashion. He's joined by an Italian duo, Hard Candy, who will be opening up the night.

SET presents Tiefschwarz and more at Mighty, 9:30 p.m.-4 a.m. Friday, Nov. 7. $10-$25; mighty119.com

The German duo Tiefschwarz, composed of brothers Ali and Basti Schwarz, are living proof of how deeply ingrained electronic music has become in German music culture. Tiefschwarz are responsible for crafting some of Germany's most popular music throughout the past decade — and, although all of their productions have an accessible, populist spirit, they're rooted in underground techno and house. In addition, they often collaborate with vocalists, which keeps their tracks from drifting too far off into the deep-end of techno. Their DJ sets are made up of tunes that sound a lot like their own: filled with easy grooves, vocal hooks, and rolling, hypnotic rhythms. Opening up the night are a handful of local DJs: J.Remy, Nik Allen, and Zita Molnar, who will warm up the dancefloor before Tiefschwarz closes it out.