Direct To Earth's Winter Wonderland featuring Carl Craig at Monarch, 10 p.m.-4 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 20. $20-$30; monarchsf.com
After almost 25 years in the business, Carl Craig is one of techno's living legends. A key player in the second wave of Detroit techno — following in the footsteps of originators like Derrick May and Juan Atkins — Craig paved the way for later Detroit legends like Theo Parrish and Moodymann. Unlike compatriot Jeff Mills' (who released his first record contemporaneously with Craig's) vision of techno, which was (and is) dystopian and sci-fi, Craig produces techno with a human touch, incorporating funk, jazz, and soul elements from the beginning. He's a versatile producer, responsible for early breakbeat techno, lush ambient, and mindbending recontextualizations of classical music. In short, Craig has always pushed the limits of what techno is and what it can be, transforming techno into an art form.
Craig also runs a record label, Planet E Communications, which has released numerous critical records from Martin Buttrich, Kenny Larkin, Moodymann and many more alongside his own productions. Craig's talent for A&R with Planet E is surely part of what makes him such a good DJ, bringing in sounds and rhythms from all over the world into his DJ sets. He's a feel-good DJ who likes to play to the crowd, not playing to type, who's just as likely to mix in some vintage disco or popular tech-house as he is an underground Berlin techno bomb from 1994.
Supporting Craig are the Direct To Earth residents — Max Gardner, Bob Five, Trev Campbell and Brian Knarfield — who are all potent selectors in their own right. Altogether, expect a wintertime techno extravaganza at its best.
[jump] You're Welcome with Kate Simko, Michael Claus, and more at Monarch, 9 p.m.-3 a.m. Thursday, Dec. 18. $10; monarchsf.com
It's always interesting when classically trained composers turn to electronic music. Kate Simko is one such producer, who gradually made the transition from classical piano to jazz piano to composition and, finally, to DJing and electronic music production. Now based in London, she clearly absorbed the sound of her native Chicago and nearby Detroit — her productions reference the sound of classic Midwestern house and techno, sci-fi synths commingling alongside elegant piano lines. She's also a talented vocalist, singing on many of her tracks, lending them a warm, inviting human touch. Opening up for Simko is local DJ Michael Claus, an affiliate of the city's Tech Dolphin crew alongside Ardalan, a Dirtybird player. Last but not least are You're Welcome resident DJs Benjamin K and Mantranova, who'll open and close the festivities for the evening.
Dirtybird Players Quarterly featuring Justin Martin, Christian Martin, J.Phlip, and Worthy at Mezzanine, 9 p.m.-4 a.m. Friday, Dec. 19. $10 before 11 p.m., $20 after; mezzaninesf.com
Despite the fact that Dirtybird has outgrown its humble Bay Area roots and is en route to global domination (the label's artists tour the world regularly, and Claude VonStroke, Dirtybird boss, has become a fixture in the mega-clubs of Ibiza), this DJ crew still throws four (remarkably affordable) parties a year in San Francisco, the Dirtybird Players Quarterly. The core of Dirtybird — the brothers Martin, J. Phlip, and Worthy — will be DJing all night, with whichever special guests happen to roll through. (VonStroke's now based in Europe and, sadly, won't be in attendance.) If you're unfamiliar with the Dirtybird sound, it's big, bold, and brash; this is tech-house carefully engineered for maximum dancefloor potential — there's nothing subtle about Dirtybird, and that's perfectly okay. All Dirtybird productions seem to have this kind of infectious swing to them, an irresistible bounce in the bassline that makes it appeal to seasoned dancefloor aficionados and party amateurs alike.
Bananas No. 1 presents Austin Cesear, Leech, Guillaume, and more at Underground SF, 10 p.m.-2 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 20. $5 before 11 p.m., $10 after; undergroundsf.com
Bananas began as fruits, briefly had a moment in the spotlight as part of a memorable Gwen Stefani lyric, and have since grown up into a party. A traveling party, in fact, and an interesting concept: Friday night, the guests throw down in L.A., then come up the next day to do the same in San Francisco. Austin Cesear headlines, bringing his live set back to San Francisco (formerly a Bay Area resident, he is now Brooklyn-based) after making waves in 2014 with several highly-regarded releases of experimental-but-accessible techno and house, in which gentle melodies lurk beneath a semi-opaque haze of dub-techno atmospherics. He's joined by L.A. resident Leech, also performing live, who produces slowly-unfolding rhythmic techno workouts. Guillaume, head honcho of new San Francisco record label Spring Theory, is the main DJ of the evening, with Bananas residents Ford Prefect and Steph Lee supporting.