The most important, influential, and groundbreaking techno act of the past 20 years was Sandwell District, a production collective-slash-record label comprised primarily of British industrial techno luminary Regis, San Francisco expat Silent Servant, and New York techno stalwart Function. Launched in 2005 and wrapped up by 2011, Sandwell District remains peerless, borrowing the blueprint of inescapable minimal techno and infusing it with spectral moods, outer space atmosphere, and a crisp, futuristic sound design that hasn't been matched since. And although Sandwell District's catalog was produced by three people, it feels like a singular work; as Function himself put it in a recent interview: “[Sandwell District's debut album] was a mysterious record to us. It somehow made itself. There were three of us involved in making it, but some tracks … sort of just appeared. … It was effortless.”
Since the demise of Sandwell District, Function has become a resident DJ at Berghain, the Berlin club that is simultaneously techno's globally celebrated sacral chamber and a beloved subject for breathless lifestyle reporting from dowdy publications (people have sex in Berghain! — and do drugs! — and party all weekend! — oh, and Claire Danes loves it). Suffice it to say that he's simply one of the world's finest techno DJs. His deep roots in New York and his new home in Berlin have given him a birds-eye view of techno's breadth and depth, and his DJ sets — percussive, melodic, and heavyweight — reflect that.
Joining him is Kangding Ray, a Frenchman who has, over the course of five albums, refined his signature sound from delicate, glitchy ambience to some of the fiercest techno produced today. Bass-heavy, moody, and full of gloriously raw-edged sound design (replicated live on an array of modular hardware), Kangding Ray sounds like what you might hear on a dancefloor minutes before it's warped to another dimension through a black hole.
Also on deck is Brooklyn-by-way-of-Detroit selector Mike Servito, a veteran with encyclopedic knowledge of dance music history who flawlessly mixes up acid-etched techno, deep house, and leftfield disco. Your humble party columnist himself, DJ CZ, will go back-to-back with As You Like It resident Mossmoss to open up the night.
Other worthy parties this week
Parameter Instance 06: Kode9, Oneman and Acre at F8, 10 p.m.-4 a.m. Friday, Nov. 13. $15-$20; feightsf.com
Parameter spent 2015 hosting a series of parties that explored the full continuum of U.K. bass music: dubstep, drum & bass, grime, techno, and well beyond. It's fitting, then, that the party caps off its year with an appearance by Kode9, the British producer and DJ who has done more than any other to elevate this music from mere “party music” (i.e., classic U.K. garage) into a serious artform. Kode9's DJ roots begin in the '90s, but in 2004 he launched Hyperdub, the record label that gave us the world's most infamous formerly masked producer, Burial, and which fused the aforementioned streetwise music with high concepts and high design. His DJ sets run the same gamut as his label, fusing together a bevy of uptempo bass-centric genres together. Joining him is Oneman, one of the U.K.'s original dubstep DJs, and Acre, a Bristolian who plays with techno and grime.
Direct To Earth featuring Heiko Laux at F8, 9 p.m.-4 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 14. $15-$20; feightsf.com
In this day and age, techno, even the underground, no-B.S. kind, is just as susceptible to trends, hype, and internet-driven nonsense as the rest of the music world. There's a certain cadre of artists, however, who is totally immune to this kind of thing, the kind who have been doing their own thing, with and without fanfare, for decades: Heiko Laux is the real deal. The German techno producer and DJ launched his own label, Kanzleramt, in 1994, releasing music by European artists who took inspiration from the melodic, synth-forward sound of Detroit techno. Since then, he's been producing techno in a similar vein: heavy, percussive music with warm melodic flourishes, devastating on a dancefloor and absolutely delightful for the ears. This is his second appearance for Direct To Earth, following its anniversary party two years ago; DTE residents will support, while Common Ground holds down the back room.
Salted presents Tony Humphries at Mighty, 10 p.m.-3 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 14. $10-$20; mighty119.com
Could it be — an all-techno weekend, a weekend without a certified house music superstar in San Francisco? Almost, but not quite. House-heads fret not, because one of the true originals, Tony Humphries, is making a visit to our fair city on Saturday. Tony Humphries is one of the most O.G. DJs in the biz, one of the few from the halcyon days of New York clubbing — Humphries was a resident DJ at Newark club Zanzibar, an analogue and contemporary to the legendary Paradise Garage. (It's no exaggeration to say that Humphries has been DJing for longer than many of the dancers in his crowds have been alive.) True to history, he still mixes up a lot of the soulful, vocal-centric gospel and tribal house tunes he's known for, with some new heat to keep things interesting. Residents Miguel Migs and Julius Papp will support.
Aquarius Records' 45th Birthday Bash at Aquarius Records, 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 15. Free; aquariusrecords.org
Forty-five years. That's a long time for anyone. In record-store years, that is practically three or four eternities laid back-to-back. Aquarius Records — unquestionably one of the true jewels of San Francisco, one of the last bastions of weirdness left in the Mission — is celebrating its 45th birthday on Sunday with DJ sets from friends, family, and supporters, including owners Andee and Allan, drone wizard and shop employee Jim Haynes, local shoegaze act Chasms, Josh Cheon of Dark Entries and Honey Soundsystem, and many more. For the unfamiliar, the shop's stock is a true smorgasbord, running from all kinds of metal (black, death, doom, stoner, and so on) and rock of all stripes (local, post, garage, indie) to a very healthy industrial and experimental selection, with diversions into electronic music, international music, jazz, and dub. Stop by, discover some new music, and help keep one of the country's best record shops afloat.