2006 doesn't seem that long ago, but a decade is an age. In 2006, the iPhone did not yet exist; San Francisco was just beginning to recover from an economic hangover induced by a bursting tech bubble; Dubya was president; and Lights Down Low launched as a small local party at 222 Hyde (now The Basement). Ten years is a long time, especially in party years.
Celebrating the occasion are Skream and Jamie Jones, two artists with very different histories who now share a common approach. Skream was one of dubstep's early stars — in fact, his tune “Midnight Request Line” may remain the genre's defining moment — but gave way to tech-house, Jamie Jones' trademark sound. In fact, Jones' slick, glossy productions and seamless DJ sets (alongside those of countrymen Lee Foss and Damian Lazarus) made tech-house a global dancefloor phenomenon, turning a steady stream of new listeners onto the wonders of dance music.
Jones commonly headlines festival stages these days — even Mezzanine is a relatively intimate place to see him. Prepare accordingly.
Other worthy parties this week
The Gathering presents DJ Sneak and Robert Dietz at The Factory, 10 p.m.-5 a.m. Friday, Mar. 4. $20-$25; facebook.com/TheFactorySF.
“We heard you liked local DJs — so we got you some local DJs.” That seems to be the motto of The Gathering's latest party. Sure, it's headlined by self-proclaimed “House Gangster” DJ Sneak (an accomplished DJ who needs to stop using Twitter) and German tech-house producer Robert Dietz, but more remarkable are the 13 locals who've been booked to support. Considering it's a two-room party at SoMa club The Factory, everyone should have time to flex.
Direct To Earth featuring Luke Hess and Natan H at F8, 10 p.m.-3 a.m. Friday, Mar. 4. $10-$20; feightsf.com.
Amongst the current crop of Detroit techno producers, Luke Hess stands out for one particular reason: his affinity for dub techno. Dub techno — a deep, fuzzy, warm, and enveloping techno sub-genre, pioneered in Germany — isn't a fashionable or trendy sound, but it is an enduring one. His dub techno flavor lends his productions a moody, spaced-out flavor that most of his Detroit contemporaries lack. He'll be bringing that sound to F8 alongside rising LA techno producer Natan H.
Intelligent Dance Party 005 featuring David Last, Leon Bison and more at The Basement, 9:30 p.m.-2 a.m. Friday, Mar. 4. $5; thebasementsf.com.
Here comes the return of Intelligent Dance Party — a little party dedicated to IDM, or “intelligent dance music,” a.k.a. that particular kind of sharp-edged, cerebral dance music from the '90s that re-defined the notion of what electronic music could be (and, later, served as the launchpad for the second half of Radiohead's career). David Last, a talented producer and recent transplant from Denver, will be DJing alongside live sets from Leon Bison, Maggey Pain, and more.
Monarch presents Tom Trago and Job Jobse at Monarch, 9:30 p.m.-3 a.m. Saturday, Mar. 5. $10-$20; monarchsf.com.
Hark! The Dutchmen are coming! Here are two renowned selectors from the Netherlands with very different career arcs. Tom Trago is a musical chameleon, whose career took off with a series of funky deep- and disco-house 12-inches on legendary label Rush Hour. Job Jobse, meanwhile, is a DJ through-and-through, who made a name for himself as a resident at former Amsterdam club Trouw. Both have wildly different backgrounds, but similar kitchen-sink approaches, and are versatile (and excellent) DJs.
Record Label Spotlight: The Helen Scarsdale Agency
It's 2016, and it's easy to forget that music is more than a business or that a world exists beyond Kanye West's Twitter feed. Caring about SoundCloud followers and Facebook likes or which of-the-moment band is making its way through the procession of hype officiated by editorial outlets are viable pitfalls. In other words, it's easy to forget that music, at its most elemental and most exciting, is about an artist sharing an unheard, untold world with a willing listener.
To remind yourself of this fact, it helps to climb outside of your comfort zone. Enter The Helen Scarsdale Agency, a San Francisco-based record label you've probably never heard of. And that's okay — the label is quiet, having released only 36 works across 13 years of operation — and deliberate, focusing on a very specific shade of warm, enveloping drone music, not exactly a recipe for commercial success. But its sound, aesthetic, and visual language are carefully honed, and this is very much by design, says Jim Haynes, the label's progenitor.
“I've worked in the music industry since the '90s in a number of guises, seeing artists get dicked around and getting stuck with bad graphic design on otherwise great pieces of music. [With Helen Scarsdale Agency,] I wasn't trying to do anything particularly special — just be fair and honest with the artists while delivering what I hoped would be a beautiful piece of design to go along with the music at hand,” Haynes tells me, encapsulating the Scarsdale mission statement. (Haynes, for the record, is an accomplished graphic and sound artist himself who aptly sums up his own work with the following statement: “I rust things.”)
The music at hand comes from Haynes himself and numerous other artists around the world, including Oregon's irr. app. (ext.), Iceland's Stilluppsteypa, San Francisco's Loren Chasse, and Russia's Radioson. Roughly speaking, all of the Scarsdale material can be categorized as “drone,” involving long-form, little-changing interplay of tones and atmospheres, with few (if any) rhythmic elements involved. But the affinity amongst Scarsdale's artists runs deeper: “I very much like the ambiguity and slipperiness that exists in [Scarsdale's back catalog], glancing back at it historically,” explains Haynes. “I would say there is an uneasiness, a disquiet, an uncanniness, which may be traced through Helen Scarsdale's catalog.”
While this may seem intimidating, it's really not. It's just an entirely different musical language than many listeners are accustomed to. It requires patience and deliberation, two approaches not especially valued in today's music world (or the world in general, perhaps). Adventurous listeners will find great treasures in the Agency's back catalog, from the inviting psychedelic overtones of BJ Nilsen and Stilluppsteypa's Big Shadow Montana to the haunting autumnal dirge of irr. app. (ext.)'s Ozeanische Gefühle, and beyond.
And who is Helen Scarsdale? “I can't discuss that in print,” Haynes says, grinning. “Ask me in person.” A little mystery never hurt anyone.