If ever there was living proof that some of the finest DJs in the world are the DJs you've never heard of, Mick Wills is it.
The hardworking German artist has been lurking in the shadows since the early '90s. His career took off after an encounter with the legendary sleaze purveyor DJ Hell, who would later publish Wills' first releases on his own label, International Deejay Gigolos. Like Hell — whose sets know no bounds of genre or style — Wills is a “DJ's DJ,” a silly way of saying Wills is a die-hard music-obsessed freak whose entire life has been spent digging up dusty gems nobody else has heard of.
Wills has been almost completely ignored by the electronic music press, but that's OK. Clearly, he has better things to do, like hunt for records: He mixes Chicago house, electro, acid, new beat, disco, EBM, industrial, techno, and more, tying them all together and placing each within a larger continuum. In the end, isn't that what DJing is really about?
Other worthy parties this week
Disaffection at The Knockout, 9:30 p.m.-2 a.m. Thursday, March 10. $3; theknockoutsf.com.
Remember electroclash? During the early- to mid- aughts, “electroclash” was the given name for a raucous, sleazy, hypercolor mashup of electro (the real vintage stuff; think Mantronix, et al.), punk, and disco. It burned bright, but it burned quickly — by 2006, the genre had been successfully subsumed into the mainstream, and it eventually gave way to what would become “EDM.” Despite its naysayers, electroclash was a blast. Disaffection, a new monthly, celebrates it and all its excesses.
Public Works presents 25 Years of Mushroom Jazz with Mark Farina at Public Works, 10 p.m.-3 a.m. Friday, March 11. $18-$25; publicsf.com.
Twenty-five years ago, a young DJ named Mark Farina made the move from Chicago to San Francisco. It proved a mutually beneficial relationship, as Farina made waves with an eclectic blend of downtempo, hip-hop, and funk with house music, which he dubbed “mushroom jazz” — a sound that became synonymous with San Francisco house music during much of the '90s. Here, he celebrates 25 years in the city (and a new mushroom jazz mix disc) with an all-night DJ set.
Surface Tension 15 featuring CoH and rRoxymore at F8, 10 p.m.-4 a.m. Friday, March 11. $15-$20; feightsf.com.
Experimental sound artist CoH isn't exactly a household name, but his influence looms large in underground electronic music. Since 1998, he has been reducing electronic music to its constituent parts (tones, rhythms, atmospheres) and exploring each independent of the other. His latest record (which he'll be performing live here as his San Francisco debut) plays with disco, IDM, and more. Also performing is rRoxymore, a rising German artist who makes playful, left-of-center techno music with a jazzy touch.
Weekend at Bernie's II featuring Robbie Hardkiss, Galen, David Harness, and more at Public Works, 2 p.m.-10 p.m. Sunday, Mar. 13. $10-$15; publicsf.com.
End your weekend with an afternoon-to-evening dance party — with all proceeds going to a very important cause. As you may have guessed, Weekend at Bernie's is a fundraiser disguised as a dance party (or vice versa), with 100% of the party's profits donated to Bernie Sanders' campaign. Tunes come courtesy of San Francisco legend Robbie Hardkiss, Sunset Soundsystem vet Galen, East Bay house-head David Harness, and about a dozen others to boot. Party with a purpose!
Notable Local Records
Love Is A Dog From Hell by tape_hiss; Love Notes
The label on Love Is A Dog From Hell, the debut EP by tape_hiss (aka Aaron Seth Vaslow), reads “Conceived in Brooklyn.” That's no surprise to anyone familiar with “outsider house,” a perfunctory genre describing a recent crop of moody, murky techno and house producers, mostly centred in and around Brooklyn. Full of simple, elegiac melodies designed for introspection and contemplation, peak-time club bangers these are definitely not.
That's certainly no criticism: Oftentimes, the best records are those that don't try too hard to announce themselves, records that are perfectly comfortable lurking, head-nodding towards the back of the room. Love Is A Dog From Hell is that kind of record, containing music to match. It begins with “The Panic in Needle Park,” its slowest (116 bpm) and coziest tune, featuring soft, wistful melodies, an insistent bassline, and little else. (A remix, courtesy of Willie Burns, offers little the original doesn't, and feels wholly unnecessary.)
On the flip, the record switches moods, coming into its own in the process. “Traces to Nowhere” is its standout, in which a breezy, brooding melody wafts about while a curiously insistent synth squelch keeps your attention fixed. Next, the title track features a similarly insistent staccato synth rhythm and murky, hazy percussion in the background.
The record's greatest strength — its gentle simplicity — is also its greatest weakness. You may find it direct, intoxicating and full of melancholy verve, or you may find it uninspired and rehashed. Either way, it's worth your time to find out.
Agnys by Aria Rostami; Spring Theory
What a week it is for simple, elegant electronic music. Local artist Aria Rostami's new LP on local label Spring Theory, Agnys, offers up six tracks of delicate, beautiful ambient techno, so precisely defined they're practically see-through. Careful, composed, and crystalline, Agnys is one of the finest records I've heard this year.
Agnys comes with a touching backstory: Rostami composed the album as an ode to a dear friend and musical collaborator, Steve Dickerson, who passed away in 2011. In fact, much of the album's source material comes from a detuned piano Dickerson left behind that is now in Rostami's possession. A recurring motif, played on said-piano — slightly off-key, almost like a music box — serves as the album's backbone, or its DNA, appearing in almost every track.
More confusing is that the album's A-side tracks, warm and active, are actually edits or re-interpretations of the cooler, calmer B-side tracks (themselves primarily composed from samples of the source piano). It's as if the album comes with its own Gordian knot.
But in truth, none of that matters. The music is more than capable of speaking for itself. Each track, in its own way, sounds like a lullaby — or a eulogy. The A-side cuts are more upbeat and could even work on the right dancefloor (“Seven-Segments,” for instance). In contrast, the B-side is simpler and more elemental in its composition and feels more contemplative and introspective as a result.
Records like Agnys don't come out every day. Don't miss it.