When it comes to tech-house, there's nobody who does it like Radio Slave. Since 2004, Radio Slave — once a duo, now just Matt Edwards — has produced dozens of hard-hitting, highly functional 12″ singles, released primarily on Edwards' own label, REKIDS.
The Radio Slave formula for success isn't complicated: Edwards puts together long, minimal tracks, often built around simple sampled hooks — a rave piano in “Tankatan,” or a muttered vocal in “Don't Stop No Sleep.” Edwards' knack for catchy hooks comes from his love of re-edits; early Radio Slave DJ sets often featured retooled, remixed pop tunes.
These days, behind the decks, Radio Slave glides effortlessly between deep house and funky techno, working up grooves with the ease of an expert. Edwards is also a fixture on the European club circuit for very good reason: He's a refreshingly no-BS DJ — no gimmicks, no concepts, just dancefloor bliss all night long.
As You Like It's Mossmoss and residents of new party El Otro Mundo support Edwards on the warm-up.
Other worthy parties this week
A Club Called Rhonda featuring DJ Harvey at Mezzanine, 9 p.m.-3 a.m. Friday, July 1. $25+; mezzaninesf.com
The L.A.-based pansexual party institution-turned-party-brand Club Called Rhonda makes its way to San Francisco, bringing along the legendary DJ Harvey for the ride. Rhonda launched in 2008, with an eye toward eliding the divisions between straight and gay nightlife in L.A. Almost a decade later, it's become SoCal's most popular party, with an open-minded music policy to match its attendees' sexualities. Dress up — way up — and come ready to dance.
Aftertouch presents Barac at Public Works Loft, 9 p.m.-3 a.m. Friday, July 1. $15+; publicsf.com
Minimal techno done right is dance music like no other: Stripped down to its bare essentials, only the groove is left behind, and when mixed properly, comes close to dancefloor hypnosis. Although Bucharest, Romania isn't generally considered a hotbed of electronic music, the city has fostered an intensely dedicated, talented minimal techno scene — “the Romanian sound,” in shorthand. Barac, one of Romania's newest talents, is known for subtle, mesmerizing basslines and delicate percussion. Friday marks his SF debut.
Parameter presents Ikonika and Scratcha DVA at F8, 10 p.m.-3 a.m. Saturday, July 2. $15-$20; feightsf.com
For the past 12 years, U.K. record label Hyperdub has pushed the boundaries of club music: They were mashing up grime, dubstep, garage, footwork, R&B, and techno before anyone else was. (They also gave the world Burial — so there's that, too.) Ikonika and Scratcha DVA are two of the label's signature artists. Ikonika produces ethereal electro-inflected bass music, and Scratcha DVA trades in snappy, rubbery jams called “U.K. funky.” They bring Hyperdub history with them.
Push The Feeling presents Glenn Jackson and Matthew Favorites at Underground SF, 9 p.m.-2 a.m. Saturday, July 2. $6 after 10 p.m.; undergroundsf.com
Push The Feeling, a monthly-ish party at Underground SF, trades in that fertile ground where house, disco, boogie, and indie intersect and cross-pollinate. Their latest features Oakland-based artist Glenn Jackson, whose dusty, jazzy house grooves will fit right at home on Push's dancefloor. Joining him is San Francisco DJ Matthew Favorites, resident DJ of Play It Cool, an irregularly occurring party with a similarly disco-and-more music policy. Push's residents Kevin Meenan and YR SKULL keep the feeling alive.
Notable Local Records
Registration by Decollage; Idol Patterns
As a music listener and a music critic, I'm a big fan of context — but there's something to be said for the totally blind listen, the tabula rasa experience, which can lead to unexpected surprises. Such is the case with Registration, the debut album by Decollage, an artist I've never heard of, on Idol Patterns, a brand new independent electronic music label based in Oakland. As it turns out, Registration is a brooding, moody, full-length techno album — techno not made for the dancefloor, but for foggy, gray days at home.
The album opens with an eponymously titled track, an expansive bit of atmospheric techno that slowly unfurls like a cloud of fog rolling down a mountain. It's one of the album's finest tracks, setting up a delicate balancing act: It's dark without feeling grim; it's emotive without feeling forced; and its techno throb almost disappears into the background, metronome-like.
That throb turns out to be simultaneously one of the album's strengths and its weaknesses. There's little variation in beats throughout the record. On the album's best tracks, like the aforementioned “Registration,” “Infinity 758,” and “Jackets,” these repetitive beats become hypnotic and trance-inducing. “Shedding” adds additional percussion (and gloomy vocals) that make it a standout. But elsewhere, I found myself wishing for percussive variation, something to mix it up.
Despite its simple beat patterns, there's much to savor in Registration's cool, grayscale sound design. Let it sink in.
The First Step by Russell E.L. Butler; Black Opal
It's no simple task to develop a distinctive voice as a techno producer. I'm no producer myself, but I've heard more than enough bland, middling techno to know that discovering your own personal style is easier said than done. Perhaps that's what endears me to Russell E.L. Butler's music so much: Despite his limited discography (The First Step is his first vinyl release under his own name), he's developed a remarkably idiosyncratic sound design. Butler sounds like no one else but himself.
The First Step is a new release on Black Opal, the vinyl-centric offshoot label of the wildly successful cult British label Opal Tapes. It's about as fine a techno 12″ as one could ask for. It features four tracks, each varied in mood and tempo, designed for different dancefloor moments. “Without Fear” is neon-lit and futuristic. “Privilege” is raw and acidic. “The Chill” sounds melancholy, even wistful. “Unrepentant” fully lives up to its name.
But dancefloor utility isn't what makes Butler's music so special. Rather, it's the strange, gloriously retrograde sound design that pervades in his music. It sounds as though it came from a time out of place, a vision of techno that somehow feels futuristic and atavistic at the same time. And it's his knack for percussion: His tunes are layered with quirky drums and eccentric rhythms that seem to disappear within each other, Matryoshka doll-style. It's brilliant, unique stuff.