Before Avalon Emerson was a Berliner and one of the hottest new names in European techno, she was a young San Franciscan, DJing around the city and learning the ins and outs of production. She decamped for Berlin about two years ago, and clearly, it was the right move: Since relocating, she's gigged all over Europe (including multiple appearances at the high temple of techno, Berghain), and her own productions have stepped above and beyond. Listen to “The Frontier,” from her most recent record on U.K. label Whities — it's a completely transcendent vision of futuristic techno filtered through the cactus-shaped lens of the American Southwest.
Sunday marks her triumphant return to San Francisco, courtesy of Honey Soundsystem, international techno heroes themselves.
Joining Ms. Emerson is Shaun J. Wright, an artist and vocalist who's also part of Hercules & Love Affair. Upstairs, Jordee Akerley and Siobhan Aluvalot handle duties. If you have to pick but one Pride party to hit, this is it.
Other worthy parties this week
As You Like It Presents Objekt b2b Call Super at The Midway, 9 p.m.-4 a.m. Friday, June 24. $15-$25; themidwaysf.com
Objekt and Call Super — two friends, musicians, and DJs based in Berlin — are responsible for some of the most mind-bendingly good techno of the past five years. So good, in fact, that “techno” doesn't quite do it justice; these two have moved into their own realm. (Listen to Call Super's Suzi Ecto or Objekt's FACT podcast for a taste.) Here, they DJ back-to-back for four hours, a musical treat of cosmic proportions.
Club Lonely featuring Bill Converse at OMG, 10 p.m.-5 a.m. Friday, June 24. $10+; clubomgsf.com
Club Lonely's going all out for Pride. They're going late — 'til 5 a.m. — and are hosting a special guest, Midwestern selector Bill Converse. Converse hails from Lansing, Mich., northwest of Detroit, and began DJing during his early teenage years, learning the craft from Underground Resistance's finest. He's not yet a household name, but a recent Resident Advisor mixtape and a stellar debut album on local label Dark Entries are changing that. Club Lonely residents support.
Device Pride featuring Douglas McCarthy and Bill Converse at SF Eagle, 9 p.m.-2 a.m. Saturday, June 25. $10; sf-eagle.com
Device is a queer leather-fetish-BDSM party, soundtracked by industrial techno, EBM, noise, and more, occurring irregularly at the Eagle. For Pride, they've gone all out and are featuring none other than Douglas McCarthy, aka the frontman of legendary EBM act Nitzer Ebb — responsible for tracks like “Join In The Chant,” a bona fide dancefloor staple since 1987. McCarthy DJs regularly, connecting the dots between body music of the past and techno of the future. Bill Converse (see above) joins him.
Sure Thing presents Delano Smith and map.ache at Monarch, 10 p.m.-2:30 a.m. Saturday, June 25. $10-$15; monarchsf.com
One place has brought together almost all of Sure Thing's diverse lineups: Detroit. Delano Smith is one of the earliest cadre of Detroit DJs and producers, coming up alongside the Belleville Three (Atkins, May, and Saunderson). His career didn't take off until the early aughts, when he began producing his own material — hard-hitting soulful disco-inspired house in the quintessential Detroit style. Upstart German producer map.ache, associated with cult label Giegling, makes his S.F. debut alongside Smith.
Notable Local Records
Gag Order by Vainhein; self-released
As any self-respecting San Franciscan knows, drag is about pushing the performance of gender to its extremes. Some drag performers push even further, seeming to discard gender and play with the concept of humanity or personhood itself. Enter Vainhein ('vain' as in 'vanity,' 'hein' as in 'heinous'), whose early drag performances were accordingly bizarre, uncanny, and freakish. After a break from the drag scene, Vainhein has resurfaced with Gag Order, a debut album of original works. Built around Vainhein's beautiful, expressive voice and moody synthesizers, it's a lovely listen that defied my expectations — this is definitely not a “drag album.”
At its core, Gag Order is a synthpop record — but it's a futuristic, hypercolor synthpop record, not a neon-lit throwback. By way of explanation, it owes much more to Björk than it does A-Ha, and its most simplistic, elemental tracks are also its best, like the catchy “x(xx),” the baroque inflection of “Gag Order,” or the stunning neo-noir of “Seed,” my favorite track on the album, which sounds like a lost excerpt from Vangelis' soundtrack to Blade Runner.
While some tracks on the record flirt with clubbier, kitschier inclinations, they're mostly kept in check by Vainhein's otherworldly synthesizer textures. “Motherfuckers” is the only track that feels a bit too silly.
Gag Order is a remarkably impressive debut, and Vainhein is clearly a talented producer. Watch what he does next.
Cosmologist by Bézier; HNYTRX
Bézier is the alias of Robert Yang, an electronic multi-instrumentalist and also a resident DJ of Honey Soundsystem, featured above. Cosmologist is his newest three-track EP, released on Honey's own HNYTRX record label, and it feels like a completely new frontier. Here, Yang pairs the retro-inspired sound design that distinguished his earlier work with a dead-on grasp of dancefloor mechanics. Cosmologist is far and away his best record yet.
Yang's earlier records sounded equally inspired by Commodore 64 soundtracks, new wave, and vintage psychedelia, and they incorporated pop and jazz structures in equal measure. They're idiosyncratic, excellent listens, but to my ears, something crucial was missing.
Then came Mina, released late last year. Here, Yang approached the dancefloor head-on and fully embraced it, without sacrificing any of the improvisational flourishes or psychedelic textures that make his music so unique. It's one of my favorite records of 2015.
Cosmologist feels like a fully fledged sequel to Mina: It offers three tracks, each suited to different dancefloor moments, but each is unmistakably Bézier. “Cosmos” is a slower-paced psychedelic trip with gorgeous interlocking melodies. “Ether” is the most “techno” of the bunch, building to an enormous climax. “D. Quelle” runs 11 minutes long and features mind-bending synth improvisation.
In short, Yang sounds more confident than ever. Cosmologist is made for the dancefloor, but works just as well on the home stereo. Buy it now.