And yet, strangely enough, there were no high-profile Bay Area electro bands. Sure, there were synth-noise groups and organ-based indie-pop acts and bedroom-techno laptoppers, but no outright electro-rock artists. The town that defined cutting-edge music was behind the curve.
Then, as soon as you can say, "Newsweek article," electroclash became passé. The ascendancy of acts like W.I.T. -- three models who lip-synced about doing whatever it took to be famous -- and Cherry Bikini, which sang subtle songs like "Just Fuck Me" and "A Good Hard Lay," didn't help matters. Neither did the advent of faux-hawks or Tiga's electrofied version of Corey Hart's "Sunglasses at Night."
But just when the rest of the world was tiring of sexed-up female singers and robotic dance rhythms, the S.F. electro-rock scene exploded. Suddenly, there were a dozen acts playing local clubs.
The only problem was that most of these bands were craptastic. Vomitorious. Dull as dishwater and twice as toxic. Dynasty, Luxxury, Crack: We Are Rock, Ghost Orchids -- each was bad in its own way. The only moment in the last year that held even a glimmer of hope for the Bay Area scene occurred during the support set at a Rapture show at the Great American Music Hall in May. During the first two songs by the Paradise Boys, I finally had the notion that "Wow, this band is it! Our equivalent of New Order and Derrick May, all rolled into one!" But by the fourth tune I was bored shitless.
Little did I know that this was only the second Paradise Boys show ever and that the group had been cobbled together from friends and housemates. Or that co-leader and guitarist Jeff Fare was known around town for his party-hearty DJ sets as Jefrodisiac, and had -- in the Calculators, along with two members of the Rapture -- inspired such current post-punk luminaries as the Faint and Hot Hot Heat. Or that, over the next six months, Fare and his partner, Bertie Pearson, would craft the San Francisco electro statement, an album of party anthems that would prove once and for all that rock could be dance music.
Jeff Fare started out as a rock 'n' roller. His life changed inexorably at 15, at a show in his hometown of San Diego. "My friends were into Alice in Chains and Soundgarden, and I was like, 'There's no way I can play that stuff,'" Fare says during an interview in his Mission apartment. "But then I saw [S.D. punks] Rice. It was the same way people described seeing the Sex Pistols: If you have the right feeling, you can be in a band and make it rule."
Following a stint playing guitar in a popular Goth/new wave band, he headed north to attend S.F. State in 1997. There he met drummer Vito Roccoforte and bassist Michael Talbot, and started the Calculators, rounding out the lineup with Moog player Chris Relyea and keyboardist/singer Luke Jenner (who would go on to form the Rapture with Roccoforte). Together, the musicians created synth-driven punk tunes inspired by Devo, Gary Numan, and Joy Division, and toured the country, inspiring the likes of Adult. and the Faint. But after releasing a 10-inch and a full-length by 1999, the Calculators imploded. "There were four leaders in that one band, so when it worked it was amazing," Fare says. "But when it didn't, we all hated each other."
Tired of band politics, Fare swore he'd never play in one again. Instead, he started DJing at the Beauty Bar as Jefrodisiac, and attempted to set himself apart from the punk-since-birth DJs there by playing artists like Shannon and Afrika Bambaataa. In the summer of 2000, he hooked up with Jenny and Omar, the future producers of electro/rock nights "Fake" and "The Finger," for a monthly night called "Booty Bassment," which they held at the Coco Club (now Buzz 9) and then at Backflip (now Bambuddha Lounge).
"For three months it was good and crazy," Fare says. "It was the kind of moment I'd always wanted. There was no scene, people didn't just want rock 'n' roll or to just hear glitched-out techno. We played Run-DMC, Egyptian Lover, Georgio Moroder, old disco, and electro."
When the club ran its course in early 2001, Fare took off for Barcelona. While there, he fell in love with the German minimalist techno sounds of Kompakt and Playhouse Records. He also kept running into Bertie Pearson, a trained Latin percussionist and drum machine aficionado whom he vaguely recognized from San Francisco. After realizing how many musical interests they shared, Fare invited Pearson to play percussion at one of his DJ gigs.
Eventually, though, Fare felt like he was spinning his wheels in Spain. "I thought, 'I'm DJing and I'm drinking, but I'm not really going anywhere.'" Unfortunately, a return to the Bay Area in August 2001 left him feeling the same: He was a DJ stuck playing hits for yuppies at the Beauty Bar. With no money, no job, and no major prospects, he contemplated moving back to Europe or across the States.
Then electroclash hit. Or rather, the Arrow Bar opened and electroclash hit. Suddenly, Fare was being asked to open gigs for dance music legends like Juan Atkins, Marshall Jefferson, and Ben Watt, and his Arrow weekly, "Sex With Machines," was packed. "I went from being some kid who played stupid '80s records to being exactly where I wanted to be -- in a month!" he says.
Not everyone was impressed with Jefrodisiac's style. "My feeling about Jeff is not that positive," Tomas Palermo of XLR8R magazine writes via e-mail. "I'm not really into retro DJing. I don't mind when a good DJ slips a few classics in with new things, but to be honest, I can't sit through a long, irony-tinged set of old music, no matter how obscure the tracks or fresh it still sounds."
Fare, for his part, swears that he's not selecting tracks ironically, even when he's spinning Whitney Houston next to OutKast. "When I'm playing music that has a meaning to me, and people are getting some sort of meaning from it and dancing, and they forgot about all the shit that bums them out and they're in that moment and nothing matters to anyone, it's this really pure moment that I don't think -- with the exception of sex -- exists anywhere. It's that moment that keeps me going."
With the Paradise Boys, Fare found another reason to keep going. When Pearson returned to S.F. in the summer of 2002, the duo cooked up "Gonna Make You Mine," a Soft Cell-ish ode to the seductive powers of their 808 synths. Following a second 12-inch -- a cover of Frankie Knuckles and Jamie Principle's house classic "Your Love," backed by a Blaktroniks remix -- the pair gathered a live band from housemates and pals, playing house parties, as well as with the Rapture and at SXSW.
When it came time to record a full-length effort, Fare and Pearson decamped to the studio of experimental-techno legend Jonah Sharp. There, Fare had the opportunity to fuse punk, synth-rock, and all the dance music he'd been devouring over the past few years. The resultant LP, The Young and the Guest List (due in early February on Fare's Prince House Records), is a quantum leap forward in terms of both songwriting and production. The best example of the latter is the new version of "Gonna Make You Mine" (now titled "Even If It Takes All Night"). Whereas the early track was synthetic and somewhat listless, the new one has live drums and bass, along with bristling synths and catchy hand claps. There's a newfound sense of dynamics, as if this song were built for both the rock club and the dance floor.
Elsewhere, "Summer of Love" features a stark techno beat worthy of Fare's German idols, intertwined with Louis Pesacov's snaky guitar line. On "I Burn For You," Elizabeth Hanley howls in her best Siouxsie Sioux imitation, while scritchy-scratchy guitars rub against twitchy electronic beats. Pearson's instrumental "Thunderbird" recalls a cumbia band dragged through the streets of the Lower East Side in 1981. And the title tune -- with its disco beat, irresistible guitar riff, and cheesy synth squiggle -- sounds on par with the high-tech productions of Fare's old pals in the Rapture.
In fact, it's hard not to compare the two groups, since both kick ass as well as shake it. Fare recognizes the similar musical content, but he also believes there's a major difference between the bands. "Luke and Vito are 28, and they're married," he says. "For me, our record is about our lives and theirs is about their lives, and our lives are totally different. Our [disc] comes across a little more fun, a little more lighthearted."
Certainly, the Paradise Boys' lyrics are a far cry from the Rapture's tortured angst. "Two O'Clock" and "The Young and the Guest List" capture the late-night party vibe with their cheerfully snotty choruses ("Just because it's two o'clock/ Doesn't mean that we have to stop" and "We get in for free/ Yeah she's with me," respectively), while "Did It Again" has a debauched thrust to it ("Then we woke up and we did it again/ And then we broke up and we did it again/ Said stop but we did it again").
"Basically, we're all people that go out a lot, and that's who we hang out with," Fare explains. "We said, 'Let's make a record about who we are and what we do.' It's not tongue-in-cheek, but it's like, 'Yeah, we obviously see the humor in this.' It's not like, 'We're so cool; we go out and party and you don't.'"
It seems unlikely, however, that the record's lyrical content will dispel Fare's reputation around town. "I've heard people talk about the crew of people I hang out with, and they say we're all stylish and do coke and fuck. And I'm just like, 'Whatever. You don't?' It's not like there's an orgy every night wherever I go."
I'm not at liberty to say if there was an orgy during our interview. Music is often about fantasy and wish fulfillment, and I'd hate to deny either of those. One of the reasons the electroclash scene resonated so much was that it filled a vacancy in the music scene -- a need for glamour and lust and unadulterated pleasure. The Paradise Boys' The Young and the Guest List offers all these and more: It's a visceral, hedonistic soundtrack to San Francisco club life, circa right now.