Nov. 4, 2011
A church in Oakland
Better than: Not seeing Carl Craig.
Few things compel me to drive around canvassing churches in Oakland at midnight. Yet that's exactly what I found myself doing last Friday as Avalon and I cruised down that city's wide boulevards in search of a secret party (at a church) featuring Detroit techno heavyweight Carl Craig.
We finally settled on a dilapidated Baptist church that had the least shady looking people standing out front. Walking up to the gated door, a shadow called to us from the dark, "You here for the party?" And, with a quick exchange of credentials, we knew we had found the right place.
Inside, we entered to find a small apartment decorated with what appeared to be the fallout from a shopping spree at Spencers: beanbags on the floor, a giant butterfly on the wall, and a truly impressive collection of plasma spheres. Immediately the vibe was friendly, with people in good spirits hanging out and talking in the front room. We walked through a small hallway, up some stairs, and opened a wooden door to enter the nave. Immediately the energy inside sucked us through.
The interior of the church had been completely converted to create a miniature discotheque. Large speakers were placed in all four corners, and a disco ball hung from the ceiling, surrounded by a galaxy of reflective glass wind chimes. The pews had been moved to surround the dance floor and provide sitting areas in the corners. Remnants of the church's past stood in the form of a massive pipe organ and a beautiful wooden pulpit that served as the evening's DJ booth. Lending an even more surreal edge to the décor was a pack of life-sized stuffed tigers that lounged throughout the room. In addition, an extensive lighting rig projected all surfaces with hardcore psychedelic imagery: melting shapes, dissolving patterns, and seas of undulating colors.
Needless to say, it was a pretty happening party when we got there. The crowd was older, the kind of people that have been partying in the Bay Area since the boom years of the '90s. Everybody was respectful and grateful to be enjoying such a rare and intimate experience. It seemed the sound system was tuned for a more mature crowd, with an overall volume level much lower than you'd find at most clubs (but compensated for with high fidelity).
Carl Craig took the pulpit to insane amounts of applause around 1 a.m. He opened with a long and searching eight-minute track (played on vinyl) that he let ride while he built up a tense feeling. From here, he broke into about an hour of driving, minimal techno. The four-on-the-floor elevated the room into a locked groove and set a blank palette from which he worked for the next four hours. Deftly mixing in and out of tracks, Craig looked and acted like a professional surgeon. Calm and collected, he never broke a sweat, even while executing extended blends and incorporating turntablist maneuvers (a few cuts and some beat juggling).
The night hit a fever pitch around 2 a.m., as the familiar piano tinklings of Marshall Jefferson's "Move Your Body" rose into the soundscape. Normally one of those songs that's such a classic that it's rarely played, in Craig's hands the track temporarily extended the room beyond itself. The visuals on the walls pulsed ominous blue orbs, some people got on their knees and screamed, everyone was alive and singing -- all that was missing was glossolalia (and I'm sure there was some of that too). From that moment forward, Craig elevated the room into the realm of dance music history -- a set that moved in waves from ecstatic peaks like Rick Wilhite's "Drum Patterns & Melodies (Moodymann Mix)" and Tom Trago's "Use Me Again," to the deep dubby valleys of Basic Channel and the mid-tempo groove of Gino Soccio's "Dancer."
Craig ended his set around 4 a.m. With a mass of applause, he slowly faded into the random tones of wind chimes. Yet, far from being completely done, he surprised just about everybody by easing into the album mix of The Beatles' "Come Together." The political implication was lost on no one. Still not content to end on that high note, Craig transported the audience once again to Detroit with his final encore: DJ Rolando's "Jaguar."
Check out more of Kahley Avalon Emerson's photos from the party here.
Lost in the Night is a column that follows the adventures of former promoter Derek Opperman as he reviews the shifting world of San Francisco nightlife. If you have a party that you would like covered, email email@example.com.