Icee Hot with oOoOO, Balam Acab, and Juan Atkins
Dec. 17, 2011
It was a brisk Saturday evening in San Francisco that saw Avalon and I back on the street headed towards Public Works and Icee Hot's big year-end event, whose lineup oddly merged Tri-Angle beatsmiths oOoOO and Balam Acab with techno pioneer Juan Atkins. While odd on the surface, the night ultimately proved a fun time with an interesting mixture of music and people.
We arrived around 11, just in time to catch the beginning of Balam Acab's set -- sadly, this meant we were too late to see oOoOO. Walking out of the long back hallway into the main room, we found ourselves submersed in a sea of mellow blue light. Three spotlights and a fog machine created a hazy atmosphere punctuated by long rows of red Christmas lights running from the rafters. Things looked good, and the laid-back atmosphere was a welcome change from the sensory overload of the club's projection system.
Stoned and ethereal, Balam Acab's set fit the atmosphere of the room perfectly. Beatsmith Alex Koone was on stage with his laptop and controller playing album cuts on the fly. Now, if you're familiar with his work, you'll no doubt know that a majority of his tracks utilize pitched-up childlike vocals to create a strange but compelling listening experience. Live, these samples were replaced by Koone himself with a female vocalist. With untreated live vocals, the tracks lost a bit of their surreal edge. Koone's singing was inaudible -- his mic was so low in the mix that when he tried to banter with the audience, it sounded like he had just come from the dentist. Nevertheless, the large crowd of twentysomethings (with a roughly even split among the sexes) seemed to really enjoy it. The vibe felt intimate, like a band playing at a house party in the Mission.
Balam Acab finished up and the room began to shift. Resident DJ Shawn Reynaldo took to the decks and served up a brisk set of house. The change in tempo was met with some breathing room on the dancefloor. The Icee Hot faithful, and those who had avoided the first half of the night, began to take over. Reynaldo's set was well mixed and moved through a broad spectrum of dance music that featured older UK fare as well as snippets of classic sounds from New York.
Up next was occasional Icee Hot collaborator and full-time Lazersword member Low Limit. More of a spectacle than Reynaldo, he mixed his entire set wearing a heavy black jacket and a colorful baseball hat with "1992" emblazoned across the top. His tracks drew heavily on the sounds coming out of the UK today, with complex chord arrangements and non-four-on-the-floor rhythms: Joy Orbison and Boddika's "Swims" had people screaming when they heard the commanding "walk for me...SERVE!" He also worked some DJ trickery with the mixer; he dropped the bass, played records backwards, and even threw in a bit of scratching.
The highlight of the evening came in the form of Icee Hot resident Ghosts on Tape. Just back from a month in Europe, he set up on stage with a full rig of gear that revolved around two old school samplers. Madly feeding them floppy discs, he played a loopy and hard-hitting set that sounded great (the kick drum was so tight that you could feel it in your chest) and had the entire room dancing. He opened up with the Eddie Murphy and Dan Akroyd sample made famous by Masters at Work's "The Ha Dance." From there, he maintained velocity as he brought in brainmeltingly futuristic synth washes and tough rhythmic arrangements.
Finally, Juan Atkins took the stage at around 1:00 a.m. with a laptop, Native Instruments S4, and a bag full of records. Yet again, the room transitioned into his set by way of dimming the lights to a near pitch-black level. He immediately took control of the room with Floorplan's frantic "Baby Baby." By the time Atkins was on, a majority of the girls in the room had left to leave a dancefloor filled with excited dudes practically jumping over one another. Atkins catered to the masculine energy of the room by bringing the tempo up to a blistering pace (think '90s Tresor). At this fast clip, he played incredibly loopy tracks that he manipulated on the fly with the delay and filters on his controller. He did all this while keeping a characteristically calm and collected expression. I'd say that he used the controller effects a little too much -- there's only so many times echo-outs and filters work before they lose their novelty. The highlight of his set (for me at least) came when he played his classic cut "Game One", which pushed out from the mix with its distinct bell tones and nervous synth pads. The track provided a concrete moment to hold onto in a DJ set characterized by sheer tempo, and the crowd loved it.
One thing I've noticed about old-school techno DJs, they don't slow down. We lasted until 2 a.m., but decided to leave after muscle soreness and exhaustion got the better of us. Even then, the party was still going strong, with a large contingent of dancers getting busy despite the arrival of of last call.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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