Lights Down Low, DJ Dials, and EVDM present Julio Bashmore
Saturday, Dec. 15, 2012
Better than: The same party at a more normal venue.
With scrutinizing looks and squinted eyes, this bouncer was just not having any of us. Avalon and I were standing in front of CELLspace and our new acquaintance was trying every trick in the book to try and prove that her driver's license wasn't fake. After 10 minutes of arguing, he pulled out a notepad and had her jot down a signature. While she was working he looked at me and smirked incredulously, "Did you know that this ID doesn't expire until 2053?" She returned with the piece of paper, and he held it up next to the card but shook his head. "Nope, doesn't match. You wanna tell me whose ID you've got?" You know things have taken a turn for the worse when clubs are forced to be so tight at the door, but then the past two weeks have brought unwelcome rumors that the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control is once again out prowling clubs in the city.
Luckily, Avalon's ID is real, and we were ultimately able to get inside via a combination of credit cards, alternate forms of ID, press credentials, promoter endorsements, and a litany of other hoola hoops. CELLspace is an unexpected venue for a Lights Down Low party: the space itself feels heavily indebted to the culture of Burning Man, with acrobat fixtures dangling from the ceiling, circus-y paintings on the walls, and a general aesthetic that suggests a rough-edged ,art-car laboratory. By contrast, Lights Down Low is a hip twentysomething fashion crowd, the closest thing S.F. has to something like A Club Called Rhonda in Los Angeles. Yet, as much as it seems like the two would be polar opposites, in practice it worked out pretty well, with Sleazemore and the crew decorating the venue with their now ubiquitous party signage.
The floor throbbed and shuddered as the massive speaker stacks pumped out rigid points of Italo bass. Local DJ/producer Matrixxman was on stage with a full on Chicago Bulls ensemble spinning Mr. Flagio's "Take a Chance," one of the first tracks in what would become a set almost exclusively filled with a Windy City-style mixture of house and disco. Though it was still fairly early, there was already a small dancefloor going, with people limbering up to the more easygoing sounds of the 1970s and 1980s. Though he might be known as a bass producer, Matrixxman doesn't DJ like one. He's developed a unique style in his playing that's aggressively old-school, with long blends sometimes punctuated by strategic spinbacks. It felt live and on the fly, which is becoming a rare commodity these days. A dirty 808 rhythm track pounded the subwoofers as Sylvester's "You Make Me Feel Mighty Real" filled the room with its flamboyance, I looked behind me and saw some bassheads with their arms folded, stone faced in disbelief. Though they stood there, their scowls hardly had any effect on the slowly growing number of dancers.
By midnight, the venue was pretty much at capacity. Sleazemore had taken over DJ duties and was working the crowd over with rolling cuts of vocal tech house. He pushed the volume to within an inch of its life, bringing the levels past redline into an overdriven realm that could be described as near-deafening. But he needed the volume -- the packed dancefloor spilled from the DJ booth to the bathrooms in back, and the system in front had to cover it all. Given the circumstances, it worked just fine. Not amazing or even clear, but that would be asking a lot from a rented soundsystem placed in a warehouse with less than ideal acoustics. You don't always need perfectly clear sound to have a good time, and the rawness of the speakers made it feel like some freaky underground warehouse rave.
Then we were in the thick of the dancefloor. British DJ Julio Bashmore was onstage mixing through old-school records with a cool precision. Tracks like Groove Committee's "I Want You to Know" and Tyree Cooper's "Pump Up the Bass" filled the room with the high-energy spirit that only seems to come when house is played at full throttle. The effect on the crowd was obvious, people danced hard and really lost themselves in the intensity. The stage in front of Bashmore began to fill up with volunteer gogo dancers working out. Alan Braxe and Fred Falke's French touch anthem "Palladium" rocked through the room to massive cheers. The same thing happened when Bashmore teased the opening cowbell from "Battle For Middle You" over an outgoing track. A girl in an oversized T-shirt that read "909, 808, 727" made poses and pointed at people. The ghostly voices spoke out over inverted stabs, "People get up! Stomp your feet, let's get down!" Crashing toms and waves of euphoria came with the drop as everyone jumped and seemed to momentarily float two feet above the ground.
It was getting closer to the end and the party was still going strong. The emotional feeling of Larry Heard's "The Sun Can't Compare" created a mellow moment in what was an otherwise partycentric set. We stayed a while longer but left in time to grab a cab before the rush. Have to say, it's kind of refreshing to see this kind of party work at a different venue than usual.