Aria Rostami // Haçeteria Three-Year Anniversary
Friday, Nov. 1, 2013
My night on Friday began with some friends upstairs lounge at the House of Shields. We'd all tried to go see the current Cannes sensation Blue is the Warmest Color but, unfortunately, it was totally sold out at the Embarcadero. Drinks overlooking New Montgomery street was our solace, and a place to figure out how to re-position our evening. This was the day after Halloween, and many people were still in bed nursing their hangovers from the night before. The decision before us was relatively obvious: we grabbed a cab and headed towards Artists' Television Access (ATA) on Valencia to catch a live set by Aria Rostami, a local producer whose work SF Weekly featured on its 2011 list of the year's top local electronic releases. I was curious to hear what he'd been up to since, and the venue was right around the corner from Balançoire, a relatively new space where underground house party Haçeteria was throwing its three-year blowout.
ATA is a gallery-like space, with harshly lit white walls and a grimy atmosphere evocative of the early-'00s Mission district arts scene. Valencia locals stood around inside with folded arms, sipping on cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon while chatting away -- their voices echoing across the high ceilings in a cloud of small talk. Rostami stood behind a booth at the fore, setting up a modest spread that included a digital synthesizer linked to a Korg Electribe drum machine. "All this talking, all this talking! How are we going to hear this music?" said a friend who holds the experience of listening to music sacred (he can hardly handle the ambient chatter of Public Works).
Unfortunately, the talking continued through Rostami's set, which recalled the murky atmospheres of dub-techno and the smeared environments of ambient artists like Wolfgang Voigt. Still, if you payed attention, you could enjoy it over the din. He worked stoically, playing live on his synthesizer over a muted kick drum pulse. His melodies was complex and reasoned, built around unique chord progressions and motifs. His set blurred together, making a larger work comprised of improvisations of smaller pieces that have come out in the past, like the tracks on his fully streamable Favorites LP. It was refreshing to hear, a palate cleanser of a live set designed more for contemplation than to incite a dancefloor response. As he played, projections of computer-rendered "grey" alien heads spun around in circles on the back wall, occasionally exploding into pixellated clouds of dust.
Then we were down the street, waiting in line to have our IDs checked outside of Balançoire. It's a new name for the large, bi-level space that once housed the off-beat rock club 12 Galaxies. The venue's formidable awning, presumably left over from its days as a theater of some kind, cast a welcoming contrast to the noisy and rapid development underway in a vacant lot across Mission street.
Balançoire seems to be in a point of transition at the moment, and this is interesting for a few reasons. It still retains the basic design of 12 Galaxies, but it's been re-skinned to serve as a combination club and restaurant. Realistically, this makes it something of a blank canvas. Its large interior allows it the luxury of being modular. So far, each night I've been there has yielded a different configuration. On Halloween, for instance, the club split in two, with underground house in the upstairs loft and mainstream hip-hop in the downstairs hall.
Haçeteria's first night there was thrown entirely in the downstairs main room, with the upstairs rendered off-limits and theater curtains draped between the bar area and the dancefloor as well as across the balconies (which helped to lower the ceiling to a more manageable and intimate level). Similar to other Haçeteria events, the vibe was dark. The lighting approached a near-blackout, with the only illumination coming from a small multi-colored club lighting array in the DJ booth and a scattered vortex of green laser beams. Asso's "Don't Stop" soundtracked an interim moment between acts.
"This is actually kind of unusual music for Haçeteria, but I'm glad he's here," said a friend of mine in reference to Los Angeles DJ Magic Touch (a.ka. Damon Palermo) who was mid-set. Not having been to the party in a while, I wasn't quite sure what he meant. Palermo followed a dreamy live performance by Sapphire Slows, and he brought the floor back to life with a driving assortment of thumping '90s house cuts. A stream of fog billowed out from a corner, covering the room in a thick blanket of vapor. When it dissipated, I realized my friends had disappeared. My back pocket buzzed, "We're at Mission 20th hot dogs, come onnnnn."