Daylight: Reflections on Covering Dance Music in S.F.

So here we are at the end of the party. The people have all gone home, the DJ has played his last record, the balloons are all deflated, and everyone left over is enjoying one of those sweet, illicit, post-4 a.m. cocktails at the bar. I mean this metaphorically, of course, because it really only applies to me: After 12 years of living in this city and almost four years of writing about parties for this paper, I've decided to embark for Berlin. Sadly, that means I will be leaving SF Weekly. But before I begin the next chapter of my life, I'd like to close this one by sharing what I've learned about San Francisco nightlife — and nightlife in general — in these past few years of attending and writing about parties every week.

When I approached SF Weekly and started writing Lost in the Night as a review and a preview column, I did so because I believed (and still believe) that dance music parties are a specific kind of misunderstood art. I say “misunderstood” because nightlife is so temporary: You might have a life-changing experience on some idyllic dancefloor, but you'll probably forget about it within a month.

This idea came to me when I was promoting and DJing Gemini Disco, the disco party and wild four-year experiment that preceded my writing career. I always felt so amazing after our parties that I'd fall asleep with a huge grin, my mind burning with the memories and melodies experienced just hours earlier. But the next day I'd wake up and the previous night would be a blur. Today, people still remember Gemini — I of course still remember it, too — but the specifics are hard to work out even when I have a Polaroid right in front of me.

So my goal with Lost in the Night was to make something permanent, albeit subjective, from an art form that is by definition fleeting. I did this for my own sake (and for some notion of posterity), but also to better understand what makes a good party “good” and a bad party “bad.”

At a very basic level, a good party has a sense of community and safety around it. These events encourage a freeing change in mindset through subtle atmosphere, focused music, nonhierarchical interactions, and a self-selecting crowd that feels comfortable. A good party is more than just a big DJ. A good party offers an experience that, even when attended sober, feels special in a kind of communal and extra-normal way. In other words, a good party is anywhere it feels totally appropriate and normal to dance and converse with complete strangers for hours on end.

A bad party, by contrast, is unfocused, places too much of an emphasis on the DJ, status, and hierarchy, and not enough on the overall sensory experience. This last part is particularly important in San Francisco, as the city's clubs have mostly invested their money in excellent sound systems as opposed to compelling atmosphere. If you don't understand what I mean, visit a Honey Soundsystem party sometime. You'll feel the difference — though that represents only one way of going about it.

With these columns, I've tried my best to shine a light on as much of the local community as possible, so that — Internet Archive willing — a future S.F.-obsessed reader or journalist will be able to understand some semblance of the diversity of sound and nightlife on offer in the Bay Area in the early '10s. That seems especially important now, given the fact that these years in San Francisco will likely be remembered as a period of tech gone wild.

That's a shame, as the past four years have birthed one of the most vibrant underground dance music communities the city has seen in a long time. As of this writing, there are multiple legal clubs here with world-class sound systems. There are promoters unafraid to bring in cutting-edge performers. There's a whole community of club-goers who want to hear good underground music. There's a diverse new breed of artists based in the Bay Area who are getting noticed on a global level. There are once again quality record stores that specialize in new and rare dance music. There are local labels doing genuinely interesting things. And there's a full roster of parties that force you to decide each weekend which ones you'll miss. As has always been the case, club culture thrives in times of adversity.

No matter the circumstances, San Francisco is and always will be a very special place. I hope my writing has positively affected the direction of nightlife in this city, and that my attempts to make something permanent out of something temporary have helped preserve moments that might have otherwise slipped away. My time here is done, but just because I'm leaving doesn't mean that this kind of journalism should end. I encourage others to share their own nightlife stories and reflections, and I hope that this project inspires others to continue where I left off. Thanks for reading and thanks for the memories. It's been wonderful.


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