San Francisco is known for its futuristic innovations: high-tech highs, gadget fetishes galore, and start-ups everywhere. We're trendsetters on the music front, too — but when it comes to clubbing, we love nostalgia. The city has a bevy of party nights whose raison d'etre is simply to relive past decades' music, fashion, and dance. Maybe it's because our DJs are notoriously devoted crate diggers, or maybe we're just obsessed with reliving our musical memories — or learning to love the music our parents hated. Whatever the reason, vintage-styled clubbing is here to stay. Here are some of the best nights to take you back.
The S.F. rockabilly scene is big, but most dances are one-offs. For a regular '50s fix, greasers adore Oldies Night Fridays at the Knockout (3223 Mission at Valencia, www.theknockoutsf.com), where DJs Primo, Daniel, and Lost Cat play the platters that matter for all you hepcats and betties.
The 1960s saw civil rights battles and the Beatles, the space race and the hippie movement. Jimmy Smith's Hammond organ jazz was also in full swing; you can hear that sound weekly at Sunday Sessions at Madrone (500 Divisadero at Fell, www.madroneartbar.com), where jazz organist Wil Blades orchestrates various ensembles. For the soulfully inclined, the Motor City sound abounds at weekly nights like Motown on Mondays at Madrone or Black Gold Mondays at Koko Cocktails (1060 Geary at Van Ness, www.kokococktails.com), where DJs Alison, Melissa, and Johnny Landmine mix in Northern Soul gems and Chi-town grooves. Sixties soul 45s spin on the first and third Saturdays at the lively Saturday Night Soul Party at the Elbo Room (647 Valencia at 17th St., www.elbo.com). Vintage Jamaican ska and rocksteady swings at Intensified on first Wednesdays at Casanova (527 Valencia at 16th St., www.casanovasf.com), Festival '68 on second Thursdays at the Make Out Room (3225 22nd St. at Mission, www.makeoutroom.com) and Fire Corner on first Saturdays at Koko.
If the '60s kickstarted youth counterculture, the '70s made it freaky. Global liberation movements threw out colonialists while dancing to the grooves of James Brown. The funk is definitely in effect at DJ Slopoke's weekly Superbad Sundays at Koko, where it's always Kool and the Gang. He'll hit your ears with rare grooves, soul ballads, and Stax wax, too. Groove Merchant employees Vinnie Esparza and B.Cause offer up their funk finds to dancers at Treat 'Em Right on bimonthly second Fridays at the Elbo Room, while the same venue sees Senor Oz and Pleasuremaker invoke Fela Kuti, Celia Cruz, and other global classics on Thursdays at Afrolicious. And don't forget '70s dub! Hear the Jamaican sound that birthed the remix at DJ Sep's stalwart Sunday Dub Mission night at the Elbo Room. If you need to mellow out, dock your yacht at DJ Amy A and Brynny's Breezin' affair on third Wednesdays at Koko, where Michael McDonald, Toto, and Pablo Cruise serenade smooth-music lovers. And what about disco? As of this printing, Gemini Disco had vacated its Underground S.F. digs, and Roller Disco's skate nights were sporadic. But this is S.F., and Saturday Night Fever is never far away.
Ah, the '80s: Ronald Reagan, floppy hairstyles, Mork and Mindy, and the ever-present threat of nuclear warfare. For a dose of Depeche Mode splashed with Max Headroom videos, New Wave City (www.newwavecity.com) is starting its 19th year. DJs Skip and Shindog's “roaming” monthly event (recently at DNA Lounge) spices it up with special events like Soundtrack Night, tributes to Echo and the Bunnymen, and more. The weekly 1984 party on Thursdays at Mighty (119 Utah at Alameda, www.mighty119.com) is another respected spot, featuring video DJs Mark Andrus and Don Lynch reviving the likes of Michael Jackson and Siouxsie Sioux. The 1984 party just moved from Cat Club (1190 Folsom at Eighth St., www.sfcatclub.com), which now serves up Cat Club Thursdays. On third Fridays, catch an episode of That '80s Show at Madrone, or swoon for the Kids In America on third Tuesdays at Koko. Soul went electro in the '80s, and no crew knows that better then Sweater Funk, Sundays at Li Po Lounge (916 Grant at Jackson, www.myspace.com/sweaterfunk). Guillermo, Kirk, Sean Boogie, Marky, and Mamabear have the rare Patrice Rushen, James Mason, and Loose Ends classics on lock. Then decide who's funkier on first Saturdays at Prince vs. Michael Jackson night at Madrone. Bomb Hip-Hop DJ Dave Paul and Jeff Harris just celebrated their 100th event, 'cause the King of Pop and the Purple One never disappoint. Except when you're dead. In which case, open your crypt and get to Death Guild at DNA Lounge (375 11th St. at Harrison, www.dnalounge.com), where every Monday for 18 years, DJs Decay, Joe Radio, and Melting Girl have brought gothic, industrial, synthpop, noise, and ambient sounds to devoted death rockers.
Anyone who tries to act as though the 1990s wasn't a fresh-to-death decade never went to a rave, saw Nirvana, hated A Tribe Called Quest, and didn't date a riot grrrl. But Bill Clinton's decade is back with a vengeance, especially at I Love the '90s on fourth Fridays at Madrone, with DJs Samala, Mr. Grant, and Sonny Phono blasting hip-hop, alternative, and reggae, and VJ Teo mixing the best in '90s music videos. Go Back to the '90s second Saturdays monthly at 111 Minna (111 Minna at Second St., www.111minnagallery.com), where J Espinosa, Rick Ruffino, and DJ Mei-Lwun remind you how cool No Doubt, Dr. Dre, Beastie Boys, and Red Hot Chili Peppers were. If American music ain't your bag, ride your Vespa over to Club Leisure at Cat Club to hear Britpop, Madchester, and mod spun by Aaron, Omar, and special guests. Don't forget that the '90s saw the rise of that fast and gritty electronic subgenre, drum 'n' bass. Remember proper jungle at Bay Area Drum 'N' Bass on second Saturdays at Club Six (60 Sixth St. at Jessie, www.clubsix1.com), or explore sub frequencies at Shelter on Tuesdays at Underground S.F. (424 Haight at Webster, www.myspace.com/undergroundsf). To hear classic ill hip-hop joints, lace up your Jordans and catch a drink at Double Dutch (3192 16th St. at Guerrero, www.thedoubledutch.com) then head to 330 Ritch (330 Ritch at Townsend, www.330ritch.com), where the Bay's best spin hip-hop bangers most weekends. Word.
Today's Millennial Generation might soon start pining for the music of the early '00s. For now, you can enjoy mash-ups, dubstep, glitch, and indie-electronic hot spots like Shawn Reynaldo's Icee Hot (fourth Saturdays, various locations); DJ Centipede and Dials' Change the Beat on Tuesdays at SOM Bar (2925 16th St. at Capp, www.som-bar.com); Irie Cartel's Ritual Dubstep on Thursdays at Temple (540 Howard at First St., www.templesf.com) and on Friday nights at 103 Harriet (103 Harriet at Folsom, www.1015.com); and Nikola Baytala, Craig Kuna, Sammy D's Kontrol on first Saturdays at the End Up (401 Sixth St. at Harrison, www.theendup.com).