It was nearing the end of a sweat-loosening December set from local kitchen-sink-electro-funk act Tussle, and the percussion was overtaking the room. Not just in terms of sound, but also literally: As multiple drummers banged their kits from the stage, the Tussle dudes handed out odds and ends for fans to smack to the beat from the sidelines. Cafe Du Nord was suddenly hosting an impromptu jam session that lifted into motion the few sneakers still grounded. As Tussle's Warren Huegel entered the frenzied fray, he grinned and commented, “It's like Golden Gate Park in here.”
He was joking, of course, but as anyone close to them hills of hemp 'n' hippies knows, there's an important divide between the stoned jam bands of yore with their drum circle disciples and the quality, lysergically attuned acts in the here and now. While San Francisco has claimed its share of both, it's the current crop of beat-focused, genre-spinning rockers who are most interesting — especially those indebted to dub. With deep reverberations at their disposal, these bands transcend both the neatly packaged ear candy calling suburbia to the dance floor and the Dead horses beaten continually by the new noodlers.
As with our exploratory rock scene, this city has caught fire with beat artists blurring labels. Groovier than your au courant dance-rock act and thornier pills than your elitist club consumer would care to swallow, these punk chemists concoct complicated potions. Aside from Tussle, there are the sonic globetrotters Lemonade (previously praised in this column) and Fuckwolf — which recently put out its excellent debut disc.
Fuckwolf softens walls of distorted no wave and experimental psych-rock riffage with heavy dub poundings. On its self-titled release for local label Kimosciotic Records (the eclectic indie housing everything from Ezeetiger to Le Flange Du Mal), Fuckwolf melts vocals, bass lines, drums, and bruised guitar melodies into a warm, echo-y stew with an apocalyptic aftertaste.
On Fuckwolf, low-end rhythms dominate, as members Pupdouche, Robert Pap Inch, and Heem slowly add in the sludgy experiments (with an occasional squawking from, say, the improvised sound of jungle creatures). Song titles offer a bit of insight into Fuckwolf's inspirations, from “Mardi Gras” to “Rub-E Dub-E” to “Afro Cuban,” but the center remains murky, the group's influences flattered but its sources of origin artfully out of focus.
Like its local peers, Fuckwolf uses strong currents of reggae reverb to scatter and splatter dance music into something impossible to contain. As the name implies, though, these guys are on the creepier side of the spectrum, with horror-flick snickering and industrial undertones sneaking through the songs. It's music for the mental adventurist, for those times you want to get lost in a demented collective headspace. Words are fairly irrelevant, while hooks get trampled under coils of temperamental feedback. But there's still plenty of forward motion on these tracks, basslines to which you can time that metronome head bob, patterns to which your midsection will swivel, and white noise to fog the outside world away.
What's next? Lemonade's members hint that DJs are looking to remix their wonderfully unwieldy tracks, and maybe knob-twiddlers will chop these corroded Fuckwolf boogies into something even farther out of sight for Saturday-night setlists. (If you're looking for a quick fix of live Fuckwolf madness, the group performs at 12 Galaxies on Friday, Jan. 12.) Meanwhile, the path toward local, experimental, outer-reaches “dance music” grows interestingly pricklier, hazier, and increasingly … fucked with.