Some Thoughts Of A Certain Sound: Space Matters

It’s a matter of fact: Where an event happens is just as important as who is performing.

This weekend was one of the finest of the year as far as Bay Area electronic music is concerned, in large part because out-of-the-ordinary venues made for some extraordinary experiences.

It began Thursday, when Aaron Dilloway, a long-active noise and experimental musician performed in a cave on the western edge of the city. Dilloway’s performance was nasty, brutish, and short (about twenty-five minutes, to be precise) — and one of the most amazing things I’ve ever witnessed.

[jump] Armed with a table full of gear, including an 8-track cassette deck and a tape delay writhing like a charmed cobra, his face a scowl with a contact microphone between clenched teeth, he produced a scalding bath of sound that began with a gentle but nauseating drone, climaxing in a screeching assault that eventually gave way to the sound of a wailing baby. Not coincidentally, experiencing this cacophony in almost total darkness while you’re surrounded by other people crowded in by narrow cave walls felt like being born again, a total cleansing of the self, in a way that would be almost impossible to replicate anywhere else.

On Saturday, I trekked across the Bay to an art gallery called MOCO in downtown Oakland. The event, part of a series called Trance Mutations, featured several Bay Area electronic musicians and artists. The space itself was small, perhaps 150 feet square, which made the performances feel crowded and intimate as the room quickly filled with some 30-odd people.

I walked in right as Aja Vision, the second performer, was getting started. If the Future Sound Of London had been raised on a steady diet of The Cure, they might have sounded something like Aja — moody, melodic, romantic and infectiously groovy, his set made the gallery feel like an impromptu club. Shortly thereafter was Nihar Bhatt, a San Francisco DJ who put together a live set of atmospheric minimal techno. From start to finish, the music was excellent, but what made it really special was the venue, which made the event feel like both a bedroom performance and a packed show at the same time. The space worked perfectly with the music — and vice versa.

Finally, on Sunday, I took in the Summertime Radness pool party at the Phoenix Hotel. The Phoenix — hip, centrally located, and just the right size for things to feel raucous but not out of control — made this party work. Miraculously, the weather was perfect, one of those rare sunny San Francisco days, the finishing touch for the party’s LA-in-SF vibes. I caught most of Cyril Hahn’s DJ set, which was hard-hitting modern house music with Hahn’s remixes of popular R&B cuts thrown in — just right for a pool party: easy to dance to (the dancefloor was packed all afternoon into the evening), but easy to keep in the background if you’d rather hang out by the pool and people-watch.

Venue-wise, this weekend was all about extremes, and that hammered it in for me: space really does matter. Sometimes, in fact, the space is the star of the show. When the sound, the space, and the crowd all come together, that’s when magic happens. 

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