There’s beauty in the unexpected. For Space Yacht, an independent Los Angeles party brand with a significant footprint on San Francisco’s electronic music scene, that notion is woven into the very fabric of their existence.
“The promise of going to a Space Yacht show is that you don’t know what you’re going to get,” says Co-Founder Rami Perlman, who produces house music under the moniker LondonBridge. “It’s like an omakase in sushi where they bring out all kinds of fish. It’s delicious, and you go with it because you trust the chef.” In this case, the set menus that attendees can experience at Space Yacht’s sold-out bashes are built from undiscovered talent. The chef’s are Perlman and Co-Founder Henry Lu, who source emerging stars and grow them from the ground up.
What began as a 100-person club night in a speakeasy space in 2015 is no longer a secret to electronic music lovers. Last year alone, Space Yacht was responsible for 150 live events, including more than a half-dozen in San Francisco — at popular hangs like Audio and 1015 Folsom. Perlman and Lu brought a tour to Asia and curated lineups that slayed aboard art cars and stage takeovers at major music festivals like EDC Las Vegas and Coachella.
This year was on course to be even more massive, but then came the pandemic. Faced with the option to sink or swim, Space Yacht decided to steer the ship in a fresh direction: they started their own record label.
“So much was happening, and then it all went away in a day,” Perlman explains. “Henry and I were really shell-shocked, and finally we looked at each other and said, we have to do this — the label is a natural extension. We’ve been talking about it for five years, and we realized if we don’t do it now, then how the hell are we going to stay relevant?” So, the business partners got to work, using their signature trailblazing attitude to fuel the path forward.
“Openers have always been a strategic booking for us, because in 18 months they become the next headliners,” Lu shares. “That same spirit and approach made it very easy for us to launch a label, because up to this point, those openers were the kinds of people we wanted to invest in. Now, they are the artists we want to sign.”
The label is on course to drop a new track weekly, with the most recent being an upbeat house jam from Truth x Lies called “The Drip”. The releases thus far have been reflective of the same diverse sounds that fans have come to know from Space Yacht’s live shows.
That’s no coincidence. Sorting through demos is hardly new for Perlman and Lu, who’ve long used this method to identify bookings for their weekly event series. “We always asked for unreleased music because — and this is a Henry special — we don’t want to see where you’ve been, we want to see where you are going,” Perlman shares, before Lu chimes in with an affirming laugh.
Many of those demos are now landing in their laps in the form of “Tune Reactor” submissions. Tune Reactor is a reaction and demo-review show that airs on Space Yacht’s weekly livestream channel, which viewers can watch three nights a week on Twitch. For a nominal fee, aspiring artists can send their unreleased grooves straight to Perlman and Lu for a chance to score a spot on the label, or at the very least receive constructive criticism from the founders, who between the two share classical training and extensive experience in curation.
“It’s a service they’re opting into, and there’s an aspect of professional mentoring. For the top five to 10 percent that come through in music quality, we’ll put them on,” Lu says enthusiastically. “We want it to be the best $3 to $5 these people have ever spent — that’s the goal.”
Perlman says that about 80 percent of what the label has signed so far has come from Tune Reactor submissions, including the imprint’s debut single “Moving Forward” by CLB & Formula, an energetic drum & bass cut that dropped Oct. 15. The story of that track has been immortalized in a Tune Reactor clip, and with it Space Yacht followers have been invited to share in the “AHa” moment that Lu and Perlman experienced when the fast-moving bassline first hit their eardrums. Ultimately, Tune Reactor enables Perlman and Lu to better engage their community, and its revenue stream helps keep the studio’s lights on.
But that’s not the only way they are sourcing never-before-head bangers. A unique remix contest recently gave fans an opportunity to produce their best reimagining of “Moving Forward.” The entry fees are also providing a lifeline to Space Yacht as they learn to navigate new seas.
“Bootlegging is happening illegally without the clearance of labels, and it’s already baked into dance music. We wanted to lean into that culture,” Lu says. “We may as well provide [remixers and bootleggers] with the best resources available, a.k.a. a clean copy of just the singer, or just the pianos.” These isolated tracks are known in the music business as “stems.” The download packs are available for $5 on Space Yacht’s website.
“We realized we could monetize more on a stems pack in a week than we would over three months through streaming on Spotify or Apple,” Perlman adds. “We’ve partnered with the artists, and when we make money, they make money.” They’ve also begun exploring the world of NFTs and crypto art, to build upon the tradition of collecting that persists as a cornerstone of rave culture. Kandi bracelets and hat pins have been replaced with a new wave of Space Yacht branded visuals, audio files and static images that come compliments of the blockchain, and also provide direct support to participating artists.
Though it doesn’t get more digital than that, Space Yacht is cautiously optimistic about their return to live events which will kick off this week at The Midway in Dogpatch. The three open-air shows will feature a number of Bay Area natives on the decks, some of whom were sourced via Tune Reactor, and others with whom Lu and Perlman have established relationships over the last five years while touring often between the two California markets. “Our headliners are VNSSA and OMNOM who are very affiliated with Dirtybird, and who we got behind early on in their careers,” Perlman shares. Dirtybird Records has long been an inspiration to Perlman who admires their vast contributions to house music in San Francisco and in a greater sense, America.
“San Francisco is one of our second homes. We ride for the West Coast, straight up Lu says with pride and excitement at the prospect of returning to a city that has embraced Space Yacht since the beginning.
Audiences can also expect to see safety placed front and center. The Midway’s outdoor space has been hosting outdoor dining events since May. The venue reopened with 20 patio tables and a capacity of about 80 before expanding into the street behind the venue, adding LED boards and activating their Function One sound system. Guests are expected to adhere to strictly enforced protocols that include mask use, social distancing and remaining seated at their tables.
“These are really our first live events in nine months and we didn’t want to come back willy nilly. Part of our narrative was to never skirt the laws, it was always about going above and beyond in terms of safety and perception,” Perlman adds. “We are nervous as much as we are excited to be back in the space — it feels like the perfect venue.” Lu and Henry say they couldn’t be happier to hit the ground running again than in a place they hold close to their hearts.
While the future of mass gatherings and live events remains unclear, Space Yacht is down to roll with the punches. Perlman and Lu built a brand that’s always thrived on pushing the unknowns, and during these unusual times, that may very well be the secret to keeping this boat afloat.
Space Yacht Open Air Shows
Nov. 13 & 14, 11 a.m. & 4 p.m., $120+
The Midway, 900 Marin St., San Francisco