America has a complicated relationship with disco. The genre is as American as apple pie, but was also born in nightclubs and embraced by queer communities and people of color, which ensured that it would never be totally acceptable in the American mainstream. In a particularly sordid and surreal bit of America's racist and homophobic history, tens of thousands of people packed out a Chicago stadium in 1979 for “Disco Demolition Night,” in which hordes of baseball fans brought disco records to a ballpark to have them packed in a wooden crate, which was then summarily destroyed with explosives. Disco in America was never quite the same after that.
[jump] And yet like so many other musical forms minted in America and then abandoned at home — techno, for example — disco found new life in Europe. On Friday, Mezzanine welcomes a slew of European disco innovators, each of whom have put their own unique twist on the genre. Leading the pack is Lindstrøm, a Norwegian whose spaced-out, jazzy, Krautrock-inspired take on disco is true to the genre's roots, but sounds fresh, and unique. (There's something about Norwegian disco; explore the music of Lindstrøm's countrymen Todd Terje and Prins Thomas for more of the finest in modern disco.) Also performing live is Joakim, a French artist whose ethereal synthpop borrows just as much from Peter Gabriel as it does from vintage disco.
Then there's Optimo, a Glaswegian DJ duo whose Sunday night weekly party, Optimo (Espacio), ran for 13 years and became the stuff of legend. To call them “disco DJs” is reductive; they're renowned for their “open-format” DJ chops, routinely mixing between post-punk, dub, deep house, industrial, techno — and disco, of course. They're true music aficionados who DJ for the love of sharing music and expanding horizons, an unfortunate rarity in this day and age of peak DJ saturation. Make sure to stick around till Optimo spins its very last record — you'll discover something amazing in the process.
Other worthy parties this week
Public Works' 5-Year Anniversary featuring Dusky and more at Public Works, 9 p.m.-4 a.m. Friday, Sept. 18. $20-$25; publicsf.com
Five years ago, 161 Erie St. was a nondescript warehouse space in the Mission sitting underneath the freeway. Today, it's a nondescript warehouse space in the Mission sitting underneath the freeway with one of the best soundsystems in San Francisco, regularly hosting a broad swath of highly regarded DJs and electronic musicians. The venue is celebrating its fifth anniversary with Dusky, a young U.K. duo whose productions pair the the bass-heavy spirit of British garage with the easy groove of tech-house. It's proved a winning combination, as the pair have gone from underground darling status to global headliners within the span of a few short years. Despite their success, the duo haven't gotten too big for their britches, and their DJ sets still feature lesser-known jams from the scene they came up in. Also on deck is Bwana, Dusky's Aus Music labelmates, and Pumpkin, an L.A.-based DJ and mainstay of the American festival circuit.
Boundaries presents Octave One and more at Mighty, 10 p.m.-4 a.m. Friday, Sept. 18. $15-$20; mighty119.com
Octave One stands out among its Detroit brethren and sistren for one particular reason: it's a group of live artists, not DJs. The archetypical Detroit techno artist is a single person, producing machine music with an array of mechanical gear, typically DJing — playing other peoples' music — when they play out. Octave One, on the other hand, is a band. Primarily composed of siblings Lenny and Lawrence Burden (with fellow brothers Lynell, Lorne, and Lance occasionally guesting), its music is grounded in techno and house but borrows a great deal from jazz, funk, and soul, featuring a good deal of traditional instrumentation and live vocals in the mix, too. Live, though, the band's sound is all-hardware and stripped down, very much focused on the dance floor. On support duty are two of San Francisco's finest, Solar, master of the cross-genre DJ set, and Vin Sol, whose collection of jackin' Chicago house seems to know no bounds.
Sure Thing & Shuffle Co-Op present Gunnar Haslam and more at F8, 10 p.m.-4 a.m. Friday, Sept. 18. $5-$15; feightsf.com
If anyone ever had doubts about the health of techno music in America, simply show them what's been going on in New York City in the past decade or so. The Big Apple is currently undergoing a techno renaissance, buoyed by new clubs (Output, Verboten), record labels (L.I.E.S., The Corner), and artists — too many to list here, but Gunnar Haslam is at the front of the pack. The young New Yorker has released a steady stream of melodic, moody acid techno on labels like L.I.E.S. and Mister Saturday Night; his music hits hard on the dance floor but works just as well for at-home headphone listening. Sure Thing and Oakland underground crew The Shuffle Co-Op have paired him with an array of local talent, headed up by Honey Soundsystem's Jason Kendig with F8's back room hosted by roaming outdoor crew The Boombox Affair.
We Are Monsters' 4-Year Anniversary featuring Legowelt and Traxx at Monarch, 9:30 p.m.-3 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 19. $15-$20; monarchsf.com
One of the most idiosyncratic parties in the city, We Are Monsters' musical programming stands alone at a mysterious nexus point between techno, disco, post-punk and industrial. To celebrate their fourth anniversary, they couldn't have invited two more appropriate guests: prolific Dutch synth wizard Legowelt and the uncompromising Chicago DJ Traxx. Legowelt is the archetypal synthesizer geek: bespectacled, wearing long hair, he looks like the type of fellow who knows how to communicate with machines directly, in their own language. Which is probably true, because his music possesses an otherworldly, ethereal quality, imbued with a kind of spectral emotion. On DJ duty is Traxx, a tour-de-force selector with a penchant for pairing raw Chicago acid techno and house with heavily arpeggiated EBM and minimal wave. He's also incredible to watch, as he seems to channel the spirit of every record he plays as it goes out on the speakers. Residents Solar, Mozhgan, and Jason Greer will warm up the floor.