Electronic Music

Nite Trax: DJ Sprinkles lays it out


The phenomenal house DJ and experimental musicmaker on mainstream visibility, transgender globalism, Bay Area queer culture, and the “shopping mall diversity” of the current dance music scene.

Techno has always had room for theorists and intellectuals, from Derrick May to the Mille Plateaux label roster, and social activists, like Moodymann and Underground Resistance. Most of that discourse usually takes place musically, however, with concepts emerging from the vinyl itself. The celebrated DJ Sprinkles, a.k.a. Terre Thaemlitz, the American head of Japan-based label Comatonse, tops all that by making intellectually grounded music glimmering with poetic touches and expounding in interviews and writing on such heady, heated topics as essentialism, gender idenitity, surveillance, and authenticity. She leads workshops, goes on speaking engagements, and isn’t afraid to let loose in interviews. (For example — see below — rather than “born this way” platitudes, she considers her queer identity “beat this way.”) 

It’s a beautiful thing, especially in the rare context of controversial truth and radical opinion pouring from the mouth and keyboard of an outspoken transgender major player on the stubbornly homogenous global house-techno DJ scene. Of course, it all comes down to the music — we’ll get a treat when Sprinkles (who chose the name because he wanted something that sounded “totally pussy” in opposition to macho DJ culture, to buck the testosteronal scene) performs Sun/24 at Honey Soundsystem — and Sprinkles certainly has the goods. He’s released umpteen pieces in an astoundng breadth of genres under multiple pseudonyms over the past 20 years. Masterpiece deep house album “Midtown 120 Blues” siezed the top of several best of 2009 charts and was, typically, followed by Soulnessless, a 30-hour “mp3 album” of music and video. Because why the hell not?

I got a chance to exchange emails with Sprinkles before her appearance here. It’ll be an interesting return to the Bay Area, where she lived for several years before decamping to Japan. Here’s all she had to say.    


SFBG It’s been 13 years since you lived in Oakland, is that correct? Can you tell me why you decided to leave and what it was like to live here then, with regards to the music, political, and queer scene?

DJ SPRINKLES Yes, it’s been a long time. I used to live across the street from a hotel where the Unabomber once stayed. Honestly, I can’t say I miss California. I never really connected with any queer or transgendered communities in SF or Oakland. Whenever I tried, they seemed immersed in West Coast spiritualism and zodiac bullshit, which I found completely alienating. Most of the transgendered people I met there were prone to metaphysics — by which I mean they were ideologically (and economically and medically) invested in defining their transgenderism in relation to a perceived split between their “physical bodies” and their “true inner selves.” I’m an anti-essentialist, non-op, materialist, anti-spiritualist… so that clearly wasn’t a match with my own transgendered identity.

There was also a weird conservatism in SF’s queer scenes that I associated with the fact a lot of people in SF had been raised in conservative Midwestern towns, so they were in SF to “live the life.” I felt there was a lot of unacknowledged parody and role play going on — people trying to overcome a life of repression and closets by wrapping themselves in rainbow flag culture. Yet, when going to buy groceries or such, I still found myself being harassed as a “fag” on the street like in any other town in the US. I felt my four years there was all quite standard. I don’t really think of the Bay Area as a “special place” for being queer and transgendered.

US identity politics have a particularly inextricable link to the concept of the ghetto — not only as a place of economic strife and forced communal ostracization from a “white middle-class mainstream,” but also as a self-invested “safe space” for non-mainstream social movements. This is part of migrant culture. For example, after my grandparents passed through Ellis Island, they immediately moved to a place where people spoke the same language as their homeland, etc. The Castro, New York’s West Village, Little Italy, China Town… these are all migrant-based communities formed by people seeking safety in numbers in the face of not being welcome elsewhere — these two dynamics of “safety” and “alienation” are inseparable to most US identity politics. So these communal zones all display the problems and contradictions of cultural identification that plague mainstream US culture as an “immigrant nation” that is simultaneously “anti-immigrant” – because the “immigrant” is a brutal reminder that there are no “real Americans” beyond Native Americans, which the majority are not. And of course, the fact that recent generations of immigrants are primarily people of color does not jibe with conventional black/white US race discourse, which continues to be largely devoid of other browns, as well as the concept of the person of color as a willing immigrant (as opposed to the descendant of a slave). This history and context is peculiar to the US social landscape, and it creates a lot of weird identity essentialisms and hostilities around gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, class…

Not to say other countries don’t have their own fucked up ways of causing and dealing with social problems, but moving to Japan and realizing that pretty much the entirety of Western identity politics did not function here was a big life experience. It was like leaving the Earth’s gravitational pull — it didn’t mean gravity no longer existed, but almost everything I had internalized and believed I understood about my relationship to gravity was no longer helpful in understanding the dynamics of dominations at work in this other context. I wasn’t freed of gravity, but lost in weightlessness. I had to learn to feel weight in a completely different way. This is why so many of my projects dealing with my own immigration and cultural issues consistently invoke the rather limited and problematic US language of black/white race relations. It is a critical gesture intended to highlight the limitations of my having been raised amidst that US language and social conditioning, yet now living within a non-US context with few tools to work with.

Because music’s value is so often tied to an essentialist concept of racial authenticity, it becomes difficult and risky to ask an audience to question their relationships to the very value systems through which they likely purchased the album – but that is also why I choose to work with audio. Not because of its possibilities, but its all-too-clear limitations. Since I am unable to believe in the authenticity or purity of identities of any kind, when I invoke “identifiable” sounds (a “queer” sound, a “black” sound, etc.) I am doing so to question the social relationships around their construction, proliferation, and distribution. The moment we become lazy about our use of those “identifiable” sounds — the minute we take it for granted that the essentialist associations they have come to carry are unquestionable and real reflections of material social experiences — everything becomes one-dimensional and shallow. This is why almost all music is one-dimensional and shallow! [Laughs.] For example, if I can beat a dead horse, my problem with Madonna’s “Vogue” is not that it was “inauthentic,” but that its terms of discourse misrepresented its relationship to vogueing by actively erasing the very contexts of Latina and African-American transgendered culture that inspired it (via lyrics about “It makes no difference if you’re black or white, a boy or a girl”… it TOTALLY made a difference, and THAT SOCIAL REALITY is where any real discussion on vogueing BEGINS.). So I’m interested in these other directions of audio discourse that cannot even occur if one is preoccupied with conflated essentializations of identity and sound. There is never a true point of origin for anything. It’s all referential and contextual. In my opinion, there is no point in discussions focussing on identifying the source of a sound or style — that is a hopelessly futile exercise, although it is the dominant exercise! It’s a distraction from the real discussions needing to be held, and those are discussions on relations of domination.

As a DJ in the late ’80s and early ’90s, there were a lot of drag queens asking me to play Madonna’s “Vogue” when it first came out. I refused, but I could understand their requests. We all have very complicit and complex relationships to dominations, and a perverse desire to celebrate our visibility within the dominant mainstream, no matter how unfamiliar or distorted that reflection may be… often because we are conditioned to feel so unhappy with what we see in the mirror to begin with. Mainstream visibility is like getting approval of the Father. It’s a mental and abusive process. It is also totally standard. So I get it… But there is also that which remains unrepresented and invisible to most. That which existed, and may have already been lost, but did so without seeking approval of the Father. And again, this is generally not a freed or liberated space, but a space of intense hatred for the Father. These are difficult things to speak of and represent, because any act of representation has the potential to be a violation of the cultural site it wishes to speak of. So to speak of them requires obfuscating or complicating the usual functions of language – not through vague poetry, but unexpected flashes of clarity coming from unexpected vectors.


SFBG You left during the first Internet boom I believe, and now SF is in the middle of a second one (although a bit different than the first —  the first wave seemed to have much more geeks and freaks in it, while this one seems much more regimented and Ivy League, even while many longtime residents are still feeling the results of “global recession”). When was the last time you were back here? And what are some of your recent thoughts on how house music is being affected by economic circumstances?

DJ SPRINKLES I was only back once about 10 years ago, visiting friends for a few days. When I moved away at the end of 2000, internet and web development had already undergone a rigid formalization. Years earlier, a web designer did a bit of everything. By 2000, developers were already split into specific teams focussing on interface, coding, page flow, etc… all processes were specialized, departmentalized, corporatized. I hadn’t heard about the “second internet boom” there, but the way you describe it doesn’t surprise me since it would surely be an extension of that regimentation that took place in the first boom.

And in a way, the same can be said of this “second boom” (third?) around house music. In the same way almost all websites have taken on the same continuity and feel, so has electronic dance music. You buy an album, and all the tracks sound similar — as opposed to the old days when an electronic dance track like Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love” was tacked on to the end of an otherwise standard soul-band album that didn’t sonically match it at all. Today’s music consumer experience is much more streamlined and organized, which affects how people produce an album as well. Younger generations — 20-somethings — grew up amidst this homogenization, so I am fairly sure they do not feel what I am speaking of… although they may recognize it as a historical process.

I try to play with discontinuity and mixing things up, like in my K-S.H.E album, “Routes not Roots,” which had monologues and ambient tracks interspersed between house cuts. But I once made the mistake of reading people’s blog comments, and they really seemed upset about this kind of thing. “Way to ruin the mix,” or “Why the fuck didn’t you put that monologue at the end of the album?” They have no patience for non-homogeneity. The same goes for my Comatonse Recordings website itself — people seem utterly confused and helpless. If one doesn’t do everything completely standard and at the same level, people get disoriented. It’s a kind of cultural compression going on, similar to audio compression, where everything has to be “punched up” to the same intensity or people feel lost. What the fuck is so wrong with being lost? Why would you expect — let alone insist — your interactions with non-mainstream media to be completely mainstream in process?


SFBG I’ve been hanging out recently with the new, young generation of ACT-UP activists who are transcending mere ’90s revival and undertaking a lot of energizing political discourse and action. Were you involved in the queer activist movement back then — or now? Would you characterize your musical project as a form of activism, especially in its more intellectual and challenging aspects?

DJ SPRINKLES That’s nice to hear. Although you use the term “action,” I assume the real interesting stuff has little to do with demos and “direct actions,” and more to do with communal education initiatives, etc.? My direct action days were mostly during the late ’80s and early ’90s, while living in New York. Most of those activities were in conjunction with various caucuses in ACT-UP, and WHAM! (Women’s Health Action & Mobilization).

I do consider my audio and other projects “political” — in theme, and also in their attempts to (dis)engage with standard industry practices. But clearly this is something different than direct action “activism” or community outreach, because my main social engagements are with people working for labels, distributors, music festivals, museums, and other culture industries. Maybe “culture jamming” is a better way to put this kind of political activity. Personally, I found myself distanced from direct action groups because the terms of identification they cultivated out of strategic necessity so often folded back into essentialisms that excluded me on a personal level. So I was always advocating for the recognition and acceptance of something other than myself (like the way “born this way” ideologies take over discussions of LGBT rights… I consider myself more “beat this way,” my queer identity being primarily informed by material ostracism and harassment than by some mythological self-actualization and pride). That, combined with the mid-’90s move away from direct action toward CBO’s (Community Based Organizations) — largely because the tactics of direct action had been so thoroughly coopted by mainstream media – was pretty much the end of my serious direct action involvements. Over the years, enunciating this process has become the core political act of my projects and activities. I do not do this to discourage people from forms of direct action, but as a simultaneous form of critical analysis that hopefully contributes in other ways to our various attempts to react to dominations.

SFBG Do you feel that, as the means of production and distribution have been more and more democratized in the past decade, house and techno music-making and DJing have been living up to their potential as a form of resistance to mainstream capitalism and culture, or do you feel they’ve become more homogenized and/or annexed by neoliberal, bourgeois culture?

DJ SPRINKLES I do not believe the means of production and distribution have become more democratized. I take issue with the way people always confuse “commercial accessibility” with “democratization.” The breadth and variation of today’s music production strategies is no more than a shopping mall diversity. We are all working with similar software on similar platforms. Mac, Windows, Unix… Banana Republic, Abercrombie & Fitch, The Gap… Having said that, if these musics had a potential, I believe it was lost back in the ’90s when anti-sampling legislation (mostly focusing on hip-hop) laid the groundwork for today’s electronic music. It basically reinvigorated house with “musicianship,” “authorship,” and all that crap which used to play far less of a role in this genre’s early days. And the younger generation – basically, today’s 20-somethings who grew up after the whole sampling debates — really don’t seem to understand how record label legal departments work.

So they list up all the samples they recognize in a track in the comment fields of music websites, which is putting the producers they wish to support at risk. There is no sense of how we can cultivate — let alone protect — “underground” media and information in this online era. Everything is about “sharing,” when in fact we need to be developing a parallel discourse around meaningful information distribution patterns, including strategically withholding information from the web. The cliché idea of making “everything accessible for everyone” is not only naîve, but negates the social and cultural specificities that give certain forms of media their alternative values, in particular collage and sampling. Anyone who has used a random image taken from a Google image search on their blog page, and then gotten an email from Getty Images’ legal department asking for back royalties, knows what I’m talking about. Treating subcultural musics as though they are meant for “everyone” — whether this is being done by fans, or the labels and online distributors themselves — is the biggest sign of people not understanding the media they are dealing with. And since all of that is SOP these days, it’s pretty much a sign that the sample-based genres of house is dead. Is talking about house’s political potential in 2013 really all that different than the trend of talking about the radical politics of ’60s rock during the ’80s?


SFBG I feel like, with parties like Honey Soundsystem, there is a huge resurgence of interest in an underground queer dance music culture — a kind of new underground opposed to corporate or low-quality dance music (yet still taking place in corporate spaces). Is this phenomenon occurring in Japan as well? Do you feel there are specific possibilities with this, not just in terms of opportunity for queer DJs to travel but of transformation of queer discourse and politically actualizing a new generation?

DJ SPRINKLES Hey, low-quality is where it’s at. It’s what it’s all about. What was Chicago house if not low quality? It’s important to place value within the “low” in order to counter conventional associations between the terms “good,” “high quality” and “upper class.” I’m not talking about celebrating kitsch, or that kind of petit-bourgeois trivialization of the “low.” I’m talking about finding other values in the “low” that cannot find expression within a language developed to express everything in terms of “low vs. high.” This is ultimately about the identification of other values amidst class struggle.

I don’t think house resonates as a queer medium anymore. Those days are over. Today it is primarily a white, heterosexual, European phenomenon. That was the case early on. I mean, how many Americans became aware of house music in the ’80s by buying Chicago house sold back to us on UK compilations? The US has always treated its own history of electronic music like utter shit… The US is such a fucking rock’n’roll shithole. So I think for people to appreciate house music’s queer roots, and to actively invest in those themes today, requires people becoming deliberate and explicit about those interests. But whether that deliberate action would focus on “queer visibility” or not is another issue. It doesn’t have to focus on “visibility” — especially since visibility has become such an oppressive aspect of dominant LGBT movements. Explicitness can also be about closets. Not only the usual closets born of heterosexism, but less considered closets around sexuality and gender that have been formed by the actions of the “born this way” LGBT mainstream. Well, that’s the direction I try to take it… reflecting on, and constructing, queer and transgendered histories that are as skeptical of Pride[TM] as they are angry about violence. And I do believe, globally speaking, queer and transgendered experiences are much more informed by violence than pride. So this should be reflected in how and where we make noise. In my opinion, music that functions in completely standard ways – socially and economically – does not have much potential for reflecting queer or transgendered contexts in politically precise, helpful or meaningful ways. You end up with essentialist, humanist shit like Lady Gaga’s, “Born This Way.” She is not somebody I would consider an ally.

You know, American media is so fixated on the idea that sexuality and gender must either be biologically predetermined, or a personal choice. The “it’s not a choice” argument is a common theme in television shows, etc. Both of these options revolve around a fiction of free will. Like, if it’s not a choice, then the only other possibility must be some supra-social, biological reason that cannot be questioned. Both of these conclusions preserve the status quo brutality of how culture forces gender and sexual binaries upon us. The thought that our absence of choice might be rooted in social tyrannies – not biological predispositions – remains unthinkable. The mainstream has it half right when they say, “it’s not a choice,” but it’s a half-truth that has been twisted into a decoy from the real issues at hand – the inescapability of the hetero/homo and female/male paradigms. We are given no other choices through which to understand our genders and sexualities. Sexuality is far greater than two or three. The same goes for gender — and yes, I’m speaking biologically, human bodies are way more diverse than A or B. To argue that the reason you deserve rights under a humanist democratic system is because of genetics is a retreat into feudalist logic. It’s the same as an aristocrat arguing that their rights and privileges were deserved because of their family blood-line and DNA. “Born this way” is antithetical to any democratic argument for rights rooted in a social capacity for understanding and transformation. It is astounding that the majority of people cannot comprehend that any “born this way” argument is a complete obliteration of their social agency. “I can’t help it, so give me the same rights as you…” Fuck that. We shouldn’t be asking to participate in the rights and privileges of those who have oppressed us. We should be trying to divest those groups of privileges. That is the best way to help ourselves and minimize the violence we enact on others.

Humanist legislative practices are still rooted in feudal ideologies, and I am convinced the long-term repercussions of this is a cultural entrenchment that makes any democratic project (including US-brand democracy, socialism or communism) an impossibility. We can already see how the post-Cold War world is retreating into clan-based, privatized, anti-state organization structures. Capitalism is increasingly liberated of democratic agendas because — surprise! — capitalism works better with slavery. Capitalism is not about the distribution of wealth, and everyone’s equal chance to partake in a petit-bourgois lifestyle. It is about the isolation of wealth. There is no doubt in my mind that today’s moral insistence that all people must work at whatever job society throws them, and the accompanying presumption that all lower-class unemployed people are “lazy” (which is perpetuated by many lower-class peoples themselves), is an argument for slavery: forced labor in return for base subsistence at best. How is that not the reality of poverty under globalized capitalism?

…and that’s why I hate Lady Gaga. [Laughs.]


SFBG You have some fascinatingly poetic thoughts about the intersection of transgender issues and immigration, the idea of “living as a ghost” in politicized and police-monitored spaces. Do you have any current thoughts on how globalization continues to affect transgender issues?

DJ SPRINKLES I think the fact that the world’s two largest economies around gender transitioning are in Thailand and Iran, yet the aesthetics of those economies follow largely western models of beauty and body, says a lot about how globalization affects transgendered issues. Thailand’s dominant transgendered culture revolves around the “Ladyboy” — a very essentialist transgendered model that is rooted in heterosexism and the cultural/ideological necessity for some men to “unbecome-man” in order for “straight men” to have sex with other men. Western transgendered discourses love to fetishize the “Ladyboy” as some kind of locally celebrated and accepted third-world transgendered native other, but this is patent orientalism. It refuses to envision how the strict regimentation of social codes for those transgendered people can be oppressive, or how the mythical “transgendered native’s special place at the edge of the village, possibly as a shaman” is a form of segregation. People also never address how such cultures are invariably patriarchies, and their models for transgenderism almost exclusively revolve around the MTF paradigm. And far as I know, Thailand has still not lifted their government prohibition on homosexual government employees, which is relatively new legislation passed just a few years back. This is all part of that context of transgendered production.

Meanwhile, Iran is a country where Islamic law prohibits homosexuality by fatwah. Since the ’70s, gender transitioning has been promoted as a way for men who have sex with men to avoid the death penalty, although many transitioned people still face the possibility of being murdered by their families or local communities. The cost of their procedures is partially subsidized by the Iranian government itself. While some Westerners have attempted to portray that as “progressive,” clearly it is the opposite. Many post-op transsexuals find themselves ghettoized, unemployed and cut off from the family structures that play such important roles in Iran’s social structure.

In both Thailand and Iran one can see how the global growth of gender-transitioning economies is connected to heterosexism and homophobia — something current Western gender analyses attempt to separate from gender transitioning through clear ideological divisions between gender and sexuality. While I believe these divisions between gender and sexuality are important and do have social value in the West, it is clear that the West is not the world. And the West has surely not overcome its heterosexism and homophobia, either. I believe it is more than coincidence that the global proliferation of gender transitioning technologies is happening parallel to medical industries’ attempts to divest of their previously blatant attempts to cure homosexuality, due to such methods falling out of cultural favor in the West and elsewhere. I also believe it is more than coincidence that today’s inescapable “born this way” arguments serve and justify today’s medical agendas so well.

For sure, my stance on medical transitioning has always been that I support peoples’ abilities to transform their bodies as they see necessary. Considering how few options for gender identification are offered to us, I can understand how a person can become no longer able to live within one’s body as it has been defined and shaped by social gender constraints. But, for obvious reasons, I am unable to believe those medical systems which propagated today’s gender binary are capable or willing to offer us a way out of our gender crises. Those industries move us further and further away from cultural environments that enable transgendered people to build medically unmediated relationships to our bodies. I just can’t accept that the medical industry’s methods for mediating our suffering are the only way. It really angers me… particularly since so many transgendered people are impoverished and without health care…

Hmm, you’re probably getting an idea as to why I am never invited to perform my more thematic projects in the US — just to DJ some house and go back home to Japan. [Laughs.]

SFBG Speaking of essentialism, ha: Any food or restaurants you miss from living here?

DJ SPRINKLES Mexican food…! It’s shockingly absent in Japan… and when you do find some, you generally wish you hadn’t. But what a weak note upon which to end this interview. [Laughs.]

On the Rise: Space Ghost


Space Ghost’s textured, sample-based electronic compositions might sound like fat rain drops dribbling over tight beats, as is the case with “SD”, or like the remnants of a soulful club hit stretched over hollow wooden percussion in newly uploaded tracks like one-minute-long “King City.”

He is ambient music-maker/Oakland producer Sudi Wachspress — not the masked Hanna-Barbera character — who pieces together tracks using sounds found on the Internet and arranges them in Ableton. The Ukiah native, born in ’91, says he also has a Zoom H4 audio recorder, which he’s used for field recordings in the past, an Alesis Micron, and a vintage Korg Mono/Poly, which he’s currently learning to incorporate into his music. He also occasionally works with his own recorded voice.

His music is, for the most part, simply created in his bedroom then uploaded to Soundcloud, sometimes unfinished, often with a raw murmur, always intriguing. He’s also put out a few actual records, including 2012’s You’re There, and he’s one of the hosts of Sick Sad World, with fellow DJs Mike Melero and Albert Luera. He described the monthly party — which has seen Le1f, Friendzone, and Main Attrakionz — in another publication as “a grimey warehouse Oakland rap-bass-dance party.”

Description of sound: Ambient/electronic/hip-hop based/instrumental/meditative.

What you like most about the Bay Area music scene: I don’t really think there is a specific electronic music scene in the Bay Area like the way Chicago has house music, Detroit with house and techno, LA with beats. And because of that I think the Bay Area is a really good place to be, for electronic music, because I feel like I stand out more at shows. I can play songs at shows that are completely rinsed in other places, but it could be some people’s first time hearing that song in the crowd. Also, at Sick Sad World, we have been pushing different bass heavy genres of electronic music in our sets, as well as including old and current rap, creating a sort of mixture of sounds at our shows. And because there is a lot of ground to be explored in electronic stuff around here, I think we are in the right place at the right time.

What piece of music means a lot to you: “Left Side Drive” by Boards of Canada. That was the first song I heard by them, second to “Roygbiv,” and it’s kind of unexplainable how it made me feel. I had never really heard much electronic music before then, and that song was just so deep. It just had this slow lagging hip-hop beat but was super grainy and had sounds I had never heard. All the sounds flow around each other so fluently and then at the end it enters 30 seconds of just pure angelic-like chords.

Favorite local eatery and dish: I’m super into nachos. I went to this place in Emeryville the other day called “Los Cantaros Taqueria,” and they have real good nachos and horchata.

Who would you most like to tour with: I think it would be tight to tour with the other guys on Astro Nautico, the label I released my last album on.


Our Weekly Picks: January 9-15



RADAR Reading Series

Like a literary-focused Parisian salon, but with vibrant SF genderfucking and homemade desserts, this monthly showcase of emerging, underground writers and artists is routinely the most enticing potpourri of need-to-know talent. The RADAR Reading Series is part of local treasure/Sister Spit(ter) Michelle Tea’s nonprofit, RADAR Productions. This time, there’s visual artist D-L Alvarez, Gaga Feminism author Jack Halberstam (who writes often of gender queerness, pop culture, and bad TV), transnational interdisciplinary artist and cultural organizer Favianna Rodriguez, and author Grace Krilanovich — whose 2010 debut novel, The Orange Eats Creep,was named one of Amazon’s top science fiction/fantasy books that year. With Tea hosting the follow-up Q&A, you know there will be cookies on hand. (Emily Savage)

6pm, free

San Francisco Public Library, Main Branch

Latino Reading Room

100 Larkin, SF



“Unknown but Knowable States”

Dorothea Tanning’s surreal paintings provide a window into the female subconscious with as much style and punch as her male contemporaries. There will be a few of these crisp, symbolic painting in the upcoming exhibit, Known but Unknowable States, but it will also show a different side of her work — one that could easily fit in with ethereal figure painting seen in contemporary art. The most striking works are what she called “prism” paintings, which twist the female form into abstract visions with soft brushwork and unique color combinations. To go along with these will be some of her soft sculptures of strange creatures made of fabric, fur, and a sewing machine. (Molly Champlin)

Through March 2

Opening reception, 5pm, free

Gallery Wendi Norris

161 Jessie, SF

(415) 346-7812



The Art and Legacy of Crime Photographer Weegee

It should come as no surprise that Eddie Muller took a shining to the work of 1930s and ’40s press photographer Arthur Fellig, a.k.a. Weegee. Muller’s the founder of the SF Noir Film Festival, whose hardboiled flicks go perfectly with Weegee’s steely-gazed shots of crime scenes. The photographer is widely credited with bringing aesthetic concern to crime scene photography. Today, Muller explains why the man’s work still matters now, in the era of Instagram and meme mania, with this talk, punctuated by video interludes. (Caitlin Donohue)

6:30-8pm, $5

Contemporary Jewish Museum

736 Mission, SF

(415) 655-7800



“Risk is This…”

If you want to see what Cutting Ball Theatre’s next season might look like, you’d do well to check out this season’s new experimental plays festival, “Risk is This….” Past festivals have foreshadowed full productions of some of Cutting Ball’s most memorable pieces including Marcus Gardley’s “…and Jesus Moonwalks the Mississippi” and Eugenie Chan’s “Tontlawald”, and this year’s lineup looks to be just as full of future potential, with new plays written by Sean San José, Dipika Guha, and Basil Kreimendahl, plus exciting new translations of Alfred Jarry’s “Ubu Roi” and the Capek brothers’ “Insect Play.” Presented over five weekends of staged readings, the five plays range topically from transgenderism to crack-cocaine to the corrupting influence of power — which certainly sounds like the very definition of risk to us. (Nicole Gluckstern)

Fridays and Saturdays through Feb. 9

8pm, free–$20 donation

EXIT on Taylor

177 Taylor, SF

(415) 525-1205



“Alfred Hitchcock: The Shape of Suspense”

Alfred Hitchcock is just coming off his best year in decades, with a biopic starring Anthony Hopkins and the news that his 1958 psychological drama Vertigo leapfrogged past the almighty Citizen Kane (1941) in at least one “best films of all time…ever…full stop” poll of influential film critics. Not bad for a guy who died in 1980. The Pacific Film Archive shines a well-timed spotlight on the prolific Master of Suspense with an extensive retrospective of works well-known (1954’s Rear Window, 1959’s North by Northwest, 1960’s Psycho, and — of course — Vertigo) and more obscure (1931’s Rich and Strange, 1937’s Young and Innocent, 1947’s The Paradine Case) — not to mention often-overshadowed underdogs like the series kick-off film, made by Hitch in his pre-Hollywood days: 1935’s The 39 Steps. (Cheryl Eddy)

Through April 24, 7pm, $5.50–$9.50

Pacific Film Archive

2575 Bancroft, Berk.



Mister Lies

Nick Zanca played in several punk bands in high school until he was introduced to electronic music and production in college. This happened about a year ago. Since then he’s caused quite the stir, catching a record deal and tour as Mister Lies. The deep, almost spiritual electronica, or “experimental avant-garde pop” as he prefers, draws inspiration from diverse artists — spanning Steve Reich to Missy Elliot. His generally downtempo vibe might be better scheduled at four in the morning. But hey, there’s no right time to unwind your mind a bit, particularly when it’s Mister Lies’ gospel-infused sound paired with the smooth dream pop of San Francisco local, Giraffage. (Champlin)

With Some Ember

9:30pm, $12

Bottom of the Hill

1233 17th St., SF

(415) 621-4455



“Rituals of Water”

The most recent work of local artist, Rodney Ewing, manages to distil a lot of history and ideas into a coherent show about water. This theme is embedded even in the creation of the art: the large scale paintings are made of ink, salt, and mostly, water. Through figures and words that seem to be dissolving on paper, he looks at four moments in the history of African American people, the transatlantic slave trade, baptism, civil rights, and Hurricane Katrina. Though his works are heavily political, they don’t seek to make a statement. Instead they perform a sort of ritual in which the viewer and artist strengthen African history by reclaiming memories and stories once lost through diaspora. (Champlin)

Through March 1

Opening reception, 6pm, free

IcTus Gallery

1769 15th St., SF

(510) 912-0792



Mary Armentrout

Old Will wasn’t exactly thinking about installation pieces when he proclaimed, “all the world’s a stage.” Still there is something about the connection between “living” and “performing” that today many dance artists explore by stretching that fragile tie between the two. One way is by abandoning the proscenium theater for more flexible environments. Few, however, go as far as the ever adventuresome Mary Armentrout who is traveling her “reveries and elegies,” essentially a solo piece for herself, from two Oakland locations first to CounterPULSE this weekend, then (Feb. 23-24) to Bakers’ Beach. Each time she shows these “reveries,” she will do the same, of course, not at all. Ideally one would see the whole cycle but since Armentrout has assembled the piece from fragments, fragments is what we’ll get. And that’s OK. (Rita Felciano)

Also Sun/13, 4:15pm, $20


1310 Mission, SF

(510) 845-8604




Newish Bay Area band Kicker features members of Neurosis, Filth, and Dystopia, and sounds like late ’70s anarcho-punk à la Subhumans. Which makes perfect sense, really, as lead vocalist Pete the Roadie grew up in England, went to the same school as Subhumans and Organized Chaos, and has been a part of the worldwide punk scene since that formative year of ’77. Really need another reason to go to this $5 Bender’s show? OK: Bad Cop/Bad Cop — the LA rock’n’roll band with members of Cocksparrer tribute act Cunt Sparrer — opens the whole thing up. (Savage)

With Pang!

10pm, $5


800 S. Van Ness, SF

(415) 824-1800



The Great American Pop-Up

The Great American Pop-Up is back. Because who wants to make dinner on a Monday night? At the first installment, patrons scarfed chocolate raspberry cookies, sustainable sushi, and salty spiced sausages. At this second round — again inside the iconic Tenderloin site, recently named one California’s most beautiful music venues — a few of those patron-pleasing vendors will return: sustainable sushi via Rice Cracker Sushi, Asian fusion dishes via Harro-Arigato and Ronin, along with Dora’s Donuts and Donna’s Tamales. The house Chef James Whitmore will be whipping up dishes, and there will be some crafty vendors including a Yes & Yes Designs booth, should you be in the market for one-of-a-kind jewelry made from recycled books as a delicious side dish to your sushi. DJs Children of the Funk will provide the background beats to your fine (club) dining experience. (Savage)

Great American Music Hall

859 O’Farrell, SF (415) 885-0750



Shabazz Palaces

The retro-future of space hip-hop is here, in disparate senses among headliner Shabazz Palaces and opener Ensemble Mik Nawooj. Led by Palaceer Lazaro — formerly of jazz-rap group Digable Planets — and multi-instrumentalist Tendai “Baba” Maraire, Seattle’s Shabazz Palaces are part of a cosmic collective of forward-thinking artists, including Sub Pop labelmates, THEESatisfaction. Their latest release, 2011’s Black Up, was a vortex of jazz, soul, and rap with African percussion keeping the beat. And then there’s Ensemble Mik Nawooj, the East Bay crew behind that alternate universe chamber hip-hop opera, Great Integration, a similarly genre-busting production that follows five malevolent lords who control the physical world, and the assassin who slays them. Prepare to elevate your mind. Countdown to launch. (Savage)

With Ensemble Mik Nawooj, Duckwrth, DJ Orfeu

9pm, $15

New Parish

579 18th St., Oakl.

(415) 371-1631



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Heads Up: 6 must-see concerts this week


It’s likely your first full week back to work after the holidays – and just how does that feel? Painful? Like a dull, numbing pain creeping up your neck? Fix it with fun, like the kind you’ll have seeing former Das Racist, Kool A.D. at Elbo Room, doom folk friends Chelsea Wolfe and King Dude at the Great American Music Hall, or producer Jerome LOL at Rickshaw Stop, punk act Kicker at Bender’s, or club night Push the Feeling’s one-year anniversary show at Underground SF.

Cheer up, Bay Area. There’s plenty to hear in 2013.

Here are your must-see Bay Area concerts this week/end:

Kool A.D.
Fresh off that announcement that his group, Das Racist, broke up (though it technically fizzled months earlier), Kool A.D., a.k.a Victor Vazquez, seems to be reinvesting himself in Bay life. The rapper-producer grew up here, and in 2012, he reconnected with his roots: releasing a mixtape (51) recorded in Oakland, littered with Bay notables and local references. Here’s to new projects on 2013.
With Safe, Trill Team 6, Trackademicks
Wed/9,  9pm, $10
Elbo Room
647 Valencia, SF

Jerome LOL
Remember when Rihanna played SNL and transformed the stage into an IRL URL with a green screen of floating GIFs and animated graphics while singing “Diamonds?” And around the same time Azealia Banks (recently involved in more controversy) released a ’90s-copping video for “Atlantis” as a seapunk mermaid priestess riding a Lisa Frank-like digital dolphin? Those aesthetics were largely reminiscent of LA’s Jerome LOL and his kind of early web archeologist-producers. Jerome has since come out as saying those takes on his flashy style were complimentary, though perhaps not the right formats, as they are void of substance and context. If you want to see the cursor starting point, you’ll make it to his show tonight. Plus, he does a chirpy club remix of “Diamonds.”
With RL Grime, popscene DJs
Thu/10, 9:30pm, $13-$15
Rickshaw Stop
155 Fell, SF

Chelsea Wolfe
Ah, the tormented love song. Chelsea Wolfe does it well. Vocally, she transfixes, sometimes sounding like she’s calmly wringing every ounce of blood from a relationship totem, at other points whispering cries of help from a enveloping darkness, the vibrations of the plucked-hard guitar strings reverberating in the distance. This rush of gloom and pain, in a genre she’s past described as “doom folk,” came forth in a fierce package in 2011’s electric Apokalypsis, and steadily zigzags beautifully through 2012’s meandering Unknown Rooms: A Collection of Acoustic Songs.
With King Dude
Fri/11, 9pm, $15
Great American Music Hall
859 O’Farrell, SF

Push the Feeling with Yacht (DJ set)
Push the Feeling, Kevin “epicsauce” Meenan’s affordable dance night at Underground SF – which I profiled in last year’s “Post-Everything” cover story – is turning one-year-old this weekend. Over the past 12 months the Lower Haight party has seen live performances and DJ sets from the likes of Les Sins (Toro Y Moi), High Places, Shock, Blackbird Blackbird, Heathered Pearls, Silver Hands, Yalls, and Chautauqua. This time, there’s a Yacht DJ set, and a live Jeffrey Jerusalem along with resident DJs YR SKULL and epicsauce.
Fri/11, 9pm, $5-$8
Underground SF
424 Haight, SF

Mister Lies
“Nick Zanca played in several punk bands in high school until he was introduced to electronic music and production in college. This happened about a year ago. Since then he’s caused quite the stir, catching a record deal and tour as Mister Lies. The deep, almost spiritual electronica, or “experimental avant-garde pop” as he prefers, draws inspiration from diverse artists — spanning Steve Reich to Missy Elliot.“ — Molly Champlin
With Some Ember
Fri/11, 9:30pm, $12
Bottom of the Hill
1233 17th St., SF
(415) 621-4455

Newish Bay Area band Kicker features members of Neurosis, Filth, and Dystopia, and sounds like late ’70s anarcho-punk à la Subhumans. Which makes perfect sense, really, as lead vocalist Pete the Roadie grew up in England, went to the same school as Subhumans and Organized Chaos, and has been a part of the worldwide punk scene since that formative year of ’77. Really need another reason to go to this $5 Bender’s show? OK: Bad Cop/Bad Cop — the LA rock’n’roll band with members of Cocksparrer tribute act Cunt Sparrer — opens the whole thing up.
With Pang!
Sat/12, 10pm, $5
800 S. Van Ness, SF
(415) 824-1800

YEAR IN MUSIC 2012: Blowing like the wind



SUPER EGO Look, if I was doing my job properly, there’s no way in Hello Kitty I’d remember what happened on the club scene the past year. It’s all fuzzy shapes and drunk colors, like Barbara Bush in a bathhouse. Last February, it took me two whole pages of tiny type just to list my favorite weekly clubs, so I’m not gonna go into all that here. (I will say that parties like Housepitality, Honey Soundsystem, Lights Down Low, Icee Hot, Dub Mission, Non-Stop Bhangra, No Way Back, As You Like It, Forward, Deep, Base, and Sunset continued to introduce us to incredible DJs. And wasn’t there someone from Detroit here, like, every week?) Here are some things, however, I do recall

Loudest: Body and Soul at Mighty — my ears rang for a week, my feet for three.

Wowest: Amon Tobin’s giant tetris of digital video projections for his ISAM Live 2.0 tour at the Greek Theater.

Scary-Hottest: International leather techno entity Luther at Folsom Street Fair.

Coolest: Marco De La Vega, cross-genre promoter of the year, watching from the DJ booth as a kick-ass $3000 light falls on a table’s-worth of Balam Acab and Andy Stott’s live electronic equipment at Public Works. Then finishing his cocktail before handling the ensuing panic.

Wowest, part 2: The SF Symphony’s American Mavericks concert series (including a Kate Bush-referencing piece by DJ Masonic), SF Opera’s “Nixon in China,” the amazing Soundwave Festival, the hella robust Electronic Music festival.

Trippiest: Those immersive projections at Public Works, which turned Laurent Garnier’s live show into a cartoon-heart-filled rave aquarium and Jeff Mills’ into a star-map vortex.

Cutest: The tiny flashing lights on the ceiling of the remodeled, excellent 222 Hyde.

Latest: We got a trap club (Trap City), a new wave of cyber-horror drag performance artists (at Some Thing, Dark Room, High Fantasy), a packed gay sports bar (Hi Tops), a great-sounding new club (Monarch), a lunchtime dance party (Beats for Lunch, also at Monarch), an outbreak of vogueing (everywhere), a queer nu-hip-hop club (Swagger Like Us), a queer funk classics party (Love Will Fix It), and a weird “sparkling alcohol water” (Air). But we lost Club Six, which I loved. Also I think dubstep died.

Loveliest: Dancing in a church with 30 other people to hip-house legend Tyree Cooper, singing along to “Turn Up the Bass.” Watching real house parties like The People blow up in the East Bay. Sipping homemade sljivovica behind the decks with DJ Zeljko of Kafana Balkan. Doing the jerk ’til I melted at Hard French. DJing (eek!) Club Isis classics on vinyl at Go Bang. I think I almost made out with Kenny Dope at Red Bull Music Academy? Oh, and running into you.

>>Check the rest of our YEAR IN MUSIC 2012 issue.



1. Todd Terje, “Inspector Norse” This was a dance music year that sometimes seemed to vacillate among three primary moods — prim sophistication, moneyed “indulgence,” and too-broad jokes. But Norwegian Terje dared proffer the sweetest humor in this instant earworm’s worth of re-engineered nostalgia, embracing the cheery electronic toodles of early ’80s British and Scandinavian TV show themes (cf. especially “Grange Hill” and “Swap Shop,” though not “Inspector Morse”) and bringing smiles back to the dance floor.

2. John Talabot, FACT Mix 315 A spectacular year for the Spaniard, whose expansive take on the decades-old Balearic sound already had him pegged for a 2012 favorite, even before he dropped excellent album Fin, which toyed with melancholic UK bass sounds and yielded my second favorite tune of the year, hopelessly romantic “So Will Be Now” with Pional. But this mix for FACT showed that the dark underpinnings of witchy house and the sunstroked uplift of Ibiza could be reconciled via a tingly rush of subtle, brilliant psychedelia. Trippy, lovely, and the right little bit of creepy.

3. Plan B, “Ill Manors” I detested The Prodigy the first time around — they were goofy twats who had nothing to be angry about. No surprise “Firestarter” was played for the Queen at this year’s Olympics opening ceremony. So much for anarchy in the UK, although Azaelia Banks mashing it up with “212” at Coachella was fun. UK rapper-singer Plan B managed to weld the Prodigy (and nascent drum and bass) revival to the real world anarchic energy of last year’s UK riots, his Tchaikovsky-sampling tune shivering with council flat rage, ambivalent violence, Olympic protest, and youthful nihilism. Watch his self-directed, horrifically poignant shoestring video, then laugh at the Grammys as accolades rain down on Romain Gavras’ extravagant ripoff for “No Church in the Wild.”

4. Rrose, Smoke Machine Podcast 069 Electronic Body Music for our time, rippling with muscular textures and ethereal trap doors.

5. Justin Martin, Crackcast 019 For all the diversity of the local scene, the Dirtybird crew is still our major player on the global dance music stage. (Of our three big breakout acts this year, Safeword is rad, Poolside is cute, Pillow Talk leaves me cold so far.) Fine, I adore them. Nobody else sounds like they’re having more fun while slyly executing tricky, emotionally satisfying bass maneuvers like Claude VonStroke and his stable. This year was stellar for the fiendishly clever Justin in terms of addictive mixes (his album “Ghettos and Gardens” was good, too, but I took issue with the insensitive tone of some of the promotional materials). This podcast, along with his Fabric and Clash ones, never left my iRotation.

OTHERS: MK, Old School Classics Mix; Le1f, “Wut”; Azaelia Banks, “Fierce”; Fantastic Mr. Fox, “San’en”; Andy Stott, “Luxury Problems EP”; Dutch Uncles, “Fester”; Ripperton, “Let’s Hope”; Sailor & I, “Tough Love (Aril Brikha remix)”; Jessie Ware and Julio Bashmore, “110%,”; Disclosure, “Latch”; Prince Club and Steve Huerta, “Can’t Let Go”; Bwana, “Baby Let Me Finish (Black Orange Juice Remix)”; Stereogamous, “Feel Love Anew”; Little People, “Aldgate Patterns.”

You’ll be a woman soon



Tofu and Whiskey The phrase “‘woman’ is not a genre” has been popping up again. It’s been in articles, board threads, and subsequently, conversations I’ve been a part of. It’s a good one. Kind of an earworm of a saying, because on its face, it’s implicit, simplistic, obvious, even. But it’s a good mantra, for music writers. “Woman” is not a genre.

Maybe it’s a backlash against Rolling Stone’s recent, ridiculous “women who rock” package, which sought out the “best” woman in rock with votes from readers, and somehow ended up with cloying pop act Karmin plastered across the cover, cleavage-y as all Rolling Stone cover ladies. Can you imagine a “best white guy in rock” contest in RS?

But this is nothing new. As far as I can trace it, Little Boots said “‘girl’ is not a genre” in 2009, but — seeing as how it’s so gosh darn simple — it’s got to have been uttered previously, and certainly, undoubtedly, felt since the first time a woman picked up a different instrument from her female neighbor, and got thrown in concert together.

It was the headline and thesis of a piece on Electronic Beats about the rise of thinkpieces sputtering about a supposed rise of women making electronic music, another fallacy; it’s just the cheap shots in feature pieces clumping heterogeneous acts together again.

One of the only things linking all ladies of wildly divergent sounds at this point is the gendered showcases, or gendered comparisons. That’s not to say all comparisons are entirely inaccurate, they just frequently are made based on little more than appearance.

Ash Reiter, the frontperson for her eponymous East Bay band, saw plenty of comparisons after the release of her first album, Paper Diamonds, in 2010, with passing references to Fleetwood Mac and Cat Power, both of whom she admires. The singer-songwriter-guitarist was also hoping to sound like a mix of Paul McCartney, Brian Wilson, Grizzly Bear, and OK, Jolie Holland.

Now, Reiter and her band have taken that sound for a walk in another direction. With the new LP, Hola — which see release on 20 Sided Records Fri/30 with a show at the Rickshaw Stop (8:30pm, $10. 155 Fell, SF. www.rickshawstop.com) — the local musicians took notes more from bubbly 1960s pop and classic Motown cuts, arrangements interspersed with bits of funk and Afro-pop.

“With our first album, I was in a folkier place with a lot of those songs, doing the Jolie Holland thing, which, you know, I cut my teeth singing along to her songs,” says Reiter, remarkably cheerful on the phone the afternoon before her current 54-day tour ends. “But I’ve gotten more excited about writing more upbeat pop songs with grooves to them, and working with my band to write music instead of writing it alone.”

On this tour, Reiter and her drummer Will Halsey went to the Motown Museum in Detroit, which was particularly meaningful because of its influence on Hola: “that’s a lot of the music we look up to. Of course, [we’ve always looked up to] the Beatles and the Beach Boys, but also all these girl groups, the Ronettes, and the Shirelles, and the Crystals. And we definitively imitated a lot of what we heard in the background vocals listening to the Supremes.”

She had just gotten the Supremes box set, but also was listening to early Nigerian pop, and Os Mutantes when she first began work on Hola, and brought those inspirations to New Improved Recording, where the band worked for the first time with engineer Carlos Arredondo, who they met at a party at Anna Ash’s house.

You can hear Ash Reiter’s many complimentary influences on Hola opening track, “I’ve Got Something I Can Laugh About Now,” with jangly guitars, shakers, cooing harmonies, and Reiter’s crystal-clear, honey-sweet lead vocals. Funkier, electro-shot “Ishi,” written about the last member of the Yahi, very much a part of California’s history, follows. Reiter read his biography for that song, but also just liked the phonetic sound of his name.

Raised in Northern California (specifically, Sebastopol), Reiter looked to the state’s history for inspiration lyrically this time around; the former modern lit major was reading voraciously during the making of the record, including Joan Didion’s Where I Was From. The song “Little Sandy” has a chorus that’s a quote Didion included from a pioneer girl’s diary.

While Hola was girl group-influenced, Reiter wasn’t about to write a break-up album — she’s dating the band’s drummer, Halsey, who also plays with Oakland’s the Blank Tapes.

Another Bay Area act — freshly rejiggered and condensed — is headlining the release show with Ash Reiter this week: DRMS. It’s also a new progression for the plucky electro Afro-pop act, formerly known simply as Dreams. Down from eight players, the now-four piece has whittled to bandleader-keyboardist Rob Shelton, vocalist-percussionist Emily Ritz, drummer Ross McIntire, and Mark Clifford on vibraphone, melodica, and backup vocals.



Local singer-songwriter Jessica Pratt just released a mystical, fleeing-through-a-foggy-forest folk album that’s so stripped down, quavering and personal, crackling yet crisp, it sounds like a rare, weird gem from the early ’70s that you’d unearth in the lower racks of Amoeba. The self-titled LP has such a true-blue timeless quality, however, to call it a throwback would do it injustice. White Fence’s Tim Presley is said to have created new label Birth Records solely to release Pratt’s debut, which came out Nov. 13. Pratt recently told Fader: “I was really afraid of some freak-folk comparisons because I’m from San Francisco, and I play electric guitar, and it’s kind of weird, folky stuff.” I’ll refrain.


Part of Nayland Blake’s ongoing FREE!LOVE!TOOL!BOX! exhibit, Show and Tell: Queer Punks in Conversation will include conversations with Leslie Mah of Tribe 8, Brontez Purnell of Gravy Train!!! and The Younger Lovers, Jess Scott of Make-A-Mess Records, Brilliant Colors, Index, and Flesh World, and Matt Wobensmith, founder of Goteblüd Vintage Zine Store and Outpunk. Full disclosure, the panel discussion will be moderated by SFBG managing editor, Marke B., but I’d have gone regardless.

Fri/30, 6:30pm, free with admission

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts

701 Mission, SF



Our Weekly Picks: November 21-27



Major Powers and the Lo-Fi Symphony

With manic energy and exploratory style, Major Powers and the Lo-Fi Symphony, has garnered a set of reviews likening the band to rock legends, including one extolling on its resurrection of the rock opera genre. With musician blood (Kevin and Dylan Gautschi, sons of Pamela Wood, bass player for Bay Area rock legends Leila and the Snakes) and years of practice (band leader Nicholas Jarvis Powers is a self-taught pianist and songwriter since the age of eight) this trio is well qualified for the praise. And true to the reviews, its intricate arrangements, harmonies, and general flair for the dramatic often channel the spirit of Queen’s Freddie Mercury. As MPATLFS is opening for the upbeat, danceable rock of Solwave, this show should be a great way to kick off your Thanksgiving weekend. (Molly Champlin)

With Solwave, Ressurection Men

$10, 8:30pm

Café Du Nord

2170 Market, SF

(415) 861-5016



Eats Everything

While Eats Everything may seem to have come out of nowhere in 2011 with the release of attention-seeking track “Entrance Song,” that’s a narrative that ignores the fact that Daniel Pearce had been plugging away as a DJ for quite some time. You can hear it in his omnivorous house sound, in which each bubbly two-step and jungle bounce seems to have carefully digested two decades of electronic music. Since his “debut” Eats Everything has released tracks for SF’s Dirtybird as well as high profile mixes for Resident Advisor and the BBC (which identified Eats Everything as a premiere artist in the rising, resurrected, heavy-heavy bass sound of Bristol, UK).(Ryan Prendiville)

With Ryan Crosson, Bill Patrick, KMLN, Little John, Rich Korach, Dax

9:30pm, $10–$15

Public Works

161 Erie, SF

(415) 932-0955



Indigenous People’s Thanksgiving Sunrise Gathering.

In 1969, the Indians of All Tribes group staged an occupation of Alcatraz Island. After the prison closed, 79 America Indians successfully occupied the island for 19 days, demanding that the government return the land to American Indians with sufficient funding to build a university and cultural center. On the holiday that glosses over the bloodshed of Native American and colonial relations, this celebration should be a positive event that gives thanks to Mother Earth, but also recognizes the inequalities that are present in our society. All are welcome to hear the Native speakers talk about remembrance, gratitude, and the fight for equality. There will be performances by All Nations Singers and traditional Aztec, Pomo, and Pacific Island dance groups. Like the end of a vigil or celebration of new beginnings, the event will take place at sunrise, which should be a beautiful sight from the middle of the bay. (Champlin)

4:45am, $14

Alcatraz Island (Pier 33)

1398 Embarcadero, SF

(415) 641-4482



“The JFK Assassination 49 Years Later”

Another murdered president is getting all the headlines lately, thanks to a splashy new Spielberg film — but the puzzle of John F. Kennedy’s untimely death, dramatized by Oliver Stone’s 1991 JFK, remains fascinating both onscreen and off for historians and (conspiracy) theorists. After you’re stuffed with Thanksgiving treats, waddle over to the Roxie for an epic discussion of all things Dealey Plaza and beyond. The evening is anchored by a JFK screening and features enough special guests to fill a presidential limousine, including CIA agent (and Watergate figure) E. Howard Hunt’s eldest son, Saint John Hunt, and Judyth Vary Baker, author of Me and Lee: How I Came to Know, Love, and Lose Lee Harvey Oswald. (Cheryl Eddy)

4:45pm, $10

Roxie Theater

3117 16th St., SF



Henry Rollins

Ah, Thanksgiving. The one time a year you get to set aside all your stress, take the day off, and spend some good quality time with Henry Rollins. Tell your aunties you won’t be bringing the stuffing — you have bigger, less smothering fish to fry. Rollins won’t make you chop anything, take family photos, or leave greasy lipstick marks on your cheek, no — the former Black Flag frontperson is beginning a three-day residency at Yoshi’s to dish up his own smart, searing brand of political commentary and stories from his recent developing world travels. On the road since January of this year, Rollins has taken his Long March tour through nearly every state and dozens of countries before bringing it home to his final destination — California. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and you won’t have to help clean up. (Haley Zaremba)

Also Fri/23, Sun/25

7:30pm, $30


1330 Fillmore, SF

(415) 655-5600



Delicate Steve

If Vampire Weekend met at Humboldt State instead of Columbia, it might have ended up with a band more like Delicate Steve. Co-opting Afrobeat rhythms, and West African guitar licks a la Tinariwen, and pushing them into jammy, loosely psychedelic territory, the NYC ensemble’s sophomore full-length, Positive Force, hovers continuously between indie rock and white-dude world music, while shrewdly avoiding the pitfalls of both musical traditions. Makes sense, then, that David Byrne signed the band to his Luaka Bop label last year. (Taylor Kaplan)

With Dana Buoy, Raleigh Moncrief

8pm, $12

Rickshaw Stop

155 Fell, SF

(415) 861-2011



Kill Paris

This again; it always seem to end up in a club the day after Thanksgiving. The combination of dealing with bigot relatives and overeating (in that order) inevitably leading to the need to burn some calories. (I guess a gym would work as well, but those don’t have booze.) The consistently solid Opulent Temple DJs at the bottom of this eclectic lineup will definitely put down some solid house sets, but also worth checking out is Kill Paris, an EDM up-and-comer with a near fetish for funky ’80s soul and ’90s R&B. Expect to hear Prince, Montell Jordan, and Blackstreet reworked with the sounds of French electro, dubstep, and the fringes of LA’s beat scene. (Prendiville)

With Big Chocolate, Jelo, Opulent Temple DJs (Tekfreaks, Dutch, Dex Stakker, and more)

10pm, $15–$30

1015 Folsom, SF

(415) 431-1200



Wienerschnitzel wiener dog regional races

Could it be that we have found the true sport of kings? What, pray tell, could be more noble than stockily limbed canines, running as fast as their angular, low-rise bodies can take them across the lacquered floor of a professional basketball arena? Save your horses and greyhounds, for true athletic prowess we will take the Wienerschnitzel weiner dog races. Today’s winner will receive $250 and more importantly (because what the hell is a dog going to do with $250?), a trip to San Diego to compete against the country’s fastest daschunds. (Caitlin Donohue)

Check-in 11:30am, preliminaries noon, free registration

Finals during Warriors game half-time, admission to game $22–$475

Oracle Arena

7000 Coliseum Way, Oakl.



Richard Cheese and Lounge Against the Machine

There is nothing that Richard Cheese can’t turn into a vocal pop standard, loungifying rock’n’roll, hip-hop, top 40s hits, and everything in between. Previous covers include Nine Inch Nails’ “Closer” and Def Leppard’s “Pour Some Sugar on Me” like you’ve never heard them before (or will again.) The Los Angeles-based cover band and comedic ensemble make a welcome caricature of Las Vegas lounge entertainment, often decked out in tiger striped tuxedos with oversized microphones, and pairing elegant, smooth jazz stylings with blue language and lewd humor. The group has recorded an impressive 10 albums in its 12 years of swank existence. Grab a martini, sit back, and enjoy the ridiculous show. (Zaremba)

With Project: Pimento

9pm, $45

Bimbo’s 365

1025 Columbus, SF

(415) 474-0365



Zak Kyes

The documentary Helvetica proved that graphic design can be as relevant to your life as the question of whether you should buy Mac or PC. Designer, Zak Kyes will have plenty to say about the unsung importance of things such as font choice and negative space in his lecture at California College of the Arts. In addition, he will discuss how his work has been opening creative avenues between publishing, presentation, architecture, and installation. His collaborations and work across multiple fields won him the prestigious Inform award in 2012, and his resulting exhibition, Zak Kyes Working With… , has been featured in the Museum for Contemporary Art Leipzig, the Graham Foundation in Chicago, and the Architectural Association in London. In our information age, graphic design is useful to anyone who works on a computer, and what better way to learn more about it than from someone who clearly knows his stuff? (Champlin)

Free, 7pm

Graduate Center, CCA San Francisco Campus

1111 Eighth St., SF

(415) 551-9216




You may be scratching your head, wondering how a cartoon band could headline a real venue. But hey, the Gorillaz did it, and anything pop can do metal can do harder. Dethklok, the band at the center of Adult Swim’s Metalocalypse, has made a habit of touring alongside genuine, esteemed metal bands, providing some humor to an otherwise dark genre. On tour, the men behind the music get to show their faces, performing fan favorites from the show interspersed by comedy sketches poking fun at moshing, headbanging, and the metal community at large. Turns out, metalheads can take a joke. Though the actual fans don’t have to sign “pain waivers” to see Dethklok like they do on Metalocalypse, they probably would if it was requested of them. Brutal. (Zaremba)

With Machine Head, All That Remain, The Black Dahlia Murder

6:30pm, $25

Fox Theater

1807 Telegraph, Oakland

(510) 302-2250



Alice Cooper

Unlike a certain other Republican rocker that has been making headlines as of late, you can ignore Alice Cooper’s quiet politics and still thoroughly enjoy the output of his very loud 40-plus music career — a career that has influenced untold numbers of other shock rock bands and secured him a spot in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame last year. From writing anthems such as “I’m Eighteen” and “School’s Out” to bringing wild, vaudeville-style theatrics and horror movie imagery to his stage show, Cooper—who hits the city tonight on his “Raise The Dead Tour” — remains one of the greatest icons in the pantheon of rock. (Sean McCourt)

8pm, $37.50–$57.50


982 Market, SF


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Taking flight with Juan Atkins, co-originator of Detroit techno


Juan Atkins will perform songs from the Cybotron and Model 500 catalogues with a four-piece electronic group, including “Mad” Mike Banks of Underground Resistance, Mark Taylor, and Milton Baldwin, this Friday at No Way Back’s three-year anniversary party at Mezzanine.

When I first Googled “Model 500” the search results surprised me. I expected to find a clue as to why Juan Atkins named his mid-1980s solo music project after what sounded like a blueprint for a piece of consumer technology, like some sort of hyper-evolution of the Model T.

But the choices between a rotary telephone from the post-war period and a newly minted Smith & Wesson revolver, both model 500s in their own rights, left me wanting. When I ask Atkins whether there was any story behind the name, he suggests another way of reading it: “It was something I used to repudiate ethnic designation. It wasn’t named after any model or any particular piece of equipment.”

A more illuminating answer.

For it’s telling that one of the originators of Detroit techno — who first together with Rik Davis as Cybotron not only exploded what was expected of black American music, but also reinvented the possibilities for machine generated music — would substitute android names for human ones.


Already the word Cybotron contained the material trace of the cyborg, spun into rapid particle acceleration by the cyclotron. “Not that I was hiding my name,” Atkins clarifies. “When I first started making music in the ‘80s, the music industry was still really racially polarized. Even in America it still is that way to a certain degree. It was harder to cross over to certain genres, so I wanted to put more emphasis on the music as opposed to the person behind the music.”

Atkins put emphasis on the music in part by releasing it independently on his own imprints, Deep Space and later Metroplex, which is still operative nearly three decades later. But apart from the prejudices held by the industry, Atkins’ music reminds us that the production, distribution, and consumption of music is already caught up in an artificial network of mass production, even on independent labels.

At the very least, it’s contaminated in advance by the prosthetic apparatus that makes possible recording, listening, and performance. The name Model 500 then uncovers another achievement of techno as a genre: it refuses cheap illusions of authenticity by calling into question any pure separation between human creativity and technology, between feeling and artifice.

It’s strange that the sole contender against Cybotron’s “Alleys of the Mind” for the first techno single is A Number of Names’ “Sharevari.” Apparently they were both released only weeks apart in 1981, and no one has properly settled which came first. Once again, the human name, the proper name of the artist, is put under erasure for the benefit of the machine, this time a number: a number of names.

On the one side, we have the deep recesses of the mind mapped onto the neglected alleys of an otherwise manufactured and pre-programmed city. “Alleys” conjures images and feelings corresponding with a post-industrial wasteland, tempered in the shadow of Motown’s ghost and Detroit’s crumbling automobile industry, or as Ridley Scott’s Bladerunner would come out only one year later, a devastating post-human condition in which all life is gradually but inevitably devoured. On the other side, we have charivari, a word associated with all sorts of discordant music, disarticulated syntax, and mutilated proper names.

Yet, Atkins finds a hint of autonomy in disembodied music, especially in the robotic voice, freed from the social constraints that would root the lyricist in a localized body, and thus delimit its possibilities in a determinate space and time. Working with drum machines and synth keyboards that were made newly available and affordable, Atkins freely allowed the new instruments to guide the course of his music.

“There was no real plan or formula. Even the choice of the words was predicated on how well you can work the software,” he explains. “I used some primitive software — not even a vocoder; it was electronic speech software used for the Commodore 64 computer. The actual delivery of the lyrics was limited by the software, and our vocal skills, to make it work properly; it was really more of a mistake that the lyrics sounded as robotic as they did.”


Chance encounters between human and machine produced unheard possibilities. In “Clear,” a mechanically fissured voice repeatedly calls for the destruction of old programs in order to make way for the new. But an ambivalence wavers throughout; when the electric speech “tomorrow is a brand new day” emerges over a tremendously explosive rhythm, they invoke an anxious threshold between terror and hope.

As a friend of mine, whose intimacy with “Clear” cannot be overstated, put it: I get the impression that tomorrow has gone dark. Ever hopeful, I still have the impression that this darkness bears the promise of a new dawn.

“There’s a whole ideology that goes hand in hand with techno music, or electronic music,” Atkins says. “My way of thinking is that the ideology comes out in the lyrics. They had to be just as profound as the music.” A recently recovered Cybotron song, “Dreammaker,” depicts at least one of the ideological dimensions of Atkins’ machine-generated music: a cosmic escape.

Over drum sequences snared in delay and worming synth lines, an intoxicated voice addresses the maker of dreams to let him take flight “to the stars.” His appeal repeats, whirls, intoxicates. Punctuating the narrative, sound effects of a spaceship taking liftoff to a distant star culminate the song, calling us to imagine an escape from the disappointments and frustration wrought by planet Earth. For only the workings and unworkings of the imagination are able to resist the pressures of our reality. Perhaps Atkins’ music then becomes the vehicle, an unreal piece of futuristic technology, for the flight of the imagination.


The interconnected thread of speed, flight, and escape is also weaved into the more muscular configuration of sound underwriting the signature of Model 500. In “Night Drive (thru Babylon),” the mechanized refrain of “time, space, transmat” buzzes over speeding sub-bass frequencies, as if the intensified acceleration of the song itself could dematerialize and transmutate our own bodies captured in the web of rhythm.

Kraftwerk’s mark is here unmistakable but calibrated to the propulsive swing of funk. The drums reach such overwhelming claustrophobia in “No UFOs” that it violently increases a growing desire for release. But where could we find this release? When listening, I gather the sense that these injunctions for flight don’t invite the decadent escapism that is so often associated with electronic dance music; rather, they subtly indicate the possibility of the unknown, a world foreign to our own, not yet in being.

Much of Cybotron and Model 500 fuels this desire for the unknown, nourishing a nearly forgotten hope, dim and repressed, for renewal, even for the collective transformation in which proper names would no longer evoke exclusion and carry the weight of injustice. “As long as the theme and the recurring thread is the new, or the future, then basically, the future is what you make it,” Atkins reminds us. “Synthesis means to make something from nothing—almost.” He paused, before qualifying the almost. “I would never put a formula onto what the future is.”

No Way Back with Model 500
Fri/16, $20, 9pm
444 Jessie St, SF

Live Shots: AU at the Independent


It was my first time seeing Portland’s AU live Saturday night, and I had some important questions I hoped the show would answer. First of all, how does one pronounce AU? Aww? Awe? Oww? Gold? More importantly, how would the band recreate its sound live? I had theories, but as AU began its set at the Independent with its most recent album’s first (and most prominent song) “Epic,” those quickly proved false. There were no guitars.

Drum kit, choir bells, Kord keyboard, Roland sampler, clarinet, glockenspiel, what I believe to be a shekere, and quite a few effects and looping pedal – but no strings at all, which I felt particularly embarrassing, having previewed the show by mentioning that very song and its nonexistent yet “impossibly high rising GY!BE guitars.” This is partly due to my listening abilities,* but also an indication of the current musical landscape, which let’s be honest, can be fairly confusing.

Going relatively blind into a Washed Out show a while back, I remember being surprised to find a full band rather than a guy with a laptop and some other tools. Flying Lotus on another occasion was the reverse experience. The infusion of electronic music and digital production tools across genres has led to a seemingly endless palette, where minimalists can create maximal sounds and vice versa.

With AU, some things were as expected, particularly the base created by drummer Dana Valatka, who plays with a grind that recalls Zach Hill and a exploding control that’s more Buddy Rich. Valatka had a few tricks – playing handbells, for instance, at one point from the back of the room in the merch booth – but is generally rooted in the band’s most traditional role.

On the other extreme was Holland Andrews. On the occasion of her birthday, Andrews alternated between singing and playing the clarinet, a shekere, and at one point, a small handheld glockenspiel. The wide range of sounds she was able to produce was multiplied by the use of a looping pedal. These tools suddenly seemed to be everywhere a few years back, particularly in indie rock, giving individual musicians like Owen Pallett, Merrill Garbus, and Dustin Wong the ability to create a live sound larger than one person. I thought I’d grown tired of their use, but Andrews used it to good effect.

Performing a solo, Bjork-esque song “about going crazy” from her side project, Like a Villain, the singer created a schizophrenic wall of voices that was one of the night’s best moments, after which bandleader Luke Wyland remarked in slight awe, “She’s only 24.”

There’s more to be said about Wyland, the band’s genial center, but it’s largely beyond me at this point. Moving back and forth between solemn intensity and ecstatic excitement, much of the band’s sound – from the orchestral movements on “Crazy Idol” to electronic plotting of “OJ”– is seemingly due to him, behind the Kord, sampler, and whatever else he had up there.

It still left me with questions and reaching for genres, but he did clear one thing up: the name of the band is pronounced similar to a stranger trying to get your attention.

*As a child I’d spent summers at an education camp, where we were only allowed to listen to music (besides the work songs) in guided, “close listening” sessions, tasked with identifying the individual sources of the composition, and understanding both the material conditions/labor that went into each sound. It was a major reason for my escape.

Tetris of awesome


MUSIC “We’ve done the ISAM show in venues as big as the Sydney Opera House and as small as a local rock venue, but we’re basically holding our breaths every time. Someone could plug in their iPhone charger and blow the whole thing. In Coachella, the act on the field opposite had the idea of turning on floodlights for half their set, which washed us out for a good part with the ambient light.”

Brazilian electronic music legend Amon Tobin is on the phone, recounting some of the mundane worries that come with operating one of the most brilliant stage concepts in years, ISAM Live. The show is a marvel of cutting-edge technology that bathes a towering tetrominal assemblage of stacked cubes in digital projections, while — like the pilot of a Tetris spaceship, clad in his trademark baseball cap, hoodie, and jeans, ensconced in one of the glowing cubes — Tobin performs tracks from ISAM, his seventh studio album, and several other sonic treats. The tour is now in its second, completely revamped conceptual leg, ISAM Live 2.0, coming to Berkeley’s Greek Theatre on Fri/5. Tobin promises that ISAM 2.0 is “totally different … not connected to the album as much at all” from the first version, which played at the Warfield last year. Perhaps he’ll be wearing a spacesuit this time, too:

The visual illusions conjured up by Tobin and collaborators and mapped on the sculpture, made real with the help of a crack team of production designers headed up by Alex Lazarus of local art-tech collective Blasthaus, recall everything from early 20th century Constructivist art and colorform animation to tomorrow’s Xbox 360 game. Some of the effects are absolutely lovely, as when the structure “shatters” to crystalline pieces or a flood of winged creatures take flight across the stage. Some are vertigo-inducing, as when the whole thing acts as a flight simulator, or a slightly different version of the structure is projected onto the structure itself, and then begins revolving: meta! It’s all a sort of hyperreal 3-D, as shapeshifting as Tobin’s ever-elegant and booming compositions. (The music on ISAM itself is typical technopoetic Tobin — what makes the album standout is really how much the rest of the music world has caught up to his signature style, which contains elements of moody ambient, classic drum and bass, squonky electro, and crunchy dubstep without ever falling wholly into any of those genres.)

“What drove me to this idea was trying to find my way around the universal problem of presenting electronic music,” Tobin told me. “How do I make an engaging experience out of an album when I’m really just pushing buttons and twisting dials — it’s what we all do as electronic musicians. I don’t make dance music — I don’t think I even can — so the challenge becomes the concert presentation. And then the unusual situation becomes how to integrate myself into the proceedings. I didn’t just want to go out there and hang about.”

The waving hands and bobbing heads at the Warfield last year may prove that “I don’t make dance music” remark incorrect, but the show certainly succeeds at bridging the rapt audience vs. some arty dude’s knob-twisting divide. Tobin’s projects have lately been as much about technological expression as producing music — although one could argue, especially in his case, that these are one and the same at this point in history. Previous album Foley Room was a mosaic of found sounds recorded on the street (“from neighbours singing in the bath to ants eating grass”), that was accompanied by a gorgeous interactive website called “Field Recording” that featured morphological subaquatic creatures and a night-goggle feel.

This time around, Tobin’s technological adventurousness is helping to pique new interests. The crowd at the Warfield was not composed of the typical intelligent dance music, underground glitch, and scruffy turntablism fans I know from previous Amon Tobin shows. Rather, the “oohs,” “aahs,” and “this is fucking amazings” were coming from what looked to be a distinctly tech crowd. With Industrial Light and Magic, Pixar, and countless other digital animation studios located in the Bay Area, is ISAM Live introducing a new wave on enthusiasts to somewhat challenging electronic music through geek-candy visual technology?

“Well, electronic music is inherently tech-y to begin with,” Tobin says, “but even when I was just starting out, I was never interested in scenes. I’m too wrapped up in what I’m trying to do. I’m just hoping people will be into it, no matter who they are or how they got there.”

Tobin’s known for being laidback almost to the point of reclusivity, and his recent relocation to the Bay Area — “I live a little north of San Francisco, in the middle of the woods: I can walk around or go for a drive and do what I like” — has helped contribute to to both his secluded genius image and access to tech opportunity. Once he had the inspiration for ISAM Live, it wasn’t like he put an ad out on Craisglist to find designers, he told me. But a serendipitous encounter with Lazarus and the ease of putting together an adventurous, California-based design team got things going pretty easily. It’s also helped him firm up connections with local musicians he admires like SF’s Kronos Quartet, who were featured on Foley Room and will open for his concert at the Greek, and incredible live-sample collagist Eskmo, who opened for him early in the ISAM tour.

But the mind of Amon Tobin is ever-restless, and ISAM has been around for more than as year — despite the 2.0 relaunch, our conversation perks up when we begin to talk about his new release as Two Fingers called Stunt Rhythms, a beats and bass album that also belies his claim not to make dance music.

Stunt Rhythms is a tribute to the amazing electro and breakdance music that actually saved me, growing up in a shitty town called Hastings in England. Things like Cybotron’s ‘Clear’ or Man Parrish, JVC Force’s ‘Strong Island.’ My relationship to that sound is so deep. It’s music that keeps me pushing for something further off, pushing me through drum and bass, and making my own persona.

“It’s working my way toward that thing just over the horizon that keeps me going.”


with Kronos Quartet and Holy Other

Fri/5, 8pm, $39.50

Greek Theatre

2001 Gayley Way, Berk.


UK producer Max Cooper doesn’t want to see computers in tight skirts


Over the course of a steady stream of heady mixes and original compositions, Max Cooper has been gaining attention in the electronic music world – and not just for his Ph.D in computational biology. With an unconventional sensibility that’s like Philip Glass for the dance floor, Cooper brings a cinematic touch and classical influence to cerebral concepts. We took the opportunity – in advance of a performance at Public Works’s two-year anniversary party – to probe Cooper’s brain.

SFBG How did reworking composer Michael Nyman come about?


Max Cooper My best remix work seems to happen when I get hold of some real world audio, be it vocal, instrumental or other forms such as field recordings. Maybe because when I work on a remix, I’m always looking for some small element to grab me and give me a feeling or concept to run with – real audio seems to push me in an interesting direction,  and even better, the live orchestral works of a great composer like Michael Nyman. So we approached him with the idea and he gave me the green light to break his recordings down.


SFBG On the subject of words, your EP and track titles are notoriously intellectual – playing into your biology background. Are the labels a marking of what inspired you or a key to unlocking a deeper (nerdier?) conceptual understanding of the music?

MC More often than not the titles relate to something embedded in the music – The Nyman Deconstruction and Reconstruction for example, literally describing my technical approach to each remix, one taking the original into tiny parts to form something new, the next trying to build the original back up from the deconstructed parts. When I post my tracks on Soundcloud I usually provide an explanation of the concept of each track and how it relates to the music and the title, so that people can delve in a little deeper if they’re interested.


The links can often be more cryptic than literal though, for example the track I posted up today from my forthcoming EP on Traum is called “Gravity Well” – which describes an area of space warped by a large mass, in which bodies, such as us feel the strong pull of gravity. I wanted to make a track that envelops the listener in a heavy soft feeling. I think a piece of music could be made to fit almost any concept or object – I’d love to do a project where I ask people to submit any idea, and then I have to make pieces of music to represent each one.

SFBG Will computer simulation and modeling be used in the future to make beautiful pieces of music with little to no human intervention?

MC Either someone clever who knows a lot about music makes the program that follows the rules of their knowledge or someone writes software to analyze existing human music and recreate based on machine-learned rules. Either way, the programs are just an extension of us. But yes, given my disclaimer, no doubt computer simulations can make beautiful pieces of music, there are already computer-composed albums out there today which some people find beautiful (David Cope‘s Emily Howell for example).


But will computers ever be able to consistently outperform human composers? I’m not sure. I imagine even if they did capture all the subtleties required, people would still choose human-composed music, as hearing music has a lot more to it than just analyzing a sound wave in our heads. Every piece of information relating to a piece of music is important in how it is heard–just look at the link between promotional budgets and popularity of current music. It’s pretty evident that some objective form of musical merit isn’t what’s important in making a no.1 chart smash. (And you can’t dress a computer up in a tight skirt and make it dance around with all its fit mates. I’m thinking it will be awhile before we get to that stage, whatever weirdness it might entail.)

Public Works Two-Year Anniversary Party with Max Cooper
Thu/4, 8pm, free with RSVP; $10 without
Public Works
161 Erie, SF
(415) 932-0955

Vacancy voyeur: Matt Fisher’s shots of a Treasure Island that waits


Originally built as an airport for flying boats, Treasure Island’s man-made four square kilometers went on to house the Navy, and now is home to wineries, environmental hazards, electronic music from time to time, 2,500 people — most of them low-income, many of them college students — and tons of unused, abandoned buildings that capture the imagination of artists (check out this video from Tiny Town Productions we posted last year.)

The latest creative type to get inspired is Matt Fisher, a photographer who captured the isle’s luminous creepiness in his shots. Now that there’s plans to build more housing on the isle, Fisher is working on turning the images into a book to capture a moment in time and structures that may not be around much longer. We caught up with him about his tangles with pollution, ghosts, and about why he didn’t shoot any of Treasure Island’s living inhabitants. 

San Francisco Bay Guardian: What inspired you to take on Treasure Island?

Matt Fisher: About six years ago, a friend of mine started working for the Treasure Island Development Authority, which oversees all the properties on the island. Through visits out there and seeing some of the buildings left over from the Navy’s occupation, I became intrigued with the story behind the island. I ended up doing a short-form documentary for Current TV on the island and the location has been lingering with me ever since. I watched it become more populated with residents and businesses, and about two years ago, I finally started taking my camera out there. Current plans for redevelopment to turn Treasure Island into an eco-friendly city had me wondering what would happen to these tarnished old remnants of the island’s past. Would they be forgotten like so many other things? That was when I decided to document the island and the remaining structures as thoroughly as I could.

SFBG: There are thousands of people living out there and I don’t see any of them in your shots — why didn’t you shoot the inhabited portions of the island?

MF: I have always been fascinated by the phenomenon when a human is added to the landscape of a picture, whether it is a painting, video, or photo. Immediately, it seems like your attention is directed at the figure. Humans love to look at other humans. Take the human out of the picture and you start realizing elements of the landscape again, the buildings and the objects. I really tried to keep people out of many of these photos for that reason. The landscape on Treasure Island is so bizarre, I really tried to portray that desolate and eerie feeling to the viewers.

SFBG: I know the island is crazy polluted — did you run into any dicey situations involving waste out there?

MF: I personally didn’t run into any problems out there but most of the pollution problems come from invisible culprits, so maybe I did and just don’t know it yet. Asbestos is running rampant out there and taking out a lot of buildings. Low levels of radiation are also a factor and now the recent news of a botched radiological assessment from the past has the Island’s future looking sketchy again. I really felt like this was a critical time to do this project with all the uncertainties swirling around its growth over the last five years. My hope is that this book can serve as a historical reference to immortalize this mysterious landmass before it’s too late.

SFBG: Ghosts?

MF: I am sad to report I experienced no ghosts. The attached Yerba Buena Island may have a few lurking around though. Indian burial artifacts and other human remains have been found out there while building the Bay Bridge back in the late 1930s. They found a mammoth’s tusk as well!


Spiritual bump and grind at Purity Ring


The luminous, blinking cocoons that have been rumored to grace the stages of Purity Ring’s live shows — as boasted by the lucky ones who have been able to get tickets to these consistently sold out performances — glowed with aqua-blue precision at Bottom of the Hill on Labor Day.

It was one of those elusive evenings the music gods hand craft. Every member of the crowd seemed to be in on this magical energy, knowing that sonic-satisfaction was promised to each and all by the end of the night. The Potrero Hill venue bustled with unanimous glee as the audience waited anxiously, gratefully, for the Halifax-Montreal-based duo to bring elegant live justice to its prodigious debut album, Shrines.

Composed of Corin Roddick (instrumentals) and Megan James (vocals), Purity Ring mingles the heavy, sensual beats of trap-rap with the lush innocence of dream pop. Like many artists who grew up during the 1990s (Roddick is 21 and James, 24) – and who experienced the spectacular explosion of the Internet as it evolved through the eruption of electronic music – Purity Ring composes with their life’s cumulative soundscape in mind, chopping and screwing what they know best.

But what is it exactly about Purity Ring that makes them so undeniably beautiful, and perfect to listen to at any mood, at any time of the day? What separates them from other recent sensations like Grimes, who also sings with a coy alien voice and futuristic flair?

James, for one, surrenders herself within her own words. She sings not with the glittering, sexual boldness found in many leading female artists, but rather with a strong, poised admission of her self-relinquishment and childlike vulnerability. Her unassuming, calm warbles that soar within the ethereal bass line proclaim the helplessness we all feel when the weight of the universe presses down on our little ribs. James alluringly invites the listener to share in her longing for that defining release found in music, poetry, love, and sex.

Purity Ring has found a way to make electronic music organic. Roddick performed using a light-emitting keyboard sampler made by him from scratch. The lovely aforementioned cocoons lit up at Roddick’s command to the tune of the trembling synths, to match all of our trembling thighs. The two performed wearing garments designed and sewn by James herself.

The flawless combination of un-ostentatious, self-effacing poetry and transparent musicianship brought down the walls of even the most aloof wallflower in the room. A spiritual bump and grind took hold of everyone’s pelvic bones as Purity Ring delivered a night of pure, pristine music, when for once, all made sense in the world.


All photos by Demian Becerra. 

The darn thing’s got wings



SUPER EGO And thus the epic saga of the Eagle Tavern, legendary drunken gay leather biker den of iniquity (which secretly boasted one of the best DJs in the city, Don Baird, on Sundays), closed for a year and a half, ravenously beset upon by upscale restaurant developers, canonized by the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, radicalized by queer activists desperate to preserve the scared space around which were scattered the ashes of some of our ancestors, transformed into a symbol of contemporary gentrification, gutted by real estate agents, tossed around by the Board of Supervisors like a hot potato, has finally entered another stage.

Please welcome new gay proprietors Mike Leon and Alex Montiel, who told me they hope to open the SF Eagle (www.sf-eagle.com) by Halloween, they’ll still hold charitable events, they’re looking forward to hosting live music nights again, and they’ll be doing their best to preserve that precious Eagle ambiance. You can read the whole story here, but little patent leather caps off to Glendon Anna Conda Hyde, David Campos, Jane Kim, El Rio (which hosted the Eagle’s wonderfully pervy Sunday beer busts in exile), and everyone else who pushed for the preservation of queer nightlife space in SoMa.

Says Glendon, who really led the push, “People thought we couldn’t preserve queer nightlife in this city — but that’s just a lazy excuse for gentrification. we should all be proud of what happens when we come together. Our nightlife history is a powerful force.”

That’s great. Now if we could only get the EndUp back on track, I could do my old Sunday bar (literally) crawl: Eagle, Lone Star, EndUp. Except for those times when I simply curled up beneath a parked car on Harrison. She was hella classy in the ’00s.



There’s a lot going on at this annual feast of nifty experimentation — Negativwobblyland, William Basinski, Dieter Moebius, Cheryl E. Leonard, Guillermo Galindo, soddering trio Loud Objects, Machine Shop’s amplified gongs — kind of freaking out about it, ready for scary beautiful.

Wed/5-Sun/9, various times, prices, and locations. www.sfemf.org



Holy Echo and the Bunnymen! San Francisco’s longest-running party is celebrating two decades? Somebody call Square Pegs. I adore DJs Skip and Shindog — they started being retro about the ’80s almost before the ’80s were over. And their selections (Bauhaus, New Order, the Cure, Depeche Mode) somehow transcend the casket of ubiquity, possibly because of the lively and actually old-school cool crowd still riding the brave new waves of aural devotion. Here’s to 20 more years of Tears for Fears, at which point it will be like listening to Elvis in the ’90s. Or something. Prefab Sprout had a song about it. Just go.

Fri/7, 9pm-3am, $12. DNA Lounge, 375 11th St., SF. www.newwavecity.com



Underground indie impresario Kevin Meenan’s monthly Push the Feeling parties are a hot ticket already — but add in Les Sins and we’re entering another dimension? Who are Les Sins? Oh, just chillwave-plus genius Toro Y Moi dropping a DJ set. For an intimate crowd in Lower Haight. For $5. And you’re one of the only people who know about it.

Fri/7, 9pm, $5. Underground SF, 424 Haight, SF. www.epicsauce.com



Speaking of New Wave Cities — Josh Cheon’s Dark Entries label has kept the Bay Area at the forefront of the minimal and dark wave movement, which mines overlooked bands of the synth music past and reverential present acts that are direct descendents of those slightly sinister new waves. (Recent signee Linea Aspera is to die for.) This dark celebration features a live performance by Max + Mara plus a glowering set by Cheon himself, with Nihar, Jason P, and Dreamweapon.

Sat/8, 10pm, $5. SubMission, 2183 Mission, SF. www.darkentriesrecords.com



Considering the garage powerhouse that is Oakland, it’s weird to me that we don’t have a huge dirty-funk, pervy girl group, kooky Hairspray 1960s dance-party scene here. (Hard French and any concert by Shannon and the Clams come close.) NYC DJ Jonathan Toubin was set to bring his great Night Train party here last year, but he was almost killed by a freak accident in Portland that made national headlines (a car drove into his hotel room and ran over him in bed). Well, he’s recovered enough now to get the party going again, and this groovy dance-off will also be an all-ages celebration of life. Celebrity judges and the cream of our underground garage crop will be in attendance.

Sun/9, 7pm, $13, all ages. Great American Music Hall, 859 O’Farrell, SF. www.gamh.com



Dearest drama queens, have you had a hard night out on the town? Do you need your over-the-top batteries recharged? How about just a lovely day on the lawn to check out other cute arts enthusiasts — like me! — swooning along to our hometown opera company’s overwhelming melodiousness? Bring a little (secret) wine, and let’s sing along.

Sun/9, 1:30pm, free. Sharon Meadow, Golden Gate Park, SF. www.sfopera.org


Heads Up: 7 must-see concerts this week


It just so happens that some of the screamiest, gnarliest, most brutal sludge, grindcore, and hardcore acts born of the 1990s (and still out there cracking skulls today) will descend upon the Bay Area this weekend. The list includes Eyehategod, Dropdead, Iron Lung, Bastard Noise, Noothgrush, Citizens Arrest — shockingly, on its first ever West Coast tour — and more. Get ready to go hoarse screaming along, and to return home with less hair and bruises on your toes.

Of course, if you’re not into such death-doom-despair, there are some jazzier (Béla Fleck and Marcus Roberts), folkier (Brown Bird), post-hardcore-rier (Desaparecidos) and discoish (Tiger and Woods) options out there for you as well.  Plus, since the coming weekend is of the elusive three-day variety, I’ve gone ahead and added in next Monday’s epic show too (Hot Snakes!). I aim to please.

Here are your must-see Bay Area concerts this week/end:

“Omaha, Nebraska’s indie rock king and side-project junkie Conor Oberst has had a busy summer. After a 10-year hiatus, his post-hardcore band Desaparecidos are back, and they’re pissed off. Continuing the harsh sociopolitical criticism established in their first and only album Read Music/Speak Spanish, Desaparecidos precluded their summer tour by releasing two new scathing singles.” — Haley Zaremba
With the Velvet Teen
Tue/28, 9pm, $25
Bottom of the Hill
1233 17th St., SF
(415) 621-4455

With the Velvet Teen
Regency Ballroom
Wed/29, 8pm, $25
Regency Ballroom
1290 Sutter, SF
(415) 673-5716

Béla Fleck and Marcus Roberts Trio
After inventive five-stringed banjoist (and Hardly Strictly Bluegrass mainstay) Béla Fleck and classical jazz pianist Marcus Roberts met at a jam session in Savanna, Georgia, the musicians did a one-off performance, then recorded jazzy-bluegrass record, Across The Imaginary Divide. Now, Fleck and Roberts (along with Roberts’ trio) will bring that peculiar bled to Yoshi’s for a series of lively performances. 
Wed/29-Sat/1, 8pm, $30-$40; 10pm, $26-$40
1330 Fillmore, SF
(415) 655-5600

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the metal community feared the worst for tortured vocalist Mike Williams of pioneering sludge metal band Eyehategod. His home was flooded and he was nowhere to be found. There were countless rumors in threads across the web that Williams was amongst the missing. Turned out, dude was arrested. He’d been arrested on narcotics charges in nearby Morgan City, Louisiana and in the process, subsequently kicked his heroin habit. He emerged, and wrote the song, “New Orleans Is the New Vietnam” about the response to the disaster. Side note: you might also know Eyehategod from the Gummo soundtrack. Tonight’s brutal line-up is filled out with post-Man is The Bastard act Bastard Noise (a.k.a Don’t Steal My Skull Logo, Akron/Family) and doomy Bay Area legend Noothgrush.
Fri/31, 7pm, $20 
Oakland Metro
630 Third St., Oakl.
(510) 763-1146

Tiger and Woods
“Tiger and Woods are electronic music’s Batman and Robin, a mysterious disco-spinning duo whose origins are little known. They lurk in the shadows, devoting themselves to the search for the rarest funky cuts on vinyl to remix and remaster. They travel around the world, performing in masks (well, wide-brimmed hats) and concealing their identities while dropping their latest funkified remakes. Last year’s Through the Green served as both an homage to and a fun romp through 1980’s keyboard-laden, post-disco.” — Kevin Lee
With Lovefingers, Kenneth Scott, Rich Korach, Brian Bejerano
Fri/31, 9pm, $15–<\d>$20
314 11th St., SF
(415) 500-2675

Long-running Providence, Rhode Island hardcore act Dropdead plays two shows of the three-day Prank Fest 4. And the pro-animal rights, anti-authoritarian band arrives in the Bay Area this weekend for the first time in eight years. Shit’s about to get fast. The fest also includes Citizens Arrest at Oakland Metro on Saturday, and two-piece powerviolence act Iron Lung at the Gilman Sunday night.
With Citizens Arrest, No Statik, Bumbklaat, Effluxus, Deathraid, Merdoso, and more
Sat/1, 7pm, $20
Oakland Metro
630 Third St., Oakl.
(510) 763-1146

With Bumbklaat, Permanent Ruin, Vaccum, Elegy
Sun/2, 1pm, $10
Thee Parkside
1600 17th St., SF
(415) 252-1330

Brown Bird
And here’s yet another – entirely contrary – Providence, Rhode Island act deserving of your attention. Brown Bird (MorganEve Swain and David Lamb) last year traveled with similarly soulful folk-punk/bluegrass act Devil Makes Three. Earlier this year, Brown Bird came by with Yonder Mountain String Band. This week, the foot-stomping twosome is in the headliner spotlight at the Independent.
With These United States, Halsted
Sat/1, 9pm, $14
628 Divisadero, SF
(415) 771-1421

Hot Snakes
Hot Snakes, the reunited band of noted San Diego musicians, led by John Reis and Rick Froberg, looked like they were having a blast earlier this year at Bottom of the Hill, positively ripping through thunderous post-hardcore classics off 2000’s Automatic Midnight, 2002’s Suicide Invoice, and 2004’s Audit in Progress. Given their backgrounds and sonic exercises in post-Hot Snakes bands (Obits, Night Marchers), there wasn’t a rusty nail in the bunch. So they’ve rejoined their post-Drive Like Jehu act and toured, and are now touring once again; I guess it’s post-reunion at this point, though no less exciting for the wild-eyed fans.
With the Mallard
Mon/3, 8pm, $23
333 11th St., SF
(415) 255-0333

Localized Appreesh: The Seshen


Localized Appreesh is our weekly thank-you column to the musicians that make the Bay. To be considered, contact emilysavage@sfbg.com.

As is often the case these days, the Seshen grabbed attention with a video. The Bay Area band’s first official music video – for its song “Oblivion” off the self-titled LP released earlier this year –  has gained more than 10,000 views since it went up in June.

The black and white clip is like a mini art film, with a fuzzy countdown clock ticking off cerebral scenes of shadowy figures, singer Lalin St. Juste in an abandoned alleyway, and close ups of blinking eyes.

And then there’s the song itself, a beat-driven pop song, with these echoing, soulful vocals, bouncy keys, and hypnotic layers of electro effects. Given all those harrowing echoes, you could picture the song (which has a sort of Little Dragon meets Erykah Badu feel) featured in horror flick, as the heroic female lead tears away from the chaos, running to safety. 

This week, the Seshen plays for a good cause in Oakland: a fundraiser for the Women’s International Fund for Education (W.I.F.E).


Year and location of origin: March of 2010 in El Cerrito, Calif. We all met or re-connected at Aki (bass player and producer)’s and his girlfriend Lalin (lead singer)’s house parties in El Cerrito. Lots of like minded musicians jamming in their basement led to the first incarnation and lineup of the Seshen.
Band name origin: Egyptian for blue lotus, a symbol of the sun and creation or rebirth. That, and it also sounds like “session”.
Band motto: In the absence of an official motto, we’d say “Roast Beef”.
Description of sound in 10 words or less: Beat driven electronic music that balances pop and abstraction.

Instrumentation: Vocals, keyboards, bass, drums, percussion and samples. Almost everybody has some kind of MIDI device or effects pedal in order to reproduce the layered electronic sounds of the studio album in a live situation.
Most recent release: Our self-titled debut dropped on February 28, 2012. It streams for free here.
Best part about life as a Bay Area band:
Eclectic audiences, amazing musicians, great venues, different scenes (East Bay vs. San Francisco).
Worst part about life as a Bay Area band: Trying to be heard and remembered amongst all the other awesome musicians the Bay produces.
First album ever purchased: (Aki) I think the first album I purchased was Green Day’s Dookie, which I got in the 5th grade.
Most recent album purchased/downloaded: (Aki) The last album I downloaded was TNGHT by Hudson Mohawke and Lunice.
Favorite local eatery and dish: In the year and a half it took to record the first album, we ordered the large veggie from Americana Pizza and Taqueria in San Pablo probably a million times. Honorable mention to the multiple bottles of Sriracha we topped them with.

With Fast Piece of Furniture, DJ Black
Fundraiser for Women’s International Fund for Education
Fri/24, 9pm, $10-$20 sliding scale
Geoffrey’s Inner Circle
410 14th St., Oakl.


Nite Trax: Five magickal MK moments


Eighty-year-olds like myself keep finding new Wonders of the Internet: despite basically living at record stores in Detroit in the early 1990s (props to Buy-Rite, Record Time, and Sam’s Jams) and working my way through college throwing raves, it is only through YouTubes, Discogs, and the recent resurgence of old-school dance music DJs and producers that we fully comprehend the breadth and scope of some of the major techno and house players. Case in point: Detroit’s MK, aka Marc Kinchen, who’s appearing this weekend on the roof of the W Hotel as part of As You like It’s second anniversary.

MK appeared here last year with his brother Scottie Deep, and they dug up some amazing, harder house sounds of the late 1990s on the Public Works dance floor. But it’s MK’s wizard early ’90s house dubs that have rightly enshrined him, along with Masters at Work, as the underground winner of that era. In the age before the Internet, when the only way to hear this music was on the dancefloor, you needed a clear and unique style to “brand” yourself instantly on listeners, and MK’s was one of the most recognizable. You just knew a new MK joint once it dropped — but only now, 20 years later, have I discovered just how many tunes of his I missed simply because I showed up at the club or the record store on the wrong day.

I heard MK kill it with a mix of all his own records at Movement: the Detroit Electronic Music festival this year, and afterwards at the KMS label’s 25th anniversary show (in the booth with Stacey Pullen, Kenny Larkin, and Terrance Parker — dreamy!!) he’ll likely bring that same warm intensity and catchy sensibility to the awesome-looking As You Like It party (don’t worry, despite the W location it won’t be douchy at all — the last one was quite wonderful with a great crowd). I wanted to share some of the memories I have of various MK joints below, in the context of growing up a gay Arab house-loving boy in Detroit and encountering his works one by one of some amazing dance floors.


I fell in love, broke up, fell back in love, broke up, got back together, and then spent a couple melancholy years alone to this track. Thing is — I couldn’t find it anywhere on vinyl. So basically I would sing myself to sleep with it, laugh and cry to it in the back of my head, and pester my poor DJ friends like D. Wynn and Butch to death to play it. And when they would I would explode with feeling. When I finally got my hands on the MK + Alana album (on cassette), which was lovely but definitely a play for mainstream respectability, thus the more slowed-down R&B tempos, I wore that shit out on my Walkman. When MK dropped this at the DEMF this year, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.


Props for the silent Trollope pun and the absolutely brilliant lyrics, especially for a bookish queer boy obsessed with all things British (if anyone else has so skillfully deployed the phrase “cricket pavillion” in a dance song, I know not who.) But MK’s mix of the pet Shop Boys b-side is what propels this tune into my top 10 songs of all time. It’s a dub masterpiece of propulsive rhythms and surrealistic touches — and possibly one of the greatest mixes of all time.


One of the theme songs of what I would call Detroit’s greatest club, DJ Ken Collier’s Heaven, an all-night gay club (“black gay club” in the homo-segregationist language of the time) out near Six Mile and Woodward, “Burning” revealed how very poor the Madonna pablum of the “white” gay clubs was at the time, and also introduced a new generation to house music. (By then enough kids had come through the rave scene without hearing proper house music to constitute a mini-epidemic.) This mix probably introduced the same crowd to dimished 7th chord structures as well. When I ran into MK outside the KMS 25th anniversary party at St Andrew’s Hall this past May, legendary radio DJ Alan Oldham dropped “Burning” from the third floor — MK cocked his ear as he posed for a photo and said, “I smell something burning.” What a kidder!

4. 4 YOU

My own theme song right here. Put out under MK’s 4th Measure Men guise, it pairs well with MK’s greatest hit from a year earlier. We all though the sample said “all hands” so we would all raise our hands when it played at Times Square.


Er, I regret limiting myself to 5 MKs here — and really I’ve only skimmed some of the hits — I’d love to include this one that sealed the New Jack Swing movement with a kiss, or this one that shows that MK is still alive and kicking, or this one, which will always hold a place in my heart. But this one, this one — I never even knew who did this one, but it followed me around during my formative house years and wouldn’t let go. I hadn’t heard it in 20 years until I started looking up MK’s works, and I could still remember every lyric (or at least every lyric I made up). I remember getting down to this joint at Menjo’s on Sunday nights in Detroit especially.



Underworld’s dynamic opening ceremony soundtrack


Much has been made of London’s opening ceremony, and director Danny Boyle’s cheeky rejection of Beijing’s rigidly coordinated, assembly-line approach. (Seriously, will Queen Elizabeth and James Bond ever share the screen again?) Completely overlooked, however, was the dynamic, propulsive soundtrack, curated by Underworld: the unsung heroes of British electronic music.

The collaboration was a revelation upon its announcement late last year; Underworld’s big moment arrived in 1996, when its anthemic “Born Slippy” was featured prominently in Trainspotting, Boyle’s directorial breakthrough. Providing a driving undercurrent to the action, as well as a lush, ambient backdrop, the track complemented Boyle’s vision beautifully, making a lasting impression on audiences worldwide as it established Underworld’s deeply filmic approach to its craft.

While the group, comprised of Karl Hyde, Rick Smith, and Darren Emerson (until he left the group in 1999, in favor of the DJ circuit) hasn’t exactly landed another gig to rival its Trainspotting moment, it has developed its sound considerably over the past 15 years, from the moody, yet diversely paced, Second Toughest in the Infants (1996), to the clean, shiny Detroit techno-inspired Beaucoup Fish (1999), to the post-Emerson steeliness of A Hundred Days Off (2002) and Oblivion With Bells (2007), to, most recently, the high-gloss raver anthems of Barking (2010).


Underworld put its back catalogue to great use during the opening ceremony, most notably during the long-established Parade of Nations. The Olympic teams marched energetically to uptempo tracks, such as “Dark Train,” “Dirty Epic,” and “Rez,” all of which lent a thumping force to the proceedings; Underworld’s generously layered synths highlighted the electricity in the air.

It makes perfect sense that ambient-music guru Brian Eno collaborated frequently with Hyde over the past few years, given Underworld’s emphasis on muted atmosphere, a rarity among dance-music practitioners. The Parade of Nations benefited greatly from this tone, which a more standard outfit like Chemical Brothers or the Crystal Method simply couldn’t have imparted. Underworld’s music packs a subtle emotional punch that most of its competition cannot equal.

The biggest draw for Underworld fans was the introduction of two new, extended tracks, produced especially for the ceremony’s creative segment. At 17 minutes, “And I Will Kiss” provided the backdrop for a shrewdly choreographed performance-art piece, chronicling Britain’s historic transition from pastoral wonderland to industrial superpower.

Recalling Peter Gabriel’s similarly high-concept OVO: The Millennium Show, held in London 12 years ago, the spectacle combined elaborate set-design and an extensive cast with a loud and pulsating, yet moody and subdued soundtrack. Industrialization represented a sense of forward progress, as well as a loss of innocence, for the British people, and Underworld’s musical contribution aptly reflected this emotional complexity.

The second original piece, “Caliban’s Dream,” filled the arena as a makeshift foundry was rolled onstage, casting the five rings that make up the iconic Olympic logo. Less successful than the other new composition, this track buckled under its own weight, incorporating electronics, orchestral elements, a Lion King-esque choir, and superfluous opera singing, with the hamfistedness of Yanni at the Acropolis. This misstep was understandable, given the sheer scale of Olympic opening ceremonies. However, Underworld thrives on nuance, and by that count, it missed the mark.


Original material aside, Hyde and Smith curated the soundtrack wisely, showcasing Britain’s musical exports in a universally approachable manner. An eclectic range of live performances included electronic composer Mike Oldfield, percussion virtuoso Evelyn Glennie, hip-hop wunderkind Dizzee Rascal, onetime “next-Oasis” Arctic Monkeys with a surprisingly inoffensive cover of “Come Together,” and of course, Sir Paul, himself.

Recorded material was also well chosen, particularly David Bowie’s “Heroes,” which played triumphantly as the British Olympic team marched out to the adoring home crowd. Lesser known artists, like rapper Wretch 32 and experimental duo Fuck Buttons, were thrown in for good measure, and “Eclipse,” the finale from Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, closed the ceremony with a bang.

Hyde and Smith churn out first-rate background music, and when Boyle handed them the keys to the opening ceremony, they were given the opportunity of a lifetime. Sure, NBC’s commentators, Matt Lauer and Meredith Vieira, did American viewers a disservice by talking mindlessly over all four hours. In the end, though, Underworld’s soundtrack tinted the ceremony perfectly, framing soft, ambient impulses with an incessant rhythmic drive, while never distracting from the spectacle at the center. Bloody good work.