The Icee Hot Party Crew on Turning Three, Starting a Label, and Aging Gracefully
Hosting the bounce of UK bass and the grit of contemporary techno, Icee Hot is one of a handful of parties on the forward edge of San Francisco nightlife. It's been that way since it first started as a project of XLR8R editor Shawn Reynaldo, producer Ghosts on Tape (a.k.a. Ryan Merry), DJ Rollie Fingers (a.k.a. Will Fewell), and Lazer Sword member Low Limit (a.k.a. Bryant Rutledge). Always one step ahead, the party celebrates its third anniversary this weekend and next with a two-part party at Public Works that features Martyn and Jacques Greene on Saturday, Jan. 19, and Basic Soul Unit and Space Dimension Controller on Saturday, Jan. 26. We caught up with the boys behind the party and asked them a few questions in anticipation of their big week ahead.
How would you describe the Icee Hot experience to someone who's never been?
Ghosts on Tape: First, I'd tell you to leave your camera and hula-hoop at home. It's a party that is 100-percent focused on the music. We don't like music that is boring or predictable, so you probably won't hear much of that. We like music that is new, but not trendy. House and techno are the foundations. Ugly house, cute house, weirdo house, acid house, and deep techno is likely to get played. It's a dance party, so please dance.
Rollie Fingers: Icee Hot is a party with a lot of rules. Somehow, people end up having fun anyways.
How did the party get started?
Ghosts on Tape: We had the idea in late 2009, as a reaction against the dubstep wobble epidemic that was thoroughly engulfing San Francisco nightlife at the time. We were all very excited about the new twisted forms of dance music that were sprouting up from UK garage at the time, but those sounds weren't getting played here anywhere. It lent itself to the idea of mixing classic US house and techno, weird grime hybrids, and African rhythms to create a different sort of dancefloor experience. 222 Hyde was kind enough to give us a chance and we just took off from there.
Rollie Fingers: The name Icee Hot actually started with a long and meandering email chain about what to name a party. You wouldn't think so, but it actually took a long time to come up with this name. Low Limit ended up throwing it into one of his many long lists of ridiculous names and it came out on top.
I had to learn how to DJ as well. I spent many a cold winter evening clanging up Shawn's living room with extremely dodgy mixing. I would just kinda show up to his house unannounced and expect to practice. He showed uncharacteristic patience.
How have things changed since then?
Ghosts on Tape: I would say our taste in music has evolved, which is probably inevitable and healthy. We still retain our core principles, which are to deliver high-quality, forward-thinking dance music and to throw parties that no one else would throw. It's always been important to us to throw unique events with great international talent, and to keep the door price as cheap as possible. We started at 222 Hyde, which is very tiny, and now we're at Public Works, where we still do intimate shows in the loft, but we're also able to put on larger scale shows from time to time. And I think that all of us residents are better DJs now. It's not that we sucked before, but I feel that three years of doing this Icee Hot thing has sharpened up our game.
How does having three people in charge affect the party?
Rollie Fingers: For the record, there are four people in charge of Icee Hot. Low Limit moved to L.A. during our first year, but his creative input is still present. He designs every Icee Hot flyer and all the art for our records. He's also part of choosing the guests and can do good things on the turntables, too.
Shawn Reynaldo: Having a crew has actually been really great, as all four of us bring ideas to the table and contribute to the party. Obviously, we don't always agree on everything, but we all have pretty similar values about what guests we want to bring, what music we do and don't like, and what sort of party Icee Hot should be. We've become a really tight-knit team and all support one another, which makes the whole thing more fun. Also, it's nice to be able to divvy up the workload.
How do you go about planning your parties? Is there some internal vetting process for guests?
Shawn Reynaldo: We take curation very seriously, but it's not like we have a strict checklist of criteria that each guest has to meet. Luckily, we all hang out together a lot, which enables us to constantly bat around names and refine our ongoing "want" list.
Ghosts on Tape: It has to be an artist that excites us, someone who is doing something cool and unique. At the same time, it needs to be someone we think people will spend their money to come see.
Shawn Reynaldo: Icee Hot guests have really varied over the years -- we've had artists from all sorts of scenes and eras, and often make a point to put DJs from different musical worlds on the same bill. Honestly, our main focus is on trying to book guests whose music is going to stand up to the test of time. Don't get me wrong, Icee Hot is always fueled by new sounds. We're not a nostalgia-based party and we generally don't repeat guests very often. Icee Hot does bring a lot of people to San Francisco for the first time (and we take pride in that), but we also make a point to avoid booking artists who are solely riding a wave of Internet hype. It's tough to balance these two priorities, and it probably leads to the perception that our lineups are a bit schizophrenic, but we like that. Anyways, it all makes sense to us.
Alternatively, are there any complications that arise from a two-day party like your
upcoming three-year anniversary?
Shawn Reynaldo: This is actually the first time we've done a two-part party, but given that the two events are happening a week apart, it's pretty much like throwing two separate events, at least from a logistical standpoint. The only real challenge is making it clear to people that we're doing two different parties on two different nights, but it seems like not too many people have been confused so far.
Next: The highlights