Bootie Takes Pop Culture and Rearranges It Completely
Saturday, Feb. 16, 2013
The bouncer stamped my left wrist, my friend and I walked through the door, and then it all went blurry: We had just stepped into a club full of shitfaced people screaming the chorus to Alanis Morissette's "You Oughta Know" over the spiralling pianos of Coldplay's "Clocks." Trying to make our way toward the ATM (and ultimately failing), we pushed through the crowd like icebreakers violently navigating an arctic trade route. Cocktails flew everywhere, flesh ground against flesh, shutter shades were dropped and stepped on. I looked up and studied a pirate flag draped from the balcony of DNA Lounge and asked myself if it would have been a better idea to have finally gone to a salsa night instead.
But while it might be on the gaudier end of things, it's hard to deny the popularity of Bootie. A staple of San Francisco nightlife since its founding in 2003, Bootie has become a worldwide phenomenon with satellites in Europe, South America, Asia, and even Second Life. Its speciality lies in the art of the mash-up, a style of playing that's always been a part of DJ culture, but which found a renewed popularity in the early '00s with releases like Freelance Hellraiser's era-defining "A Stroke of Genie-Us" and the entire careers of artists like Danger Mouse and Girl Talk. These days the style doesn't enjoy as much popular attention as it once did, but that doesn't stop Bootie from attracting a rabid fan base of down-for-it clubbers looking to hear two songs at once. As it so rightly states on its website, "[it] provides the soundtrack for the A.D.D. generation."
The DJ behind the decks when we arrived was Adrian of A plus D, one of the party's promoters and a fixture in its resident band Smash-Up Derby. He stood in front of a projection screen that switched between seizure-inducing montages and creepily animated faces of pop stars stitched together. Clicking through his computer and cueing on the CDJs, his bright red dreadlocks and club-kid persona cast an oddly unassuming vibe that spread out from the booth and throughout the room. The music, the decorations, the characters -- all these combined to create an environment in which it's entirely okay for a whole group of young professionals to get down on their knees, in public, and yell the words to Carly Rae Jepsen's "Call Me Maybe." It's obscene, but it's also cathartic, like some wild Dionysian rite for people who want to temporarily experience a euphoria beyond the dreariness of the everyday -- but who don't want to abandon the language of pop.
I thought about this as I watched local DJ duo Entyme imperceptibly take over for Adrian. The stage in front of the booth was covered with people who in turn reacted to every single anthemic song. Lights blared and strobes flashed across the mass. Vocal snippets and instrumental pieces from The Doors' "Riders on the Storm," MGMT's "Kids," Swedish House Mafia's "Save the World (Tonight)," Kelly Clarkson's "Since You've Been Gone," and the Bee Gees' "You Should Be Dancing" all swam around and mingled into a soup of easily catchable references that everyone grabbed onto and ran with. On the one hand, this is the ultimate fish-in-a-barrel kind of soundtrack, conceivably offering everyone two chances to have heard the music being played. But on the other hand, it also reclaims pop music by turning it into a kind of weird folk art reminiscent of fan fiction's unlimited and uncanny "what if?" scenarios. Much like the dual faces projected on the screen behind, the mash-ups are reminiscent of drag turned into an inhabitable experience, where two binary opposites are combined to create an entirely different category.
Last call came and took with it a fair bit of the audience. Those who remained joined in as the club took a turn towards the sleazy. It felt as though the end of the alcohol flow signalled some primal urge, and people began to hook up and leave. Feeling desperation and elation in the air, I grabbed my friend and headed out through the club's 24-hour pizza parlour. I finally made it to the ATM and noticed that it read, "Warning, this machine dispenses your god." Then we stepped out into the street and grabbed a cab out.