Exploring the Free Party Phenomenon with Matthew Dear at 1015 Folsom
1015 & Blasthaus presents Matthew Dear
Friday, Feb. 1, 2012
The past couple months have seen a new kind of party rise at 1015 Folsom. The old behemoth of San Francisco nightlife has recently taken to opening its doors for free, letting in lots of budget-minded clubbers to events that would be hard to describe as "budget conscious." To give you an idea, last weekend the venue used all of its four rooms and brought out Matthew Dear for a stylistically clashing evening where the straightforward drive of techno met the off-center rhythm of bass. Musically it was an odd pairing, but the sheer amount of variety -- not to mention the low cost to entry -- kept the venue packed for at least as long as we were there.
The basement at 1015 Folsom is spectacular. This is something I reflected on as I watched the room's old school, ceiling-installed lighting array work. One part '70s roller disco and another Miami Vice, there's a kitsch vibe to it that's not really present in the rest of the club. Usually this room is relegated to coat check duties, but last weekend it was open and populated by a scattered dancefloor. The soundtrack was a bass-heavy blend that was as much about head nodding as it was dancing. This meant that the basement was effectively split up between people on the floor -- like two girls doing their best to look like Beyonce's backup dancers -- and others observing from the booths in the corners.
Meanwhile, in the upstairs lounge, Conor and Solar of No Way Back had created a small rave by playing their usual mixture of razor-sharp tunes. Unlike the basement, this room was alive with a wall-to-wall energy that occasionally compelled people to get off the dancefloor and onto one of the two stripper poles permanently installed. I grabbed my Heineken and had a sip while Mr. Flagio's "Take a Chance" faded in, lending everything a touch of Italo cheesiness.
Sometimes it's hard to keep track of the order of events at these big parties. The multiple levels and rooms can have a disorienting effect on the perception of time and space. For this reason, the front room is only available to my memory in an overlaid blur of single instances. In my mind it's like a giant crossfade between the '80s funk-leaning party music (like Duck Sauce's "Anyway") played early on in the night and the slick Beatport chart-driven house that came to define it later. White noise risers and loopy percussion bits fazed in and the room began to play a backup role to the main hall.
Surprisingly, there wasn't much of a difference sonically between the two places at this point. Local tech-house DJ Alex Sibley was just finishing his set by the time we made our way through the sweating crowd to find our friends. He played to the immensity of the space by drifting into a big-room sound, with a heavily emphasized four-on-the-floor beat that was occasionally spiced up with simple melodic riffs and rushing walls of noise. It was monotonous -- though, to be fair, it was a totally appropriate opening set for a Matthew Dear show.
By the time we'd found our friends in the sea of people, Sibley was off the decks and local beatsmith Giraffage had replaced him. This proved one of the weirdest placements in the evening, though the crowd absolutely loved him. His arrival brought with it a different kind of music rooted more in the cut-up rhythms of hip-hop, effectively throwing a curveball between the more house-oriented players. It also brought a whole crew of people to the stage who danced next to him as he jumped around triggering clips with his laptop and MIDI controller. Perhaps the most memorable moment of the night came when his crew walked out into the middle of the stage and began throwing monopoly money into the audience. This was sometime after he played a remix of Alice Deejay's "Better off Alone."
"San Francisco! Make! Some! Noise!" Yelled one of the promoters as Matthew Dear and Giraffage did a quick switch. The music briefly cut out and then we were all back right where Alex Sibley had left off. It was almost as though Giraffage hadn't even performed. Surgically precise pulses of bass popped out of the speakers and into the concrete floor, creating a minimal pocket that we stayed in for the rest of the night. Dear made use of a computer and also a few pieces of outboard gear, though it was hard to discern which he was using at any point.
One thing that was strange was that he kept ducking below the DJ booth for long stretches -- it was almost like he had a crate of vinyl, even though he had no turntables. His absence left only the glowing apple on his laptop as a focal point for the room. Nevertheless, everyone kept dancing towards the stage, creating a surreal scenario in which it appeared that the party's headliner was in fact some Watson-esque DJ computer.
Dear popped back up and let white noise hiss through the room to rush towards a brand new drop. We grabbed our things and left just as the fog machine sent a huge stream into the air.