Some Ember Goths Out the Lab, Cajmere Goes Big at Mighty

Kahley Avalon Emerson
Goth Prom // Lights Down Low presents Cajmere
The Lab // Mighty
Friday, July 21, 2013

At least one strain of gothic '80s revivalism is alive and well in San Francisco. I began Friday in the center of that world, at a "goth prom" held by Decades Magazine at The Lab. The party marked the release of the magazine's latest issue with a dark night of music featuring synth-pop duo Some Ember, the Galaxy Radio DJ crew, and an assortment of performance artists.

The Lab is an unfinished art space -- it's a wide-open box of a room with exposed fixtures in the ceiling and flat white walls. Throw a soundsystem and fog into the mix, and you have the makings of what might be the city's best venue for a post-apocalyptic discotheque. At least I thought so as I talked with some friends and observed the room. I was standing by a stand selling expensive-looking pastries to a line cloaked in varying shades of grey. A projector lit up a wall with scenes from an arty movie I didn't recognize.

Kahley Avalon Emerson

"Ahh, it feels good to play some sad white people music," said one of the DJs between blends. He was supplying the room with a soundtrack of obscure '80s recordings that sounded like a grip of lost Depeche Mode B-sides. He DJed from behind an impressive plexiglass rig that gave the impression his gear was levitating high off the floor. Meanwhile, on the dancefloor, a cast of heavily gothed-out dancers jerked around in period-perfect attire: Beetlejuice blazers, tight leather dominatrix wear, droopy dyed-black hair, drapey black dresses, and tons of noirish eyeliner.

Kahley Avalon Emerson

As good as the DJing was, the musical highlight came from Some Ember, a San Luis Obispo two piece (consisting of Dylan Travis and Nina Chase) whose clever and bleak synth-pop fit the mood perfectly. Their performance began with a loud screech of intentional feedback generated by a bank of synthesizers on stage. Travis, his body covered in metallic paint, worked the knobs with trembling hands, causing bursts of noise to lash out out of the speakers. Chase appeared moments later, her mouth covered in smeared black lipstick, shaking bundles of flowers in the air with a ritualistic intensity. She danced around the makeshift stage while Travis took the microphone and began singing in a crooning style reminiscent of Bryan Ferry.

Kahley Avalon Emerson

He reached over, cued up some rhythms on his laptop, and the noise burst morphed into a hissing array of drum machines. Feedback drifted in and out. There was a baseline noisiness to it all that lifted it out of the realm of pop and into some kind of avant-garde performance that followed the logic of a DJ set. Motifs and pieces spat out and mixed into one another, leading from one song (like "Flowers Open") to the next, while still keeping the beat going. It was around then that our night took a turn out of the dark. We hopped in a cab and headed towards Mighty to meet some friends.

It was a special evening at the Utah Street venue, a fact illustrated by the line that had formed outside. Party outfit Lights Down Low had commandeered the place for an event with Chicago house heavyweight Cajmere. This is the first party I can think of that Lights Down Low has done at Mighty, and it brought out a sizable new crowd that intermingled with the club's built-in audience.

Logic's "Blues For You" pumped from the speakers as we arrived. Local spinner Matrixxman was on deck serving up some old-school '90s flair -- it was getting late and neither Harvard Bass nor Cajmere had gone on yet. "I'm not sure if I want to sit through two hours of Harvard Bass to hear Cajmere," said a local DJ, capturing a feeling echoed by others throughout the night. Fortunately, it was Harvard Bass' birthday, and for whatever reason that prevented him from playing the bland electro I've heard him spin in the past. Instead, his tech-laden house set the tone for Cajmere well, establishing a drive that the Midwestern vet would later pick up and expand upon.

Kahley Avalon Emerson

By the time Cajmere took the stage, the room was in full swing. Cool as ever, he reappeared to applause wearing his signature leather-sided sunglasses and a Cajual Records T-shirt that bore the word "CHICAGO" in big letters. There was never a switch when he jumped on; instead, he mixed out of Harvard Bass' last track and slipped loudly into pumping, big-room house. There were risers, a few disco samples, and lots of beating percussion. It wasn't the most dynamic set I've heard him play, but it suited the moment well enough. Time flew by, and before I knew it, I was dancing on sore legs at 3 a.m. to the rushing synth stabs of Lil' Louis' "French Kiss." As it turned out, that was also the soundtrack to our departure.

-- @DerekOpperman

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