Ash Williams on One Year of The Chase and the Importance of a Party's Visuals
As one half of the duo and resident DJ behind experimental party The Chase, Jimmy Gillan, aka Ash Williams, strives to bring the culture and aesthetic of underground parties like Sarcastic Disco to S.F. Getting his start in DJing during college house parties and bars in L.A., it wasn't until Williams moved back to S.F. that he started throwing parties like Beards of a Feather and more recently, the Chase. With an emphasis on visual elements complementing the musical acts, a night at the Chase usually involves kaleidoscopes of colors and shapes synchronized to the sounds of raw vocals or cosmic beats. We recently caught up with Williams about Bay Area club culture and his latest mix. The Chase takes place Friday in the Public Works Loft with acts White Car, Group Rhoda, Vereker, and Ash Williams.
What are the inspirations behind the Chase?
With the Chase I really wanted to take the inspiring experiences I've had at historic parties like Sarcastic Disco in L.A. and Panorama Bar in Berlin and turn them into something that felt relevant to San Francisco. Both of these parties use the fundamental elements of "the club" -- DJs playing records, live electronic music performance and visual artistry -- but what sets them apart is the immersive environment they create. While San Francisco has had a vibrant underground dance music culture, the development of the city is making it harder to find space to throw those kinds of events. The Chase aims to bring the spirit of these institutions to a slightly more above-ground setting and incorporate some of the beautiful weirdness San Francisco has been known for in the past.
Why do you think clubs need new perspectives these days?
I feel like there is a comfort zone in dance music culture at which point we all enjoy going to see a DJ lineup play for hours at a time, but the community around it becomes insulated from bringing in new people. I really try to make my party different by working with people outside the dance mainstream so that it is appealing to those who don't regularly attend. That's not to say anything against parties that use a conventional format -- I regularly attend and enjoy them -- but I wanted to provide something different, and I think the Chase is a step in a more experimental direction without losing the fun of dancing for hours on end.
What type of artists do you strive to book for the party?
There is no real formula to our booking. First and foremost, the Chase provides a platform for local artists whose work I find exciting because the Bay Area has a vibrant and growing community of house and techno producers and DJs. I also book acts from abroad who I feel are doing interesting things within any particular genre if they fit the bill.
What do you think is special about having a mix of live music and DJ sets?
I don't believe in a specific prior on whether live music or DJ sets are better. I think both can be used artistically to evoke a response from a crowd. I think the contexts between the two, in terms of the relationship between the performer and audience, can add diversity to the structure of the evening, making it ultimately more enjoyable.
Visuals seem to be an integral part of the party atmosphere. How do you think they add to the Chase experience?
The marriage of visuals and dance music is a fairly obvious one, but I've chosen to work with artists who really try to do interesting things with their work. In the first six incarnations of the Chase we worked with local artist Caitlin Denny, who takes analog forms of media and cycles them through various distortionary and mixing processes to create exciting new shapes and patterns. She would also incorporate footage filmed live the night of and recycle it into the visuals she was projecting. Alex Cruse, our new in-house visualist, also takes a very conceptual approach to her artistry, which I am looking forward to seeing in action this Friday.
Tell us about your End of Summer Daze mix.
I went to L.A. for a couple weeks last month and it really reminded me of how much I love summer vibes. I put this mix together last week in preparation for the Nightlife at the Academy gig we did the other week and I feel it really captures a lot of the sounds that correspond with those romantic notions of summer. There are lots of friends on this mix, some of whom have appeared at the Chase in the last year. It also displays the diverse array of styles I try to showcase at the party and incorporates both new and old into something original. It's pretty prime for the sunset hours when you are warming up your evening, before you go out.
Is The Chase going to continue into the Fall? What direction do you hope to take with the party?
We have some exciting prospects for the coming year, but nothing I can share officially. A real priority though is seeing if we can make the Chase happen in Oakland in the coming year.
What are you looking forward to most on Friday?
I haven't seen Group Rhoda perform since she toured Europe this summer so I am excited to see what she's been working on. To my knowledge White Car hasn't really performed at a venue this large since its inception, so that should be amazing, and I really think Vereker is one of the most interesting new local acts at the moment. Add to that our new visual artist Alex Cruse, and I have to say this lineup is perhaps my favorite to date. This party is going to be a banger.