Delroy Edwards and John Roberts Preside Over the Free Beer-Swilling Masses at Public Works

SF Weekly
Icee Hot presents Delroy Edwards and John Roberts
Public Works
August 31, 2013

Predictably, all it takes to a muster a crowd large enough to fill Public Works' main room is the promise of free beer. This was the case last Saturday, when Icee Hot -- one of SF's most cutting-edge party crews -- partnered with Sapporo to offer a night of bottomless lager alongside a roster of guest entertainers who might not normally have the draw for such a big room. And despite what you might think about a free beer crowd, the night was relatively civil as far evenings at Public Works are concerned.

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We arrived unfortunately too late to catch all of opener Ghosts on Tape's set. We placed ourselves at the front of the room, carving out a niche in the dancefloor below the DJ booth. Already, the edge of the stage was riddled with a janky wall of empty Sapporo bottles that rumbled and clinked to the low end contortions of his selections. He kept the energy at a peaking plateau, burning through beating corridors of hard techno, with a steady modulation between rhythmic workouts and more melodic fare.

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The first of the two guests to take the stage was John Roberts, a producer of a kind of deep and nuanced house music that's often associated with the European underground (even though he's from New York). He appeared around midnight, standing stone faced while manipulating a laptop connected to two knob-covered hardware controllers. With his first song, the vibe in the room plunged, diving from a plane of speedy energy into a laid-back collection of atmospheric washes, organic samples, and mechanistic drum patterns. Despite the shift, the dancefloor stayed in motion -- which proved a feat considering his set didn't flow cohesively at the beginning, instead allowing his carefully constructed tracks -- like "Blame" and "Fences" -- to play out and breathe in their entirety.

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Free beer does have its consequences. For one thing, the trash cans were so full of dead soldiers that getting rid of empties became an exercise into itself. I watched as, time after time, people tried to throw their bottles into the trash, only to watch in horror as their bottle skipped across the surface and off onto the dancefloor. For another thing, the bathroom lines were the longest I've ever seen them at Public Works. It was so bad that at one point I overheard someone lament, "This is our punishment, this is what we have to pay for free beer!"

The highlight of the night came a little later, in the form of Los Angeles ghetto house spinner Delroy Edwards. He swaggered onto the stage wearing a large sweatshirt with the hood up, carrying himself with a confidence best understood via a friend's observation: "There's someone who clearly does not give a fuck!" This proved to be a bang-on assessment if there ever was one, as moments later, Edwards cued up his first record and introduced his set with a terrifying curtain of industrial-strength, Merzbow-style noise. The speakers sputtered and groaned, emitting throbbing machine drones and grinding blasts of metal-on-metal. People stood in amazement. Edwards, cool and relaxed, took his time: he casually flipped through his record bag, pulled a vinyl out, carefully took it from its paper sleeve, and even took a few passes before finally mixing in.

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The noise receded, and in its place came a relentless barrage of old-school (or old-school sounding) uptempo house and techno tracks. Edwards has a unique playing style, one that's rooted in the power-mixing tricks and utilitarian dance turntablism of the late-'80s. His songs were minimal drum workouts -- like Sleezy D's "Trust" -- that hovered around the high end of 130 beats per minute.

He made these raw tracks into something more substantial by leaning hard into the mixer, using the crossfaders to slam aggressive new patterns into what would otherwise be a bunch of loopy DJ tools. His set was extremely dynamic: he played percussive sentences that would occasionally come to a hard stop via a noise interlude or a carefully placed power down (on a record player, a DJ can choose to turn off the motor for dramatic effect, halting the song while it spins down like a slow motion effect in a cheap movie). Each pause brought a new direction that, though subtly different, was still a variation on his straightforward message of tough, no-frills dance music.

As can be expected, 2 a.m. saw a good portion of the crowd take to the coat check. However, plenty still stayed to hear out the rest of Edwards set, which I heard continued on for a half hour more.

-- @DerekOpperman

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