Deviants Turns 11th Street Into an X-Rated Arcade For Folsom Street Fair
There are many outdoor festivals in San Francisco, but the Folsom Street Fair is the city's most iconic street-level event. Every year, the stretch of Folsom Street between 7th and 11th is transformed into a wild celebration of all things kinky, complete with a crowd decked-out almost exclusively in leather. Things that would normally warrant some kind of police citation, like walking around in public with a raging erection, become surprisingly commonplace. There's something comforting about this festival's existence, in the way it highlights the city's famously weird character despite recent moves toward a more sterilized, tech-fueled utopia. And for the past few years, the people behind Folsom have accented the fair by throwing a spectacular two-venue, all-night closing party called Deviants.
The thing that immediately strikes you about Deviants is the sheer amount of care placed on the decor. The promoters behind the party aren't content to just occupy a space, they're interested in total transformation. This year's theme was "Adult Arcade," and, fittingly, clubs Audio Discotech, Beatbox, and Bergerac were all decked out with X-rated '80s arcade and midway accoutrements. Our first sight of this came in the outdoor smoking area, which featured a truck-sized installation of multicolored light-fueled bricks that read "Adult Arcade." Standing in front of it, we looked at our options: Bergerac cocktail bar (which had been unsubtly modified to read "Beargerac"), Beatbox (which featured a large neon sign of a man in heels), and Audio Discotech (no real change there).
Leather harnesses, pungent body odor, furries, bears, assless chaps -- I was at the bar at Beatbox jotting down impressions while I waited for two glasses of Bulleit. The room was dense with shirtless men in leather, who sweated as they danced between the venue's brick-lined walls. The club's impressive array of mechanically controlled disco lights cast multi-colored beams that scanned the crowd in time to a soundtrack of drum machine-enhanced disco. The bourbons arrived, I handed one to Avalon, and we tried to get to the dancefloor, weaving through a maze of muscles on our way.
The DJ for this portion of the evening was Pee play, a resident DJ for the popular queer weekly Honey Soundsystem. He stood atop a massive stage, wearing a leather jacket embroidered with studs on the back in a way that recalled Kenneth Anger's "Scorpio Rising." His selections were as eclectic as they always are, though in this case his careful balance somehow included loopy disco re-edits (Klein & MBO's "Dirty Talk, Blondie's "Rapture"), tribal drum loops (maybe that's a misnomer, he played an awesome extended '70s drum break), and, weirdly enough, rock (a remix of Eric Clapton's "Cocaine"). He moved as he played, throwing his body around and putting his hands in the air -- an effect that cast twisting shadows courtesy of a giant light bulb-dotted sign behind him that bore the words "Deviants." Then he played Avalon's "Milk Toast," screams came from the crowd, the auxiliary lights flashed on, and for a moment I swore that Beatbox had been flooded with daylight.
"Don't leave! Don't leave! If you leave they won't let you back in! Just look at the line!" I overheard as we stepped outside for a minute. The line to get in snaked back from the entrance and reached deep into the smoking area. "It just feels so unnatural, usually I just wink at the door guy and I get in. I hate waiting," said a friend of mine who'd been waiting for a half an hour. This line was full of people who'd already paid and waited in another line to get in. Needless to say, nobody was excited about this. But that was okay, as there was another dancefloor next door.
The makeover at Audio Discotech was as striking as the one downstairs at Beatbox. The room was covered in skee-ball tickets, which draped from the ceiling like streamers and littered the floor with used stubs. Here the party felt sloppier, with the club's recessed dancefloor hosting a similarly packed mass of shirtless men whose movements were watched by others lounging in sofas. The music was curated by Matrixxman, who spun through an uptempo collection of house and disco cuts that included his own "Protocol" and a remix of Sylvester's "You Make Me Feel Mighty Real." As I listened to his set, I was reminded of the quality of Audio Discotech's soundsystem and acoustics -- given the right DJ, it's easily one of the best places in the city as far as sound is concerned.
Finally, we ended up at Bergerac, the new cocktail bar beneath Audio Discotech. Though less trafficked, it seemed to be the core of this year's Deviants experience, with a row of faux-arcade machines lining a curtain covered wall. Each of these bore the words "peep show" and, occasionally, a passersby would stop and knock on one, causing a window to open and revealing an exhibitionist on the other side. We sat there awhile longer, but then decided to call it night and grab a slice of pizza down the street.