Lost in the Night: O.K. Hole Says Goodbye to Amnesia, Matias Aguayo Lights Up Icee Hot
There was a time, not too long ago, when San Francisco had more than a handful of small, divey dancefloors that acted as a low-budget alternative to the city's glossier club scene. Usually, you could go to those places, pay a cheap cover (or no cover), and hear music played by locals. They had a laid-back vibe based on the simple fun of partying in a grimey environment. Those days have mostly come to a halt, with previous staples -- like 222 Hyde and the basement at Li Po Lounge -- shut down for one reason or another. Despite the general trend, one venue that's still going strong is Amnesia, a small beer and wine bar in the Mission that regularly plays host to all kinds of crazy events, one of which was O.K. Hole, a monthly event dedicated to weird sounds and hardware performances that held its final party at the bar on Saturday.
Inside, a DJ played a selection of '80s synth-pop records from a booth tucked behind the bar. The venue itself doesn't have the best soundsystem, but it makes up for that in ambiance -- with old time red-tinted accoutrements rubbing up next to mirror balls, green laser beams, and a thick blanket of fog. The room was packed tightly, though not so much that trying to navigate with a pint of beer ever proved a problem.
The attraction we'd arrived for was a rare collaborative set by local hardware-heads Bobby Browser and Roche. Their spread of physical gear didn't disappoint, with a large table set up completely cluttered with knob-covered boxes -- many, seemingly, in IBM beige. They began a while later, stepping up from the audience, and manning their equipment with a detached cool.
Their music was thoughtful, maybe even dreamy, with a heavy kick drum pulse augmented by synthy acid house warblings, sampled stabs (one of which sounded reminiscent of a piece from Pepe Bradock's "Deep Burnt"), and an overall aesthetic of hypnotic loopiness. Bobbing heads, they flipped switches and turned dials, bringing their melodic sounds in and out of focus. The music was fantastic, though as far as I know most of it is unrecorded as of this moment. Their playing together was less about intertwined improvisation, and seemingly more about guiding individual parts of a more cohesive whole. Then my phone buzzed. It was a text, and it read, "Don't miss Matias!"
We had planned on checking out Matias Aguayo on the same evening. I'd heard that the promoters behind Icee Hot had decked out Public Works' OddJob Loft with insane decorations -- after all, it was the evening of Aguayo's 40th birthday. So we grabbed a cab and headed over to Erie street.
The interior of the club looked as though the decorator had robbed a party store. Chili peppers, peace signs, nautical flags, and large ripped banners dangled down, lowering the ceiling of the loft to a more human level. It was an immersive party atmosphere that stretched from the stage to the treehouse in the back. We unfortunately arrived too late to hear the warm-up set, which I heard was an amazing three-way between Icee Hot residents Rollie Fingers, Ghosts on Tape, and Honey Soundsystem's P-play. Instead, we caught a set by Shawn Reynaldo, who worked the sizable dancefloor with energetic selections that connected harder techno sounds with diva house via an interlude that included Floorplan's "We Magnify His Name," and then ended up at a remix of Crystal Waters' "Gypsy Woman" -- complete with the dramatic beatless organ-led intro.
The Loft had its share of equipment as well. Aguayo had cordoned off a corner of the stage and set up his own table with an arrangement that included an E&S DJR 400 rotary mixer, two CDJs, a microphone, a small synthesizer, an iPad mini, a Dave Smith Tempest drum machine, and a few controller pads. This proved a unique configuration, as it allowed Aguayo to not only sing and perform his songs live, but also to DJ at the same time. That might sound complicated and hectic (it was both), but he managed to incorporate it all seamlessly, with a showman's endurance that could even be described as James Brown-like.
Aguayo took to the stage chanting a melody, playing a woodblock, and occasionally looping percussive hits of his voice. By the end of the song, he'd layered a wall of vocal emulations, parroting sounds of shakers and talking drums beneath his singing. From there it was mostly a blur, with Aguayo ratcheting the tempo up and down through a marathon set that included renditions of old favorites like "Menta Latte" and "Minimal" as well as cuts off his latest album like "Rrrr," "El Camarón," and the bizarre "Levantate Diegors." It became clear that at times he was augmenting his live performance with CDs, but he'd play these CDs like drums, using the cue button on his CDJ to isolate one percussive hit and then play it repeatedly before releasing the backing track back into the mix, and causing the club's subwoofers to violently re-engage. He also occasionally played with the isolator on his mixer, pulling out the kick drum while he was singing, only to slam it back in -- effectively incorporating DJ techniques beneath his live show.
It was an inspiring experience, due in part to how how animated Aguayo was on stage. He was constantly in motion, hamming it up and allowing himself to embody the sounds as they emerged. His dramatic flourishes and intensity were welcome. After two hours of his performance, it seemed like he was still nowhere near finished, and neither was the dancefloor -- so in other words, it was a good time to grab a cab home.