Behind the Scenes at Boiler Room's First S.F. Broadcast
Boiler Room presents Madlib, Ras G, Kyle Hall, Funkineven, Maximillion Dunbar, Inc., Matrixxman, Dam Funk
Saturday, Oct. 19, 2013
Billed as "the world's leading underground music show," Boiler Room is a global sensation. It's an Internet stream, started in East London, that provides a global stage for the world's underground dance music community. For many, it's a vital resource, allowing viewers the chance to check out and evaluate their favorite artists remotely. But it's more than just a DJ show -- it's a live broadcast of a party, complete with a crowd in full view of the frame. In fact, entire Youtube highlight reels have been made of the ridiculous actions of background attendees, featuring not so sly drug use, conspicuous Vicks Vape-O-Rub application, and groupies with clearly visible degrees of lust in their eyes. It's a wild show to be sure, but I always wondered what it's like on the other side of the screen. That's why I decided to head down to the Dogpatch to catch its inaugural post-Treasure Island San Francisco appearance.
It was at the Gingerbread house, a huge bi-level warehouse around the size of Public Works that was once an important node in the city's rave scene. "Thank god, you're the first person I've seen that I actually know," said a friend of mine while I waited for a Tecate at the bar. For being a San Francisco party, there seemed to be an inordinate amount of people who appeared as though they came from somewhere outside of Northern California. Another friend: "Yeah, I know a lot of people came up from L.A. for Treasure Island, and for this." The crowd was fashionable, though in a strangely uniform way, with an army of clean cut men in black varsity jackets and streetwear flat-bills matched by a stream of attractive young girls whose stylistic cues recalled Tumblr-chic and the pages of an Urban Outfitters catalog.
The first real name I caught was Los Angeles left-field beatmaker Ras G, who laid down a set of abstract hip-hop using only a tiny SP-404 sampler. He cast a large Rastafari presence, with a dread-locked beard that swayed as he moved. He smoked a raggedy looking blunt while leaning into his piece of kit, blasting his signature, "Oh, RAS!" drop over percussive noises and wobbling samples that'd be interpreted as a trainwreck in any other circumstance. As he played, a crew of camera men with SLRs and bulky shoulder-mounted gear circled him, casting a harsh LED halo on the proceedings. It was disquieting in a way: the DJ equivalent to a porno shoot.
Then I was upstairs. Local producer/promoter DJ Dials was just finishing up a set of crowd pleasing club rap complete with fist pumps and head nods from his sweat-drenched dancefloor. He stopped, and then the beat resumed with a four-to-the-floor thud courtesy of Maxmillion Dunbar, one-half of Washington D.C.-based house revivalists Beautiful Swimmers. He spoke a language of classic dance music that didn't elicit the same kind of balls-out positive response. Without the familiar vocal riffs and immediate song recognition, many were lost, deciding to venture downstairs to get a drink and catch someone else instead. I enjoyed the breathing room, but soon followed suit.
There was so much on the bill that it was difficult to keep track of it all. One of the more incongruous parts of the evening happened upstairs, while Madlib was playing a nondescript set of soul and off-the-grid hip-hop. If you blinked, you might have missed it, but L.A. outfit Inc. brought a full trio with bass, guitar, and drums upstairs to perform their particular brand of indie-informed R&B. As they started in on "Black Wings," heads began to nod. "I love Beyoncé, they toured with her?" I heard a girl -- styled to look like Miley Cyrus -- say to her friend. Their mellow crooning offered a brief respite from the rush of DJs fumbling over each other to give their rendition of a peak-time set.
Weirdly, Inc.'s performance was followed by a short unannounced appearance by outsider house producer SFV Acid, who played what felt like a 15 minute set on his MPC while wearing a grotesque mask that gave the impression that his face was melting. "Look at his hat! Look at his hat! It's so DOPE!" He had a beanie on that read, "THE VALLEY." Next up was fellow Angeleno Dâm Funk, who, unusual for him these days, actually DJed -- which was a treat, considering his ludicrously deep record collection. Later, he roused the room to a rowdy singalong of his retro-boogie funk classic, "Hood Pass Intact."
I descended the stairs once more, this time being careful not to step on three people who'd passed out from too much something. I overheard security, "Yo, is this your boy? You guys can't be doing this here." By now, it was further into the morning, maybe 1:30 a.m., and the weedy ambiance that had characterized much of the early portion of the main room performances had given way to aggressive, hard-edged dance music courtesy of London house producer Funkineven. The soundsystem was blaring, pumped up to within an inch of its life, kicking out his banging selections of '80s inspired house drums and mind-warping acid basslines. His set stayed festival-sized, making up for a lack of vocals with sheer visceral punch. This heavy vibe carried over into the set of Detroit techno producer Kyle Hall, who mixed easily into a brutal collision of lo-fi drum sounds. He was one of the more dynamic performers, not only nodding his head, but shaking his whole body as he used the EQs to conjure a roller coaster of rhythm-induced emotions.
With Hall still going in the main room, I decided to call it a night. But as I piled into a car with some friends, a few questions remained in my mind: Barring Matrixxman and Dials, where were all the local artists? This being the first Boiler Room in San Francisco, it's mystifying that the people behind it didn't include at least a few more established local dance music producers. Granted, the show is not exclusively about regional scenes, but hopefully future episodes are able to better integrate with the Bay Area's distinct and thriving underground dance music community.