Sunset Brings the Freaks to Water For Its Latest Halloween Boat Party

SF Weekly
Sunset Halloween Boat Party with Tiefschwarz, Kim Ann Foxman, and Tone of Arc
Hornblower San Francisco Belle
Sunday, Oct. 27, 2013

"Oh, well, we haven't missed a Sunset boat party in what, six years?" said a friend of mine sitting at the bar at Hardwater with my girlfriend and me. There's a special kind of fanaticism reserved for Sunset parties in San Francisco. It's one of the oldest crews in the city, with roots stretching back to the early '90s. It does a lot of things, but its most beloved events are its boat parties. And of these it's the Halloween party that commands the highest regard. As we talked and drank, the room slowly filled with die-hards in full-blown costumes looking to get a few fancy drinks in before casting off. "For me, it's Burning Man, and then this. Just those," I caught someone saying on the other end of the room.

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Our destination for the evening was the San Francisco Belle, a larger boat than we had been led to expect (our tickets pointed to the miniature-by-comparison "San Francisco Spirit"). This was a mammoth four-floor 19th century river boat, complete with a paddle wheel in the back and all the period-appropriate trimmings. We waited on the pier, surrounded by more elaborate costumes: a Rosie the Riveter, Bill Lumbergh, Old Gregg, No Face from Spirited Away, and an inordinate amount of girls dressed like spandex-coated cats. "If you have tickets, GO TO THE BOAT," repeatedly yelled a pirate. Ron Burgundy took our tickets at a gate leading towards a chandelier-ed foyer.

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They'd sectioned the boat off into three distinct areas. We arrived on the bottom floor and made our way to the "lounge," which was handled by resident DJs from Supperclub. The whole floor was decked out to resemble the international franchise, with creme-colored beds lining a large central dancefloor marked-off by an impressive looking speaker array and pots filled with flowers. For most of the night, this floor functioned as a chill-out room, with its selectors choosing to spread out between relaxed, breakbeat-laden downtempo and hands-in-the-air Halloween party classics. It was 7 p.m., the boat was still docked, and an incredibly long line stretched out from the edge of the pier toward the tables of the Plant Cafe and the Embarcadero.

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The main room was a floor higher. It was more ornately decorated, with its own '80s throwback Art Nouveau trimmings setting an impressive backdrop for Sunset's main dancefloor. Local spinner Derrick Boyd, of tech-house duo Tone of Arc, played a warm-up set from a booth setup at the front of the room. His selections were poppy, creating a mellow atmosphere from tracks like Lionel Hampton's "Vibramatic (Joakim Remix)" and the Dirtbombs' cover of "Shari Vari." As he played, bolts of strobe shot across the ceiling, riding two spider leg-like appendages that stretched the length of the dancefloor. By now, the boat had set off, tilting back and forth in the open water as it pivoted towards the Bay Bridge. We followed Thing One and Thing Two outside to get a picture of the city's waterfront skyline.

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Then we were upstairs on the third dancefloor, a tight setup on the roof of the boat that was completely exposed to the elements. It was cold, but not so cold that anyone felt the need to leave. Instead, costumed ravers stayed on deck all night, braving the destabilizing gusts of wind to dance to what would later prove to be the best soundtrack aboard. Sunset's own residents created a ravey San Francisco vibe that balanced out the more standard tech-house sounds on the other two decks. We rounded the pillars beneath the bridge and Solar played 2 AM/FM's "Desolate Cities," matching the structure's dark shadows with an eerie ambiance of de-tuned vocals and warbling bass lines. A guy in a Winnie-the-Pooh outfit unsuccessfully tried to balance himself above a small speaker cabinet.

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This was a five hour cruise. And, understandably, as time wore on, so did the people. Things began to get a little sloppy about halfway in, with the first casualties appearing: a passed-out Colonel Sanders, an Amish using a cane to steady his visibly off-balance walk, and a totally sloppy person in the men's bathroom screaming, "Look at my mangina!" at everyone washing their hands. Around this time, the party centered on the main dancefloor, which by now had already featured a retro '90s house set from Kim Ann Foxman and gone straight into the chugging and druggy tech-house of German duo Tiefschwarz. Their music followed a predictable roller coaster-like energy, with deep basslines and loopy percussion leading into soaring climaxes of rushing white noise that peaked alongside intense flashes of strobe and two-fingered whistles from the dancers.

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Then we were back below, enjoying the more mellow ambiance of the Supperclub lounge. We were in our last hour, and I could see the buildings along the Embarcadero grow larger. The DJ must have sensed the end of our voyage. He began to play increasingly poppy disco tracks, like Rick James' "Give it to Me Baby," to rally the floor for one last push. As the boat glided back into the dock, he played Michael Jackson's "Thriller", which was our cue to grab our things and make our way out.

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-- @derekopperman

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