The Academy of Sciences' Nightlife Series Is a Worthy Club Alternative
Nightlife with Icee Hot featuring Bee Mask
California Academy of Sciences
Thursday, Feb. 27, 2014
There's just aren't enough good venues in San Francisco right now, and it's a real problem. Though club culture is currently thriving in the Bay Area, there's an unfortunate lack of novelty. The loss of small, divey spots like 222 Hyde, Deco Lounge, and the basement at LiPo have caused a consolidation of parties in the few places remaining. For people who go out regularly, it can often mean weekend nights spent mostly in the same small handful of nightclubs. That gets tiring, which I suspect is why many partiers are turning to speakeasies. Going underground is one option, but there are others, provided you keep an open mind. One such alternative is Nightlife, a 21+ Thursday evening event held at the California Academy of Sciences. Each week the science museum transforms itself into a makeshift party space, with the help of guest promoters pulled from the city's dance music community. Last night was Icee Hot's turn.
Nightlife is not a conventional club night. In fact, it's not a club night at all. The party runs between 6 p.m. and 10 p.m., which makes it more like a happy hour than anything else -- it's more of a social event than a full-on rave-your-face-off dance thing. Nevertheless, it has featured some rather large guests that might otherwise play at peak time. To give you an idea, earlier this year Icee Hot took over the space and brought Detroit house heavyweight Terrence Parker with them. There are other 21+ museum parties -- The Exploratorium and De Young both offer something similar -- but as far as I know, none of them feature this level of on-point musical curation.
But to be perfectly honest, it's not really the music that's the draw. Museums are generally not acoustically ideal, and the California Academy of Sciences is no exception. The real reason for checking it out is the environment, which incorporates the entirety of the space, with DJs performing in a number of rooms, including the aquarium. This atmosphere, combined with the music, makes for a novel experience.
"I think everyone here is on a first date," said a friend I bumped into by the elevators near the albino alligator. "Yeah," I joked sarcastically, "I heard about this thing, it's this museum that's open after six, and they play EDM and serve booze. You like, want to go after work?" By that time, the place was full with an unusual amount of people appeared to be awkwardly getting to know one another.
Then I was downstairs in Steinhart Aquarium, watching sea horses drift in a glass bubble while my girlfriend ordered two IPAs from a makeshift bar (pro tip: there are many bars, but for some reason the line downstairs is much quicker). I waited and took note of Motor City Drum Ensemble's "Raw Cuts #6," which was being pushed to the main PA by Icee Hot residents DJ Will and Ghosts on Tape from a DJ booth set up in front of the large "coral reef" viewing room. I joined them shortly after and listened to them play deep house while watching schools of tropical fish navigate the reef. It was borderline psychedelic. Nearby, sandwiched between two twentysomething hipster girls, an overweight man in gym shorts and socks and sandals considered a 65-year-old Australian lungfish named Methuselah.
We walked around a bit and ended up in a crowd of people gawking through a glass window while a team of professionals deboned and prepared dead birds for taxidermy. As the technicians jiggled the carcasses around, some pretty heavy techno came on the speakers -- a stroke of unintended but totally flawless soundtracking from Shawn Reynaldo, who was DJing from a stage in the central hall. His music sounded better on the PA outside of that room due to the hall's poor acoustics ... but it's a museum, not a nightclub, so who cares? He mixed it up and played some classic vocal house cuts and delicate instrumentals alongside more booming fare.
A DJ friend who was in the room, said, "The next time I play here, I'm going to bring some Balearic jams -- mellow it out and take it easy." And though Bee Mask didn't play that exact genre, this is effectively what he did. He was the headliner, and he performed an ambient set of synthesizer tones from a laptop with an Ableton Push and a Prophet 8, which buzzed and hummed pleasantly. I'm not overly familiar with his music, but this video ought to give you an idea of the general idea. Some people sat cross-legged on the ground and listened, while others stood around and talked and grabbed drinks. It was a short set, maybe 40 minutes, and then Reynaldo got back on and played a few more tracks.
I sat down at the cafeteria and had dinner. While I ate my Chicken adobo, my head got caught in the vocal loop of a track blasting across the speakers: Solidisco feat. Skyy's "Top Of The World," a grotesque hybrid of French touch and EDM. "Whoa, now this is certainly a different direction for Will and Ryan," I said, referring to DJ Will and Ghosts on Tape. My girlfriend pointed to a sign in the corner, which pointed to another bar downstairs, "There's a whole other fancy cocktail bar, they're doing Asian fusion drinks, and some other guy's DJing right now," she said. Faith restored, I finished my food and decided not to look into it further.