Beyond Burning Man: Electronic music's rise in the Bay Area
November 30, 2010 6:17 PM
The wolf's eyes are level with the turntables, and the orange candles on the booth illuminate the screen-printed fur in a way that makes it appear almost alive. As Griffin Bogl's shirt shifts, a fold distorts the image and draws attention back to the person behind the shirt. Bogl is a San Francisco-based DJ establishing himself in the Bay Area's dubstep scene. Dubstep, unlike other forms of electronic music, is characterized by extreme use and manipulation of bass.
Dubstep is a subgenre of electronic music that is gaining popularity in the Bay Area; Marty Folb of PANTyRAID and MartyParty says, "it is the father of all the new bassline-based genres." Folb recently stopped in San Francisco with Josh (Ooah) Mayer as PANTyRAiD and played a sold-out show at 1015 Folsom in the SOMA district.
Although subgenres of electronic music fluctuate in popularity, Folb predicts that once people feel the power of a sub-bassline common in dubstep, and the "intense emotion of a sub-bass drop," they won't return to the "monotonous, loopy" forms of electronic music again.
Ryan "Comma" Gilbert, a 29-year-old Bay Area DJ, says that the newer forms of dubstep are popular in San Francisco due to the Burning Man crowd bringing them into the city's limelight. Unfortunately, with the popularity of dubstep came music exemplifying "aggressive, drug-fueled mayhem," says Gilbert. He also says that some music uses extremely deep bass consistently throughout every track, becoming a mockery of itself and remaining at the same energy level throughout; not taking the listener on any sort of trip or journey.
The bad reputation that raves have given the electronic music scene is an issue that affects every subculture of society; however Gilbert hopes to eventually play all-ages events. "It's the effect of a problem we have with how our laws corral people who try to do dance events or art events or late-night music events; they get pushed into a dangerous underground environment," says Gilbert. He has been making music on a computer for ten years, and with drum machines for longer than that. Although he wouldn't say electronic music is necessarily gaining popularity in San Francisco, Gilbert says that every genre of music is, in a way, becoming electronic music. People in the Bay Area are just reacting to the national and international increasing popularity. "Everyone got overwhelmed with the laptop and computer sounds, and now everyone is looking to get back to that warmer, more human expressive sound," says Gilbert.
Although many DJs are hesitant to admit it, the Burning Man crowd really brought electronic music and dubstep to the Bay Area music scene. "Burning Man really brought the scene to the Bay and put the Bay at the front of the game," says Folb. Adam "an-ten-nae" Ohana, 41, also agrees that Burning Man helped introduce a lot of people from different cities to bass music, and that bass music has definitely been an expanding scene in the Bay Area in the past few years. Ohana DJs under the name an-ten-nae, but produces music and throws events under that name as well. Marina "Kozee" Patino is originally from Michigan but began DJing in Northern California after moving to Sacramento, and then to San Francisco. Like Ohana, Gilbert, and Folb, Patino moved to the Bay Area to pursue her music career; the San Francisco electronic music scene isn't hard to break into, she says, due the number of daily events and venues hosting edm (electronic dance music) shows.
Evan Larsen, a former doorman of a well-know Valencia Street bar, says that the crowd for Sunday dub has changed in the past few years but stayed generally the same size. When the bar officially banned the use of marijuana within the venue about a year ago, a lot of people stopped attending. Larsen says that, if it was still allowed, the crowd would have increased in size rather than just shifted to new faces.
The electronic scene used to be reserved for those with money to produce and time to dedicate. Robbie "Motion Potion" Kowal has watched the formerly niche-industry grow thanks to the economic and technological advances that make it cheaper and easier to mix than ever before. The continuing increase of musicians trying to enter the scene means some of the best up-and-coming DJs are lost in the shuffle. Kowal claims that, though it is more competitive, "the cream still rises to the top."
Jasper, (NastyNasty) who declined to give his last name, played after Marty and Josh (PANTyRAiD) at 1015 Folsom in mid-November; he is hazy on the defining characteristics of dubstep, which is what his music is often called, and instead thought he was making "some kind of bass heavy crunk." Jasper agrees that San Francisco has a sea of talent, and that electronic music is gaining recognition due to the great compression of talent in the Bay Area.
On a Friday night in mid-October just after 10p.m., deep, throbbing bass begins to seep out the door of Mighty. Like many venues that support electronic music, there are no signs out front and very few lights. The line out front fluctuates from three to thirty people as the night draws on, culminating with a rush around midnight just before Ana Sia takes the stage.
Sans makeup and in a cozy hooded sweatshirt, San Franciscan Ana Sia steps up to face the MacBook in the center of the array of technology on the stage. Surrounded by two sets of turntables and a few more computers, she begins bobbing her head to a beat left on by Ryan Gilbert; "Comma," who played a set before her. Lifting a shoulder to raise the right side of her headphones to her ear. Bass reverberates through the now-packed club, and the lone female performance of the night begins. Like most nights featuring dubstep artists at Mighty, the dance floor, bars, and smoking area are all packed.
Kowal says he has watched electronic music extend from something appreciated by a unique crowd, separate from listeners of mainstream music genres, into the mainstream scene. He says that once DJs began traveling and playing independent parties, carting their turntables and mixers to obscure locations and playing for dedicated fans, world-recognized artists began to see the opportunity to gain another demographic of listeners by incorporating the dance music into their style.
Kowal currently manages Sunset Promotions, which signs artists and put on events in San Francisco. He aims to "work with artists that need [their] help, or older artists that people missed." Kowal focuses specifically on artists in the Bay Area, which arguably births some of the most influential electronic musicians.
Sitting in a cheap chair in a storage room high above the dance floor at Mighty, a venue in San Francisco, Calif., Kowal constantly checks his phone in one hand, occasionally giving an apology for only offering divided attention, he runs his free hand through his close-cropped, grey-streaked dark hair. The evolution was gradual but the results are definitely in full effect. "Grateful dead hippies turned into burning man hippies who now love dubstep," says Kowal.
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