Dance Dance Revolution: My Favorite Dancefloors in San Francisco (Part 2)
This is part 2 of my profile on San Francisco’s nightclubs that feature underground electronic music. To read about my other picks, click here.
Public Works — “Sound laboratory for the daring”
161 Erie St.
Public Works holds a special place in my heart, as it was the site of my first foray into San Francisco’s nightlife.
Surrounded by a daunting amount of novelty on all sides, I firmly insisted to myself that I needed to set a healthy precedent for my time on the West Coast by seeking out new experiences despite introverted instincts insisting otherwise. Unsure of where to begin my search for trips outside of my comfort zone, navigated to underground electronic music authority and event aggregator Resident Advisor TKLINK to see what additional insight it could provide about my environment. An event headlined by Keinemusik founding fathers &Me and Adam Port caught my eye, thus deciding my first dance destination.
Pangs of fear, anxiety and other “turn back” reflexes marked my voyage to the venue, the route there taking me through unfamiliar streets until happening upon a chain link fence-lined alley. Beckoned forth by the thumping beats in the distance, I approached with a tangible tentativeness — the type of nervousness that left unchecked radiates a message of “no way is this person 21, you better triple check the ID at the door”.
Stepping through Public Works’ doors leaves one in a hallway that were it not for the electronic music enticing one further inward, you might mistake yourself for arriving in a community center. My nervousness translated to nervous excitement with every step until I found myself in a pit of people, with visuals unlike any I’d seen before surrounding such a mass of humanity.
I stayed late.
Return visits to see the likes of Project Pablo and Roman Flügel have convinced me that Public Works is the place to be for purists who are all about dancing to music that embraces the avant garde.
The Midway — “Team Rocket’s Techno Compound”
900 Marin St.
While the rest of the performance venues are strewn throughout the SoMa area, an hour commute by public transportation (from my apartment, that is) will result in finding yourself surrounded by some seriously heavy machinery.
Which is saying something, considering it’s in the Dogpatch.
The Midway is a sprawling complex at 40,000 square feet, with multiple rooms to get lost in, musically or physically.
Like Public Works, The Midway is a multipurpose venue, so electronic music events here are sparing the ones. The ones that come in, then, are typically full venue takeovers replete with top-level talent.
Most recently, this brought extended-set stalwarts and UK legends Sasha and John Digweed to the venue with support from rising star Eagles & Butterflies, but the event perhaps making best use of the Midway was this year’s As You Like It 7 Year Anniversary.
An event hosting the likes of Mixmag’s 2016 DJ of the Year and activist for diversity in dance music The Black Madonna, father-daughter techno duo Floorplan and live set technical wizard KiNK is a miniature festival all in itself, and any of them could sell out an event on their own. AYLI went above and beyond (not Above & Beyond) for their seventh birthday, bringing those 4 artists together with Running Back labelhead going back-to-back with Norwegian space disco star Prins Thomas and a performance by Call Super, who had a breakout year in 2017.
Too much talent for one building? Correct. That’s why AYLI took things outside, with an all-night patio takeover by SF scene kingpins Honey Soundsystem. All of these acts were bolstered by a stellar lineup of As You Like It residents David Siska, LA/SF-based Mike Gushansky and Smart Bar resident Sassmouth.
The next night featured Berghain figurehead Marcel Dettmann playing with Canadian techno titan and Ibiza Richie Hawtin, so it was a busy weekend, to say the least.
If you’re looking for an in-city adventure, wander to the eastern edge of the city near famed skatespot 3rd & Army and find yourself marveling at a musical experience to behold.
F8 — “The Best House Party Ever”
1192 Folsom St.
If you’re looking for a place where pretense is not on the guest list and where dancing your heart out is practically a requirement, then the club on the corner of 8th and Folsom is the place to go. With a bar
Performances here aren’t limited to weekends: the Housepitality crew holds a weekly residency on Wednesday nights, bringing artists the likes of Ardalan, Derrick Carter, Theo Parrish, Adesse Versions, Mike Servito and Galen to rattle the pizza racks of its next door neighbor.
And that’s just Wednesday nights.
F8 has hosted parties including Oakland’s Shuffle Co-Op, Polyglamorous, and Brouhaha (the last whose musical taste strongly aligns with my own). The common thread between each event is a feeling of togetherness and acceptance that resonates more strongly on this dance floor than anywhere else in the city. Each event abides by a code of making sure attendees feel safe to enjoy their night; a recent example coming from Brouhaha’s event with Kornel Kovacs and DJ Seinfeld, during which the promoters printed signs making clear that sexual harassment was unwelcome in the establishment and what to do if someone was making another feel threatened or uncomfortable.
F8 also captures a spirit of equality and egalitarianness which captures the true essence of dance music’s roots. There’s no VIP lounge in F8, and the dress code is staunchly come-as-you-are. This isn’t a point of discrimination though: if you fancy wearing a suit on any given evening, you will be just as welcome as the person wearing an all-weather jacket and a multicolored soccer jersey.
I say this as someone who’s gone to F8 wearing an all-weather jacket and a multicolored soccer jersey.
All things said, San Francisco’s underground dance venues are on the whole very welcoming spaces. There are some locations I didn’t specifically write about here, including the Stud and Underground. I’ve only patronized the Stud once on a Wednesday for a Mixmag event, so I can’t adequately comment on what a typical night there is like — the staff there is wonderful and the décor is unique, so they’re definitely worth another visit. As for Underground, I’ve yet to go there, so I can’t speak to any such experiences there.
Chicago might be the house capital of the world, but as far as a strong underground scene goes, San Francisco might have my hometown beat.