Not that it doesn't have soul or humor, as anyone entranced by groundbreaking neominimal releases like "The Sad Piano," by Justin Martin (Buzzin' Fly, 2003), and "Deep Throat," by Claude VonStroke (Dirtybird, 2005), can attest. It just doesn't wear them on its digital sleeve.
Internationally renowned local boys Martin and VonStoke spend a lot of time touring the world these days, and both are stabled at well-respected San Francisco label Dirtybird (www.dirtybirdrecords.com), but promoters here have only recently been able to convince club owners that neominimal's a good regular bar draw. Now some much-loved AWOL promoters from the past are rising with the neominimal boat.
"I call it Windex music," promoter Greg Bird no relation to Dirtybird, but there sure are a lot of birds in SF techno told me over the phone. "It's crisp and clear and a lot more funky in a kind of grown-up way." His bangin' Saturday monthly, Kontrol recently relocated from Rx Gallery to bigger, all-night quarters at the Endup celebrates two years of being head above the rest June 2 by bringing in legendary tech heads Baby Ford and DJ Zip to supplement hot-topic Kontrol residents Alland Byalo, Nikola Baytala, Sammy D., and Craig Kuna.
Bird cut through the cork-popping, lounge-heavy blahs of the Internet boom club scene in 2000 with his fascinatingly minimal Clean Plate Club monthly ("clean plate" = minimal groove). "After 9/11 and the bust, I could tell the whole club scene was headed south, so I concentrated on my personal situation. But a couple years ago me, Sammy D., and the others felt the need to bring our sound back to the clubs," he says. Bird emphasizes that Kontrol is all about mixing and making music live, in both a digital and a performance context: "We like to sound immediate." He name-checks Perlon Records, Hawtin's Minus label, and Los Angeles's wacky Experimental Liquor Museum collective as current influences. "There's a ton happening right now," he says. "This summer is going to blow up big for techno in SF."
Another blast from the boom and a delight for old-school minimal and nonorchestral house fans is the return of the Staple crew, in this iteration composed of Fil Latorre, a.k.a. Fil Noir from the early '00s out-of-control Staple and Refuge monthlies, and Dave Javate, a.k.a. DJ Javaight, formerly of the giant Optimal techno parties. Over e-mail, both cite scene burnout and a lack of feeling from the dance floor as reasons they closed up shop, coyly proffer "ichibana, Muay Thai, and pharmacology studies" as the reasons for their absence, and say a recent sense of receptivity to techno, the trend toward live acts, and greater technological capabilities in the form of Ableton Live and Traktor software pulled them out of early retirement. Staple just launched two monthlies at Rx and Anu and brought in Kenny Larkin in May to wow sold-out crowds. "It's like reloading on experience and refocusing creativity once again on new output," Latorre writes.
I detest it when writers hype new movements. Indeed, almost all the DJs and promoters involved in the latest scene balk at the neominimal and even minimal moniker, differentiating themselves from the juggernaut with alternate adjectives like "modular," "organic," and "digital live." But all agree that they're trying to wipe the tired commercial techno slate clean and with it, the bad taste of overworked electronica most clubbers still have in their mouths. Many admit that the minimal tag is what's helping them most to get their music recognized on a grand scale. And there's definitely a local groundswell of interest in techno.