Flashing lights

DECADE IN MUSIC: 10 years on the Bay Area dance floor -- and still looking fantastic!

Guardian illustration of DJ AM, Daft Punk, and Steve Aoki by Matt Furie and Aiyana Udesen

DECADE IN MUSIC Good lord. Who can remember all the strobe-lit twists and turns that Bay Area nightlife slid down in the past decade? Even if I wasn't utterly and gloriously hung over from 10 years of being 86ed, it would still be a sweat-drenched, dry-iced, hypnotic blear. That's a lovely thing. The ABC crackdown on underground parties in the late 1990s still held strong — and lively licensed spaces like Café Du Nord, Slim's, Buckshot, and DNA Lounge as well as many music-oriented street fairs are still feeling the pressure of the War on Fun. But you can't stop the party. And, baby, we lived through it.

One point about nightlife in general this decade: no one could ignore it. From hip-pop's odiously capitalist-utopian "da club" to the tourist-trap explosion of global dance music festivals, club culture was on everyone's radar. Today's pop stars blithely name-check underground nightlife legends like Leigh Bowery and Larry Levan, and middle-school kids fill their notebooks with fantasy club outfits. Oh yeah, edgy nightlife has been completely commodified — thank you, Steve Aoki and DJ AM — but it's a testament to its amazing versatility that going out is still enormously subversive fun, and the onslaught of bottle service and stretch-limo-packed music vids have had little impact on a vibrant independent scene. (In fact, the independent scene has gotten a ton of mileage out of parodying and reinterpreting mainstream club dreams.)

The last 10 years of the local club scene certainly gave me a lot to write and think — and drink — about. That was probably nightlife's most distinctive feature: it finally came into its own as an art form, one that welcomed multiple interpretations while devilishly playing with our heads. The best party promoters in the Bay worked hard not only to present immersive subcultural experiences but also to contextualize their parties in terms of global movements. You couldn't just fly in a supastar DJ and set the light show on random anymore. Clubgoers rejected that kind of dollar-driven cynicism. They wanted to know how a party would plug them into something different, something relevant, something uniquely of the moment, something beyond.

In short, they wanted personality. At times, this meant that concept trumped music — how many times did you find yourself spazzing on the dance floor to someone's hodgepodge iPod playlist in 2005, just because that someone was ironically amazing? But it sure was fun for a while, giving dance culture a kick in the fancy-pants and throwing open the door to a glittering array of musical styles. And everybody looked fantastic. Irony freed us from previous expectations like beat-matching, genre hegemony, fashion anxiety, and bland slickness. (It also introduced a flood of unicorns and neon accessories.) Deconstruction at last! For good or ill, but mostly for good, anyone could be a DJ, throw a party, design a flyer, work a look. All you needed was a little space, a big idea, and a sense of adventure. A crowd helped, too, but only if you worried about something as mundane as paying the bills. Reality? Oh, really.

That mid-period chemical peel of irony neatly divided the decade. We cruised and shmoozed into the new millennium on the Boom-bubble back of a lazy lounge wave — the sunny house-lite sighs of Naked Music and Miguel Migs, the mushroom jazz of Mark Farina, OM's smooth-beats Kaskade, and the friendly turntablism of Triple Threat popping the pink Champagne. That wave soon crested, churning up a foam of pink-slip parties, when discount daytime raves and increasingly baby-powdered coke binges took over. Luckily, happy hour took credit cards.

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