RAVE CULTURE Here's a classic San Francisco rave story for you. First the official legend: "In the spring of 1991, a small, brave crew of acid house seekers set sail from southeast England in search of adventure. San Francisco was the destination. They made their mark under the Golden Gate Bridge at Baker Beach with the first in a six-year run of wild and lawless Full Moon parties." And now the party reality: the crew set up during heavy fog after touching down from Britain — and at least two of Wicked's four members, Garth and Jenö, had absolutely no freaking clue that they were beneath the Golden Gate Bridge.
"We Brits were virgins to that beach," Garth told me. "We were all enjoying a psychedelic dance when the sun started to come up, and the fog peeled back to reveal the bridge above our heads, lit up like a spaceship! We were hooked from that moment on. The decks were set up on a blanket on the sand. No table. Walkman speakers made makeshift monitors. One well-prepared gay friend improvised a cardboard dancefloor for himself and went about his vogueing like he was back at the Endup or Paradise Garage."
The Wicked Brit saucer, launched from the illustrious Tonka Sound System renegade rave base, touched down on our shores at a moment when the Bay Area psychedelic sound and spirit was flagging. The West Coast underground party scene was being commercialized into the kind of slick, infantile, overproduced spectacles that unfortunately came to define rave in many '90s people's minds. And the music was veering from true basement soul to Big Bird carnival woo-woo — not that there was anything too awful about that, at the time it was fresh. But a pagan squadron of prog-rocky, deep acid house and baggy beats lovers setting up on a beach was a blast of fresh air.
Update on the Wicked crew: Almost all have benefited from our wonderful current dance music moment that values historical broad-mindedness over genre lockstep. (Really, the era-roving Wicked DJs have never sounded better than right now). Garth now lives in Los Angeles and has been releasing a steady stream of re-edits and remixes on his two labels, and through his King & Hound project with beloved local disco archivist James Glass. Former punk protestor and anarchist bookstore haunter Jenö plays live acid house every first Saturday at 222 Hyde, broadcasts the weekly "Noise from the Void" radio show (Tuesdays at 9 p.m. at www.90hz.org), and is codirecting a documentary on the social implications of San Francisco's early rave scene, due out this summer. Thomas is in New York City as one-half of the awesome Rub N Tug production team and owns Whatever We Want Records. And Markie? The dude is and always will be Markie, party legend.
On the eve of the full moon Wicked: 20 Years of Disco Glory reunion party (the name is a cheeky play on one of Garth's already cheeky dance floor hits), I talked to Garth, Jenö, and Thomas over e-mail.
SFBG It seems like a boatload of Brits emigrated here in the '90s and had a huge impact on the party scene — in fact, they're still coming. Is there something special about San Francisco that draws you guys?