July 10, 2002

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Faking it
Omar and Jenny's Friday-night party Fake combines scenester cred with "everyone's welcome" openness.

By Vivian Host

THE LEGEND OF Studio 54 is large: Bianca Jagger riding in on a white horse; Andy Warhol holding down the back room; unnamed models sniffing coke off one another's bare bosoms. But behind every star who crossed the nightclub's velvet ropes gratis, there was a bridge-and-tunnel patron waiting to pay out the nose to experience the wild side.

It's true: the dark secret of clubbing isn't that promoters deal drugs or conduct shady backroom deals. It's that promoters cannot keep up the veneer of cool without letting in, well, the uncool. Give me a 600-person guest list and I'll give you a three-month lease on life in clubland. The parties that do the best, especially these days, are those that are inclusive without losing their raw edge.

Enter Fake. This nine-month-old party – held Friday nights at the Cat Club – is the brainchild of now veteran DJ-promoters Jenny and Omar, who have learned that a good party cannot survive on indie scenester credibility alone.

Standing in the middle of the dance floor at Fake, you often feel like you're caught in an exquisitely cast early Madonna or Blondie video. And it's not just the kids with twisted retro-futurist fashions and asymmetrical hair styles. It's also the preponderance of meticulous indie rock kids, goths (yes, they still exist!), punks, and cock rockers circa Mötley Crüe's heyday.

But if you look along the sidelines, you'll also see a whole lot of pretty-average-looking people. While Fake may be a hub for San Francisco's flourishing nouveau punk-style culture, the party is inclusive enough to welcome a crowd that hasn't been clubbing since Brandon Walsh dropped "Euphoria" on Beverly Hills, 90210.

Jenny and Omar's parties haven't always been so all-encompassing. The pair's first foray into promoting, 1998's roving monthly Sixxteen, was billed as a "glamorous rock 'n' roll nightclub" and set out to attract a specific set that was into big hair, androgynously tight pants, and music from Bowie, T. Rex, and the Kinks. The party tapped into the need for a rock club without the band. In fall 2000, after feeling backed into a corner by Sixxteen's strict retro music policy, Jenny and Omar debuted Bordello, whose eye-catching slogan (the first of many for the partnership) was "Jenny and Omar playing whatever the fuck they feel like."

"Sixxteen was strictly rock, and we got sick of that real fast," Jenny says. "I mean, our record collection goes all across the map, and it always has. "Yeah," Omar chimes in. "We weren't gonna let anybody try and tell us that we couldn't beat-match "You Be Illin' " with "Down on the Street" by Iggy and the Stooges, which is, to this day, one of my proudest moments."

Despite Bordello's genre-fuck outlook, Jenny and Omar were still promoting strictly to the indie rock crowd. It's an experience the two are not necessarily eager to repeat. "We were sick of hearing people in [our] scene complaining all the time. Things like, 'Oh, there's too many yuppies in the clubs,' " Omar explains. "So we said, 'OK, since we're not going to make any money anyway, let's do a club that's strictly for these scenesters.' "

Jenny chimes in, "Bordello even had a door policy and a doorperson." "But its life span was so short because of that," Omar adds. "And we learned a lesson with that too. Just don't shut yourself in – the more the merrier. The indie scenesters are way too cool for anything that gets any amount of attention. So they always come in first, but they're always the first ones to bail out, too. You can't rely on them at all."

Fake, which debuted in November of last year, is possibly the pair's perfect project. "What we've been trying to do forever – but it feels most successful now – is to get different groups to go into the same place at the same time and look at each other," Jenny says. "Maybe even mingle. Because it makes it so much more fun."

The success has been in the evening's five hours of musical selections that span the annals of music from the 1960s to the present, the only constant being Jenny and Omar's passion for gritty, energetic sounds. It's not unusual to hear the Smiths played back-to-back with Jay-Z, or new electro act Adult. paired with classic Motörhead. The overall musical feeling is like being inside a really good jukebox on its random select function.

In sharp contrast to the rave DJ's static box of records, Jenny and Omar, who spin in the back room, bring four crates and three CD books just to keep up with the dance floor. "We play off the crowd, so we definitely pay attention to what they like and what they don't like," Jenny says. "We don't know where they're going to go or where they're going to take us. Our scene is not as much about the DJs as about coming out and having a good time, getting drunk, singing along with your favorite song, and seeing people."

Fake is, in a large part, inspired by Jenny and Omar's experiences growing up. Jenny's musical eclecticism was encouraged by her father, who used to take her record shopping on Berkeley's Telegraph Avenue every weekend. "From when I was in sixth grade on, he'd take me into Tower Records, and I could pick out two tapes. I would listen to KALX and tape things and then go in there blindly and try and find them. Or I'd like the cover, so I would buy it. I wound up consuming music really young and having that passion for hunting down certain songs."

Omar was born in Venezuela but grew up in Washington, D.C., on a steady diet of seminal punk bands Fugazi and Nation of Ulysses. But he was also sneaking into nightclubs, including southeast D.C.'s Trax. "It was in the nastiest neighborhood you could imagine," he says. "Everyone used to go there. It was a very gay club, but it was the only place in the city where punk rockers, goths, new wavers, you name it – they all hung out there at the same time. You could hear the Cult's "She Sells Sanctuary," and then the guy would bust into [Run DMC and Aerosmith's] "Walk This Way," and he'd drop some acid house, which was just starting to come out. That actually had such an impact on my DJing. I just remember people being so happy to hear diversity instead of just one kind of music all night long."

Jenny and Omar originally met up in 1995 at the second night of long-running Britpop party Popscene. They became best friends, drawn together by their record-collecting obsession and aesthetic, which Jenny has dubbed "punk rock sleekness." Physically, Jenny and Omar make an odd pairing. Jenny is statuesque, with piercing blue eyes, the prerequisite long, black rocker mane, and a penchant for tight nylon tops with retro touches (skinny ties, jean jackets) – the entire effect is that of the bad girl you either really wanted to sleep with or wanted to be in high school. Omar, whose sartorial tastes lean toward tracksuit tops and band T-shirts, doesn't stand a superbly coiffed hair over five feet five inches, and his soft-spoken demeanor tones down the extra bit of Jenny's brashness.

As soon as they open their mouths, it's obvious they spend most of their waking hours together – they complete each other's thoughts and pick up where the other left off, exactly as they do in their promotional partnership, an everyday do-it-yourself affair that includes tacking up xeroxed flyers all over town, calling foreign booking agents, and thinking up new parties to start. "Whenever we have records that we can't play somewhere, we just create a new outlet for them," Jenny says.

The pair are slowly transforming Fake's front room into a more cutting-edge space, where DJs Rubella and Amanda Ruin have begun to play more new indie, rock, and electro-nouveau than retro. "I would say about 70 percent of what we play is stuff that people know," Rubella says. "You gotta make people feel comfortable. But the first hour and the last hour we play stuff that's more obscure. And maybe almost nobody dances, but there'll be four or five people who just go crazy."

Another outlet for Jenny and Omar's consuming passion for new music is their Thursday night at Arrow, the Finger. At the small Sixth Street cave, the two can play the most obscure of the cutting-edge punk techno commonly known as electro-clash, without the pressure of keeping up a dance floor. "The Finger is more of a concentrated Fake," Jenny says. "It's more for people that keep up with all the new music and want to have it all at once. It feels a lot more scene-y than Fake."

Additionally, Jenny and Omar are also revamping Sixxteen into a new party called Hotwired, which will be held at the remodeled Paradise Lounge. "With Hotwired we want to put in the new rock stuff but also the new synth stuff that you can't necessarily dance to, like Tracy and the Plastics or A.R.E. Weapons," Jenny says.

"I think it's terrible when you go somewhere and you don't feel comfortable in your own skin," Omar says. "It sucks when there's no energy being generated between the patrons and the people who are putting on a club. I think that everything we've done is inclusive to everybody. I hope that everybody that goes to [our events] feels like they're experiencing something, that they're a part of something." Fake. Synthpop, new wave, electro, punk, Britpop, hip-hop, and indie. Fridays, 10 p.m.-3 a.m., Cat Club, 1190 Folsom, S.F. $6. (415) 431-3332. The Finger. Synthcore, electro-punk, new wave, and more. Thursdays, 10 p.m.-2 a.m., Arrow, 10 Sixth St., S.F. (415) 255-7920.