Houghton: San Francisco – A Microcosm with Solar & Josh Cheon
San Francisco has always boasted an intriguing relationship with party culture and music, whilst open minded, it has to a degree, lacked a defining moment in time in which it can take ownership of a particular niche or sound. However, in some ways this is exactly what San Francisco is; a melting pot of sprawling culture and identity pieced together by a free party movement which sprung to life during the 80s and 90s. It is not one thing, one sound but a jigsaw puzzle built of abstract shapes and souls who came together to experiment and dance.
Josh Cheon is the founder of San Francisco based record label Dark Entries, an imprint which has been responsible for resurfacing definitive music from across the underground and beyond. From abstract Krautrock through to New York disco, Josh has been a pivotal figure amidst vinyl culture across the past decade having released music by the likes of Patrick Cowley, Severed Heads, Lena Platonos, Psychic TV and more. He has also offered a platform to emerging talent across the spectrum of electronic music having been crucial in the careers of Bezier, Helena Hauff, Bill Converse and more. Whilst not originally from the city, he was drawn to the Bay Area by a meandering musical lineage which allows us to piece together a conjunction of ‘DIY’ in the purest form and hence the underground.
Various Artists – Subterranean Modern
‘Subterranean Modern’ was Ralph Records’ idea to showcase the underground “subterranean” sounds of San Francisco in 1979. The label asked four bands: The Residents, Chrome, Tuxedomoon, and MX-80 Sound to submit contributions on the theme of “San Francisco”. Each was required to include a version of Tony Bennett’s “I Left My Heart In San Francisco”. Music from the crusty edge of avant-pop strangeness.
Wilma – Pornography Lies
Wilma was a group of pissed-off lesbian separatists led by Karren “K.D.” Davis, Louise Deidrich and Yvette Dasaltewerk. They released their debut single in 1981 on Subterranean Records. Each of the songs on the record sounds different. They definitely took some in influence from Crass, but have their own sound and motivation. Sadly they were constantly harassed because of their sexuality and broke up a few years before their album was released in 1985.
Pre Fix – Underneathica / Ectomorphine
PreFix was the duo of Johnny Glenn and David Herbert, originally from Arizona, who released their debut 7” single on Subterranean Records in 1981. Both songs draw the listener into a demented web of mutant primal rhythms, layer upon layer with the mad-genius production of Tom Tadlock, also of Tuxedomoon and Pink Section production. Very interesting in hearing three instruments (guitar, bass and drums) appear so full and complex, while at the same time remaining minimalist.
Pauline Anna Strom – Trans-Millenia Consort
Absolutely superb, alien, time-altering, mysterious synth miasmas from blind composer and keyboardist. She claims to be a musical consort to time and the living incarnation of an all-embracing entity of music. Celestial and harmonious, her music invites the listener to travel into the profound realm of their psyche. A call to transcend the concepts and standards of this existence. Pauline currently is a Reiki master, spiritual counsellor and healer living in San Francisco. She shares her apartment with Little Solstice – her beloved Cyclura iguana.
CYRNAI – To Subtle Drive 1988/1990
CYRNAI is the moniker of Carolyn Fok, an Asian-American female solo artist from the Bay Area. She played in several bands including Treason, A State Of Mind, Trial and Rhythm & Noise and released three solo albums between 1985-1987. Her fourth album, ‘To Subtle-Drive’, was self-released in 1988 as eight untitled songs spread across a 30 minute cassette. Then in 1989 Carolyn discovered the first Digidesign digital recording software and changed the project to have more ethnic sounds and samples stemming from tapes collected during a trip to Egypt. In 1990 ‘To Subtle-Drive’ was re-released with two songs from the 1988 release and four new compositions. “Old-soul beat tracks on cassette with time and techno-guillotine songs.”
Erase Errata – Other Animals
Before I moved to SF in 2006 I was obsessed with all the underground no wave/synthpop music being produced there by bands like Erase Errata, The Vanishing, Veronica Lipgloss And The Evil Eyes, XBXRX, Gravy Train!!!! And too many more to list. But this debut album from the all girl quartet drew me in like no other. Erase Errata formed in San Francisco in 1999 and consisted of Jenny Hoysten (vocals, trumpet) Ellie Erickson (bass), Bianca Sparta (drums), and Sara Jaffe (guitar). The band has claimed that many of their songs are made up on the spot full of staccato rhythms, syncopated beats and perfect punk rock vocals.
Bezier – ‘Parler Musique’
Debut album from Taiwanese-American musician Robert Yang who is also part of the Honey Soundsystem crew. A multi-instrumentalist, Robert grew up in Southern California then planted his roots in San Francisco in 2005. The album title is a French transliteration on the phrase “Parlor Music” and is evening music for a meeting of minds in a drawing room or a literary salon. Different genres are criss-crossed: punk, synthpop, jungle, new romantic, industrial and new wave. Airy melodies, surging arpeggios and symphonic breakdowns counterpoint cold digital drum sounds to convey beauty within inescapable and impending daily processes.
Solar Langevin is a definitive figure in the evolution of electronic music culture in San Francisco, as a co-founder of Sunset Sound System he has been prolific in the expansion of the wider creative community and helped establish a party movement which has transcended far beyond the realm of the Bay Area. Sunset Sound System has been in operation for 25 years, a once infamous free party has grown into a monster and remains integral.
From a musical perspective, Solar remains unrivalled as a selector, channelling elements of punk, new wave, acid house and beyond into wild and wandering sets which truly represent the DIY aesthetic of both his parties and his taste. His humble history amidst the underground culture of San Francisco offers an insight into the evolution of a community and it's sound.
Chrome – Half Machine Lip Moves
The third LP from San Francisco’s experimental, acid rock out, Chrome. This whole album sounds like some crazy mixtape! They were true pioneers in the early post-punk, art rock scene and are considered to be forerunners of the 1980s industrial music boom. Massively influential on many of the San Francisco DIY scenes to follow. This album and the previous records were all put out on Chrome’s own label, Siren records, and all artwork was done by frontman Damon Edge.
Rhythm & Noise – Contents Under Notice
Rhythm & Noise’s Naut Humon has been a huge part of the experimental electronic and audio visual scene of the Bay Area for the last five decades. He was the founder of Recombinant Media Labs (“RML”) and now runs the Recombinant Festival here in San Francisco. He ran the now defunct Compound with 360 degree surround sound that hosted many all night dance and experimental events.
Space Time Continuum – Fluorescence E.P.
Jonah Sharpe and his Spacetime Continuum project was one of the first people providing the soundtrack to the chill out rooms during the early 90s illegal rave days in SF. His label, Reflective, was a perfect mirror of the music you would hear in the chill rooms and beyond. The label always stood out with their crazy holographic centre labels. In the background of the track “Transmitter” you can hear quite a few people from the scene from back then leaving voice messages on an old answering-machine.
Kit Clayton – Unreliable Networks
In the mid-late 90’s there were a bunch of new producers and dj’s pushing out of the house sounds at that time with a more minimal or “micro” experimental techno sound. Artists like Kit Klayton, Sue Costabile, Sutekh, Twerk, Velocette, Safety Scissors, Jasper and John Tejada out of LA were throwing parties, running their own labels (Ortlorng Muzork, Context Organized Noise, Parallel Recordings, Cytrax/Delay, etc.) and creating music software or mastering as a hobby or full-time jobs. They were kind of the first crew entering into the diy art galleries and performing live at these kind of events.
Dubtribe – Mother Earth
Hands in the air San Francisco rave anthem by Dubtribe. One of the first acts out of the Bay Area rave scene to hit the road constantly promoting their live communal sound. This ep was a call to arms to save Mother Earth and claim “our planet back” from the factories and corporations hell bent on leaving her to rot.
Single Cell Orchestra – The Liberated E.P.
An early SF rave classic by Single Cell Orchestra. Three tracks for the warehouse and two tracks for the chill out room. Perfect record for the DJs who would play both!
DJ Garth & E.T.I. – Twenty Minutes Of Disco Glory
Wicked were pretty much the leaders in the free-party, DIY sound system days of the early 90s. Their influence was massive and spread quickly through their mixtapes they would sell at the infamous full moon parties and all night acid jams in the basement of 1015 Folsom. This was their first release on the Wicked label, a funky, psychedelic freak out that captured the essence of those hedonistic times perfectly.