Golden Gate Homecoming
(via Alive Coverage)
I saw STS9 in San Francisco at the end of January, and I found myself debating the pros and cons of discography familiarity. I consider myself a casual STS9 fan. I will see them when they come to town, I'll always prioritize them at festivals, but I've never made a trip around one of their events. I have my favorite tracks (Click Lang Echo, EHM, Metameme, Circus, to name a few)--some of which seem to be fairly controversial among the STS9 fan Facebook pages that I'm in--but I can only identify a select few when I see them live. During the show, I found myself wishing I knew their discography more extensively the way that I do with Pretty Lights or Bassnectar.
However, I also find myself missing my more ignorant days, especially when it comes to Bassnectar. Sometimes I wonder whether I've ruined Bassnectar for myself by watching black market livestreams on secret Facebook groups and compulsively checking Reddit for setlists. I've felt underwhelmed during shows because I recognize songs and transitions from shows that I wasn't even at.
As I write this, I realize that sometimes, I'm that Bassnectar fan. The ones that he admonishes from creating and following setlists. As he insists in his Reddit AMAs, he is not a jam band. Nevertheless, the taboo collaboration on setlists is one of the things that fascinates me the most about Bassnectar's fanbase, even if it does make the scene unnecessarily competitive at times.
I'm not as deeply immersed in the jam/jamtronica scene, but from my understanding, bands typically go into the set with a provisional setlist with room for improvisation, and they appear to hand out a hardcopy of the setlist to a lucky fan after the show. On the other hand, the fanbases for electronic acts like Bassnectar and Pretty Lights have taken it upon themselves to create their own. You know a Bassnectar set is good when the setlist is filled with "IDs" (referring to unidentified/potentially unreleased tracks) until the truly dedicated uncover obscure tracks from unknown producers. While some accuse Bassnectar of stealing other producer's tracks, it's clear that his influence has put people like Jade Cicada, Buku, and G Jones (whom I just can't get into no matter how hard I try) on the map.
Before the most recent iteration of Pretty Lights (Pretty Lights Live), his setlists were comparatively simple since, identifying more as a producer rather than a DJ, he almost always exclusively played his discography. However, now that there are so many nameless, unreleased tracks and far more improvisations with his livetronica band, Pretty Lights setlists have evolved to resemble STS9's, where different symbols (like *, %, $) signify elaborations such as a tease, a jam or flip (as Pretty Lights refers to them), or some kind of solo. This allows for fans to compare jams of the same song from different shows. I think this is truly an example of symbiosis within this scene since Pretty Lights was directly influenced by STS9 (and even remixed one of their earlier tracks) and used to open for them and play their after parties.
It's been fascinating to watch Pretty Lights and Bassnectar fans take it upon themselves to name their unreleased tracks, and then for that name to be universally adopted by the fanbase. It's often a bit easier to name Pretty Lights songs from the lyrics he uses as samples like "Don't Take My Sunshine" or "Don't Be Surprised" (yes this video is nearly 18 minutes long, but there is nothing like hearing the debut of a new track live to open the set, especially after a comparatively disappointing tour opener the night before).
There's one unreleased Bassnectar track that debuted in Atlantic City that fans collectively refer to as "Wet Wobbly." His shows in Atlantic City were among the best and most immersive productions I've ever seen.
House and techno music, on the other hand, is a completely different experience for me. I am truly ignorant and cannot even identify their respective sub genres for the life of me, and I have random anxiety attacks about holding a conversation with a techno savant. There are certain types I love--like tribal house/Playa Tech and anything that Mark Farina plays--and certain styles that I just can't get into. At Lightning in a Bottle last year, I had a small epiphany that house music is kind of like marijuana: every strain will get you high, but each has a different effect, and as your taste matures over time, you realize that you like some more than others, but are often too high to remember to identify the strain name for future reference. At least that's how it is for me in my experience of both marijuana and house music.
I think part of me likes recognizing songs because it makes the set feel more like a narrative, but I ultimately think that ignorance is bliss because not only is there less room for disappointment, but also because there is more room for those moments of awe that instantly hook you and leave you desperate for more of that same sound. And that is when you begin to fall into the permanent k-hole of chasing songs.
Chasing songs is an entirely new level of immersion. It's special because it means you have a unique emotional relationship with those songs. While there are certain songs that fanbases chase as a collective ("Leprechauns Arise," "Skin on the Drum," "The Kids Will Have Their Say" for Bassnectar; "Waiting For Her" & "Dionysus" for Pretty Lights, though I think Pretty Lights lends itself to a more personal relationship with each song).
I personally don't like falling into the trap of communal hype. I prefer chasing my own songs. For Bassnectar, it's "Nostalgia Worship," "Interpret," "Maximum," "Heads Up/King of the Sound" mashup, his remix of "Alkher Illa Doffor," and his remix of 20Syl's "Kodama" For Pretty Lights, it's "My Other Love" and "Summer's Gone." For STS9 it's "Circus," and for Lotus it's "Uffi."
As I wrote in my post about Pretty Lights' performance at Red Rocks last year, hearing these songs is like achieving music nirvana. I've been lucky these last few years, finally hearing "Look Both Ways" at Red Rocks in addition to "Press Pause > Let the World Hurry By," and "At Last I am Free;" "Future Blind" at The Gorge; and "Almost Familiar" in Telluride to name a few. At Freestyle Sessions this year, it was absolutely euphoric to hear "Underground Communication" and "Bass Down Low."
To return to my original topic, it was really special to see STS9 play "Golden Gate," their tribute to a state they used to (and might still) call home in my new home. It took me quite some time to feel like San Francisco was home for me, and I feel like hearing "Golden Gate" in that moment was a turning point for me.
I've been feeling increasingly like a local these past few months--the family-owned laundromat and family that threads our eyebrows know us by name, and I have my favorite local spots: Strawberry Hill in Golden Gate park, the falafel from Sunrise Deli, and the plantain burrito from Taqueria Los Mayas to name a few. As a city, San Francisco feels like home more than NYC ever did, despite feeling lonely out here in terms of community. I feel like I have more of a relationship with the city rather than the people, where in New York it was the opposite, if that makes any sense.
I even went to the first night of STS9 by myself--something I've been working up the courage to do for a while, but was quickly discouraged the subsequent weekend when my girl friend and I were incessantly sexually harassed at Public Works (but this deserves a separate post). I had a rough week after having a new breakthrough in somatic therapy, so I took a smidge of MDMA. It's hard to say why music is such a healing space, but I think electronic music in particular offers a unique platform for healing. Even if it's not an official sound healing where certain frequencies are required, I think there is something that gets channeled. The lack of words allows me to create my own associations with certain feelings and come to my own conclusions without the didactic guidance of lyrics.
I think jam bands in particular give places a homey feel, but it's hard to pinpoint why. Given the Grateful Dead's omnipresent influence in the scene, it's no wonder that these shows have family vibes. It almost feels like I mark my territory with music. I've spoken about how in New York I have this massive network of friends that I would run into at every show I went to. I don't have that community in San Francisco yet, so I think hearing my favorite artists pay tribute to this city--whether it was Bassnectar playing "FSOSF" (Future Sound of San Francisco) or STS9 playing "Golden Gate"--helps make his city feel like home.