Going to a club is a rare enough of an event for me that it warrants some writing. Last Friday I went to Public Works in SF to see Max Cooper. Despite feeling already sleepy by the time I got there (past 11, as he wasn’t slated to start until 11:30), I managed to hold on for a couple hours. I had been there once before. I’ve been to many clubs all over Europe and beyond, and most just copy cliched motifs: the gated line, dispassionate bouncers, thick walls and too much bass–this effect permeates to the visitors–the sleekly dressed but apparently unhappy, disinterested women, overly bro-ish guys, sticky floors and feigned conversations, all for the supposed effort of maintaining a “scene.”

I had no such expectations; I came merely to hear some music by a producer (as much as I despise that word) of electronic music I enjoy. I felt happy.
I started talking to the young guy next to me in line, who was nervously checking his phone.
Asking him about his interest in Max Cooper, he admitted he had never heard him before and was there only for a birthday party.
“I think it’s house.”
“I wouldn’t say he’s house,” I retorted, “more like melodic techno with some IDM influences.”
“Yeah, huh, we’ll see,” he said, going back to checking his phone.

Inside: plenty of people, but not too many. The volume was enough that I was glad I brought my earplugs–the degree of bass which interferes with my heartbeat, when I start seeing the sleeves of my shirt vibrating, I find particularly unsettling, causing me to move to the periphery. The first guy playing was very much house, which is what I think Public Works and their sound system is optimally designed towards. I found myself unconsciously dancing, as I hadn’t heard the music before; on the other hand, hearing some of the familiar Max Cooper tunes later on, even as they were more abstract, I felt no such inclination, as I had plenty of internal, psychic movement. Which has led me to the conclusion, as a musician and listener, that I now largely feel the urge to dance perhaps as a way of understanding unfamiliar [rhythmic] music, but if I know the tune, I don’t need to, or feel the urge.

Max came on and people cheered. The weird “4-D” esque visuals appeared, very much what I’d think of as 90s esque IDM-UK videos: geometric shapes, arterial passageways moving with objects, traversing the realms of space. Has any piece of genuine music ever been truly enhanced by these meandering animations? It wasn’t unpleasant, but would the show be less without it? I don’t think so.

The melodic piano in many of Max’s tracks came across poorly in the bass-heavy sound system, sounding somewhat muddled. There were his trademark songs, and I enjoyed them, but they were mostly very familiar, with few changes (that I could discern), which leads me to the larger question: what is the point of a DJ? If you are not improvising your own music, or mixing it in with other tunes, then what are you doing on the stage? I like Max’s work, but this is a general sentiment I have of the nature of most modern DJing (if it can even be called that), even for someone more experimental and innovative like him.
Amidst the waving signals to and fro, that were not exactly conducive to the foot stompers and gyrators, I saw lone people, like myself, sitting or standing, bobbing their heads slowly, eyes open or closed, immersed in the music, and I felt a kinship, a shared sense of beauty. In quieter circumstances, I would have attempted to chat them up..but how can you? How can anyone have a conversation in a place like this? It’s just too loud. So I was content to smile on my own, and wonder about these odd people, and if there was anything that might bind us if we met in other circumstances.
I became sleepier and wanted a reprieve from the thick walls and the sound, especially as the tempo ratcheted up. I went outside to the gated pen which one must stay in (or else you have left the club and NO RE-ENTRY!), like a herd of cattle, looking at the cloudy sky, surrounded by gaggles of smokers and loose talkers. I panned around, but no one stayed alone for long. Packs of young guys drinking together and being introduced to girls, an angsty looking denim girl–smoking, a pair of pink-purple haired girls with pants to match–smoking.
“..Marco is from Barcelona, it’s a sister city of SF..”
“..Yeah, how many times you been to the burn? The 2nd time is when..”
Frivolous conversation for a sober unattached soul. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from traveling it’s how not to linger.
On the bus ride back home, someone had left a bag of opened marshmallows.