San Francisco is a cradle for diversity, openness and counterculture. So it’s no surprise that the City-by-the-Bay’s nocturnal set dares to push musical boundaries as well.
B-boys laced with soul and finesse bust familiar power moves but to a faster tempo; women in stilettos display footwork reminiscent of a fitter James Brown. Like an orchestra in front of its conductor, each new blend of tunes sends the crowd’s energy to peaks, valleys and eruptions in between. My ears and limbs have never been the same since I was treated to one of San Francisco’s finest—the Wicked Sound System.
A self-proclaimed hip-hop head at the time, it was my first all-nighter at the 1015 Folsom club. As the beats progressed, DJ Garth served a sonic soup of dub, acid rock, funk, electro, house, disco classics and everything in between, setting off an aural journey that stirred the eclectic crowd into a rhythmic frenzy.
DJ Garth co-founded the Wicked crew in 1991 with fellow DJs Jeno, Markie and Thomas. Fresh from United Kingdom’s acid house explosion, he moved to San Francisco “just to see how it went.” With the weather ripe for outdoor festivities and a musical void ready for the filling, they organized underground full-moon parties that instantly gathered a following that was to last six years.
“It was very raw,” said Garth. “We would find a secluded beach, set up a small sound system and play records all night long. Nobody has done that before.”
At its peak, the party topped 3,000 in attendance. The full-moon gatherings, along with events Come Unity, Together and Roots, made this eloquent vinyl maverick instrumental to San Francisco’s early rave movement.
“We threw loads of after-hours,” said Garth. “If we had a basement or a small club, we would quickly shuffle around the chairs, light some candles; put a strobe light on and, voila!”
Garth’s popular mixed tapes and live sets lured beat connoisseurs and massive promoters paving the way to 16 years of worldwide bookings. He made the leap to production in 1996 when he released Twenty Minutes of Disco Glory with E.T.I. to significant success.
“He is definitely an inspiration to me when it comes to DJing as far as selection and technical abilities,” said Jayvi Velasco, an up-and-coming DJ from the Bay Area. “He frequently would take chances during his sets that took the party to another level. He also put out a lot of ground-breaking music that are still relevant today.”
Prior to the release of Twenty Minutes of Disco Glory, the posse launched a whimsical tour in a restored 1947 Greyhound bus that housed a sound rig preaching the Wicked sound to the willing.
The party bus inspired the name for Garth’s own label, Grayhound Recordings, which he founded in 1998. Juggling entrepreneurship, DJ commitments, original production, remixes and compilations became the norm for Garth, while still squeezing in projects such as Om Records’ house classics compilations, San Francisco Sessions Vol. 3 and AIDS benefit CD reBOOT: Notes for the Next Generation.
Grayhound now boasts over 50 releases, all from the left coast’s hottest selectors and bedroom producers including Doc Martin, DJ Rasoul and the rest of the Wicked DJs. August 2006 marks the release of this grassroots outfit’s compilation, Unleash the Hound.
“It’s basically a snapshot of where we’re at in 2006,” said Garth. “Grayhound is predominantly a vinyl label so with this release on CD, we’re giving something tangible to people who don’t play records, obviously a far broader audience.”
Already well-received in Tokyo, Unleash the Hound features production by Nectar, Stranger and Michoacan. As always, it showcases a slew of music at a house tempo.
“Electro, dub, jazz, blues, funk, techno, disco,” said Garth. “Anything goes as long as you keep people dancing.” MTW