San Francisco Raves 1990s Throwback Thursdays

It’s my belief that history is a wheel. “Inconsistency is my very essence” -says the wheel- “Rise up on my spokes if you like, but don’t complain when you are cast back down into the depths. Good times pass away, but then so do the bad. Mutability is our tragedy, but it is also our hope. The worst of times, like the best, are always passing away”.

Boethius, 24 Hour Party People

As the 90’s wore on and the dot-com boom began to sing the siren song to many Bay Area creatives, the underground music scene began to mutate into something much different that what it had been. After a decade of chemicals and unrestrained hedonism, the denizens of the Barbary Coast rave scene were transitioning on to having families and jobs and different lifestyles. For many of us, the last record had spun and the party was over. For others, the party was just beginning, but it was to be something radically different from what the PLUR crowd was doing. The scene was mutating and splintering into other more niche genres.

From 1998 to 2001, Drum and Bass took the Bay Area by storm.  Names like UFO!, Juju, Abstract, Gabe Real, Mikebee, Miss E and countless others were cultivating the scene.  Outlets like Phunkatek CollectiveLa Belle Epoque and Future Breaks FM churned out a uniquely San Francisco flavored D&B.

On a totally different end of the spectrum there was Frequency 8, run by DJs Mars & Mystre. Their Cybertrance parties were epic all-night affairs, with thousands of revelers attending. The duo’s popularity peaked in 2000 with the compilation release Faith In 2000, which included tracks by Art Of Trance, DJ Tandu, ATB as well as original tracks by the duo, including “Electric Blue,” “Save the Rave” and “Eye in the Sky.” Shortly after this release, the duo split and they shut down their Haight Street record store.

The other crowd that was beginning to climb out of the primordial soup that was the San Francisco raves scene of the late 90’s and early aughts was the experimental techno/IDM crowd. Dubbed as “laptop techno” by the music media, this crowd were some of the first artists to do live performances off of laptops. Twerk, Safety Scissors, Sutekh, Kit Clayton, Lesser, Blectum from Blechdom, Matmos and Kid606 all seemed to have more in common with the art school crowd than the rave scene.

It was a mix of minimal, thoughtful, blistering, beautiful and strange music that was laced with healthy doses of irony and punk rock attitude. At many of the shows you’d would see crowds standing, arms folded, watching the artists on stage with their laptops. If you stumbled into one of these parties at the time, you might think you’d mistakenly found your way to a performance art installation, rather than a party. And that’s probably how these artists would have liked it.

As we wrap up our #TBT series on the 90’s rave scene, it’s good to keep in mind that these experiences are all through a very personal lens. I moved to San Francisco in 1998, right out of college, not in small part because I was in awe of what I knew about the SF rave scene and wanted to be a part of it in some small way. From 1998 to 2005, I witnessed some incredible music moments. The Hardkiss Brothers at the Top, The Sunset Parties, Kid606 opening for the Melvins, Wicked, Björk with Matmos on the bay, Naut Humon’s epic sound events at Recombinant Media Labs, Beta Lounge, OST’s blistering set opening for Autechre, and the list goes on and on.

San Francisco is, and continues to be, an incredible place for electronic dance music. What is remembered as so special about the 90’s will be the same thing that is remembered as special about the aughts in when those people tell their stories. We were there. Our fingerprints are on that history. The memories are etched in our minds of a magical and transformative time. As our children grow up, as our friends start to pass on and as we inevitably grow older, there will always be that place in the woods, in a warehouse or in a club that we will continue to reside, as we continue to move toward the infinite beat.

Dedicated to Scott Hardkiss, 1969-2013.


  • Stephanie K

    I arrived in SF in 1999 and soon had the pleasure of connecting with the Jungle scene here. Thanks for bringing back some great memories. It was great to bare witness to such a talented and creative sub-group of individuals.

Fatal error: Uncaught Error: Call to undefined function mysql_close() in /nas/content/live/okayfuture/wp-content/themes/okayempire/footer.php:137 Stack trace: #0 /nas/content/live/okayfuture/wp-includes/template.php(688): require_once() #1 /nas/content/live/okayfuture/wp-includes/template.php(647): load_template('/nas/content/li...', true) #2 /nas/content/live/okayfuture/wp-includes/general-template.php(76): locate_template(Array, true) #3 /nas/content/live/okayfuture/wp-content/themes/okayempire/single.php(121): get_footer() #4 /nas/content/live/okayfuture/wp-includes/template-loader.php(74): include('/nas/content/li...') #5 /nas/content/live/okayfuture/wp-blog-header.php(19): require_once('/nas/content/li...') #6 /nas/content/live/okayfuture/index.php(17): require('/nas/content/li...') #7 {main} thrown in /nas/content/live/okayfuture/wp-content/themes/okayempire/footer.php on line 137