A completely biased interview with Marke B. on things we talk about all the time

The first thing I ever heard SF Bay Guardian nightlife writer and managing editor Marke B. say was “Hi! How are you?” followed shortly after with “I'm so hungover,” which was only surprising because I was interviewing to be his intern. Game-changing experience.

Three years later, I don't bat an eye at such candor, and I'm fine with conversations that veer not just from the up-to-the-second Internet meme, literary world bombshell, esoteric menu item, or yes, party. Marke's brain is about as segmented as an orange, and if you dig rapid-fire synapse activity, you'll be into him and his ranting, mystical Superego nightlife column. He's really overwhelmingly awesome. Plus, he co-wrote an advice book for queer teens. SWOON

Marke's been writing missives from the Bay Area's wild side for 15 years, which means that he can spot the realdeal nextthings against the fakey, dress-coded, overly-flyered in a squint-eye. He knows what you want to do this weekend on Monday and you don't find out 'til Wednesday. Fucking annoying. But no one said it was easy being friends with tastemakers.

He was a bitch to pin down for our Nark interview. Luckily, Tuesday late nights we're trapped in the office posting the Guardian to the web in our adjacent cubicles. After endless stand-ups, I had Mr. B. pinned, kind of. He still made me interview him through a cubicle wall.

(After he finishes his story...)

... three days isn't really that long when you're on meth. Do you want to just make this an email interview?

No. We're doing this now.

Ugh. Okay, well are you going to ask me what mix I'm listening to right now?


Oh um the mix is SIS – it's the Fabric promo mix from April 2012. It's my current obsession. But the best mix so far of 2012, in my book is John Talabot. It's the FACT Magazine mix. I like that one because combines the psychedelic energy that is infusing a lot of dance music with the ecstatic energy that's also really big. It's the perfect candy flip mix! It's also slightly Gothic, which is nice.

That's great. So what's happening in San Francisco nightlife these days?

Do you really care? Absolutely nothing is happening in nightlife. Is that what this interview is about?

Marke yes, it's for Nark.

Oh, haha okay. Right now we are reeling from the loss of three major clubs: Blowup, our biggest original electro kind of hardcore electro French touch glamour club, our first minimal techno club that also insisted that all its guests play live, Kontrol, and – they call it hipster house now but it was really an eclectic DFA house dance music club called Donuts, that also served donuts.

Why is it significant that those parties are ending?

I think they were all parties that really defined and came to represent certain strains of nightlife that emerged in the last seven years. But they also worked hard to adapt and go beyond the boundaries of what people wanted. Blowup went from hardcore electro fist-pumping American Apparel novelty to super-glamourous artistic underground sophistication. Kontrol started as "Windex music" -- radically simply minimal techno to wash out all the baroque clutter of the early '00s -- but transmogrified into a live techno showcase for many of the DJs who established themselves on the quality-but-gonzo party circuit that the Internet built. And Donuts went from LCD Soundsystem-type disco-rock celebration to a great mix of slightly experimental live electronic music and what's now being called -- horribly -- "hipster house," of the 100% Silk label and Miracles Club variety. The problem for us was the people throwing these great parties ended up adapting themselves right out of wanting to throw regular parties anymore when they have so much other cool stuff going on. They're all coming to good ends and will reappear in different forms I'm sure. But they will be missed.

Cool. What else?

We have a number of the best parties in the country, if not the world, going right now, I'd say. The Oakland resurgence of deep, black-rooted spiritual house with clubs like Taboo, Brothers and Sisters, and Blessed is amazing. Honey Soundsystem proved that gays wanted to hear sophisticated, historical, and challenging electronic sounds outside of the Britneyplex. Afrolicious is Afro-latin funk and world soul on a global scale without any poser attitude. Some Thing pairs an aggressively vaudevillian drag with a beyond deadpan attitude. Hard French is the astonishingly successful mix of classic soul and Motown 45s and neon-alien queer kids.

We also have an onslaught of fresh new clubs that are still finding themselves but are offering a wonderful time while they're doing it. Dial Up is working hard to exceed expectations with live electronic music for gays. A lot of the parties brought to us by the Stay Gold and Hella Gay network of young queer kids who can embrace pop sounds unironically but don't make pop an easy end in itself. Let's see, what else is fresh. Darker witch-crunk, slay-rap, rape-gaze stuff from 120 Minutes is just right. I think a lot of the moombahton, jook, and global bass, although thats becoming an established thing, people are bringing a lot of energy to it. The INTL, Footwerks, Spilt Milk. Anything with hot straight boys dancing their asses off works for me. There's still a lot of more established clubs around that, rather than taking a regular time slot and venue, are exploring interesting venues. The As You Like It techno is really wonderful, No Way Back is more underground house with a little bit of disco feel. Lights Down Low is roving and energetic, very eclectic. Icy Hot is also very eclectic – those two take eclecticism as a virtue, and it usually works. Not all the time, but some times brilliantly. In the fresh new clubs I'd put … what's Marco's new club... Future Perfect. That's kind of edgy, eclectic.

How'd you become a nightlife writer? That's a pretty good job.

Because I went out a lot and suddenly the Internet wanted to pay me to tell them what I thought about it.

Yes. How was nightlife writing different when you got your start?

Oh, there were wonderful nightlife writers I looked up to growing up in the '80s -- Stephen Saban at Details, Michael Musto at Village Voice, Andy Warhol's diaries, the club writing in i-D Magazine and The Face were my religion as a teen. But it was still more of the crazy adventure, bold face names, gossipy kind of thing, although not always. There was also some serious reporting about what was happening in nightlife: police crackdowns, permit revoking, etc. But no one approached it like they approached, say, visual art or experimental music, with a critical background and a more creative writing style. No one was really taking nightlife seriously as an art form, until Simon Reynolds and the critical theorists of the '90s, who were inspired by Roland Barthes. I like to think that's something that I was a part of, but that I also mixed in the other things like gossip, slang, historical research, cultural respect, and pop culture references to make it fun. I'm also a poetry freak so I like to code things into my writing that I think work as broader metaphors for the times we're living in. I like to play characters in my writing. I'm always trying to change things up, trying to capture out unmoored, virtual identity mask-making moment, except not boringly.

I also want to give it up here for my predecessors on the SF nightlife scene -- Herb Caen, Sweet Lips, Creighton Churchill, Amanda Nowinski, Johnny Ray Huston, Vivian Host. They paved my way, too, as well as the brilliant music writer Philip Sherburne.

You're the original club kid, right?

That would be Madame Pompadour. I started going out when I was 15 and fell in love with nightlife. I worked the juice bar at the first techno club, Music Institute, in the '80s, threw some of the first raves in the US to earn my way through college, hung out in New York during the height of the club kid phase, in Chicago during the birth of house, and in London during the second Summer of Love, when acid house and rave got big. I've loved everything from being a door boy to acting like power-player behind the scenes high off my tits on E.

Now, I need to go dancing to stay sane, and I often still go out 3-5 nights a week even though I'm 175 years old and look like Yoda in skater shoes with slightly sideways hair (also it's getting so expensive to go out as nightlife gets more mainstreamed, which is a big theme of mine lately). I hope that through my writing I'm helping others like me realize that it's ok to be a non-normative, un-gendered freak and love to go out and dress up -- and also to be well-read and sensitive. Or just hit the club in your casual sneaks and let the music move you. That all those things are wonderful and not mutually exclusive, and can open whole new worlds of life opportunity and human poetry. The dance floor is a spaceship.

How did the Internet affect nightlife?

Everybody dances like the Sims. Really, look around sometime. But beyond that I think the changes in nightlife brought on by the Internet have paralleled -- and in some senses been balanced by -- the broader acceptance of nightlife into mainstream culture. When the Web first happened everybody freaked out that no one would have to go out anymore because they could just order sex from a menu of humans, or instant chat until they died. I guess that meant more drinking at home? And it's true that for about a five-year period, a lot of bars began closing, and parties stopped being such interesting things -- even the ones with virtual reality.

But then it all came roaring back, once social networking evolved past the novelty stage. Suddenly a lot more people found out about parties. Nightlife was easier to market. Clubs are packed, we can't get enough of real-time social interactions in a dance space. You can more fully describe the look, feel, and sound of your events -- which led to a lot of micro-niching at first (and also a whole lot of 'Don't Stop Believin' singalongs for some reason, probably the rise of retro that accompanied being able to look up your old eighth grade classmates) but now we're emerging from that, and seeing some incredibly unique types of parties being born that take advantage of Internet possibilities.

And of course we here in SF have also benefited from the backlash against technology, in the form of Bus Station John's absolutely brilliant cellphone and handheld-device-free retro bathhouse disco and funk nights, that transport us to the past in a very real and emotional way. In the end, I believe his clubs will be what's most remembered about SF nightlife during the past decade. And I don't stop believing that.

What do you think your role is in SF nightlife?

I think I'm kind of part jester, part funny uncle, part serious critic. I guess? I get to be like, lots of things. Right now we're going through another gentrification period where lots of people are moving to SF, some for money and some for the dream of San Francisco and some for both. But everyone is looking for a place to go out, that's how you acclimate yourself to a new place and meet friends outside of your new job. Also, how you get laid of course. I hope the people that find me and read me are either freaked out, and thats fine because maybe they don't need to go out to the parties I'm writing about, or they are exhilarated because they didn't have guides like these in the place they came from. Right now I feel a lot of pressure because we have thousands of people a month moving here, and I want to preserve the scrappy, mindblowingly progressive nature of our nightlife legacy while also evangelizing it to newbies who need their socks rocked.

Luckily there are some really great other nightlife writers on the scene now -- Julia Chan, Paloma Ortiz, Derek Opperman, Tamara Palmer, Ryan Prendeville, even Caitlin Donohue -- and we all have slightly different perspectives that balance each other out and offer quality recommendations and criticisms of nightlife that don't shut anyone out, but do make sure they're educated about our local flavor.

Thanks for the shout-out. Break it down for the young pups – what's the I-just-started-going-out etiquette?

Here's my ancient philosopher's advice: Despite nightlife being an open space for freaks, there is a particular etiquette that it's good to follow and play with. Yes, indeed, you are going to change the world -- but you don't need to change it all at once. If you walk into the club with an attitude beyond mere wholehearted fabulousness you're going to end up on an island with all your bridges burned.

Clubs have a long and beautiful history, and you can learn from that history. Good parties now take for granted that they are part of an ongoing narrative and they respect the history of that narrative and the people who helped build it. Those who don't learn to respect that history rarely move forward.

This goes the other way as well -- more experienced people on the scene need to be careful not to close themselves off from the energy of young people, no matter how strange it seems to them. That's what will grow nightlife's message and pass it down to further generations. The "back in the day" vs. the "we're glad we're not like you" thing is tired.

Basically: no one is all that, but together we're everything.

Caitlin Donohue is the culture editor of the San Francisco Bay Guardian. She was stoked for the chance to make her boss feel nervous


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