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Post-Raver Syndrome

[whitespace] Mark Herlihy
Scratching and Spinning: Mark Herlihy, veteran promoter of Future Primitive Soundsession, has brought back a hip-hop beat culture with a totally fresh outlook.

Future Primitive Soundsession, an experimental hip-hop party at the Transmission Theater, is the chilled-out alternative to raves

By Michelle Goldberg

It's been almost 10 years since the rave scene hit the left coast, and most of its original aficionados have outgrown the glittery kiddieland thing. Backpacks, pigtails and pacifiers are cheeky on high-schoolers, but when you're in your 20s, sitting sweaty on a concrete floor with a lollipop in one hand and a two-dollar bottle of water in the other loses some of its subversive teenage luster.

Future Primitive Soundsession, thrown by veteran promoter Mark Herlihy, is a chilled-out oasis for the post-kinderwhore crowd. "Mark has brought back a hip-hop beat culture with a totally fresh outlook," says David Coleman, a lanky techno musician with his own label, Kinetic Grooves. "I was out raving six years ago, and now I find myself coming here instead of to the big raves."

The mellow vibe at the Transmission Theater, where the last few Future Primitive parties have been held, is eons away both from the arcade-style sensory overload of the ecstasy-soaked warehouse parties and from the hip-huggers and high-heels crowd that mills around the rest of the 11th Street strip. Girls in baggy pants, expensive sneakers and faux-fur coats lounge around the balcony, getting high with buzz-cut boys in ski caps. One long-haired woman straddles her bleach-blond boyfriend and writhes on him with astonishing vigor. "I feel like I should be throwing dollar bills at them," sneers a man behind me.

Downstairs, a few kids are break- dancing, and the rest are staring at the pyrotechnics on stage. Two Atlanta DJs, Faust and Craze, work four turntables, one of them showing off by scratching and spinning under his legs, behind his back and with his shirt over his eyes. The only other visuals are a screen where fisheye views of the DJs are cut with old break-dancing videos and scenes from Goodfellas.

Faust and Craze are followed by Radar and Z-Trip. Toward midnight the headliners appear, Cut Chemist with DJ Nu-Mark from Jurassic Five. Coleman emphasizes that none of these pairings are DJ battles. "Mark wanted to get away from the battle concept," he says. "Battling MCs provided a lot of negative energy. This is about collaboration, so now everyone works together."

With his "American Junkies 45" tank top, Herlihy looks about 15. He gets ID'd almost as soon as we sit down in Twenty Tanks, a yuppie brewpub next to the Transmission Theater. He's been throwing parties for nearly 10 years, since he was 17, starting with illegal warehouse break-in parties in the late '80s and the Mr. Rogers raves in the early '90s.

When Herlihy started Future Primitive, he says, "house dominated the club scene, and the only clubs that had a following played deep house or trance rave music. We had our roots in more eclectic beats, and we said, 'Hell, San Francisco is a pretty eclectic city.' We were trying to start an alternative, something grounded in more down-tempo music." Herlihy's partner, Mark Wasserman, interjects, "There's been a lot of publicity around the resurgence of scratching and break-dancing, but for a lot of these people, it never went away."

Herlihy talks about his disappointment with the direction of mainstream hip-hop. "It used to be that a DJ would be respected for being eclectic. But West Coast hip-hop is far away from its roots. As hip-hop came into its own, it became defined by people like Snoop Doggy Dog. We think that's bullshit."

The mix at Future Primitive is nothing if not eclectic. In a matter of minutes, DJs Radar and Z-Trip splice The C+C Music Factory, the Inspector Gadget theme song, The Beastie Boys, Grandmaster Flash, Pink Floyd and Iron Butterfly, laying it all over jacked-up beats and scratches that make the whole melange danceable. "DJs are the essence of postmodern music," Herlihy says. "We live in a postmodern world saturated with too much information. DJing is about making art out of this sea of information. The DJ as musician is only natural in this world we live in."

Though the crowd is dominated by B-boy stoners, there is also an aging punk with long green hair and black leggings, girls in tight skirts and platform heels and other earnest-looking kids adorned in all manner of subcultural paraphernalia. When I ask Herlihy who he thinks makes up his audience, he replies, "Everybody. That's the thing I'm most proud of. People in the indie scene, people in the punk scene. Everyone from hard-core hip-hoppers to old-school punk rockers. That's what San Francisco is all about."

I ask Herlihy to recommend a drink that would go with the night. He thinks for a minute and then says, "Bartenders have a name for the sludge made of all the leftover drinks at the bottom of the well that were poured the night before. That would be our drink. We're many, many styles all rolled into one." I'm not willing to try it, so I ask the doe-eyed, dreadlocked bartender for another recommendation. "A Long Island Iced Tea," he says. "That'll sum up any night, anytime."

Future Primitive Soundsession, Jan 18 at the Transmission Theater. 415/905-8868.

Long Island Iced Tea
equal parts:
Sour Mix

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From the January 1998 issue of the Metropolitan.

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