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Koncrete Musique

[whitespace] Black Diamond Goldie Locked: A statue-still girl painted entirely in gold performs onstage at Black Diamond, an arty, downbeat club that combines experimental DJs with live bands, classical musicians, film, art and performance.

Matt Ipcar

Black Diamond's baroque bacchanals

By Michelle Goldberg

On the stage at Café Du Nord, a wide-eyed singer is wearing an octopus-shaped headdress and singing like Kate Bush. Behind her, a man in drag twirls between a Yahama synthesizer and a piano with several cocktails balanced on top of it. With his three-quarter-length skirt and slightly bouffant black bob, he looks half like a goth teenager and half like a disheveled, stoned-on-Valium suburban hausfrau. In the corner, a statue-still girl is painted entirely in gold, from her hair to her ornate ball gown to the bouquet of flowers dangling from her frozen fingers.

This is Black Diamond, an arty, downbeat club that combines experimental DJs with live bands, classical musicians, film, art and performance. Started three years ago by English expats Clare Rhodes and Felix the Dog ("With Thatcher there was no hope, no future," says Felix), Black Diamond incorporates elements that others would never dare to put on the same bill--house DJs with punk bands, goth with hip-hop, classically trained flautists and violinists with funky acid jazz. "Music is music is music," says Rhodes. "It literally can all be under the same roof. We bring it all together." She adds, though, that "it's always a little bit of risk. We've put bands on that have cleared the venue." Indeed, a few people in the audience seemed rather annoyed at the evening's act, Sea Creature, especially when singer Cameron Ember started swatting at imaginary birds during one song and writhing torturously during another. Others, though, seemed utterly content to sprawl on the floor on a Wednesday night and let the band entertain them.

Black Diamond does more than bring disparate elements together--otherwise their parties might feel like low-budget lollapaloozas, smorgasbords of underground culture. What unites it all is an understated sophistication and a feeling for electronic music's avant-garde history. A flyer for the recent party at Du Nord called it "an evening inspired by the Bauhaus movement and the Boujois Berliners of the 1920s. ... Think Musique Koncrete Moderne."

Musique Koncrete was electronic music's earliest manifestation in modernist Europe, and Black Diamond is clearly inspired by that time. Throughout the last party, a musical about flappers and showgirls played on one wall. A Black Diamond "burlesque soiree" in February featured the cabaret act Zoopy Funk Theatre's Band of Puppets. And, of course, the Café Du Nord itself is redolent of those elegant, exuberant years.

"During the early, early [modernist] movement, when records were just being made, people were making all kinds of amazing sounds with them. If you can find them, some of them will blow your mind," says Felix. "That was a really exciting time in the world. The world was going through an amazing change, and creative energy and mayhem ran riot. I think that's happening a lot now as well. People are vibing in a very similar way."

He continues, "Right now is a great time in clubs in San Francisco. There are so many things happening of all diverse natures." Felix says that San Francisco is finally getting an international reputation for its night life. "The people in San Francisco are creating that vibe. Not to harsh on New York, but there's a very different attitude here toward visiting performers. San Francisco doesn't respond well to attitude." Adds Claire, "Goldie and all the Ninja Tunes boys are so warmly appreciated here."

Of course, San Francisco's club scene can't flourish without actual clubs, and Felix and Rhodes say they desperately need new venues. The last party they threw, in a warehouse space at Mason and Taylor, was busted by the police. Even that mishap, though, is testament to Black Diamond's appeal--the cops only noticed the party because so many people were waiting outside after the space reached capacity.

The Café Du Nord itself isn't usually a viable venue for DJ parties, since it rarely hosts electronic music. Black Diamond's event was slated for the Du Nord's Down Hear music series, a program usually full of mellow, creative experimentations. But the music that Felix and Darkhorse, Black Diamond's other resident DJ, spin didn't feel out of place in the Du Nord's lush, chilled-out back room. It was deep, rich and narcotic, sweetened by Sara Symphony's trilling flute accompaniment. It was music you could dance to or just sit, sip your cocktail and sink into. "We encourage that," says Felix. "If we had a room full of people with a killer sound system chilling and nodding their heads, I'm so down with that. That's awesome."

For information on upcoming Black Diamond parties, call 415/905-5791.

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From the June 29-July 12, 1998 issue of the Metropolitan.

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