In the fall of 2000, at the tail end of the ’90s vibe and in the midst of the dotcom bubble, Amanda Nowinski asked me if I would contribute to a multi-piece segment about house music in the San Francisco Bay Guardian. We decided that I should write a side bar (and not just because I grew up in Irelandland (That there’s zen-oh-phobical ‘n’ shit), which would detail ten house music classics and another ten classics specifically from the Bay Area. Amanda was the author of the SF Bay Guardian’s weekly “Electric Habitat” column, in which matters pertaining to night life and disco dancing were related informatively and hilariously.
I became aware of her column one day in the summer of 1999 in the back room of Amoeba San Francisco when Chris Matthews, a man-machine, who priced all the used 12 inch vinyl in that hallowed emporium, asked me if I had read, and I quote the great man, “Demanda Knowitallski’s club column in the Guardian?” I admitted that I hadn’t, and he told me that it was hilarious and well worthy of a peruse.
Like Wayne and Garth, I never felt worthy but began to read her column on a weekly basis. And what a treat it was; a preview, a review and a hysterical celebration of San Francisco’s lively night life, when you could go out on a Monday night with a few dollars in your pocket and have as grand a time as you could have on a Saturday. It cataloged the after dark antics of an era when going out used to be a fun exercise and not a social media-driven, conformist onslaught of the cliquish enabling that manifested later in the decade and has, unfortunately, remained with us ever since. The city was cheaper and was often messier than a Sunday morning on the patio of the End Up. We were young and we needed the money.
It was an era when there was a slew of great hip-hop nights in the city. There were also fantastic house music nights that featured club classics from the platinum eras of the Paradise Garage and Ron Hardy’s Music Box. To her credit, Amanda was as comfortable with, and adept at, writing about Mark Herlihy — the small, but beautifully formed, powerhouse of a promoter behind the innovative and forward-looking hip-hop/turntablist hoe down called Future Primitive — as she was chronicling the shenanigans of the drag queens who frequented riotous shindigs at The End Up, such as Dave Peterson and Jose Minero’s fag…I mean flagship nights, “Fag Fridays.”
She was a Bay Area native and wrote from that perspective. Refreshingly, she never indulged in the kind of trainspotting nerdiness that was the constituency of myself and other writers at the classic rave era publications XLR8R and URB. The columns talked about night life in an informative way but, with an incisive, yet goofy, slant that brought Spinal Tap to mind; they were dedicated to those who liked having a good time all the time. In my Humboldt opinion, they are the quintessential, essential — and even existential — San Francisco night life columns and Ms. Knowitallski’s musings are sadly missed as we flounder in a sea of promotional hype.
The house music piece was called “This Old House.” It took up eight pages and featured articles by then-XLR8R editor Tomas Palermo, the man, the maestro like Mike Bee, finessed Bay Area writer Johnny Ray Huston, Amanda herself and yours truly. 2000 was a heady year, at the pinnacle of the first dotcom bubble era. Amanda’s column, which ran from 1999 to 2002, detailed the recreational activities that were sought out by the city’s party inhabitants in that historically important time. Here is my segment of the piece. If only I could archive the whole damned thang and all of Amanda’s important, well-written and chuckle-inducing columns but, she’ll get around to that herself. Please read responsibly.
ALL-TIME HOUSE TRACKS
Jeanette Thomas: “Shake Your Body”
(US Chicago Connection) 1987
This is Chicago house at its rawest. A bumping bassIine is augmented with off-kilter keys and Jeanette’s dislocated vocal. It was produced by Jimi Polo, who went on to produce another classic, “Express Yourself.” Still huge at Body and Soul.
Arnold Jarvis: “Take Some Time Out”
(US Fourth Floor) 1988
This Tommy Musto and Yvonne Turner-produced soulful, garage ditty was huge in the United Kingdom and is a perfect example of how spritual house music can be when done properly.
Black Riot “A Day in the Life”
(US Fourth Floor) 1988
Todd Terry with an old-school rave stormer that Rob Base hijacked for “Get on the Dancefloor.” Insanely catchy and pretty funky too.
MK: “Burning” (The Mkappella)
(US Area 10) 1991
You’ve heard the vocal version a gazillion times, but this dub on the flip of the original is deep house at its deepest. Synthetic flutes and lush keys conspire with water and bird sounds. Absolutely gorgeous.
Davina: “Don’t You Want It”
(US Happy Records) 1992
Mad Mike from Underground Resistance is behind this storming garage number from current R&B chanteuse Davina. Yes, I want it and when you hear it, you’ll want it too.
Dancer: “Am a Dog”
(US Trax Records) 1987
The most fucked-up acid house record ever. Dogs barking, insane drum programming, and a guy telling you that he’s a dog over a galloping acid bass line. Mixed by Frankie Knuckles in a warped mode long before the “Whistle Song.”
Blaze: “lf You Should Need a Friend”
(US Quark) 1987
Very soulful, positive garage with amazing keyboard sounds and a funky groove from the masters of the genre.
Mr. Fingers: “Can You Feel It”
(US Trax) 1986
The most perfect deep house instrumental ever from Larry Heard, the innovator of acid and deep house. Minimal, subtle and emotive. It gets no better or deeper than this.
Joe Smooth: “Promised Land”
(US DJ International) 1987
The record that turned rockers like Paul Weller and Johnny Marr onto house. Hell, Weller even covered it with Style Council. Deep, uplifting house with a gospel inflection.
“Let the Music Use You”
(US Danica) 1987
Frankie Knuckles at the helm of this beautiful vocal cut that celebrates the power of music. Ricky Dillard handles the vocals, the groove is unstoppable and it still rocks today. Chris Orr
BEST OF HOUSE BY THE BAY
Studio X: “Los Kings Del Mambo”
(US N-Fusion) 1992
DJ EFX with an insanely funky, Latin-tinged deep houser with a rousing vocal sample that turned dance floors in the Bay into a sprawling mass of hedonism.
Daisy Glow: “Theme From Daisy Glow/Sunday in the Park”
(US Zoemagick) 1992
Two amazing tracks on this three-track EP from the halcyon days of ’92. Sadly missed San Francisco DJ Mouse and his partner Kelly with a classic platter that shouldn’t be passed up ever.
Blue 6: “Music and Wine”
(US Naked Music) 1999
A recent classic, but classic nonetheless. The United Kingdom’s Attaboy and San Francisco’s own Miguel Migs deliver the smooth, soulful goodies. Lonely, alcoholic, music enthusiasm never sounded so good.
Central Fire: “This Is a Shout Going Out”
(US Twitch) 1993
DJ Spun with a burly, twisted outpouring of psychedelic breaks that rocked discotheques in the Bay and beyond back in the day.
Young American Primitive: “These Waves”
(US Zoemagick) 1992
Amazing lush breakbeat track that was recently championed by Sasha and Diggers. Dreamy, floaty and very funky. The next time you see it used in Amoeba don’t sleep. Where are you now, YAP?
Freaky Chakra “Transcendental Funk Bump”
(US Exist Dance) 1993
A slice of breakbeat propelled trancey funk from the Bay Area producer who has also given us notable tracks like “Halucifuge” and ‘Lowdown Motivator.”
Buck Vs. Laj & Quakerman: “Living Room Chronicles, Vol 1”
Can Leaf Recordings 1997
One of San Francisco’s best and most accomplished DJs (name one other S.F. DJ who held a residency at Manchester’s Hacienda) with an abstract journey into tribal funk. Outta sight.
DJ Garth & E.T.I.: “Twenty Minutes of Disco Glory”
(US Wicked) 1996
San Francisco’s house mainstay with a discoid stormer that gained the attention of DJs like Danny Tenaglia and Sasha and Digweed, and was as easy to find in London’s West End as it was in the Lower Haight.
Rasoul: “The Mad African” EP
(Freshly Squeezed) 1995
“Dance Little Sister” was the cut on this four-track EP. A glorious celebration of the best aspects of S.F. house; funky and psychedelic with a killer break.
Mephisto Odyssey: “The Dream of the Black Dahlia”
(US Meplisto Records) 1993
Otherworldy funk from the East Bay. I hammered this in Ireland years before I decided to come out here. Jazzy with a compulsive, dark edge that worked the dance floor. (Orr)