Sea of Dreams: New Years Eve in San Francisco
For New Year’s Eve I headed north to San Francisco for the 10th Annual Sea of Dreams, which in my musical opinion had the best lineup of any NYE party in North America, and possibly the world. I know there are some people seemingly stuck on the rivalry between SF and LA, but I love both cities. Each metropolis has its own unique energy and colorful style, and each underground electronic music community has a distinct flavor. For San Francisco it is the taste of a crunchy rainbow, of a slap-happy trip into psychedelica and I was stoked for a change of pace as well as for the road trip up the 101.
Getting in to Sea of Dreams was a breeze; they had amusement park-type lines separated in stacks for the rush of revelers and plenty of gate employees, a welcome relief for anyone who has ever stood in a party line for an hour or more in the cold. I would like to see all promoters of large events enact this entry system. Bravo.
Once inside I quickly sunk into the heady vibe of the party; rave ON. The San Francisco Concourse Exhibition Center was huge! Soaring ceilings added a cathedral-like atmosphere to the venue and necks craned upward to try and take in the whole of the sacred space.
That’s why I was there- to worship at the altar of dance. Today we create our own temples of the sacred with our people and our energy, and the divine nature of play was on full display this holiday night, elevated to new heights in the tall venue. Stretching wide was plenty of open space to run around and jump in, to go nomad and wander the playground like a gypsy. The coat check line was way too long for me so I shoved my coat down into a flower pot and forgot about it until 5AM.
I was immediately drawn to The Do LaB stage, with a giant bright green and brown tree that snaked its way up the side of the lobby, growing into the ceiling with branches that overhung our bouncing heads and dripped ripe red teardrop-fruit over the dance floor.
Like a Keebler Elf making bass biscuits, the DJ was entrenched in the tree trunk. The dance floor, though not the smallest of the venue, was the most intimate, more organic and set down in a notch. It was like a little wooded knoll, with a staircase in back leading up to the Silent Disco, providing a balcony for looky-loos. In the middle of the dance floor was a big box where girls, and some guys, were dancing and strutting around, a talent they have trained to the teeth in San Francisco. Strut Francisco.
Despite the sound which seemed a little too quiet for a Funktion One, The Do LaB stage was my favorite of the night and where I began and ended my evening, journeying out and then returning to my grotto-home under the leaves. Dee was playing when I first arrived, then soon Ana Sia took over and delivered juicy jams until the midnight countdown. Everyone shook off the old year like a disturbing dream and dove into 2010. Hooray for new beginnings!
In the middle of the giant venue were three more stages: the Lunasea Stage, the Hookahdome and a smaller Circus Stage from which aerialists performed their limber daredevil acts above the crowd, of which I caught a bit of Cirqularious. The Lunasea Stage, the larger of the three, continued after midnight with lineup of the Glitch Mob, Ghostland Observatory and EOTO- not bad!
For the Glitch Mob I was right up front and to the right in a throbbing mess of sweaty, screaming bodies and one would-be bag thief who I punked in the act. The Glitch Mob, maybe not as brassy as in the past, played a hard-hitting set with a nice slice of new tracks and some old favorites as well. Near the end of their set, a thick sheet of wind blew out from the stage, throwing onto the dance floor a million pieces of ticker-tape from the midnight balloon drop and other assorted trash along with a fat slap of cool air. We cheered.
On the next stage over Ozomatli was destroying shit with wild abandon, I moved around a bit but found myself returning to the Glitch Mob stage. All around the venue were lounges and places to chill, stairs to climb and goon out over the dance floor, a Silent Disco up top (which I skipped), shitty $5 pizza (for the empty stomach), $10 mixed drinks (I bought one and promptly dropped it on the dance floor), and hippie-
paraphernalia vendors including my good friend Raja from Seattle who I was very excited to bump into- you probably know him as The Hologram Man, and his art booth is always more of a party than a sales floor. Next to a tea house was one of the ornate temples from Symbiosis Gathering, and bejeweled bodies decked out in velvet and satiny materials hung from the ceiling, twisted and sparkling.
Further decorating the venue besides those glorious stacks of speakers were huge, 30′ tall glowing paper lanterns lit with lasers, undersea motifs like fish and sea floor drudge, and soaring above the center was a mountain made of white strips of material and dusted with visual stimuli. The affect was really neat and encompassing (at one point I swear I was looking at a real mountain) and made you forget that you were in some sterile convention hall completely.
The flow of the party was fantastic- I think a lot of promoters overlook this and their shows resemble fruit basket turnovers with no cohesive fluidity to the performers or the tempos. But Sea of Dreams staggered the stages them beautifully, allowing each area to rest a bit like a fallow field between artists and dispersing the crowd to check out other acts.
After the Glitch Mob, Bassnectar went on at the giant Galaxea Stage in the East Hall, whose dance floor was lorded over by immense taloned rockets poised to drill down into the crowd, changing colors every second with the beats. I headed to the back of the crowd in front of the sound guys for a change of pace from the frontline of the Glitch Mob.
Bassnectar slammed our faces off, as usual. His sets seem to lean a certain direction, depending on whether he is playing outside or inside. His outside sets are more trippy and wandering, and his inside sets are more brutally slamming and, dare I say it- curved to appeal to more mainstream audience members who would probably not trek to a festival, but might buy a ticket to a city show.
I love Bassnectar, for the record. I always enjoy his sets and his is the only music that has ever inspired me to rip my clothes off on the dance floor. However sometimes I think that Bassnectar plays too little Bassnectar, oddly enough. If I wanted to hear “More Human Than Human” I would go back to high school and kill myself. But I did want to hear new tracks from Cozza Frenzy and his Pixies remix which he delivered, and I stood in the back and danced my little heart out. With my clothes on.
On the neighboring stage Ghostland Observatory was playing and I was bouncing back and forth a bit, but then EOTO came on. WOW these two guys get my prize for best act of the night. EOTO was doing amazing things with a drum kit and live electronics on a small raised platform in the front of the room and people were freaking out. There is dancing, and then there is freaking out. EOTO was just JAMMIN, playing a super high energy set, and the crowd was also super high so shit was really working out. They were just grinding the sound out, and I was pulled into the performance and could almost not walk away.
But I did, back over to the East Stage where Random Rab was elegantly dreaming up a new musical story and Andrew Jones was creating his magic electronic art. This one act alone would be enough to call me out for an evening. In the Hookahdome, a smaller and more enclosed stage, more room-like and sweaty and dirty was playing (of course) some juicy dubstep out of Jef Stott.
Making my way back to The Do Lab stage, Lowriderz featuring an-ten-nae and Laura had the crowd popping and Shawna took over the reins from there. We continued to dance until 5AM when we spilled out into the first early-morning air of 2010, taking deep breaths of the next decade, which stretched out before us in unknown paths- which are the best kind, of course.
Thank you Sea of Dreams. Like any large-scale party there was a fair share of pushing in the hot crowds, but the cool open space of the venue calmed things down between stages and provided plenty of room to roam. I heard people comment that they thought the ticket price was well worth the show- a rarity when everyone is so damn broke these days.
Sea of Dreams had soul. I am careful about which massives I go to as many are just artfully designed money-making machines that throw up some lasers and sound, invite a couple thousand people and call it good. And it is good. But to be a great party, the promoters must care about the entire experience and the vibe produced by the artists and the crowd; you can feel it when it’s there. Sea of Dreams had it, and I entered into 2010 with some of the freshest new sounds of the impending decade bouncing in my brain. I have a renewed appreciation for life here on the West Coast as well as for my international electronic music community, and have a feeling that I will be making the short journey between LA and San Francisco far more often in the years to come.