Thursday, April 30, 2009


When I lived in San Francisco, I was hugely into drum n’ bass music. I went to as many shows as possible and loved the little house parties where local DJs would spin. One late-night party I went to, probably in 1997, was on Haight Street in a classic two story Victorian railroad car-style apartment. It was a small crowd, the music was cool, and there were random people milling around. Pot smoke was in the air and 40 oz. bottles were scattered on the floor.

One of the things I loved about jungle and DnB was that the scene was really inclusive because there really was no “scene” in the US up to that point. Blacks, whites, Asians and Mexicans all crowded into these small dark spaces and tapped into the intense energy pumping through the speakers. It was a form of dance music that captured the best of punk, rap, reggae and house music and twisted it into crazy, pulse-pounding, soulful assault. The only comparison I could make to surfing was that over the course of a DJ’s set, this seamless blend of bass-heavy rhythms would force you to be in the moment— completely unaware of anything else.

So anyway, I was at this party on Haight for a few hours and the music was blaring and the lights were down. I decided to call it a night and headed downstairs with my friends. On the way down, I passed a guy in a crooked baseball cap and oversized hoodie. As he squeezed by I heard him say, “Fuckin’ mod.”

I looked back, half expecting to see the cast of Quadrophenia behind me, but then I realized from his glare that his comment was directed at me. I definitely didn’t consider myself “mod,” (whatever that meant) but I wasn’t dressed like him either. I believe I was wearing a pea coat. I walked out the door into the foggy SF night wondering where the hate was coming from.

Soon after, I started to notice a shift in drum n’ bass music. What was once a friendly ragga-influenced “jungle” sound morphed into the more aggressive, twisted, mechanical “darkstep” sound. The little clubs that were once filled with eccentric kids, ethnic girls and Brit transplants all freaking out were supplanted by scenes where dudes would park on the dancefoor with their hoods up and bob their heads in time with the rapidfire beats. In the early ‘90s, Brit MCs would call these dudes “bloodclots.” The last DnB party I went to—at a club in East Hollywood probably around 2001—came to a screeching halt when there was a shooting in front. The bloodcots had taken over.

I still listen to jungle and drum n’ bass from the time that I consider the “golden age.” I was thumbing through an old sketchbook from the late-90s and found the doodle above , with a hand made flyer some kid gave me on the lower Haight.

One and Only - Various Artists

The Lighter - DJ SS

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Present: Different Stokes for Different Folks

As promised, here's my quick review of The Present: I really enjoyed it. Done.

Just kidding, but please pass the Kool-Aide. I'm a sucker for surf movies that try to accomplish something a little different than what's expected these days, so when Thomas Campbell's voiceover started at the beginning of the film, I immediately got a buzz (and it wasn't from the tall boy I was nursing). It has to be kind of tough to follow-up a film that defined an era of surfing (quadfish, please), but by integrating some of the elements that existed in Sprout and moving forward with profiles on Dane Reynolds and some of the tube-loving ladies in the beginning, it stood apart from the first two flicks in the trilogy.

I didn't really mind the alaia-fest that went down 3/4 of the way in. It's pretty amazing to see how those boards tap into different parts of the wave and glide so simply and smoothly along. It also illustrates how, under the right surfer's feet, almost any board can look effortless, which I'm sure is not the case. But it also makes you wonder about the influence a well-made surf film can have on the surfing masses. Potato chips, fish, hulls, wooden planks. They all look pretty damn fun on perfect waves with world class athletes maneuvering them. But what board is "perfect" for individual surfers who surf average waves is another subject entirely -- one that would make a great movie in itself.

On that note, I actually related most to Michel Junod's sequences in the film. His humility and inability to ham it up for the camera was refreshing and it actually looked like he was riding the right board for his skills/age and the waves in Africa. That single fin looked really fun, especially on this bomb he caught that went forever. I didn't mind that he wasn't throwing buckets off the back. It kind of reminded me of that scene with Dora surfing J-Bay in Litmus or Gerry Lopez in Chile in Brokedown Melody. Great wave knowledge is a radical skill in itself.

A couple things I think could have been better: The voiceovers were a little awkward and hard to understand throughout the picture and I wonder if that had more to do with the crappy sound at the Clinton Street theater than the mix. We'll see when the DVD comes out. I also would have liked to have seen more art, not just by surfy artists like Geoff McFeteridge and Barry McGee, but by Thomas himself or whoever was art directing. Sprout had this amazing aesthetic that reminded me of old jazz album covers in the title sequence (and introducing each section) that I really thought was brilliant. Something like that would have been nice to tie things together artfully. I liked a lot of the music in the film, especially the Mattson 2 who played before the screening, but there weren't as many goosebump-inducing moments musically in The Present. There was even one scene where the guitar wailing was so dissonant that it clashed with the kind of surfing on the screen and I wanted it to stop. But that may have had something to do with the venue as well.

All and all, this was a great surf movie though. The crowd seemed to really enjoy it too. A lot of people were lukewarm on this film and that's cool. Different stokes for different folks. I went into it knowing what I was in for. Not Fellini. Not Scorcese. Not even Jonze or Kaufman. Just a fun surf movie by Thomas Campbell.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

I'd Prefer Bamboo Under My Fingernails...

I had to skip the annual trip to Mexico with my faithful band of surf-banditos and you know what that means: regular dispatches from them detailing the roping, reeling lefts they've been scoring for the past week. It probably would be easier if I wasn't part of the original party who researched and reserved that beach house over a year ago. It also wouldn't be so tough, of course, if I'd made it to Brazil or if I'd been scoring perfect spring swell in their absence.

I was, I didn't and I'm not.

But a thought crossed my mind today on the rainy commute from my temporary cubicle gig that made it all a little easier: I had to stay home so that they could score. Murphy's law dictates that if we'd all been there, it would have been dead flat. And if somebody's not starving, the feast is just standard fare, right?

That, and the thought that almost exactly a year ago I was south of the border all by myself, posting pictures for my buddies at home to see...

I guess I deserve it... :)

We Hate It When Our Friends Become Successful - Morrissey

Monday, April 06, 2009

The Ecstasy and the Agony

6.5 feet at 15 seconds
Sunday morning sunshine
Light winds out of the southeast
Multiple spots lighting up along the coast
Good intel telling us that a certain sandbar was finally working again

The sandbar not looking too hot
Choppy drop-ins causing blown waves
Swell growing and getting less predictable
A switch to a longer, heavier board mid-session
Several heavy wipeouts and unsettling hold-downs
A collision with my board underwater leaving a sore calf
Getting caught inside again and again and again and again
The riptide widening to about fifty yards and pulling me out to sea, alone
A 20-minute paddle to reach my lineup spot, where I caught a final bomb... and ate it
Over the course of the morning, the swell jumped, the interval grew, and the tide

Don't leave waves for waves.