San Fran Field Trip: Intimacy, Strangers, and Translocality

So this hardly counts as a full-fledged party review—certainly not like some of the mammoth ones I wrote on LuisInParis—but I just want to point to an interesting experience I had a few weeks ago.

Back around mid-March, I headed off to UC Berkeley for the meeting of the Cultural Studies Association. On the Tuesday before my departure, I posted a status update on my Facebook page, asking, “Who knows what’s up in the Bay Area? I’ll be there this weekend.” By the next Sunday morning, I was stumbling out of a techno/house loft party somewhere in the SoMa district of San Franciso with a cluster of brand new friends.

Shortly after I had posted that status update, a good friend of mine from the Chicago scene, who is a DJ and used to live in the Bay Area, sent a Facebook message to me and all of her techno-loving friends in the Bay Area. By the next day, several of them had replied to the message thread, listing several events going on that weekend. Not all of them were going out that weekend, but everyone gave me their mobile numbers and some offered to hang out during daylight hours.

At the same time, another friend of mine with connections to the Bay Area sent me the name and phone number of a woman who worked for a SanFran DJ booking agency. When I sent her a text message introducing myself and mentioning our mutual friend, she replied with a flurry of messages, listing events both on Thursday and Friday nights.

Back on Facebook, one of the guys from the first group of friends (let’s call him Joe) recommended a loft party Saturday night, telling me that he would be there and offering me a ride back to Berkeley after the party.

All of this happened by Thursday; that is, two days after first posting that Facebook update.

On Saturday, as I was leaving a dinner with some colleagues from the conference, Joe texted me again, confirming my attendance at the party and then sending the password to get into the loft. By midnight, I was at the party and being introduced to a growing number of friends-of-friends and friends-of-friends-of-friends.

I also made new friends through random, glancing contact. While waiting in line for the single-stall washroom, I turned my head sharply and a much taller girl behind me turned her head at an orthogonal angle, resulting in her digging her teeth into my scalp. Yay! It hurt a bit, but we laughed it off and made some jokes about her trying to bite my head. A few minutes later, I would share a bonding moment with the guy who was accompanying her, as we both complained bitterly of all of the people who took so long in the washroom because they were doing drugs in there. As the night wore on, I would see these two again and again on the dancefloor, hearing more about their stories and the complex dynamics of their relationship together.

While on the dancefloor, I also made contact with a blonde girl who was dancing and screaming like a woman possessed. I was really enjoying the music, too, so we exchanged glances and shouts and fist-pumps, and eventually paused to talk: “Don’t you love this set?” “Yes! It’s awesome! This guy’s a great DJ. Is this the headliner?” “Yeah, it’s DJ Branko, from Brazil.” And so on. A few minutes later, Joe would see us dancing near each other on the dancefloor and try to introduce us to each other. “Oh, we’re already friends!” we said breezily, as if hadn’t just met an hour ago.

By 7am, the party was over and the boys that lived in the loft were pushing everyone out the door. In the morning sun, under a highway on-ramp, a small group of us milled about and made plans: some were going home to sleep it off, some were going to an afterparty being held at someone’s house, some were even going to go home and work on a work-related project that needed urgent finishing. Joe couldn’t give me a ride home, but he kept good on his promise and found another friend who was driving in my direction. As I left, he told me about a Sunday night party that he was going to, offering to meet me there and give me another ride back to Berkeley Monday morning (the day of my flight back to Chicago).

So, what strikes me as interesting about this story is how the timeline of “getting to know you” was short-circuited. It’s about how far one can go with second-degree friendship networks and the sense of community that a shared affinity with particular music genres can create. My dissertation project is multi-sited—focused on the techno scenes of Paris, Chicago, and Berlin—and so one of the arguments I make is that urban techno scenes actually form a trans-local music network, which allows individual techno-lovers to circulate between these scenes with relatively little difficulty.

And so my weekend in the Bay Area seems to support my argument. In the space of a few days, I go from knowing nearly nothing about the Bay Area techno scene or anybody in it, to having a list of techno events for every night I’m there and a group of contacts to welcome me. Some of this certainly has to do with the sorts of intimacy-at-a-distance and casual friendships that Facebook and other social media facilitate, but I think there’s something about the way in which genre-specific music scenes resemble each other that allows strangers to be not so “strange,” wherever they travel.

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