We Got HARD With the Chemical Brothers and Claude VonStroke in a Fetish Porn Factory

HARD debuted in San Francisco with some help from the Chemical Brothers' cosmic laser orgy.

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Aug 5 2015, 8:48pm

Kristina Bakrevski

All photos by Kristina Bakrevski

From fisting to watersports, a lot goes on within the castle-like brick walls of The Armory, a venue that once housed the National Guard's munitions deposits, and is now where the infamous S&M adult films of Kink.com and its affiliated properties (Hogtied, MenInPain...) get made. But on an evening late last week, I walked up to the corner of Mission and 14th Street expecting a different form of entertainment. Instead of spanking and leather, I was here for HARD's debut in San Francisco, with the Chemical Brothers doing their only show in the area to support their new album, Born in the Echoes.

With the imposing Armory towering above me, a passerby shouted "6! 6! 6! The Devil is coming!" while I rounded the entry point to the party. The arching central area of the structure had a pristine hardwood floor that felt empty when I walked in to find J. Phlip on the decks. There wasn't a hint that this place housed a production facility for fetish porn at all. In fact, it felt a little sterile.

Only when I walked to the bathroom did I see a shred of The Armory's daytime character: a path into the facility's ventricles, where I was sure my favorite dominatrix Bobbi Starr was waiting around the corner. Alas, a single security guard was watching over the entrance, dashing my hopes of combining whips and chains with glowsticks.

Claude Vonstroke filled in for Brodinski at the last minute, after the Bromance boss got stuck in Europe with visa issues according to his Twitter. Maybe the Frenchman's delicate sensibilities balked at playing atop decks usually covered in forthy santorum. No matter. One guy you know is into kinky shit is CVS. This is Dirtybird country, and Vonstroke was dropping those nasty, bouncy, locally-sourced breaks.

The crowd was equal parts tech-bros with their Façonnable shirts still tucked into their slacks and their sweatier cousins—shirtless bros—ready to hi-five and casually shuffle while trying to make rectal prolapse-themed puns about the music. A dude in a banana suit, possibly an extra from the prior day's shooting, seemed to be following me everywhere I went.

As Claude VonStroke was finishing up, I couldn't help but think how the stage's backdrop-less setup was a missed opportunity to expose the venue's alternative culture. There were no raunchy Benny Benassi videos projected on the screen—nothing to indicate this was a HARD event at all. Just when I was about to lose hope, the Chemical Brothers came on.

Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons appeared onstage surrounded by an intimidating control station and a cone of lasers lighting up their perimeter. It didn't take long for the drab setup of the night to be transformed into a cosmic laser orgy. A neon-banded running man graced the large screen as the deep breakbeat from "Hey Boy Hey Girl" off of 1999's Surrender wound the crowd the fuck up. Finally!

Demons morphed into kabuki dancers in the visual display as the Brothers dropped cuts from their fantastic new LP. One of the album's standout singles, "Go" featuring Q-Tip, was pitched down, and raygun effects filled the airplane hangar-shaped room. A nasty remix of 1997's "Setting Sun" was set to a hard post-apocalyptic tech break. This was the track that jumped me into the big beat world of the Chemical Brothers—the song that put them on the radio and paved an entryway into the mainstream for other acts like The Crystal Method and Fatboy Slim. Nearly 20 years later, the crowd was still just as ravenous for the group's tactical display of hard breaks and thundering drums.

Twin robots with laser beam eyes and an electric spinning cylinder heartbeat came out of nowhere to flank either side of the stage as the night reached its sparkling conclusion with a mix of "Galvanize" into the twangy bass of "Block Rockin' Beats." The former is the finest example of how the Chemical Brothers harnessed a generational hip-hop voice into electronic productions, and the crowd, sweating through their shirts, danced harder than they had all night in approval.

By the time the group came in for their encore number, the mood in the The Armory had been transformed into pure elation as the spacey dots and loops of "The Private Psychedelic Reel" fell into a "Sympathy for the Devil" breakdown. I walked out feeling soul-cleansed—probably a first for anyone exiting the lair of Kink.com.

The Chemical Brothers' Setlist

1.Tomorrow Never Knows (Junior Parker song)
2.Hey Boy Hey Girl
3.EML Ritual
4.Do It Again (With acapella of 'Get Yourself High')
5.Go ('Edge of Control' version)
6.Swoon
7.Star Guitar
8.Sometimes I Feel So Deserted / Chemical Beats
9. Acid Children / Setting Sun
10. Setting Sun / Out of Control / It Doesn't Matter
11. Saturate
12. Elektrobank
13. I'll See You There
14. Believe
15. The Sunshine Underground
16. Escape Velocity (Contains snippet of "The Golden Path")
17. Don't Think
18. Under the Influence
19. Galvanize (Contains snippet of "Music: Response")
20. Block Rockin' Beats

Encore:
21.The Private Psychedelic Reel (With "Sympathy for the Devil" breakdown)

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