Honey Soundsystem—the DJ quartet of Jackie House, Robot Hustle, Jason Kendig, and Josh Cheon—have established themselves on the underground house and techno circuit as the gatekeepers of the sweaty, sleazy heritage of gay San Francisco discotheques. One part post-everything, campy bacchanal, one part musical history lesson, Honey Soundsystem sets are a hot ticket all over the States, from their Generator residency at Smart Bar in Chicago to frequent appearances at A Club Called Rhonda in Los Angeles. But a big part of the Honey mystique has been wrought from their now-legendary dance parties during the yearly Folsom Street Fair in San Francisco, the iconic, 400,000-attendee leather and fetish congregation during which the streets South of Market become a stage for a bizarre, surreal, and outrageous sexual spectacle.
Titled Deviants, their parties have lived up to their name over the past five years, merging the alluring seediness of a bathhouse orgy with a disco friskiness and the haute sensibilities of modern underground dance music. They've been so successful that Honey Soundsystem have graduated to curating their own Deviants stage at the Folsom Street Fair itself in addition to throwing their closing night club party at Mezzanine. Deviants presents a unique moment in party culture, where the cutting edge of underground dance music is re-introduced to the community from whence it sprung all those decades ago, freshening up a longstanding tradition between gay fetish culture and electronic music—just with much better music.
With 2016's edition lubed up and ready to go, good taste behind the decks and bad taste on the dancefloor will reign in equal parts on Sunday, September 25, when Deviants: Adult Arcade slides into Mezzanine for the official closing party of the Folsom Street Fair. We spoke with Jackie House to get the all the juicy stories from their half decade of decadence at Deviants.
THUMP: Tell us about your first time at the Folsom Street Fair.
Jackie House: I was 19 and a virgin. I was in art school at the time. I went down [to Folsom Street Fair] and it blew my mind, obviously. At every gay event or street festival, there's a lot of the same shit—vendors, bad music, tourists, and inappropriate behavior. But Folsom was immediately different. One of the most amazing things I saw was this Amazonian, tall Asian man dressed up as a leather pony master tying up these white boys into geometric rope patterns. The guy's actually famous in the Bay Area as a rope artist. It was like some fetish Battlestar Galactica shit. It was so entrancing, and from a visual-art perspective, I realized that the event transcends people who need to pee in public on other people. This is some kind of next level underground art shit.
Does it elicit that response from most people?
So many people come in from out of town to flag their freakiness. A lot of people are developing their freakiness that week, they're like "Alright, it's Folsom, and maybe I do have something weird in me, sexually, that I want to explore." You see that a lot there. With Pride, or with any other weekend, it's almost overload, hectic, and there's isn't really one rule that calms people down. But what's great about Folsom, everybody knows that weekend is about sex and your weird sex shit. If you're not brave enough to be out for it, you're probably not someone that you want to talk to. It kind of filters people out.
How did you guys get started throwing parties at Folsom?
Our weekly Sunday night party was happening south of Market. The first time we did our Folsom party, we weren't officially part of the event, we were just throwing our own party in the middle of things and it just happened. We could literally pull up the garage doors of the venue we were at, it used to be a leather bar, and thousands of people were right there. We called it The House of Black Leather. That party was so wild. I remember there was a famous DJ—who I will not mention—from New York City, a psychedelic dude, who played the runout of a record for like 20 seconds while he was on acid, at peak time of the party. I had to go up there and help him push the crossfader, but the party just kept raging around us. Two years later, Folsom asked us to do an official Sunday party.
How are you guys changing the conversation on dance music at Folsom?
There's always been dance music at Folsom. They have always had a stage to support local DJs. What we helped lead the way for was a more international conversation for underground house and techno. Like, we've booked Berghain/Panorama DJs, The Black Madonna, and DJ Harvey at Deviants. Those elements were not necessarily yet introduced to Folsom, but now they're booking acts like [Ghostly International, Thrill Jockey duo] ADULT. on the main stage at the Fair.
You must have some interesting stories...
One of the venues we threw a Deviants at remodeled right before Folsom. It had gone from this dingy, just the worst, to this shiny, brand-new bottle service club that all these investors had poured money into. And the first event there was our dirty ass sex party. They didn't really know what they were getting themselves into. On these brand-new, polished stairs, was this puppy boy being humiliated by three giant dudes—there may have been some pee involved. [I remember seeing] one of the people who just started working there trying to figure out how to navigate the scene on front of them. That place is now [popular underground dance nightclub] Audio Discotech.
Is there an intrinsic relationship between sexual deviance and dance music?
A driving, thumping beat is something that will always move the body. And if the body is moving, half of the time it's going to be horny and want to fuck something.
Have you gotten kicked out of a lot of venues?
The best part about SF is that even the worst venues are still run by weirdos. There's a lot of cities where you would get arrested during the party for stuff like this, but in San Francisco, as long as it's a good party, you'll get asked back.
What's your week during Folsom prior to the Deviants party like?
Everyone in San Francisco who produces events—there are a lot of amazing ones—has to take a deep breath because so many people are coming into town to visit. And they're all expecting to get laid, and they all need a place to put their weird outfits. Pretty much, Monday-to-Wednesday, you're preparing your apartment for a tornado. By Wednesday, it really is about going out to the bars, being a patron of venues who make some of the money that keeps them open for the whole year. You get to witness some amazing stuff, like your grandpa and your grandpa's grandpa getting laid, which is kind of insane.
And what's this I hear about a massive, gay sheep?
It's kind of a San Francisco tradition to have Burning Man art cars be the sound stages for festivals, but it's never happened at Folsom because there was never one that was gay enough or down enough before we started. The Deviants Stage that happens at the Fair [in addition to the closing party] has evolved into including this Burning Man art car, maybe the first big, gay sound art car on the Playa. It's called BAAAHS. It stands for Big-Ass Amazingly Awesome Homosexual Sheep. It's a giant sheep of which, to get inside, you climb up the rear of the sheep and slide through it's asshole. The inside is basically gay entrails and the DJ booth is in the tuft in the middle.
I've heard Honey Soundsystem referred to as cultural archivists. How do you see it?
Especially with queerness, there are traditions that could die because people's acceptance of alternative lifestyle are evolving. But what we're about is keeping alive the idea that traditions don't have to die just because humanity evolved. There are ways to re-introduce an analog way of thinking back into what we're doing while honoring the legacies of the people who have brought us here.
What's an example of that philosophy appearing at Deviants?
We're reintroducing a lighting tradition from the 80s that I think might be the only actually gay lighting technique. The Trocadero Transfer was a club that made Hi-NRG music famous in San Francisco. It had a hand-lighting disco ball technique, in which they would light the chandelier disco ball from four different arc lights all night. We're gonna be bringing that concept back and having very handsome gentlemen throughout the night lighting up the chandelier, which should be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for disco heads who didn't live through those days.
Why is disco eternal?
I think disco is eternal because it originated with live instrumentation, and nothing can replace the vibrations of an instrument. The complexities and beauty of those vibrations are eternal.
Jemayel Khawaja (allegedly) looks great in a pair of assless chaps. He's on Twitter.