It was hot and cramped; the air was heavy, muggy and dangerously loud — loud beyond measure. Bodies collided with bodies in the sweltering warehouse. The exhaust fans whirled in front of us, tossing a suffocating cloud of smoke over the crowd. The architecture of the nightclub Ruby Skye gave the feeling of a theater — old-fashioned, a passing remnant of a romantic, gilded age, the ornate baroque windows and architectural decor evoking nostalgia — but on the floor, electronic dance music was being born, crying viscerally, violently at the foot of the speakers. JOYRYDE’s music is a similar beast — remixing and chopping up old-school beats and hits into an evolving, growling, monstrous thing unlike anything heard by humanity — that fills up the entire room with its massive, booming body. That body trampled us underfoot, pushed us outward in all directions and choked us in its sweaty breath. It should have been uncomfortable, but instead it was the most wonderful time.
The night began uneventfully. First came Aryay, who dropped an eclectic, housewarming mix of jungle terror and bass house. He was a fine DJ, and his performance was quite good, yet it left something to be desired. There’s something ineffable about a wonderful performance of music that etches itself into your memory — something that reminds you of how incredulous it was to merely exist in that moment — yet that musical ephemera was conspicuously missing. My body danced nevertheless, though it was hard to truly feel the whole emotional picture of the music. Instead, I merely watched lions — a common animal in Aryay’s jungle-inspired aesthetic — in all shades of green and red float across the screen.
Only when Dr. Fresch took to the stage did the heartbeat of the night begin to pulse. It was powerful and enjoyable — Dr. Fresch was filled with energy and happiness. He looked down at the huddled masses in the crowd, carefully though not unkindly, with the eye of a doctor. His unspoken diagnosis was obvious: we had a case of the Thursday night blues, and the only cure was one hour of concentrated thrill and musical adrenaline pumped directly into the ears. Fist-pumping, hair-waving and dancing electrically throughout his set, Dr. Fresch laid down a dynamic mix of darker deep house and bass-heavy beats, playing classic tracks such as Valentino Khan’s “Deep Down Low” and his own original “On and On.” And so the floor came alive with the sound of music and movement — could it get any better?
Suddenly, JOYRYDE took his place, atop the car that had now come to life on the stage below. The crowd looked up for a moment, transfixed in awe at the unfolding messiah. An ominous operatic vocal fell over the room — but suddenly the standard “boom boom” four-to-the-floor beat of “Fuel Tank” yanked us violently back into reality. There was a slight feeling of those warehouse raves of old, that quintessential blurring of reality and music, that took hold of the spellbound audience and entranced them in a collective, spontaneous dance. It was both sheltered and dangerous — we were as safe as could be, yet we were living freely on the edge of danger. For a moment, I could suspend my belief in reality and live through my ears.
In the heat of the music it did not matter who we were — where we came from, who we came with, why we came — it was an uninterrupted flow of crashing noises and screams. Track after track passed through our ears and pumped themselves into our bodies, the stomping beats yanking our feet into a frenetic dance. It was headache-inducing, ear-thrashing and enjoyable. The fuel tank was indeed full, and it was taking us on an epic JOYRYDE.
The highlight of the night, however, was his performance of “Damn.” It was instantly recognizable: the repetitive p-p-popping interspersed with ominous brass hits and wide, booming 808s. The crowd screamed in recognition as the lights swept the jubilant crowd. Hands, arms and bodies waved, and heads swung and bobbed. It was almost too much: the occasional distraction sometimes disrupted the music — a stray arm flew at my face — but the crowd reined itself in, took a small breath, and kept on wilding.
JOYRYDE’s music reflects this scene of savagery: it scratches back at the listener, teetering on a dangerous knife-edge between sonic innovation and musical blasphemy and swerves perilously, sometimes tipping towards one side. You wait for it to tip over and choose its side, but it never fails to strike that tenuous balance amidst its erratic path. It was that sense of danger and thrill — of peril atop enjoyment — that gave his live-set a uniquely swaggering character. It was music, music played the way it was meant to be played, and heard the way it was meant to be heard — bass booming, arms free, head clear.
JOYRYDE’s performance evoked an unforgettable windows-down, head-sticking-out, bass-booming, gas-pedal-down ethos. But most of all, it was a surreal scene, a picture from an urban dystopia through time, as layer upon layer of existence suddenly interposed themselves around me: I was in a warehouse from the days of old electronic music; I was in an old theatre in old San Francisco; I was at a nightclub in the year 2017. And amidst that confusion, amidst that crisis, there was a car, headlights on, staring me in the face while sirens blared amidst a sea of screams.
Contact Trenton Chang at [email protected]