In a city dominated by house music, San Francisco’s Auralism crew are championing techno on their own terms.
There is a musical renaissance happening out west as San Francisco moves from a house-dominated dance scene long to one influenced by the 21st century techno futurism of Detroit and Berlin. At the vanguard of this paradigm shift is the increasingly hard-to-find good guy record label carving out a unique sound that deftly merges the finest of both the German and domestic techno scenes. It is also rare to discover a collective of musicians that all conform to the ideals of a label’s sound, but that is indeed the case with the San Francisco-based techno label Auralism Records. Over the past four years the fast rising imprint has grown from just an idea in the minds of founders Jason Short and Marc Smith (aka production duo Coalition Of The Killing) into a like-minded family and an internationally recognized label.
Much of the reason for Auralism’s success has been a collective-based label management strategy, which is not uncommon on the West Coast.
San Francisco has always had an underground techno scene running parallel to its house one; however, it has always received less attention compared to the more commercially viable house domain. The Auralism camp is quick to explain that they were all connected to the Bay Area’s rich D.I.Y. techno tradition in some way before the label launched. They say names like Twerk, Kit Clayton and Jonah Sharp were important in the development of today’s techno scene.
Since there was already this foundation in place, the members of the label also believe that San Francisco was ready for techno long before the current takeover started. Over time, popular techno parties such as [Kontrol], FunkyCozy, and Blasthaus have paved the way for more new music in a club scene well saturated with house. As club goers’ attentions waned due to the moribund energy of San Francisco’s biggest names, a newly reborn techno vibe has suddenly become a beacon for emerging new music and local talent. This wealth is also attracting numerous out-of-town DJs and producers including both Short and Smith, who, operating as COTK, were previously stationed in Miami.
Auralism designer Clint Stewart sums up this California-sized sea change best: “I don’t think anyone can argue with the amount of great music that is pouring out of our city now and the caliber of local DJs as well as headliners here on a weekly basis. San Francisco is on the brink of something very, very big, and I can’t wait to see it truly flourish.”
Much of the reason for Auralism’s success has been a collective-based label management strategy, which is not uncommon on the West Coast. With eight people involved directly in label operations, it takes more than just blind luck to make it happen. At the heart of Auralism is Jason Short, who performs the role of leader with an indefatigable optimism and a nearly puritan work ethic that belies his youth and atavistic attitudes toward music. Seemingly like a politician, Short is able to attract followers who align themselves with his determination and hard work, and, from that, the label has expanded into the growing family it is today. The Auralism staff is comprised of artistic director Hac Le and the aforementioned designer Clint Stewart. Roman Stange handles the label’s Proton Radio show, Comfort Sessions, and organizes the label’s monthly party Lil Brthr; Marc Smith is in charge of marketing; and Kenneth Scott is a resident DJ and producer for the label though each one is a producer for the label as well. As Stange jokes, “Each one of us takes turns sleeping for an eight-hour period once a month.”
The last, and most important, factor in the Auralism equation is the music, and that is something Short is intensely seriously about as the label’s main A&R guy. His philosophy is simple—sign anyone who sounds better than anything currently on the label. There are many tracks on the label done by in-house producers like Kenneth Scott, COTK, or Alland Byallo that are becoming not only as quintessential SF techno but also an instantly recognizable Auralism sound. Now add a remix from outsider Billy Dalessando, an EP from Elon, or the recent Fade release from Kyaro all with hints of psy-trance, a house swing, a little glitchy IDM, and deep, previously undiscovered melodies and you unlock the essence of the Auralism sound. Include two major appearances with [Kontrol] at the 2007 and 2008 Lovefests, the late September event that has evolved into a leading indicator of San Fran’s ongoing shift away from its house roots to an inevitable techno future, it’s apparent to just about everyone that Auralism is generating some international buzz with nothing more than great music and lots of hard work. Le puts it best when he says, “I still trip out when I go to festivals and I see people from around the world wearing our T-shirts.”
California has been the birthplace of numerous pop cultural upheavals over the years, and, like their brethren in techno across the world, Auralism fits into the bigger picture historically—and they definitely have the potential to be at the fulcrum of the “next big thing,” whatever that thing might be. Typically, when all of those stars are aligned something very special happens. Only time will tell.
Words: Sean-Michael Yoder
as featured in Issue 25