At the SF Disco Preservation Society, 90s rave culture lives on

Jim Hopkins, founder of the San Francisco Disco Preservation Society, shows off audio equipment used to digitize old forms of recordings at his home in San Francisco. Photo: Lea Suzuki/The Chronicle

Picture it: San Francisco, 1994. Bay Area revelers of all colors dance, smile and rock together on an improvised dance floor. A woman strings together a series of dance music records made by different producers, but seemingly united by the same deep, haunting bass lines. Psychedelic mandala and floral images from a slide projector bounce off disco balls, walls, altars or anything they encounter – even people.

Whether in a clandestine downtown loft or an unsanctioned spot by the water, the Your Sister’s House event series showed the San Francisco rave scene that there were female DJs who could party.

Clockwise from top left: A dancer enjoys a Your Sister’s House party at Cleo’s Cafe, Lower Haight in 1993; The Your Sister’s House party animal connects to an altar of positive vibes and female empowerment; Your Sister’s House regularly celebrates Kimon beats with friends at Cleo’s Cafe, Lower Haight in 1993; The pre-dance focus groups explored topics around a variety of social and socio-economic issues, with Your Sister’s House members M (DJ Mermaid) (front left) and Peace (seated, center). Photo: Shana Hardy

In 2022, two years after the start of a pandemic that caused people to socially distance and made the sight of a shameless smile a rare treat, the idea of ​​a renegade party scene aware and free of mind in San Francisco can feel like a fever dream. Luckily, modern music lovers can experience 90s rave and radio moments that might otherwise be lost in time by listening to mixes on Nineties DJ Archive, where the party continues online thanks to a recent addition to the San Francisco Disco Preservation Society.

The Society, founded in 2013 by professional DJ and producer Jim Hopkins, is accessible worldwide through the DJ music-oriented app Hearthis. It contains almost 2,000 recordings from the 1970s to the early 2000s, covering not only disco, but also dance music styles such as house, techno and breaks. Although a few major US cities are in the mix, most were recorded in the Bay Area.

As the company’s largest subdivision, the ’90s DJ Archive is also the most significant virtual presence of that era, with over 900 digitally enhanced versions of mostly cassette-based recordings of peak-era DJ sets. in rave culture. For local decorators, it also functions as an exhilarating time capsule.

Left: A crowded Your Sister’s House dance floor at Cleo’s Cafe in San Francisco’s Lower Haight, 1993. Right: Miss Jaqueline holds the door to Your Sister’s House at Cleo’s Cafe, 1993. Photo: Shana Hardy

Your Sister’s House blends have almost remained hidden forever. But in late 2021, event co-founder Shana Hardy scrolled through a Facebook group called “We did raves in the SF Bay Area in the 90s” and saw DJ mixes posted. by Hopkins.

Hardy’s co-founder, Liz Roberts, had returned to the East Coast. She had a box full of tapes of the Your Sister’s House sets but couldn’t find the engineer who recorded them at the events to remaster them and post them online. She was afraid to send them back to California, and she didn’t trust anyone else with them – until Hardy ran into Hopkins.

Jim Hopkins, founder of the San Francisco Disco Preservation Society, holds a stack of minidiscs, one of the ancient forms of recordings that he digitizes and cleans to preserve them. Photo: Lea Suzuki/The Chronicle

“Because Jim is part of the scene and had shown a legit history of transferring from other bands, it was much easier to trust him and know he would enjoy the material he handled, and therefore take the greater care than we could hope for,” said Hardy, currently a product manager and developer of web and mobile apps in Los Angeles.

The Your Sister’s House tapes are now an important addition to Hopkins’ 90s DJ archives, and they beautifully capture the San Francisco rave scene of 1993-94. Press play to a set from DJ Jan Cooley, a leading name in 90s San Francisco nightlife, and pretend to dance to his live mix as the sun rises over a renegade outdoor venue in this which is now called Dogpatch.

Hopkins, who currently plays bar 440 Castro three times a week, often receives tapes older than the Your Sister’s House collection. It also restores audio recorded on more delicate formats that require creative solutions.

For example: A food dehydrator typically used to make snacks like jerky and fruit leather is, in Hopkins’ hands, used to dry duct tape in his San Francisco recording studio. He then uses digital software to dramatically improve the sound quality of the work, even though some of it just wouldn’t be the same – or even usable – without the kitchen gadget.

Jim Hopkins, founder of the San Francisco Disco Preservation Society, demonstrates how he inverts the stack of coils in a food dehydrator every half hour for a four-hour drying period before he can digitize the audio. Photo: Lea Suzuki/The Chronicle

Namely, around the same time that he began the mixes of Your Sister’s House, Hopkins acquired several boxes of tape recordings of DJ mixes from Steve Masters, an on-air personality and the former musical director of the defunct San Francisco Live 105 radio station. His “Modern Mix” sets were broadcast at night on Live 105 throughout the 90s. has exposed to elements such as Bay Area fog. Once Hopkins saw the coils, he knew he should plug in his dehydrator.

“A lot of the tape he recorded on was Ampex tape, and it’s notorious for ‘sticky loss syndrome,’ which is where layers of tape stick together,” Hopkins explained. . “The bands will absorb moisture, so you need to dry them.”

Jim Hopkins, founder of the San Francisco Disco Preservation Society, holds the box with the playlist from one of Steve Masters’ Live 105 master reels, which Hopkins digitized and cleaned to preserve the original audio at his home in San Francisco . Photo: Lea Suzuki/The Chronicle

Listening to Hopkins’ restorations of Masters recordings, recently released on the DJ Archive of the 90s, opens a window to a time when San Francisco was alive with vinyl record stores stocking the latest experimental dance music from around the world. As Music Director of Live 105, Masters could play whatever he wanted at night on commercial FM radio.

Masters made a weekly circuit of record stores: Butch Wax and Record Rack in the Castro, Star Records in Hayes Valley, and Rough Trade in the South of Market neighborhood.

“Thursdays I was driving when all the new music hit stores,” said Masters, now owner of gaming portal GotGame. He supported the stores by telling listeners where he got the records, and he was rewarded with the chance to be the first to buy and listen to new releases of his choosing.

DJ Steve Masters is working a gig on Treasure Island. Photo: Spud

While DJing kept him busy Thursday through Saturday nights, other nights the Masters would hit local clubs like DNA Lounge or The I-Beam, a Haight Street staple from 1977 to 1994, to listen to DJs. He would then invite the DJs who had impressed him the most to come to the station and play their favorite new song of the week.

“The basic person in my mind that I was mixing with was your typical Live 105 listener, but it was also those people who go to those clubs on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays who are more eclectic and looking for something they had never heard before.” Masters said. “I wanted to blend these two people in my mind in order to do what I presented.”

His mixes skillfully highlight emerging styles from global clubs, including the industrial sounds of Belgian new beat and the influential compositions of black producers making techno in Detroit and acid house music in Chicago. In a time before streaming, these sets were pretty much the only way for a fan of local dance music to dream of what dance floors around the world sounded like and hear songs from Africa, Europe and from the Bay Area all mixed together.

John Taylor of Duran Duran (left) with Live 105 radio personalities Steve Masters and Spud. Photo: Spud/Live 105

“We were playing songs that nobody knew, songs that weren’t being pushed by American record labels,” Masters said. “We played some of them, like REM and The Cure and stuff like that, but our station’s sound wasn’t just based on the music. It was based on what happened between the recordings.

Hopkins’ archive at the San Francisco Disco Preservation Society has thrived largely on community donations of money and music collections, he said. But he’s now offering to return all the tapes once he’s digitized them, so his workspace isn’t completely overwhelmed by them – especially since he seems to be receiving more hidden slices of the story of local dance music when he least expects it.

“I have my post office box in the Castro and I get a text every time I get a package, and my phone blows up!” said Hopkins. “I go down there and it’s ‘Surprise!’ It’s like Christmas.

Jim Hopkins, founder of the San Francisco Disco Preservation Society, shows off a two-track reel-to-reel mastering deck he uses to digitize reel audio at his home in San Francisco. Photo: Lea Suzuki/The Chronicle

Jim Hopkins: runs from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Fridays and Sundays. Free. 440 Castro, 440 Castro St., SF 415-621-8732.


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