After three years, Public Works is a staple of San Francisco’s dance music scene, hosting exciting new acts, electronic music vets, local DJs and producers and a variety of other events most nights of the week.
Walking the line between gallery and club, Public Works plays a unique role in the SF club circuit and offers one of the only options for late-night dance parties in the Mission. We had a chance to chat with Peter Blick, part-owner and DJ, about the club as it celebrates it’s third anniversary.
How involved is the club in booking artists?
I would say that we’re doing one-third in house shows, one-third outside promoters and one-third co-promoted events. Obviously we like to see who the crews are, what kind of headliners they have. Some crews are strong enough without major headliners. Artistically speaking, with the promoters we want to make sure they’re bringing in someone that fits with our ideals and the kinds of bookings we like to do. We want to make sure not to bring anyone too cheesy or generic. We like a lot of debut SF shows, we love when we have good promoters like Icee Hot and As You Like It that have the network to bring in less familiar names and still do really good numbers. Many of us are DJ, and for the in-house bookings we do a lot of research and find out what’s hot these days.
When you’re choosing people to work with is there an ideal vibe that you’re looking for?
No, we really like to mix it up. Many of our events lean toward deep house, tech-house, techno and nu-disco. There’s some funkier bass acts too, cats like Gramatik and Michael Menert. We also look at festivals. We like to bring artists that bring lights, have a good promo team and really cool production. We love to bring artists that are out of the scene and out of the box. It’s kind of a double edged sword when you want to keep things consistent. There are so many options in San Francisco you’re not going to get the same people week after week. The more we mix it up and continue to bring the really good names, the stronger we will remain.
A DJ and a club owner have similar responsibilities in terms of crafting a night for a crowd. How do you view the club differently as a DJ than as an owner?
As a DJ it’s always been my philosophy to mix it up. I never really wanted to stay with one thing for a super long time, music evolves. I’ve heard DJs that can play really great music for 8-10 hours. Take someone like Lee Burridge, some people say it’s kind of flat and gets boring time after time, but I can get really into the music. You hear vocals being brought in, percussion being brought in, all these different organic elements. It might be the same BPM and it might be house music the entire time, but I think the key to keeping it exciting is making the set somewhat organic.
I personally like to mix it up on some nights. I’ll mix between deep house, tech-house, a little more techno, bangin’ stuff, some breakbeat. You can mix all that in and make it all work. Crowds can dig on the variety and range. As an owner I have a small piece, but I feel like that’s how a club should work, as well.
Do different events feel individual or more connected?
It’s really tough to say. We do such a wide range of parties and work with so many different promoters that every night just feels really different. Some nights we’ll have 200 people on stage with the DJ and the DJ likes that, but the next party we could have just as many people but it’s not the party vibe on stage. Some DJs are really serious. We do some separate parties in the club as well, upstairs or downstairs. The small room upstairs can be really intimate and cool. Some people really love the big room vibe too. It changes from night to night.
What role does art play in the space in relation to music?
Betty Bigas is our resident art curator. We’ve done a few art-based events like a Toro Y Moi listening and art show. We did Amanda Palmer with an art show and intimate gig where she did an acoustic set for a Kickstarter campaign, which was sold out way ahead of time. Some of our art shows are totally unrelated to our musical programming. We have a few events coming up where we want to incorporate the art show into the music where it makes sense. The last time we had Jeff Mills, we had his photography up. If the art and music can work together with the music, it’s great.
Sometimes we’ll have a gallery show totally unrelated to any of our shows or we’ll take a show like the Freaker’s Ball or the Symbiosis party and have live painters throughout the space. As far as art goes on any given night you can come in and check out Howie, our resident visual guy. He’s the most amazing cat in town; he’s basically doing art for seven hours. He’s sitting in the booth and dictating the vibe for hours and hours with a projector.
How do you continue to develop the club? What’s the next step for Public Works?
We always want to get involved with more live music. Our bread and butter is the weekends and DJ-related, or maybe producer based laptop DJs. Midweek live stuff is always great. We try to continue to keep our program varied, especially with midweek shows and bringing in innovative artists.