Ahead of Friday's hi-NRG infused Castro Boy party, we sat down with resident DJ Greg Lowe to dig a bit deeper into his love for the oft-maligned genre and how it fits into today's nightlife scene....
Where does your interest in hi-NRG come from?
Good question. I think it comes from a general love of synthesisers that I’ve had since I was a kid in the early '80s. I remember watching a science programme about synthesisers when I was about 4 or 5 and just being mesmerised by this dreamy and otherworldly sound. Hi-NRG is interesting because it was a brief movement, primarily in the US, that was at a defining point in music between disco, synthpop, new wave, and house music. Unlike Italo disco, which some say happened a bit later, it was also primarily a genre focused on the gay community. It’s raw, upbeat, and unapologetically synthetic. You can hear how it influenced, and took influence, from some of these genres. To me, the period from 1977-1985 is one of the most exciting periods in music because there was all this new technology and people weren’t afraid to experiment.
Other than Castro Boy by Danny Boy And Serious Party Gods, which obviously you like as you named your night after it(!), what for you is a classic of the genre?
I think it would have to be one of Patrick Cowley’s records, like Menergy or Megatron Man. Upbeat, wobbly, melodically driven. Of course based on the title alone, I might also include High Energy by Evelyn Thomas. This was a bit later and when the genre was influencing more general pop-music.
Why do you think it's making such a comeback?
Is there a comeback? I think there is certainly an interest in revisiting a lot of genres that were small and went out of fashion. This happened a few years ago with disco, synthpop, and Chicago house. The funny thing is that these genres were so influential on mainstream music that they never really went away, they just evolved into something else. Listen to any Calvin Harris record and you can hear elements of hi-NRG there. The overproduction and compression of a lot of contemporary pop-music, however, makes hi-NRG’s primitive, but warm, sound more special. I think that’s what people are rediscovering.
What do you wish you could bring back from hi-NRG's heyday?
The unbridled desire to experiment with new musical ideas. The leap in synthesiser technology (and size) was incredible between the late '70s to mid '80s. I get frustrated when so many people today complain about the club scene isn’t what it was. The reason the club scenes in the past were so exciting is that people were looking to the future, not the past. Of course there are many talented producers doing really interesting things and trying to push in new directions. I don’t think that’s the mainstream though. Appreciate the past, but live in the moment and look to the future.
What are your fave venues in San Francisco past and present?
I’ve only been to San Francisco twice, but it has a really overlooked musical history when it comes to dance music. It’s funny that a lot of this actually was rooted in the experimental and ‘academic’ music scene led by people like Terry Riley and Steve Reich. The Kronos Quartet is the modern incantation of this. When I was younger 1015 Folsom was a really interesting space that defined a lot of the techno scene in the city. I think it’s changed a lot now. I love the Powerhouse on Folsom Street though. It’s a gay bar and has been around for a long time. Such a great mix of ages, nationalities, subcultures, and types of music. It’s very much an inspiration for Castro Boy. Strangely, none are in the Castro!
Which artist for you is a common entrance point in for people not so familiar with the style? Someone like Patrick Cowley, or someone you think of as being quite crossover?
I think Patrick Cowley is a pretty common entrance point for something that defined the genre, but usually it starts broader. You can actually hear the influence of hi-NRG on the work Stock Aiken Waterman did in the '80s and they pretty much defined UK pop-music at that time. I think people get introduced to a lot of these specific genres through the more mainstream music that was influenced by it.
If you could go back in time to any queer dancefloor anywhere/anywhen, where would you go dancefloor cruising??
Oh wow, that is a tough question. Queer dancefloor makes it a bit easier. It’s clichéd but the Warehouse in Chicago might be one. I went to the Limelight in NYC during the end of its days, but would have loved to have checked out Disco2000 in the early '90s, if nothing else for the spectacle. Ostgut before it evolved into Berghain would be interesting too. I still think Berghain does a fantastic job mixing music and cruising as far as contemporary clubs go.
What do you think are the key differences in the way Brits and Americans approach hi-NRG? How would you as an American living in the UK differentiate it?
I think Brits are often more in touch with these small genres that were hugely influential, but never made it beyond specific subcultures. The hi-NRG sound started in the US, but was adopted by Brits and mainstreamed into pop music. Same for house music and techno. You could argue it was the Haçienda, a very straight venue, that took an underground gay sound and brought it to the mainstream. Fundamentally the UK and Europe have always been more open to electronic music than the US.
Who would be a dream Castro Boy booking?
Honey Soundsystem, either as a collective or one of the individual members. They are so versatile, have an amazing music catalogue, and capture the feeling of San Francisco perfectly.
Join Greg Lowe for Castro Boy this Friday 13th February with Jonjo Jury in the basement and White Leather Viper Club upstairs for Nancy's from 9pm - 3am.