Oakland nightlife shines in eclectic Red Bull music showcase

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Leonie Leonida/Staff

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Static glowing TV sets decorated the entrance to the dimly lit room positioned to the right of the checkerboard dance floor at Geoffrey’s Inner Circle on Saturday night. At the center of the room stood a giant three-pronged structure framed with plastic crates: a diorama celebrating and showcasing the origins and artistry of each of the six DJ collectives that had gathered to play at that night’s “Red Bull Music Presents: Oakland” event.

Outside, the three vinyl-heavy DJ crews of the night — NVR OVR, the 45 Sessions and B-Side Brujas — took over the turntables. Guests ebbed and flowed from the intimate black-and-white dance floor, often armed with Red Bull cocktails. The distinctive energy drink cans gleamed as those holding them grooved in the light of the fuzzy, psychedelic visuals of the TV sets strewn across the stage.

Upstairs, the three remaining, more electronically and digitally driven groups — Smart Bomb, Another Party Fam and Club Chai — played to a cavernous room lined with mirrored walls and even more vintage TV sets. While the lower dance floor was dominated by a carefree, slower-moving rhythm, here, the music took on a more frenetic energy, the crowd dancing in every direction even as crowd members waited in line to get drinks.

The event took full advantage of its two-floor setup to create a sense of novelty — anyone bored with the vibe of the night could simply move up or down one floor to find something entirely new. From the 45 Sessions’ warm 7-inch-vinyl-spun beats to Club Chai’s industrial beats with a Middle Eastern varnish, the night’s sounds were drawn from a diverse sonic palette. The staggered set times made the event the perfect opportunity to get a taste of each group’s distinct artistry.

The crowd, too, was diverse. Everyone from young professionals with designer purses looking for a unique night out to longtime enthusiasts of Oakland nightlife — who wore their hearts on their sleeves by dressing in shirts that repped the town’s festivals or DJ crews — hit the dance floor.

Many of the performers tend to tailor their events to serve as spaces for the free expression of queer people and people of color. Yet at Geoffrey’s Inner Circle, these groups seemed to lose themselves among the yuppie crowd that tends to populate Downtown Oakland venues, likely as a result of the brand name sponsorship behind the event. While the artists of the event were curated to celebrate the spirit of underground Oakland, at times it felt as though this celebration was falling upon closed ears, as though the community that had brought these artists to prominence was left out of the sold-out event.

But it was, perhaps, the fact that the DJ currently hard at work always had an entire tightknit posse behind them to hype up the crowd and dance along that lent the event a sense of community. In spite of the obvious divides within the crowd and the Red Bull logos that glowed from every corner of every room, the night began to feel a bit more lively, if not like any other event put on by any of these collectives.

Despite the groups’ differing sounds, certain songs made their way into multiple sets, the most prominent example being “For Free” by DJ Khaled featuring Drake. The song found new life in each set that it crept into, serving as everything from a surprise punchline to a long, tense buildup to a readily presented crowd pleaser. It lent a bright, modern twist to B-Side Brujas’ boogie-able vintage R&B while fitting right in with Another Party Fam’s booming hip-hop and bounce bangers.

As B-Side Brujas finished its set downstairs, the crowd flocked to the upper floor of the venue. The night ended as Club Chai co-founder FOOZOOL played out the group’s set, soldering dark industrial techno tracks together with brighter notes such as J Balvin’s “Mi Gente.” When the lights suddenly flickered back on at the end of the night, the room kept dancing.

Sannidhi Shukla covers music. Contact her at [email protected]. Tweet her at @sannidhishukla.