25 years of dance music amidst California's natural beauty.
In 2015, the artist Scott Polach set up red ropes on the edge of a cliff at Cabrillo National Monument in San Diego. 45 minutes before sunset, an usher seated a crowd of eight, advising them not to take photos. The small group quietly watched the sunset, applauded and filed out. In a way, Polach's artistic statement is not far from what Galen Abbott and Solar Langevin have been up to for the last 25 years in the Bay Area. As Abbott recalls in this week's Exchange, at Sunset Sound System's early, renegade parties at the Berkeley Marina, crowds would gather atop a hill to watch the sunset, cheering for the last rays before heading down to the booth to dance into the night.
Sunset Sound System and its annual campout, situated in Northern California's Belden Town on the banks of the Feather River, has always been about putting bleeding-edge dance music in dramatic outdoor settings. What started as a labor of love, with Abbott, Langevin and other key team members like J-Bird pushing massive speakers into public parks, has organically developed into a fully-fledged community. Sunset's summer series of outdoor gatherings, boat parties and campout draw thousands of longtime devotees, as well as converts from afar like Dixon, who loved his first Sunset experience so much he makes an annual pilgrimage to play for the crew.
Over 25 years, lots has changed. Solar and Galen now look after their own budding DJ and production careers, San Francisco has gone from a dance music mecca to a booming tech town and Sunset's core crowd has gotten older and maybe a little wiser. But the core concept—dance music outside amidst California's natural beauty—remains the same.
RA's Matt McDermott sat down with Abbott and Langevin at the RS94109 record shop in San Francisco's Tenderloin to discuss Sunset Sound System's long, strange trip.