Adolph Sutro, the millionaire and former mayor of San Francisco, built the Sutro Baths in 1896 as the world's largest swimming complex. His populist vision of cheap, affordable amusement went bust after he died in 1898. The huge structure burned down in the '60s, and now only a few staircases and a man-made pool remain. The ruins of the Sutro Baths sit on the edge of the Pacific Ocean and are now part of a national recreation area.
Fog and waves whipped around the cave, its ominous maw guarding hirsute, denim-clad show-goers. Inside, a generator hummed and guardrails blocked an opening where the ocean swept underneath. Near the north mouth, Dilloway hunched over an eight-track recorder playing an an easy-listening tape from the '50s. Immediately using his surroundings, he looped the sound of the generator to form a rhythm while whistling nonchalantly over the combination of nostalgic and machine-generated sounds. What followed was a 30-minute master class in DIY tape loops and harrowing, industrial soundscapes. At one point, he acted upset, slamming his fist on a table before unleashing some painful high-frequency howls. At other points, the music was like a corroded cousin of dub techno. One comical passage had Dilloway frowning profoundly over a recording of a crying baby.
There is an odd paradox between the reserved demeanor of noise fans and the unruly sounds they're drawn towards. The crowd was full of folded arms and standoffish groups cracking wise with each other throughout the peformance. That said, it was an illegal show for a pillar of the US noise scene in a spectacular natural cave. In other words, it was an event for people with their ear to the ground. That the music was on par with the setting was a triumph.