One of the biggest synthwave parties on the West Coast (and arguably the world) turns five this week. Turbo Drive, shepherded by DJ and organizer Devon Dossett and housed in San Francisco’s almighty DNA Lounge, will celebrate the birthday with a two-day party that features performances by the likes of Timecop1983, Phaserland, Korine, Aeon Rings, and others.
Over the course of its five years, the event has played host to several major players: Le Matos, Anoraak, Com Truise, Betamaxx, Arcade High, Carpenter Brut (in a rare solo gig), Robert Parker, Starcadian, Perturbator, Night Club, Syntax, Protector 101, Gost, Dance with the Dead, Lucy in Disguise, Phaserland, and many more.
Turbo Drive was also responsible for putting on the legendary FM-84/The Midnight show, which marked FM-84’s first gig with frequent collaborator Ollie Wride and was The Midnight’s first gig altogether. (You can read more about the show and the story behind The Midnight in an interview that Vehlinggo did with Tim McEwan and Tyler Lyle.)
Starting June 7 with a Phaserland-headlining gig and continuing on June 8 with Timecop1983 and friends as a followup to their extended Human Music 2 tour, Turbo Drive is making its fifth anniversary count.
In this Q&A, Vehlinggo interviews Turbo Drive boss Dossett to get a snapshot of the past, present, and retrofuture of the party. (Edited for clarity and style.)
How did Turbo Drive get started and why did you start it? Can you also describe generally what it is? (and was it always at DNA?)
Turbo Drive itself is a mix of live performances and DJs. We’ve got lasers, neon lights, retro videos, sometimes video games and other bits of ’80s tech and culture.
I’ve been involved with nightlife for a long time, and was kind of on a break from DJing and promoting shows/parties. I stumbled on to this music in 2011, and spun some of it at a Halloween party the next year. After that, I found a few folks who were also interested in the music, and tested it out a few times by hosting a side room at Bootie, the biggest party at DNA Lounge.
The first stand-alone Turbo Drive was June 2013. At that point, I wasn’t expecting much. I really just wanted to hear the music loud, and figured I might do a few more if that first one worked out OK.
What were the challenges at the beginning and how does that compare to how things are today?
The first year or two, there were a handful of genre names floating around. Trying to describe the music to people was a five-minute conversation sounding like a lunatic babbling on about “Miami Vice and Robocop and Knight Rider and lasers, and futurist ’80s, but all modern, and why are you looking at me like that? Here, just listen to this.”
At that point, most people would stop looking bewildered and actually enjoy it. A few years into it, “synthwave” emerged as the generic umbrella term for the genre, which made things easier, and when Stranger Things came out, it got even easier to describe the music.
What is your favorite part about putting on Turbo Drive and why?
Really, it’s all of it. Getting to see artists whose music I love, sharing that with a crowd, playing with lasers, digging up bits of ’80s nostalgia for decor, video, or flyer inspiration — it’s all a lot of fun.
Which act/night has seen the biggest turnout so far? Describe the vibe, energy, and nature of the night.
Oh, that’s easy, The Midnight/FM-84 show by far. We sold out the big room at DNA with that show. It was The Midnight’s first ever live show, and FM-84’s first show with both Ollie and Col. When the show was announced, we sold about one-fifth of capacity on the first day. I knew we were in for something spectacular.
People flew in from around the world for that one. I’ve never been to a show like that before, the energy was spectacular. Every song was a sing-along, and the crowd was often louder than Ollie or Tyler. The vibe was a was one of those once-in-a-lifetime moments, where the outpouring of joy from everyone there was electric. I’d never have expected a crowd to utterly lose their minds cheering a sax solo, but people went nuts on every single one during The Midnight’s set.
The genre has changed a lot in five years. How has Turbo Drive changed with it? If it hasn’t, why?
We started out running semi-regularly, as the number of artists out there was fairly small, or the travel costs were too high. Over time, we did more and more shows, have branched out to work with other promoters, other venues, and even done a few parties at arcades. We’ve acquired more decor and lasers, and been able to bring in larger artists.
How has the changing character of San Francisco had an impact on Turbo Drive?
Our crowd draws heavily from the tech community, and given the long commutes involved for many, weekdays are just not an option for a lot of people. We’ve had to steer away from weekdays shows more and more as a result.
Any dream booking for Turbo Drive?
That’s tough. We’ve hosted a lot of the bigger names out there: Perturbator, Gost, Dance with the Dead, Betamaxx, Sung, Starcadian, Robert Parker, Le Matos, Arcade High, Anoraak, Danger, Night Club, Syntax, Tone box, Protector 101, Shredder 1984, Megahit, Vector Hold, Lucy in Disguise, Phaserland, D/A/D, Street Cleaner, The Encounter, FaceXHugger, Beautiful Machines, Who Ha, and more.
Our whole history has been lucky in that it is pretty much one dream booking after another. That said, I’d really love to get Lazerhawk or Gunship out here to finally perform live.
What’s next for you and Turbo Drive?
We’re just going to keep at it, bringing in more artists, more lasers, and more neon.
How are you celebrating Turbo Drive’s 5th anniversary? I see there are a couple major events going on (as referenced above).
We’ve got two shows. The first one features Delorean Overdrive and Vice Reine, both of whom each played their first live show at the very first Turbo Drive. Zërowolf was another local keytar warrior who sadly moved to Texas, but we have him coming back for this show. And finally, Phaserland returns to round out the lineup. Day Two is Timecop1983, who is touring with Æon Rings & Korine.