Hear the 5 Most Unforgettable Sets from Ultra 2016

Pendulum on the Main Stage at Ultra 2016. Photo © Drew Ressler/Rukes.com.

Pendulum closing out the Main Stage at Ultra 2016. Photo © Drew Ressler/Rukes.com.

The 2016 festival season kicked off last weekend with Ultra Music Festival in Miami, one of the biggest EDM events of the year. Ultra, rivaled only by EDC in scale and production among American music festivals, boasted a typically stacked lineup of headliners including Avicii, Deadmau5, Knife Party (and Pendulum), Armin van Buuren, Martin Garrix, The Chainsmokers, and many more.

With so many incredible artists playing simultaneously across seven stages, one person couldn’t possibly cover them all. What I can share with you is the experiences from last weekend that I will never forget. This is a list of the five most incredible sets I had the privilege to witness at Ultra 2016. I hope they hit you just as hard.

#1. Eric Prydz

Eric Prydz at the ASOT Stage on Sunday. ©️ J.T. Fales

Eric Prydz at the ASOT Stage on Sunday. ©️ J.T. Fales

Eric Prydz‘s hypnotic, thrumming techno set at the A State of Trance stage on Sunday night was augmented by a typically exceptional light show that gave the music shape and color. It was an hour of pure energy and excitement, propelled by the beats of Eric and his alter egos, Pryda and Cirez D. The set consisted mostly of newer material, such as “Rebel XX,” and, of course, included a few IDs. It was such an absorbing performance that I couldn’t peel myself away from the experience even as friends texted me warning that I was going be late to Knife Party’s mainstage closing show. I just couldn’t imagine being any happier than I was basking in the repetitive beats and dazzling lights of Mr. Prydz as a cold, light rain fell on my skin. By the time “Opus” started nudging its way into the set toward the very end, I knew I had just witnessed the best set of Ultra 2016.

#2. Deadmau5, ASOT Stage

Deadmau5 at the ASOT Stage Sunday. ©️ J.T. Fales

Deadmau5 at the ASOT Stage Sunday. ©️ J.T. Fales

You can always count on a last minute twist or two at Ultra – and odds are that Deadmau5 will have something to do with it. This year, it took the form of an unexpected hat trick by Mr. Joel Zimmerman himself. Already scheduled to perform on Sunday at the A State of Trance stage (a shock in itself, as host Armin van Buuren alludes to in the recording of his set), Deadmau5 was called in to replace the Prodigy on Saturday at the last minute. Then on Sunday, the the Mau5 was briefly trotted out onto the mainstage by Pendulum when they played “Ghosts n Stuff.

While I felt that his Live Stage set on Saturday night was disjointed (the highlight being when he dropped NOISIA‘s searing remix of the Prodigy’s “Smack My Bitch Up”), Deadmau5 rose to the challenge of Sunday’s performance in the ASOT megastructure. Like Eric Prdyz, Deadmau5 went deep for this set, crafting a delicious techno treat that shied away from his own extensive oeuvre in favor of a consistent, subterranean sound featuring artists like Maceo Plex and Jooris Voorn. (Of course, it wouldn’t be a Deadmau5 set without some conspicuous trolling. He kicked off his otherwise coherent set with a furious metal track, apparently a reference to a joke he’d made on Twitter. Feel free to skip the first two minutes of the recording. Beware also a NSFW rant about 40% through his set when his DJ equipment briefly gave out.)

#3. NERO

Nero at the Live Stage on Saturday. ©️ J.T. Fales

Nero at the Live Stage on Saturday. ©️ J.T. Fales

On Sunday, dubstep titans NERO rocked the Live stage with an electrifying live set, amplified by drum pads, synths, and of course, the live vocals of singer Alana Watson. Despite the relatively simple stage setup (when juxtaposed with the overproduction of the Main Stage, Resistance Stage, and Megastructure), NERO managed to absolutely slay the audience with their signature bassy riffs. This was the rare live set that may even sound better recorded than it was live, as it is easier to tell where the songs were augmented from their studio counterparts.

#4. BOTNEK

Botnek at Stage 7. Photo © J.T. Fales

Squirreled away on Stage 7 was one of the most potent weapons on Friday’s lineup: bass music duo Botnek. Their high-energy, vomitstep set was far the highlight of my Friday at Ultra. Filled with remixes of 90’s throwbacks and dirty, dirty drops, Botnek got the crowd thrashing around and dancing with a visceral fervor. It was one of those special sets where the music wordlessly brought me together with other dancers to rock out to one special song or another, whether it was Botnek’s definitive remix of The Chainsmokers‘ “Selfie,” or an edit of Rage Against the Machine‘s testosterone-tastic anthem “Testify.” At the end, I even heard one dancer wonder aloud that he couldn’t remember “the last time I danced that hard sober.”

#5. SNBRN

SNBRN at the Worldwide Stage on Sunday. Photo © J.T. Fales.

SNBRN at the Worldwide Stage on Sunday. Photo © J.T. Fales.

SNBRN played the Worldwide stage on Saturday in the mid-afternoon Miami light, a perfect setting for the captain of the “sunset house” movement. The only daytime set on this list, this one is a marked contrast to the techno and bass-heavy sounds of the immersive minor-key experiences of Eric Prdyz, Deadmau5, NERO, and Botnek. I was pleasantly surprised by SNBRN’s feel-good set, which was a well-mixed serving of groovy melodic house songs with considerable trap and hip-hop influence, including his hits “Gangsta Walk,” “California,” and “Raindrops.” While the others on this list left me feeling exhausted and fulfilled, SNBRN’s set recharged me and left me feeling good.

Find Me at Ultra 2016 for Free Stickers and Wristbands!

This weekend I’m in Miami, Florida, for Ultra Music Festival 2016. After years of livestreaming the event, I’m excited to finally be here to experience it in person. Day 1 is already over, and it did not disappoint. I’ll be posting a review about the whole experience soon. In the meantime, make sure to follow me on Snapchat (username: theEDMist) for live stories straight from Bayfront Park!

But more importantly – if you spot me inside, be sure to come say hi! I’ve got 200 wristbands to give away and a whole bunch of stickers.

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The EDMist wristbands say “E PLURibus Unum | One Beat. Much Love.”

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The wristbands say “E PLURibus Unum | One beat. Much Love.” As a refresher, E pluribus unum is a Latin phrase on the United States seal that means “From many, one.” I like how the idea can apply to EDM – many genres united in one community. (As a bonus, it happens to have the word PLUR – short for the rave credo of Peace, Love, Unity, and Respect – baked into it, so it seemed too perfect not to use.) The second part – “One beat. Much love.” – gets at the same idea of electronic dance music sharing certain base elements like a 4/4 beat while encompassing a staggering diversity of musical styles (not to mention the fans!).

I’ve also got a whole bunch of stickers with the same phrase and my Snapcode printed on them. Look for these in the crowd and try to find me!

 

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About to head into day 2 to see Nero. See you at Ultra!

 

The EDM Dictionary: VIP Mix (n.)

Definition

A VIP mix is a special edit or remix of a song made to be played as part of a DJ set. VIP stands for “Very Important Person,” meaning it has been designed for DJs to use, not for fans to listen to at home.* Because of their nature, VIP mixes are usually not officially released for mass distribution online, and copies of these songs therefore may be only available as bootleg recordings. However, some VIP mixes do see official or semi-official releases. For instance, Valentino Khan gave away his VIP mix of Deep Down Low” on SoundCloud “to celebrate the love [fans] have shown” for the song.

Explanation

VIP mixes are first and foremost a special treat for fans who come out to a live show. Plus, like any remix, they add new life to a song whose original mix may have gone stale.

*Source: Skrillex and Valentino Khan, OWSLA Radio, Episode 3, discussing the VIP mix of “Deep Down Low”. Skrillex: “This is the VIP mix, though. What does VIP mean?” Valentino Kahn: “That means Very Important Person.” Skrillex: “That means only DJs used to only be able to play this record. It’s a little bit different. It’s for the live ****. But he decided to put this out after the video dropped.”

PODCAST: Jayeson Andel Illuminates the World of his Debut Album, Urban Monks

Jayeson Andel has visions. A path lit by artificial fireflies. Oil slurping through veins of a human-machine hybrid. A colossal mech blazing a trail through a forest. A man walking the snowy streets of a moonlit metropolis, solitary as a monk.

Jayeson Andel lives in Edmonton.

Mastering engineer-turned-producer Jayeson Andel

These are vignettes from the world of Urban Monks, Jayeson’s debut album, released on Silk Music’s Arrival division in 2015. Urban Monks proved to be one of the best (and most overlooked) EDM albums of last year. It is a work of diverse genres, drawing from trance, chillout, dubstep, and glitch hop. In fact, Urban Monks reached the top 10 charts on Beatport in no less than five genres, according to bptoptracker.com. And yet in spite of their diversity, the songs feel cohesive and purposeful, grounded by powerful grooves, electrifying melodies, and exquisite sound design. Together, the songs provide glimpses into an unnamed world where humans, machines, and nature blend together.

Until now, we haven’t known much about that world beyond the tantalizing clues provided by the track titles, such as “We’ll Build It Here,” “Oil in the Veins,” and “Laughing Buddha.” That’s because this concept album doesn’t feature a single lyric.

So on Episode 4 of The EDMist Podcast, I ask Jayeson to let us in to the world behind the music. Over our 46-minute conversation, he reveals the concepts behind several tracks, the subtle sound design choices he made to bring his ideas to life, and the artists and films he drew on for inspiration.

About the eclectic sounds of Urban Monks Jayeson says, “The way I kind of describe it as a theme for everything is organic-infused cyberpunk.” (Don’t worry, I had to take a second to parse that too.) He explains: “I like the futuristic, high-tech, augmented reality world of cyberpunk, but it’s a little bit too noir for me. Like, you look, at say, Blade Runner, and it’s very dark and has that edge to it – which I like. But [Urban Monks] is this very organic, life-based world with trees and stones and everything there mixed with this futuristic tech side of things.”

Jayeson cites the films Elysium and Oblivion as specific points of inspiration, both of which explore worlds of marvelous technology and organic life through stunning imagery. While his medium is different, Jayeson clearly thinks of his music in cinematic terms, describing how he uses recurring themes in “We’ll Build It Here,” and “Awe” Parts I and II to recontextualize familiar motifs and “infuse the listener with this album.”

One of the aspects that sets Jayeson’s album apart is his incredible attention to detail in service of the greater narrative – for example, in the way he plants clues to his ideas deep in the sound design of each track. “I can’t even tell you how much I’ve actually sampled of different leaves and twigs and used that as part of my percussion layers,” Jayeson says. “I spent an entire session with a friend cutting up apples and just breaking them and twisting them and used that as a percussion element.”

In one fascinating moment, Jayeson reveals that he conceives of his tracks as three dimensional journeys. This is most apparent in the tracks whose titles suggest movement,  “Follow the Firefly Lanterns” and “Walking with a Colossus.” After hearing the ideas behind these tracks, I asked Jayeson whether he sees his songs not only as progressions through time, but progressions through space. “Yes,” he answers, “Absolutely. And that goes right down to the sound design of everything. … ‘Walking With a Colossus,’ the intro of that track … I wanted to have these footsteps, but it had to feel like it was percussion as well. So there’s these big orchestral bass drum sounds that I put an incredible amount of reverb on and put them lower in the mix so that it felt like these giant steps were being taken.”

By now you may have guessed that Jayeson is not your stereotypical DJ-producer of the sort that cobbles together a career with one-off hits and passable production skills. This Edmonton-based artist has had turns as a classical violinist, mastering engineer, and record label A&R person. And while he no longer DJ’s live, he does produce a regular mix for Silk Music Showcase that he feels just as passionately about as his own album. Not a bad resume for a 25-year-old.

Jayeson’s broad background enabled him to take a vertical approach to producing Urban Monks. While most albums are a collaborative effort between many parties, including producers, engineers, designers, and more, Urban Monks was nearly a solo effort, in which Jayeson crafted everything from the samples to the album art. Even the label seems to have been happy to let Jayeson do most of the driving. I asked Jayeson how much the titular track “Urban Monks” changed since he submitted the first demo to Silk. “Not at all,” he says.

Jayeson’s influences in the music world are, unsurprisingly, varied. While he grew up on the sounds of trance and progressive house, these days he is drawn to visionary, genre-defying producers like Porter Robinson, whose album Worlds shares many thematic elements with Urban Monks. “For the album itself, I think the two people who really took hold were Andrew Bayer and Seven Lions.” Jayeson reveals that “Walking With a Colossus,” the only dubstep track on Urban Monks, was modeled on Seven Lions’ sound, while the downtempo beats of Andrew Bayer’s 2013 album If It Were You, We’d Never Leave served as inspiration for the grooves of many tracks.

Like any good fantasy world, Urban Monks leaves you wanting to explore it further. But while Jayeson claims he’s “still figuring [the world] out” himself, future visits to this sonic landscape are uncertain. “I have some incredibly terrible news in that I lost all of the project files for this album,” Jayeson admits to me. “So this is one hundred percent standalone work. … And of course, I designed the album to be so unique with the sound design that no one could ever recreate it, and unfortunately that also includes me. So, this is a perfect, beautiful, piece of uniqueness that will never, ever be recreated or remixed.”

Listen to our full conversation for more insider info about Jayeson’s must-hear debut album – like which track was written in answer to the uplifting trance sound of Above & Beyond‘s “Blue Sky Action” – and subscribe to The EDMist Podcast on Soundcloud and iTunes for exclusive bonus content.

Show Review: Madeon’s Pixel Empire Tour at Emo’s

French electro-house DJ and former teenage prodigy Madeon visited Austin last Friday on his Pixel Empire tour, the most recent incarnation of his immersive live show originally known as the Adventure Tour. I was fortunate enough to witness the debut performance of the Adventure Tour at the Warfield in San Francisco last year, so I was looking forward to seeing how much had changed in the intervening year (and 1,500 miles!).

Madeon's Pixel Empire Tour features impressive graphics that make great use of his stage rig.

Madeon’s Pixel Empire Tour features impressive graphics that make great use of his stage rig. © J.T. Fales

The answer is: not much! Apart from some new material and some token trap beats thrown in here and there, the show sticks with pretty much the same live setup and feel as the Adventure Tour. This would be disappointing if I didn’t already think the Adventure Tour is one of the best EDM experiences you can spend your money on outside of a festival right now.

Because there’s no denying it: Madeon (a.k.a. Hugo Lerclercq) has not only created a dazzling, slick, powerful stage rig that leaves you feeling guilty every time you pick up your phone to take a picture; he has also developed a level of showmanship and verve worthy of a veteran rock star. (Oh, here’s your obligatory reminder that the kid is only 21 years old.)

The Venue

Emo’s is a large boxy space, something like a warehouse, located in the Riverside neighborhood of Austin. It was my first time there so I can’t compare the atmosphere to that of other EDM shows at this venue, although the people around me in the 20-minute line kept mumbling that this was the biggest turnout they’d ever seen for a show at Emo’s. That as may be, the space was big enough that, there was still plenty of space for shuffling in the back.

The diverse crowd was relaxed, with people wearing everything from collared shirts to sweatpants. I spent the first half of the night on one side of the room, where I gradually realized that the sound quality was impaired. After I moved to the back-center, the show sounded much clearer, and hit much harder.

Madeon, a.k.a. Hugo Lerclercq, is the soul at the center of the audiovisual extravagance who generates an electricity all his own. © J.T. Fales

A Pixellated Adventure

Despite the new name, the Pixel Empire Tour is substantially similar to the Adventure Tour I saw last year. The stage is exactly the same, and since Madeon hasn’t actually released all that many songs, you’re guaranteed to hear all of his hits (“You’re On,” “The City,” “Finale“… you know the rest). That being said, Hugo dropped at least two new tracks for us, which while not particularly mind-blowing, at least held up to the standard of the rest of his oeuvre. (A Youtube tipster calls one of them “Albatross”.)

What makes the Pixel Empire/Adventure Tour stand out among the many EDM tours going on right now is the many live elements Madeon brings to it. At the heart of the show are the Novation samplers that made Madeon famous in the first place, which he uses to delay, stutter, rearrange, filter, and generally explode his songs into echoes of themselves. Hugo showcases his remixing skills in the live mashup of his first hit “Pop Culture,” which throws in 42 samples from well-known pop songs. The impressive act demonstrates his ability to turn even dry old material into juicy, exciting new flavors. I also noticed his presence on the keyboard much more prominently this time around (although whether there was actually more of it or whether I was just more aware of it I can’t say for sure). These kind of live elements make every night unique, and in a culture where DJ’s just “press play” even (and especially!) on the biggest stages in the world, seeing a musician perform live music and mashups over his own tracks is refreshing.

But the true soul of Madeon’s show is the man himself. Hugo is a small, skinny guy, but like Freddie Mercury, he turns his lithe, little body into an asset on stage. You can see the passion radiating from every inch of Madeon’s body as he jumps, spins, and reaches toward the ceiling. He is as in tune with his own music as computer with its CPU; as the music rises, drops, and bends, so does he, an avatar of his own sound. One tiny example of this was when the screen behind him quickly went to black, as if a curtain had been dropped over it, just as the music went quiet for a moment. As the light moved down the screen, so did Madeon’s hand in front of it, like he was going down with it, or even pushing it himself. It was an effect that lasted maybe half a second, but it’s the tiny, perfectly synchronized details like this that make his show so captivating.

It’s hard to look away from Madeon’s performance. © J.T. Fales

I noticed an overarching story as the graphics evolved over the course of the show from large two-dimensional pixellated displays to ever-finer boxy images and eventually three-dimensional shapes, landscapes, and more traditional animations. The fantasy worlds depicted onstage very clearly resemble those of Porter Robinson‘s Worlds Tour, but this isn’t surprising given the duo’s close ties and perhaps decade-long association. His other biggest influence, Daft Punk, is equally as clear in the Pixel Empire tour, as samples of and homages to the robot duo’s electro-house backcatalog are scattered like easter eggs throughout the show.

Worth Seeing A Second Time

Madeon has developed a unique live rig for his shows. © J.T. Fales

If you’ve already seen the Adventure Tour, this show won’t be a surprise for you. But I personally think it’s good enough to see multiple times. We’ve all been to shows where DJ’s play the same sets you saw them play a few weeks or months ago, where you find yourself asking what you just paid for. With the audiovisual extravagance of the Pixel Empire and Adventure Tours, Madeon has given us a special, unforgettable experience that is worth revisiting for the energy and the details.

Show Review: Infected Mushroom at Vulcan Gas Company January 21, 2016

Thursday night offered a lot of firsts for me: it was my first time clubbing in Austin, first time seeing Infected Mushroom, and first time at the Vulcan Gas Company, one of the few venues here that gets big name EDM acts.

IMG_1325I’ve never listened much to Infected Mushroom, although I’ve heard their tracks here and there over the years. One of the few things I did know about them before the show was how unpredictable their music is, running over genre boundaries like a tank over barbed wire. This promised an interesting show, even if it’s not what I normally listen to. I also couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see them after hearing my friend Jon talk about the transcendental moment he experienced when he discovered them in middle school on the first episode of The EDMist Podcast.

The Venue

IMG_1341I was impressed with Vulcan Gas Company. Size-wise, it’s somewhere between a large bar (they all seem to be huge in Texas!) or a medium-large club. (San Franciscans can think of Public Works as the closest analog for a venue, but without the underground feel.) Vulcan is located on “dirty” Sixth Street in downtown Austin, stuck right into the heart of the seemingly endless row of college bars. This makes it highly accessible, especially because Sixth street is closed to vehicle traffic on weekend nights so you don’t have to fight with traffic to get there. I thought the online ticket price of $15 was a good deal, although the $30 price at the door seemed steep to me. Drinks were also reasonable ($5.50 for a gin and tonic), if a little dry. There are two bars in the venue, at which I had no trouble getting a drink. The industrial chic decor meshes well with the building’s exposed brick walls. Glowing columns of lights adorn the walls; I couldn’t decide if they were cheesy or cool. Finally, there is access to a rooftop deck where you can go for a smoke break (for those who partake) or a cooldown from the dance floor, which is definitely a sweet perk of this venue.

The vibe on this particular night was very relaxed, although since it was my first time I can’t be sure if it reflected the vibe of the club, the Austin scene, or the particular fanbase. (Infected Mushroom have been around for a long time and appeal to a crowd beyond the EDM-heads your “typical” dance music duo might draw.) I saw zero aggression for floor space, and there was always plenty of room to maneuver despite a fairly packed dance floor. People upstairs were even allowed to spin hula hoops and glowing poi. (This seemed like an accident waiting to happen but, hey, I don’t run the place.)

The Show

IMG_1306The opening DJ (whose name I didn’t catch) played an eclectic mix of trip hop and engaged the crowd with his own fervent dancing. He was followed up by Ram-Z, who served up the typical palate-cleansing pre-headliner house set that people nevertheless seemed to dig.

While Infected Mushroom are known for their wild stage setup, their performance on Thursday was only a DJ set. The Israeli duo came on at 12:15 to cheers, bringing their signature, genre-spanning sound with them. Early on they lit things up with the Zedd-esque riff of “Bass Nipple” before promising a psytrance set, which is of course the sound that they are best known for. While there was certainly plenty of it throughout the night, I heard influences as disparate as trance, hardstyle, dubstep, and electro mixed (or, rather, smashed) in as well. It was an energetic set whose driving beat switched tempos rapidly throughout the show. The fast pace of the changes kept things fresh and interesting, if a little unsettling. The energy really picked up about an hour after the set began, when the veteran DJs dropped the RIOT remixes of their own tracks “Kipod” and “Fields of Grey.” Both tracks brought the room down with their ferocious dubstep beats. See for yourself in the following video.

IMG_1316While I didn’t personally connect with the set, the crowd was clearly eating it up and I was able to feed off of their positive energy and have a good time. I would probably pass on seeing their DJ set again, but as a big fan of stage shows, I’d definitely give their live show a shot next time it comes around.

The EDMist Has a New HQ – in Austin, TX!

Austin calling. © J.T. Fales

Austin calling. © J.T. Fales

When I started The EDMist blog almost a year ago, I set out to cover the national dance music scene with a specific focus on the San Francisco community. The Bay Area EDM scene is one of the most vibrant in the country, and has an outsize national influence (SF only ranks 13th in the nation by population at 800,000 people but is one of the top tastemakers and creative centers for dance music today). I felt privileged to be a part of it and I wanted to create something that invited others to share in the special, diverse, welcoming vibe of that community while discovering new music, artists, and subgenres that reflect exciting new developments across the country.

Last month, I moved to Austin, TX. As the sole contributor to The EDMist, that means that the site’s focus will move with me. From now on, I will no longer be covering shows and gatherings in San Francisco, and will instead focus on the community and scene here in Austin.

Austin has a lot to offer. It can be described in very similar terms to San Francisco: It is a youngish, smallish city (founded 1835; population 900,000). As a progressive stronghold, it fiercely embraces its diversity and uniqueness. It is a booming tech hub with a young, tech-oriented, and increasingly wealthy population (earning it the nickname “Silicon Hills”). And it has a rich musical history with a staggering number of music venues.

The Austin Boardwalk. © J.T. Fales

The Austin Boardwalk. © J.T. Fales

Yet it offers many contrasts with San Francisco too. After just a month here, it’s clear to me that the EDM scene is not as expansive or developed as it is in SF. There are only a couple of venues that consistently book EDM acts. And Austin’s disposition towards live music (it is known as the “Live Music Capital of the World”) means that electronic music is more of a niche here and less of a movement.

I see these realities less as a sign of a weak scene than as an indication of the potential for explosive growth. People are pouring into Austin for the jobs and prime real estate available here, and with that influx of people is likely to come a horde of electronic music fans from cities all around the country (and beyond!). I want The EDMist to be a resource for them and a tool for helping bring together and expand the EDM community here.

All of that being said, I won’t be abandoning SF completely. Because I think the scene in San Francisco is so special and worth paying attention to (and because so much of my network is there!) I will definitely be more aware of what’s happening in SF and it will likely still play a large role in this new chapter of The EDMist blog and podcast. I just won’t be able to cover it from a first-person perspective.

Going forward, you can expect reviews of shows, events, and festivals in and around Austin (notably, South by Southwest and Austin City Limits) – starting this week! And as I have for the last year, I will continue to post music reviews, recommendations, and other stories that are not specific to Austin or any other city. The EDMist is aimed at a broad audience and I hope you can enjoy what I post here no matter where you live.

Thanks for reading the blog and for sticking with me on my journey. Be sure to follow me on Snapchat, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram for the most recent updates and recommendations from the blog and podcast.

Goodbye, San Francisco. © J.T. Fales

Goodbye, San Francisco. © J.T. Fales