SHIFT: Rides Again

by Andy Wibbels, | Images by Michael Smith

As you stuff the last few Girl Scout cookies in your face, you know spring is coming. And soon after the sadness of an empty box of Samoas, spring gets sprung, and the season of AIDS/LifeCycle begins. The city and the community jump to life with training rides and fundraising efforts for the twenty-third annual week-long bike ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles.

And the most exciting and fun part of the countdown to ALC is Paradigm’s SHIFT party!

Back from last year’s premiere, SHIFT is once again bringing together a broad cross-section of the city’s denizens for a night of amazing music and amazing people – with a portion of every ticket benefiting ALC. SHIFT now feels like the first big party of the circuit season and is definitely ascending to the upper pantheon of SF parties.

I cornered the sexy sextet production team at their launch party at Lookout to toss back Jell-O shots and get the details on the upcoming SHIFT party on April 1st at The Great Northern.

So you’re back! You guys are all still talking to each other. After some events, I know production teams kinda take a cooling off period. How are things coming together this year?  <Philip Grasso, Technical Director>: Our group is very cohesive. It feels right working with a group of six. We work off of each other’s ideas and rarely get into disagreements. It’s been so seamless. Of course we want to provide a fun time for our guests, but we also aim to have fun producing the party as well!

<Victor Martinez, Executive Producer> : Amazing! Amazing team of people. For lack of a better word, it’s running like buttah! We get together and throw spaghetti at the wall, just throwing funny ideas at each other. And we never want to take ourselves too seriously. The process and the party have to be a little tongue in cheek. It’s very stream of consciousness as we figure out how we can keep people amused at the party—or bring in something odd—or hopefully a little shock or surprise.

<Andy Lax, Hospitality and Music Director>: Because this is our second time, we started with more of a framework for how we wanted things to look. But we wanted to leave room for spontaneity. We had to leave room for freshness. We start riffing on ideas together and then someone makes a comment and a piece just falls into place. It’s a low drama team. Our theory is the party will be fun because the planning is silly.

What’s new? What’s different? <Grasso>: Last year we had several guests say SHIFT was the quintessential San Francisco party and that they hadn’t felt that feeling of community on the dance floor in a long time: that sense of inclusion that combines the circuit world and the drag scene and the burners and everyone in between. It’s also about the underlying mission to give back and have fun doing it.

<Martinez> Exactly. This year we are still building on the same sense of community and love and acceptance. That it’s about people coming together and making a conscious decision to celebrate. To come and rejoice and leave our problems behind when we go to the dance floor. We have appealed to this large network of friends that is reaching out to bring everyone together. I want people to come in and experience something special. Something memorable. Something singular: a community united by music, love, and affection.

<Joanna Parks, Talent Director>: Of course the venue has changed.

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That’s right. Last year was at Mighty. Well, it’s still the same street address, but Mighty has been transformed into a venue called The Great Northern. I was there for Heat with Ivan Gomez and then Brüt for Folsom back in September. It’s a fantastic remodel with the exposed brick and the art deco elements.
 <Lax>: It’s beautiful. And the sound system is great. I remember telling you at Brüt how it’s crystal clear. You didn’t have to yell at the person next to you to actually have a conversation. But you still felt the full range of music from bass to treble.

<Parks>: The remodel did take away the lounge space so now it’s one unified venue. There’s more flexibility in terms of the lighting, lasers, and visual design as well. We wanted to make sure to preserve the same ‘love bubble’ feel we had from last year but focus on bringing the entire crowd into one unified space.

<Lax>: The party isn’t split between spaces or several DJs. It’s one DJ on one dance floor. All night long.

<Grasso>: We’re able to use the venue more effectively than before so everyone is having the same unified experience all night long. And we can do lots of layering with the lasers, lights, projections, and performers.

And DJ Edu Quintas is back!  <Lax>: Yes! We were heading to dinner the day after last year’s SHIFT before he went back home. And we’re in the car and he asks, “So I’m your resident, right?” I said, “That’s a great idea.” We all agreed immediately and unanimously that SHIFT is Edu’s gig. I’ve loved Edu since I first worked with him five years ago. From the first night I heard him, he completely changed my taste in music and what I like. He’s played SF a couple times and has a better feel than ever for what the crowd will respond to.

<Edu Quintas, Resident DJ>: I flew in and was expecting this small party. And to my surprise it was packed. And it had that same amazing energy I felt when I was spinning REAL BAD. I had a great time and can’t wait to be back for SHIFT!

Tell me about the whole ‘love bubble’ thing.  <Jonathan Polly, Community Liaison>: That’s one of our call-outs to ALC. Last year we had lots of easter eggs and references to the AIDS/LifeCycle ride integrated into the space and overall experience for SHIFT. The ‘love bubble’ is what the riders call that feeling of trust, love, and teamwork that develops around the entire ALC experience. That sense of community and love is a direct inspiration and an anchor for the party.

<Martinez>: Like the red ribbon we had surrounding the crowd at one of the peak moments. That symbolized Red Dress Day, when cyclists create a red ribbon of hope for the end of AIDS, and for remembrance of those we lost, a ribbon that stretches 545 miles down California.

<Parks>: We pay tribute to the people who are riding because that’s a big fucking deal. This party celebrates that and helps them hit their fundraising goals.

And Joanna, I remember you saying you felt like you were in Brazil.  <Parks>: Yes! I’ve been to Brazil, actually the first time I saw Edu, Andy and I were in Brazil and we were blown away. And my best friend had been to Brazil. But we’d never been together. With Edu spinning, the Brazilian boys seriously came out for SHIFT last year, I felt like we got to have our own Brazil experience together right here in San Francisco. You know, you come away feeling that everybody is supporting everyone and danced their asses off to really good music in a great setting and it’s in support of ALC and the riders and the beneficiaries they work with.

<Simon Tam, Marketing Director>: The vibe isn’t super dark. It isn’t overtly or overly sexual. It’s not a play party. It does have all of that but we want SHIFT to feel quirky, flirty, playful and fun.

<Lax>: The vibe and feel will be familiar. It doesn’t aim to be the darkest party. It doesn’t try to be the sexiest party. We let those elements happen naturally. I mean, don’t worry everyone, there will still be lots of hot nearly naked men there.

Amen to that.  <Lax>: But we try to go beyond the usual stock image of a pornstar. I just want a party where my friends and their friends and their friends’ friends come and have an amazing time. Last year, I had these moments where I would just watch people enjoy themselves. You go to a lot of other parties in other cities and you can see where people can be very conscious of themselves and where they are. Last year I saw people truly get lost in the music.

But you’ll still have some sexy gogos right?  <Parks>: Yes and we’ll rise to the challenge. You want to have a diverse group. Somebody for everybody to see and enjoy. We have six dancers this year. I like to find dancers that not everybody has seen before. Last year we had a woman, we had some burners, we had a circuit boy with a fan. And that flexibility extends to the space. And with the remodel, the space allows us to ramp up our possibilities for what our lighting and laser designer, RAGErLAZER, and video designer, Visuals by 3, can do.

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And what’s with the bear, again? 
<Martinez>: That’s Happy Bear! {laughs}

<Lax>: We had started off saying that the poster needs to have people from all these different communities, and every SF party poster should have a bear and that turned into, “Why not just have a real bear?”

<Martinez>: Happy Bear is back again. You’ve seen him in our posters and social media. And he’s got a special friend he’s bringing with him this year. Though you’ll have to wait and see about that!

<Grasso>: The poster and the marketing includes friends that we know. Not models that we hired. We have the legendary Dulce de Leche as our drag personality. You probably saw her in a photo where she’s rolling on her rollerskates.

Yeah. The tagline was “ROLL.” And then your teaser campaign had Happy Bear stealing letters off the poster. <Tam>: Our marketing is an extension of last year’s campaign. Happy Bear is continuing on his journey and collecting new friends along the way. All towards creating a world of acceptance, inclusiveness and connection. That’s the heart of the campaign and its personality is flirty and fun…everything you can expect to experience at SHIFT.

How do you describe SHIFT to those that haven’t been before?  <Tam>: It’s people from our various communities all under one roof. It’s a party where you can just be yourself and have fun. Be who you are. We’re dedicated to an environment of inclusivity. We’re a team of friends and we get along well and I think that heart translates to the actual production. SHIFT has a heart and a soul.

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And the host system helps to bring in that gregarious warmth.  
<Lax>: Right. We have 40 hosts, half of them are ALC riders and the other half are non-riders partnered with a rider. A portion of every ticket they sell goes to that rider’s fundraising goal. Over half of the crowd that night will be there because they they are a friend or a friend of a friend. And we feel that intimacy and warmth extends to those that come in with a general admission ticket. Everyone attending can feel welcome in the club that night and have no hesitation in joining in the fun. We’re all in this together.

<Polly>: I’m so excited that there is so much buzz this year. Last year we were an unknown. This year there’s excitement. I look forward to outdoing ourselves and once again savoring the joy on people’s faces.

<Lax>: We aren’t in this to compete or have the biggest production or outdo anybody. I want as many people as possible to throw great parties.

And you’ve got Visuals by 3 and RAGErLAZER returning to do their visual magic. <Grasso>: That’s right. Last year 3 and I were just hanging out picking out memes and GIFs to project on the screens. It didn’t have to make total sense. We just wanted something fun and funny or whimsical and strange. Too often parties just have a constant dancing logo of the party or promoters; we wanted it to be fun and ridiculous.

Important question: Is the margarita blender coming back?  <Martinez>: Yes. The margarita blender powered by a bike is making its return. Be sure you’re on the dance floor when we fire it up!

And here’s a practical question first-timers will have, what do we wear?  <Martinez>: It’s totally open to interpretation. Last year we had people wear biker gear. Some red dresses to reference ALC’s Red Dress Day. You’ve got the circuit boy jock and high tops look. Or the leathermen of course. Or drag. Or just come in a t-shirt and jeans. It’s completely up to you. Feel at home. Feel exuberant. As a producer I know that we’ve done something special when it is 4am and the dance floor is still packed and we are having to scrape people off the dance floor. That’s when I’ll know we’ve done something special.

<Lax>: I spent part of the night in half a bear suit and a red tutu.

PARADIGM presents SHIFT on April 1st at The Great Northern, with DJ Edu Quintas, lights and lasers by RAGErLAZER, and Visuals by 3.
More information and tickets at


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