[Crime City Disco]
Every artist uses aliases for different reasons. Martin Skogehall, though, has explicitly used his for the same thing many people do: to give voice to a particular sound inside him: really intense techno, in the case of MRSK. Which is weird, because Skogehall is far too creative (or perhaps just restless) to hammer away at the same old sound for years, the way some producers do. Only this reason — and a good dash of Swedish loyalty, of course — can explain him reigning in the frenzied MRSK sound just enough to fit onto Crime City Disco, a label dedicated to “deep, slow and disco influenced” house. Along the way, he connects the improbable dots between house, techno, disco, and rave. Which would be an admirable, if only he’d managed to do it in classier fashion.
All soaring strings and loose guitar-bass, “Gunwar” is heavily indebted to disco, but it sports a tough percussive foundation which hints at Skogehall’s usual predilections. Mostly though, these traces are masked by the track’s jaunty, honkytonking piano, which is loads of fun if a tad forgettable. It sports a similar percussive substrate, but “Amblin’s Roar” shows just how different things can be with a new overlay. Unfortunately, this one leans more towards the shrill, loopy side of rave via an orchestra of bleeps and wails. A string-heavy breakdown does manage to connect the aforementioned dots again, albeit briefly, but its thrills are far too fleeting to balance out the rest of the duration. As usual, Skogehall’s refusal to stay in one box is admirable, but on this occasion, it feels like he might have done better sticking to a more well-oiled gun.]]>
Argot is hosting its first label showcase at Cameo Gallery this Saturday, July 19th. The night features the talents of Gunnar Haslam, Octo Octa (live), Policy, and LWE’s own Steve Mizek, and we want to give you a chance to be there for free. Just click this link and follow the instructions for your chance to win two tickets and a free copy for Eamon Harkin’s Back Down. Seems like a sweet deal to us, so get clicking.]]>
Welcome to DJ Debriefing, a series of LWE features where we ask DJs about the music they’re actually playing, both old and new. Our forth interview subject is the UK-born, Berlin based John Osborn. Literally a DJ first and foremost, Osborn has been behind the decks since 1992 and developed a sizable following for his deep, dubby, hypnotic style. More recently he and DJ October founded the labels TANSTAAFL (There’s No Such Thing As A Free Lunch) and TANSTAAFL Planets, which host music from both founders (Osborn having gotten into the production game as well) and talents as varied as John Daly, Bill Youngman, KEL, and Tallmen. 785. John reached out with an exclusive mix (found at the bottom of the article) recorded at a secret location in Tokyo, so LWE decided to catch up with this sought after selector who was just today announced as joining the line-up of the 2014 Labyrinth festival in Japan.
Let’s pretend we’re starting at the beginning of a DJ set. What would you say is one of your favorite opening tracks, something you’re able to start with no matter when you’re playing in the evening?
John Osborn: I have quite a few of these tracks that change over time. There is never a single track, but one track of many that I guess all do a similar service and that is to reset the dance floor and to mellow it out. I really enjoy building up my own vibe and putting my own stamp on the duration of the night. I quite liked the old UK dubstep/jungle DJ ideology of actually stopping the music between DJs as we are different people — albeit having been booked for having similarities in sound but, at least hopefully, we have different styles that suit and compliment each other.
The first few records are something I obsessively contemplate, so over the years I have built up a mental crate of quite a few good tracks that I like to open with. Currently I enjoy using “A Hymn To Him” by The Persuader, or more recent is a new track from Scuba called “Aphids.” Neither have a kick drum and have a very dramatic feel. Its quite enjoyable to see how long I will actually let the track play for before I mix out of it. If I am feeling in the mood I will go one step further and choose a track like Roger 23′s “No Movement In A Cycle,” or even something darker like Raime’s “Retread” and then build up from here. Or if I do feel like I want to keep the beat rolling but just drop the vibe then a lot of Fred P’s music does this job well. I could go on forever.
Do you enjoy playing your own tracks in your sets?
I play them when they are still unreleased so I get the opportunity to “test drive” them and hear them on a big sound system, see what needs changing and what kind of reaction they get. But pretty much once they are out I rarely play them. I think this is a personality issue I still need to deal with as it makes me feel kind of awkward.
Earlier this year you released a collaboration with Tallmen785. Tell me how that came together and maybe a little bit about your collab partner, as he’s a new name to me.
Tallmen785 is Brian Mitchell. It was around 2008 and he was fresh in Berlin from the U.S. He was into my sound and came to nearly all the TANSTAAFL parties, this is how we initially met. I kind of shared a studio space with him and he has been helping me learn the deeper music theory side of electronic music production over the past year. He is a really amazing jazz guitarist with an ear that most producers would envy, I know I do. Tom Diccico got in touch with me just as I was moving gear into the studio and I thought why not break the “studio partnership” in by doing this release together. Tom kindly agreed to this, as he was a fan of the Tallmen track on TANSPLAN, and it turned out to be a very fruitful working relationship and we are currently working on more stuff together now for RunOutRun.
The summer is just getting going, but I wonder if there is any track in particular you’d consider your “summer jam”?
I don’t think I have ever thought of a record to be a summer jam, although I am aware that certain music will work better in sunny locations. I feel that seasonal music is something that is more for mainstream “pop” than for real house music. A killer house track works all year round.
What are a couple of the records you can always reach for if you notice the crowd isn’t feeling what you’re playing?
Falko Brocksieper, “Outride A Crisis.” An aptly named track for such a situation don’t you think? Haha, but yeah, this always motivates the floor to listen and dance with intent. Or October’s “Singularity Jump” on TANSTAAFL. Straight up killer.
Are there any other tracks that when you first heard them you didn’t think that they would work in a club context, but then you actually tried it, it worked better than you expected?
Actually I would have to say October again, and that is his “Homo Sapiens” track — the first release on Caravan from 2008. I always thought it was way to deep and heady for a dance floor track — more an after-hours number– but I dropped it once with intent of slowing the pace down and got and incredible response as the bass washed in.
What would you say are some of your favorite or go-to tool tracks?
Stuff by Delano Smith, Fred P, DJ ESP, Mike Huckaby, Mr G, Norman Tally, Steven Brown and some early Radio Slave always keep things chugging along nicely.
I know you recently played in Ibiza. I wonder if you can share your thoughts on playing there and maybe why you feel like many DJs consider it an essential place to play?
It was definitely interesting. The people are there to have a whole year’s worth of savings of fun all in one big explosion, so they are not really up for faffing about with deep wandering story telling sets. They want a bang and they want it instantly, so you need to be aware of this, and also to be sympathetic to it. I certainly found myself mixing much quicker than I normally do, to inject more energy and finding out how I can make this type of dance floor work within my musical palette. I think it is considered so important to play there purely based on the fact that for more than two decades people have been going to this stunning island just to hear house and techno and to party. This has built up self perpetuating scene over the years meaning that the people want to hear the best, and if you’re playing there it means you have made it some way up the ladder of DJ success. Bottom line is, I am looking forward to going back that’s for sure.
Have you had the opportunity to play at any music festivals? When playing those sets, what do you do differently to make sure your set goes over well with that kind of crowd?
In general it is really hard to read a festival crowd because your more than often put on a high up stage so that your immediate “vibe” connection is lost. You have to concentrate more on the sweet spot of the crowd and try your best to reinstate that connection and certainly not worry about the people on the peripheral edges — they are only half listening anyway. If you build a good connection with the sweet spot of the crowd, that sweet spot will grow, dragging in the peripheral half-listeners and turn them into full on hands-in-the-air ravers if you drop the right tunes at the right time. Having said all that, I do play club music that is meant for night clubs. They are two different worlds and I am definitely more about the club. There is one festival I am looking forward to playing this year which manages to cement to two (ether)real environments together — Labyrinth in Japan. Really looking forward to that one.
What is your favorite time of day to play? And perhaps a favorite length of time?
I like the twilight hours, which in Berlin can be at several points in the 48 hour marathons clubs stay open for. I enjoy being able to go a bit weird and deep but still keeping things chugging up to a climax and I really need at least four hours to do proper damage. I will take three, but anything under two is just pointless.
What would you say is the oldest record that’s still in your DJ bag? What about the newest?
Well, the oldest that is pretty much always with me is Dionne, “Come And Get My Loving,” which was released in 1988. Such a tune. The newest, well, that was the promo I decided to download today, haha! It’s taken from a forthcoming album on Ninja Tune, Moiré’s Shelter and the track is called “Stars.” But he newest track I actually played recently in a club was a Spencer Parker remix of a track called “Vostok” by Rekord 61, or even a new ESS003 that I closed the set in Ibiza with and I don’t think this has even made the promo rounds yet.
In addition to TANSTAAFL, you also run the sub-label TANSTAAFL Planets. What brought about this sub-label and what differentiates it from the parent label?
The sub-label is for other artists that we like, and the parent label is currently for mine and October’s output. This may change. Nothing is set in stone, I have learnt that over the past years. Keep changing, keep evolving and things stay fresh and interesting.
Now for some gear-oriented questions: What kind of headphones do you use, what kind of needles do you use, and what is your favorite record bag?
Sennheiser HD-25s. I no longer have a record bag as I recently switched over to playing vinyl via digital medium which means all I carry is a little leather pack of SD cards and my MacBook. I am still playing vinyl though, via a high quality ripping set up that includes a Nagaoka MP-500 cartridge. This means my vinyl recordings actually sound better in the club than if I played the vinyl. Even if the decks were perfect and the needles were brand new, they can’t beat the sound I get via my ripping station. So for all the diehard vinyl only heads out there, sorry guys, but in this case. Through this process, sound quality wise, my digital files piss all over real wax in a club, unless you want to DJ on Thorens turntables with Nag carts (no back spins, cues and no pitch controller!). This is even something I would like to take up with Tony Andrews from Funktion One.
What’s your preferred mixer? More realistically perhaps, what kind of mixers are on your technical rider?
After two years of being a resident at a club with a Urei 1620 with EQ expansion I can say I do NOT like rotary mixers. I appreciate the sound, and the gorgeous, musical sweep on the pots themselves but long slow blends, no drama or action is not what I do as a DJ, it’s just not my style. So an Allen & Heath Xone:92, or actually, and controversially, I would prefer the Pioneer DJM900 Nexus mixer. Personally I like the cleaner, less EQ-ed sound it has to the A&H and I definitely prefer the DJM900 layout. A few current trend bomb shells there I guess, no records and no rotaries! Haha.
I used to be super trendy by default, labeled a vinyl-only, deep dubby house DJ, but the truth is I just never learned how to use CD players because I started DJing and buying vinyl in 1992 and saw no need to use CDs. Now I have made the effort to learn more about modern DJing technology mainly because I was motivated by the concept of having better sounding vinyl via a high end ripping station recording 24-bit aiffs. This has meant I have moved away from current dance music trends within my scene. I get a lot of shit for this by my “vinyl-only” contemporaries, but all I care about is sound quality and this takes a lot of my time up: cleaning, recording; and metadata labeling my tracks. At the end of the day its what ever works best for you, what excites you the most and what your tastes are. On my rider is the DJM 900 Nexus and/or the Allen & Heath Xone:92.
What’s coming up from you and your labels during the second half of 2014?
There is a collaboration from myself and October to come on TANSTAAFL, and there is also the second collaboration with Tallmen.785 on RunOutRun at end of this year. For the beginning of next year I have a solo EP on Hotflush Records lined up. Also we have plenty of great releases lined up for TANSTAAFL PLANETS, from the likes of Lerosa, XDB, Joey Anderson and some new debut artists. Plenty happening that’s for sure!
Download: John Osborn, LWE Presents Live In Tokyo (61:07)]]>
Riverwest Festival, which took place July 4th-6th in Chicago, had a lot going for it even before the gates opened. Like a lot of major American cities, Chicago is finally hungry enough for dance music that a whole festival of it seems feasible. And with Wavefront Fest canceled this year, Riverwest stood poised to attract all the beat-hungry people not satiated by the EDM-focused Spring Awakening, the Chosen Few Reunion Picnic, or a few smaller street festivals featuring DJs. Riverwest’s line-up was broad enough to attract the above ground masses (acts like Deep Dish, Excision, and Guy Gerber), underground heads (with DJ Koze and Marcel Fengler), and all those in-between. Even better, the festival was centrally located across from Goose Island. Many of its organizers are veterans of Chicago’s club scene and several were involved with Wavefront in previous years, so it was an experience crew at the helm.
In some ways, Riverwest lived up to this potential. Being a relatively small festival, it was easy to get around, buy food or drink, access the toilets, and even the most sought after acts were never overcrowded. The weather behaved for most of the weekend except for a light drizzle on Saturday night, otherwise staying warm and mostly sunny. And most importantly, the artists delivered the goods almost universally.
Unfortunately there were some significant organizational flaws that kept Riverwest from being a full-on success story. The most glaring was the Belvedere Terrace Stage, located on the rooftop deck of the bar/restaurant Estate, which for all intents and purposes was its own separate event. Fest ticket-holders were not guaranteed access to the roof because of capacity issues, which Estate security staff told me topped out at 250 people. The only way to get up there was waiting in two long lines that moved only when someone else left the terrace — unless you wanted to buy a bottle service table for $1,500. And if you were one of the all-ages ticketholders, you weren’t getting into the 21+ Estate at all. On Friday, I spent all of Marcel Fengler’s set queuing, barely able to hear the music piped inside over the din of the crowded bar. Upon ascending to the terrace an hour later I found it was nowhere near 250 people full, looking more like 125-150 spread out across the roof’s two levels, with only 75 or so near the booth. And since it was one-in-one-out, you couldn’t leave to explore other stages or get food unless you didn’t mind missing other acts.
The other downsides were smaller but still noteworthy. In addition to a lack of printed schedules anywhere (fest-goers were encouraged to visit the online schedule instead), none of the stages were labeled by their respective alcohol sponsor (Belvedere, 312 [Goose Island], and Veuve), so guess work and word-of-mouth was required to figure out where you needed to be at what time. Security was exceptionally tight and particularly aggressive in policing the festival grounds, the work of Premier Tactical Solutions Corp, a militia-for-hire whose staff wore fatigues and bulletproof vests like they were ready for a riot. While I’m sure that rooted out a lot of illegal drugs, it didn’t make me feel anymore safe or comfortable. The large stages were positioned no more than a few hundred feet apart, which meant there were significant sound bleed issues at almost all times. Perhaps most annoying was some of the stage management, which left more than one exasperated DJ watching their set time melt away while techs scrambled to set up gear between sets instead of during other sets. It seemed like the logistics of keeping a dance music festival running smoothly — like having booths large enough for two sets of gear — hadn’t been fully considered by those charged with doing so. This added up to a sense that Riverwest Fest was thrown together somewhat haphazardly.
Upon getting acclimated with the festival grounds and catching the tail-end of local DJ Mantas Steles’ opening up the Veuve Stage, I began the long process of getting on Estate’s roof. When I arrived Matador was playing a live set of what I can only describe as MOR party tech-house whose asethetic at times suggested the last six or seven years of dance music never happened. Another sad reminder of how far M_nus has fallen. A distressed looking DJ Koze started nearly 15 minutes late while the crew belatedly set up CDJs, but proceeded to work his magic from the first beat. His beautiful chosen melodic house tracks, all warped by extensive and expressive uses of effects, fit the late afternoon sunshine to a tee. It felt like a rare treat to be among the 150 or so people soaking up his chunky, psychaedelic selections, although I felt sad for the many waiting downstairs.
As Henrik Schwarz set up, I noted that the 312 Stage in the distance behind him was still as lightly attended as it had been all day. It felt especially unfair to see a full-on stage woefully empty while at least 100+ people waited in vain for rooftop access. Schwarz’s live set proved to be more frenetic and free than I had expected, rifling through his catalog of soulful house music. It started, of course, with “Chicago,” and despite stage monitors that couldn’t keep up with his need for volume, Schwarz gave engaging performances of “I Exist Because Of You,” his remix of Emmanuel Jal’s “Kuar,” and his remix of James Brown’s “It’s A Man’s World” interspersed with snare rolls and dynamic EQing. After that, hunger and a lack of interest in Visionquest’s lengthy set led me home for a while. I skipped all the various official Riverwest Fest afterparties in favor of Derrick Carter doing (mostly) disco all night long at Smart Bar, which was fantastic. If you ever get the chance to see him playing disco, don’t miss your chance.
Unlike Friday, most of the acts I most wanted to see on Saturday were playing the 312 Stage rather than Estate. Enjoying pleasantly overcast skies, the first set I caught was by Heidi. While Canadian by birth and raised in the spirit of Detroit, it’s clear that what’s in her heart is jacking house influenced by Chicago. No matter what she played, jacking percussion was at the core and nicely suited for afternoon ass-shaking. Matt Tolfrey offered his own house sound on the Veuve stage, albeit one cut with a techno edge. While not quite my style, it was better than the lowest common denominator festival house of Steve Lawler who followed him. Lawler did attempt to finish on a high note, playing “House Nation” by The House Master Boyz until he was abruptly cut off so techs could switchover the set-ups. Watching one the festival organizers apologize on-stage to the understandably miffed Lawler was uncomfortable but reassuring. I also caught parts of DJ Tennis, who started out strong with some melodically complex modern disco-house, but quickly retreated to safer, straight ahead festival house cuts that led me to wander.
Marcel Dettmann, who played the 312 Stage as night began to fall, is rightly included in the upper eschelons of darker techno DJs, but he doesn’t get enough credit for the musical breadth of his sets. It was great fun hearing him work out of his banging techno wheelhouse into more melodic territory, then slice into stirring house cuts like Fingers Inc.’s “Music Take Me Up.” It was easily the most dynamic set I’ve seen him play, which more than made up for the smaller crowd he drew compared to Lee Foss and then Deep Dish. I watched the reunited prog veterans for a little while and found they were playing music much more closely aligned with their respective solo aliases (Dubfire and Sharam), although a few goofy prog moments made it in, as well.
Dixon closed out the 312 Stage with a set very much in line with his appearance at Movement Festival a little more than a month ago. What’s interesting about Dixon is that while he’s musically rather close with his more middle-brow peers, his selections and pacing is superior. He played several of the weekend’s big tunes — I was able to pick out Moderat’s “Bad Kingdom” remixed by DJ Koze and Ame’s unreleased remix of “From Nowhere” by Dan Croll (who sounds alarmingly like Big Bird). It does make me yearn for the days when he was still playing deep house, but for what he does, he’s certifiably the best in the business. Unfortunately it wasn’t enough to keep the crowd moving, leading Heidi to jump on the mic and exhort Chicago to put more energy into their response. But, in all honesty, the crowd proved lackluster at dancing all weekend, not just for Dixon.
I decided to skip the Sunday portion of the festival, as even its most appetizing names (Apollonia, Benoit & Sergio) were not enough to justify a third day in the sun. And no one needs me complaining about DJs I knew were not going to keep me entertained.
Early on I was told by festival staff that Riverwest Fest was already scheduled to return in 2015. While I welcome the opportunity to attend another dance music festival with sought after artists, Riverwest will need to greatly improve upon its organization and layout (perhaps looking to Movement for guidance) to win back disgruntled fest-goers. Otherwise it will be all too easy to simply attend afterparties and leave the festival itself to the naive masses.]]>
For their 15th anniversaries, the Mutek and Elektra festivals combined into EM15, pushing past musical, visual, artistic, technological, and spatial boundaries for six days of electronic arts showcases, panels, workshops, and installations. Mutek continued to honor its traditions of well-rounded and sophisticated musical programming, booking a variety of avant-garde audio-visual showcases from both veteran and up-and-coming artists while still offering plenty of floor-friendly options throughout the week. The new festival headquarters were located inside the beautiful Musée d’art Contemporain (MAC). And, while many lamented the loss of the Société des Arts Technologiques (SAT) as a performance venue, the museum spaces and centralized location within the Place des Artes complex yielded some inspiring performances and ample opportunities to engage in interactive experiences both indoors and outdoors. This year’s attendance was higher than in years’ past and the festival’s scale was larger than ever, prompting organizers to add a couple of repeat showcases to accommodate more guests due to sold-out performances.
The experience of attending this festival, however, still means being an interactive consumer of forward-thinking electronic and digital arts, with plenty of showcases offering opportunities to get up-close and personal with performers and create an individualized experience throughout the week. Even the downstairs hall of the MAC provided an acoustically pristine and visually-engrossing space to consume the experimental works in the PLAY series, where those taking a break from the main events could enjoy great thought-provoking music and visual give-and-take from the likes of many local standouts including Fake_Electronics, Chat Noir, and Woulg, among others.
Sigrid Vandenbogaerde. Photo by Diego Cupolo
Mutek has a tradition of slotting several big-name artists in the first two days of the festival and, since we arrived on Thursday, we missed much-anticipated and well-reviewed performances from Shackleton and Kangding Ray among others. When we arrived in the Impérial Theater (another new venue choice) on Thursday evening for the A/Visions showcase, Todor Toderoff was providing beats while Sigrid Vandenbogaerde’s chilling vocals crescendoed as she smacked her cello between vigorous bowing. The first half of the stirring set of Re: ECM material from Ricardo Villalobos and Max Loderbauer was ambient and ethereal, slowly incorporating more pulse-driven material delivered through the combined setup of a laptop and a modular system. The visuals for this night were subdued, letting the music take center stage. A quick look around the seats in the dark theater and we saw a good number of audience members taking catnaps, an accepted and not uncommon practice for the A/Visions showcases.
Ben Frost. Photo by Caroline Hayeur
TM404. Photo by Jeanseb Roux
Matthew Hawtin. Photo by Jeanseb Roux
Thursday’s Nocturne showcase at the MAC was headlined by a commanding, rib-rattling performance from perennial Mutek favorite Ben Frost, a welcome respite from the relentlessly challenging experiments in noisy oddities coming from Rashad Becker. Up the street, Richie Hawtin brought his ENTER party to Métropolis, which had a decidedly younger and more intoxicated crowd than any other event of the week. A fantastic live PA full of trippy acid tracks from TM404 opened the main room, slowly building from in tempo from sub-110 BPMs to a full-on techno onslaught. Meanwhile, a well-appointed ambient showcase headlined by Matthew Hawtin was enjoyed by a small crowd in the Savoy room upstairs. As the night went on, the music in the main room felt far too monotonous to warrant sticking around.
JTC. Photo by Diego Cupolo
Though Mutek ticket prices continue to climb, the free Expérience events are still offered and well-attended. On Friday, Austrian techno jam band Elektro Guzzi was the perfect danceable afternoon soundtrack for the even more perfect weather, especially after a delicious coffee and snack from one of the gourmet food trucks stationed right outside the MAC. Expérience 3 on Saturday hosted an outstanding DJ set from James T. Cotton that blended deep house sounds of the Detroit and Chicago persuasions and a surprise appearance from Space Dimension Controller closed out the showcase.
Audion. Photo by Diego Cupolo
On Friday night, the opening act on the Métropolis main stage was, once again, the highlight of the evening. Voices From The Lake had everyone transfixed with the immensity of their chugging, percussive techno, which was — despite its loop-driven format and lack of melodic presence — as emotive as it was stoic. Matthew Dear certainly had a hard act to follow with his Subverticul live set as Audion. Even barely visible inside a giant led-lit floating spherical structure, Dear didn’t lack stage presence. He gave a far less-polished musical performance than usual, however, resulting in some sequencing issues. The crowd didn’t seem to mind, going wild with each bass drop, buzz, and squelch. All said, the visual spectacle was a bit too distracting.
SWACK. Photo by Jeanseb Roux
Upstairs in the Savoy room, crowds were grooving to a deep and sensual set of original tracks with vocals from Stefny Winter and Claire Kenway performing as SWACK. Alicia Hush, whose energy was simply infectious and matched the danceable, funky techno being delivered to the hot and steamy room, closed out the night. While we did not make it to the MAC in time to hear the jazzy techno offerings of Archie Pelago, Heatsick was heating up the crowd with raw house completely programmed in real time on a primitive, Casio-like keyboard. Like some of Mutek’s live performances over the years, the product sometimes gets sacrificed at the expense of the process. To our ears, the simplistic chord-based synth sounds and limited selection of percussion samples resulted in an extremely repetitive set that dragged on for far too long, but the dance floor absolutely ate it up.
Robert Henke. Photo by Caroline Hayeur
The most innovative and ambitious audio-visual projects are often presented during the last two A/Visions showcases and this year was no exception. On Friday, Robert Henke’s “Lumière,” an absolutely staggering presentation of sonic delights and laser-induced euphoria, was beyond impressive and rather difficult to capture with words. Following a polite request that everyone keep their mobile devices off until the encore portion of the set, Henke controlled the everything from a desk in the middle of the theater’s seats. The constant motion of two high-powered lasers and moving mirrors were mapped to every parameter used to create the highly-textural and intricate music, which ranged from ambient to industrial-like soundscapes using an amazing array of different frequencies. The lasers drew shapes and figures “presenting the archaic sign language of an alien culture communicating via emerging and disappearing traces of extremely bright light,” according to Henke’s web site. The stimulus of the audio-visual interplay was almost overwhelming, resulting in a truly breathtaking and transcendent experience.
Herman Kolgen. Photo by Caroline Hayeur
On Saturday night, the final A/Visions showcase culminated with the convergence of experimental film and music. Herman Kolgen’s “Seismik” was a forceful sonic and optical juggernaut. Thematically-driven by earthquake vibrations, Kolgen used advanced instruments to capture seismic data in real-time creating visual output containing drawings of magnetic fields layered over high-definition landscapes. The performance was, at times, dripping with tension, only to be broken up by startling distorted sounds of crashing airplanes and screeching high-pitched beeps. Intercity-Express & Synichi Yamamoto, who followed, also utilized landscapes, alternating between earthly images and more abstract and geometric offerings. The music was atmospheric and buoyant, providing some much needed release following the intensity of Kolgen’s performance.
Magic Mountain High. Photo by Miguel Legault
Late Saturday evening involved a lot of running between venues for stacked lineups. Over at Métropolis, the analogue-heavy trio of Magic Mountain High (Move D and Juju & Jordash), drifted between dubby atmospheric grooves and deep acid lines that got the room moving. The tracks towards the end of the set featured a lot of guitar strumming that didn’t add much to the overall compositions, but other elements of improvisation throughout created some unique song structures. At the museum, Pinch gave a tour de force performance, mixing ominous subterranean deep bass tracks into and out of techno and slow-burning electronica. The room was dripping with sweat, which set up the crowd for Lee Bannon’s mixture of jungle and ragga-infused drum and bass. We ran back to Métropolis in time to catch most of Ricardo Villalobos’s extended early-morning DJ set that hearkened back to a decade ago, when he played a percussive mixture of many different techno and house flavors at a rapid pace.
Ricardo Villalobos. Photo by Miguel Legault
This year’s Mutek edition of Piknic Electronik drew an absolutely enormous crowd compared to any other year prior and, sadly, the overall atmosphere of the event suffered. The attendance spike produced insufferably long lines for food, drinks, and toilets that caused much frustration. In previous years, this event had a relaxed vibe with a wide age range among patrons, including many families with small children. As day turned into night, the crowd was dominated by non-Mutek participants, especially very young partiers who seemed more interested in getting intoxicated or hooking up than the music.
Ricardo Villalobos. Photo by Caroline Hayeur
Pinch. Photo by Caroline Hayeur
In terms of musical offerings, however, this year’s lineup far surpassed those of the last several years. The smaller stage featured two surprise guests: Villalobos opened, playing a mixture of delightfully weird minimal house, while Pinch followed, curating an excellent series of quirky dubstep tracks that made it impossible not to wiggle. On the main stage, Move D threw down a superb set of classic house and disco tunes that transfixed the crowd and slapped looks of unadulterated joy on everyone’s faces, while Dozzy ushered in the night with a flawless set of pounding, yet danceable techno. With an early flight mere hours away, we opted for sleep and missed the final Nocturne event. The showcase featured distinct performances and a cohesive jazzy jam session between Canadian artists The Mole, Mike Shannon, and Guillaume & The Coutu-Dumonts, as well as the polarizing 5-hour “from scratch” improvisational set from Nicolas Jaar and a cast of performers and video artists.
Move D. Photo by Caroline Hayeur
Donato Dozzy. Photo by Caroline Hayeur
Mutek has always strived to be more than just a festival experience and, after 15 years, it continues to succeed in nearly every aspect from the superior sound systems, to the cutting-edge lighting and production designs, to the wide-reaching musical curation, to the selection of spaces, to its unparalleled dedication to fostering connections between artists and attendees. Experimentation and innovation are still valued and, while a few performances invariably fall flat, they are nothing if not thought-provoking and challenging. What sets Mutek apart from other festivals is that you don’t simply leave entertained, you’re left feeling inspired, enriched, and educated.]]>
Being the birth city of house music, there is a surprising dearth of dance music festivals here in Chicago. Spring Awakening (aka the EDM Bowl in Soldiers Field) and the Chosen Few Picnic (truly closer to a huge family reunion) aside, the only dance festival of recent times has been Wavefront, located on Montrose Beach. The city shut that down to in response to a bevy of noise complaints last year, and Riverwest Festival has quickly taken its place this weekend from July 4th-6th. In kind, LWE has prepared this quick guide to the festival with our picks highlighted. More info is available at the Riverwest Festival website.
Inphinity & Kalendr
The Martinez Brothers
Jimmy Edgar vs Danny Daze
Lee Foss & Anabel Englund
Garrett B & Dabura
Robots On the Run
Benoit & Sergio
Black & Yellow
Hot Since 82
The electronic music festival taking place in Detroit over Memorial Day weekend has been known by many names and has endured some ups and downs over the past 15 years. Now that the production and promotions group Paxahau has wrapped up its ninth edition of Movement, it’s clear that the festival only continues to grow in size and scope, as evidenced by a record-busting attendance estimate of over 107,000 people and an announced confirmation of next year’s tenth edition. Ticket prices reached a new high, but three 12-hour days of music on five stages still makes for a bargain when one considers the increasingly professional event production. Movement’s continued growth is in part the result of attempts to reach broader audiences and tap into mainstream electronic music culture. But respect is due to Paxahau for showing great respect to Detroit’s electronic music history through music-driven programming and dedication to showcasing the talent of artists formerly and currently based in Detroit. Here is LWE’s belated review of the festival, representing just one of the many different experiences fest-goers could have this year (including a few notes from LWE editor Steve Mizek).
Metro Area was a standout on the Red Bull-curated main stage on Saturday. The massive rig proved none too large for the house duo, having just revived their live set for touring within the last year. Deep, soulful, and funky, their performance became a fitting soundtrack for a lovely sunset as they closed out their set with “Miura.”
But, the night belonged to Daniel Bell, whose live set as DBX featured stripped down updates of his body of work were weaved together utilizing an all hardware setup and live vocals for minimal classics like “Baby Judy.” It was an unforgettable set from a techno legend. The icing on the cake was a surprise appearance from none other than 7th City labelmate John Tejada on the drums.
Detroit’s Underground Resistance presented Timeline on the main stage to close out the night. Like a love letter to Detroit, UR kept tradition alive with their own brand of hi-tech jazz. One of the only live bands to play at the festival besides the other UR affiliate, Los Hermanos, the group engrossed the massive audience around the main stage with an extended set heavy on improvisation and marked by tight ensemble playing. In addition to their own productions, the group treated the crowd to jazzed up covers of techno classics like Joey Beltram’s “Energy Flash.” No matter what iteration of Underground Resistance plays the festival (as they have several times), the moment always feels both nostalgic and fresh.
The Underground stage
Move D somehow overcame some serious record-skipping to treat afternoon revelers to some classic house-laden grooves on the Moog stage. His good natured jabs at the production team — “What a surprise that they’re not prepared for vinyl at Movement!” — also helped leaven the mood. The crowd when wild when he dropped Floorplan’s “Never Grow Old,” which seemed to be the track of the weekend for both house and techno DJs alike, including Radio Slave and The Black Madonna.
Voices From The Lake’s live set was driving and ominous while Function’s devastating kick drums were complemented by just the right amount of squelch and celestial atmospheres that made the set feel totally otherworldly. Unfortunately, the subtleties of their music were lost within the setting of the cavernous underground stage.
Photo by Steve Mizek
One of the better DJ sets I saw during Movement was Dixon’s perfectly time sunset slot at the Beatport stage. Offering the rapt crowd a precisely-paced selection of unfussy grooves, pointed melodies, and whimsical vocals, Dixon proved once again why he’s at the top of the game. His was one of few sets to keep me at the Beatport stage for more than a few minutes.
Daniel Avery’s much-anticipated slow-burning house set ushered early Memorial Day attendees down to Hart Plaza in the afternoon, toeing the line between hypnotic dubby numbers and blissful melodic tracks. Heidi was also an early standout, bringing her infectious energy to the Beatport stage alongside her brand of jacking tech-house.
Perennial crowd favorite, Techno Grandma
Once again, the most impressive techno sets fell sonic victims the concrete underground area adjacent to the main stage. Many felt frustrated that otherwise excellent performances from the likes of Orphx, Function, Voices of the Lake, and Black Asteroid, among others, sounded muddy.
Many of Detroit’s up-and-coming locals, along with a handful of internationally-renowned artists, had the unfortunate job of DJing on the newly added Silent Disco stage. Silent Disco sets usually seem like a novelty best-suited for events inside an art gallery or museum rather than a large outdoor festival. It was difficult at best to justify missing any other artists in favor of anything on this stage. Perhaps the underground stage would be a more appropriate venue for this concept if it is to continue during future editions of the festival.
Another unfortunate truth about a long-festival growing larger and better attended each year is its diminished diversity in terms of the performer genres, cultures, and, most noticeably, genders. In response to this, stickers popped up during the weekend with the words “WOMEN MAKE MUSIC–so why are we still invisible?”, directing festival-goers to this website. It’s a fair question worth exploring, as the number of female artists on the lineup seems to dwindle with every passing year.
The easy choice for techno on Friday night was the Electric Deluxe event at The Works. The back room was transfixed by the dynamic sounds of Midwest hero DVS-1 as he pounded out a seamless mix of old and new techno with mesmerizing technical ability. Subjected was the true surprise of the night, keeping the front room dancing to chunky bass-heavy techno while, Mike Dehnert, who rarely plays in North America, played an outstanding set to close out the event.
One of the best sets of the weekend came from the combined efforts of Marcel Dettmann and Radio Slave, who tagged together at Chris Liebing’s CLR label event. A repeated pairing from a previous edition of a CLR night in Detroit, these two veteran DJs have an interesting dynamic. Tagging every three records, they built their set on a steady stream of dark grooving techno with the occasional house bomb weaved in to keep everyone guessing. What could have been an explosive crowd-to-DJ connection, however, seemed to be a bit dulled by the choice of venue. Bleu seemed far too posh and sterile compared to the sweaty basement setting of Elysium where the duo played a few years prior.
One party I check every time I attend Movement is Deep Detroit, held at 1515 Broadway. Organized by NDATL’s Kai Alce, the annual party thrives in the no-frills event space of this cafe, offering excellent music from front to back. This year offered sets from rising selector Jay Daniel, scene veteran Mike Huckaby, and Alce himself. This year was no exception to the trend, as each brought their A-game in both selection and mixing. If you attend no other afterparties while in Detroit, make sure to hit Deep Detroit.
Sassmouth at Industry Brunch
The Naughty Bad Fun Collective’s Industry Brunch, which took place in the backyard of Comet Bar, was an excellent outdoor day party and a thriving alternative to the Need I Say More Event at Old Miami, which had a 2-hour line on Monday morning. A well-chosen midwest crew of both up-and-coming and veteran performers played to a friendly crowd throughout the day and early evening. When we arrived, the crowd was all smiles as Titonton Duvanté was unabashedly throwing together funky house, techno, and party classics with plenty of deck trickery. He was followed by an outstanding live performance from Shawn Rudiman on a number of envy-inducing pieces of vintage analog gear.
The annual No Way Back event, thrown by The Bunker and Interdimensional Transmissions, took place inside the historic building at 1515 Broadway. Now something of a destination event during Movement weekend and well-attended by industry folks, this is the kind of event worth losing an entire night’s sleep over. Picture a dark sweatbox where you can get up close and personal with the DJs, experience crystal-clear sound, hear boundary-pushing techno, acid, and electro, lose yourself and dance like your pants are on fire, and enjoy a cafe open all night long to sustain you with iced coffee and bagels. It’s hard to get much better. Canadian duo Orphx, who were forced into an early festival slot in the poor-sounding underground stage, could now be properly appreciated. Their texturally-intricate live set took the crowd into deep territory while bringing in techno and industrial sounds. Mike Servito’s high-octane set of mind-bending acid techno was transformative and did an absolute number on the crowd. All reports indicate that the mad genius of Carlos Souffront and Patrick Russell continued to tear the roof off the building. I’m not sure my brain has fully recovered from this party.
Steve’s Take (Monday edition):
Despite facing an early shutdown time, the As You Like It/Safe party held at TV Lounge was an excellent way to cap off the weekend. Move D played the set everyone wished he could have during the festival, going as deep and funky as you like with a stoned grin spread widely across his face. Marcellus Pittman, Honey Soundsystem’s Jason Kendig, and Daniel Avery all turned in exemplary sets as well. Bicep was just getting going when the night screeched to a halt at 2am, an hour earlier than expected, but the little they played had fans begging for one to five more records.
[Rotary Cocktail Recordings]
Given the open-ended nature of creating dance music, especially using computers, it’s common for producers to go overboard. Hearing a track hundreds of times while writing it often convinces producers there needs to be more elements, if only to keep them interested. Many would do well to apply Coco Chanel’s sage advice, “…before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take at least one thing off.” Lars Brämer, the Bremen-born, Berlin-based producer best known as Larrson, took this to heart while making the Close To The River EP for Rotary Cocktail Recordings. Absent are the superfluous vocals and other elements that muddied his past singles in favor of four purely instrumental tracks that successfully fuse a dub-techno informed palette to his house sound.
Previous Larsson tracks hinted at a low key appreciation for dub aesthetics. Wholeheartedly embracing those influences helps Brämer be more selective about which sounds make the cut; and what remains is used across the EP and especially suited for dance floor use. What opener “Intensions” lacks in flash it makes up in utility, the high pitched strings and syncopated chords gradually notching up the intensity of a hand drum-dappled groove. Finally reaching its boiling point four minutes in, a once veiled synth line reveals itself and causes its surroundings to quiver and quake. It’s a simple conceit perfectly executed — one DJs will find useful for keeping the heat on without going overboard. The title track is a more delicate and musical take on the same idea, subbing in whimsical, twisting leads reminiscent of Roman Flugel’s work. “Close To The River” holds its own despite the similarities, bearing the same purpose as its predecessor but seems made for smaller rooms. Jacking drums underpin “Todo Del Noche,” which offer both demure melodies and more aggressive chords as the payoff to its own series of builds. “Under The Blue” is the most traditionally dub-techno in shape and form, and thus lacks the unique touches which make its companions more memorable. But with two strong, widely applicable tracks on the A-side, Close To The River EP is a standout release for Larsson that could signal a shift for the German producer.]]>
It’s natural that critics would applaud the fact that it took Chicago’s Steven Tang fifteen years to sculpt his first album, Disconnect to Connect. That Smallville release is considered in the extreme, yet Tang’s style doesn’t smack of perfectionism. Stiff, soulful, retro-leaning Chicago house is his natural element. Done right, it results in a futurism unattached to a specific era, a quality many listeners found in that LP as it somersaulted between callused rhythm tracks like “Heat Burst” and the spacey jazz of “It’s Perceived as Sound.” Leaving the Physical World, his follow-up 12″ for the Hamburg label, feels a bit more limber and carefree than the full-length. When these tracks were made is a matter of speculation, but for narrative expediency’s sake let’s describe what he’s up to here as exploring ways to direct the goodwill he’s accumulated over his lengthy production career along some new tangents.
The drum programming on the title cut evokes microhouse strategies taken to a funky extreme. Despite its echoes of Losoul and eight-minute length, it’s never as static as the reference would suggest. Gaseous string pads sound like regal fanfare cruising through interstellar space at the speed of light. This quality seems to be what distinguishes Tang’s music from your average Larry Heard impersonator: he knows how to really make you feel the distance between yearning, partial melodies and no-frills jacking on a galactic scale. “Mystic Ritual” takes shorter strides, a tightness that’s offset more by hi-hat rushes and relaxed, bubbly bongo hits than its synth work. “Reality We Make” goes back to emphasizing Tang’s strengths as a drum machine programmer, this time with a panoply of rim shots and cowbells that makes gouges in the track for a simple arpeggio to run down into. Too familiar to qualify as a departure, Leaving the Physical World makes enough novel choices to entrain us into Tang’s uniquely paced style all over again.]]>
In nautical terms, a “beat to quarters” was a loud drum pattern designed to signal a ship’s crew to prepare for battle. Given the historical background, this new EP from Chicago-based producer Jeff Derringer, promoter of the well regarded New York and Chicago Oktave parties, is a suitably brutal affair that will no doubt marshal the troops in fine fashion, delivering increasingly poky techno across four cuts. Opening with the original mix of “Beat to Quarters,” Derringer combines booming kicks with acidic stabs and cutting hat patterns alongside a reverb-heavy filtered woodblock. This is heavy-duty acidic gear made for the peak-time floor, and the sense of motion is carried forward at a cool pace with well-placed stabs delivering call and response, like a red-coated Hornblower saluting a passing ship of the line. Giorgio Gigli offers a pounding, heads-down “Variation” on the flip, with an emphasis on stern subs and brutal beat work upping the menace ante somewhat.
“The Stranger” is less interesting, however. The constant stabs and ride symbol crashes build an overly busy picture that could do with a little more breathing space, while the harsh acidic palette is overburdened with a fitful stream of headache-inducing FX. Help is at hand however, with a masterful rework from Voices from the Lake. The Italian dwellers of the deep deliver one of their most upfront works to date in a pounding rework combining their trademark meticulous sound design — tiny, expertly placed bleeps; underwater ambience; hypnosis-inducing beats — with the energy of the original, only this time around molded into something a little classier. And while this EP does not leave the most lasting of impressions, Jeff Derringer has put together a nonetheless solid package here — swashbuckling techno for fearless warriors of the tumultuous high seas and deep dark corners.]]>