May 25, 2007

Thinking Out Loud: Physical vs. Digital

Thinking Out Loud developed from a series of open-ended email conversations and ruminations between Beatz staff members. In this article, Michael F. Gill and Peter Chambers discuss the merits of dance music on vinyl and MP3.


December 15, 2006

Disco Down, H-Town (Part One)

Cities and “scenes,” like the human beings that (partly) make them up, are mottled, confused things. Houston is, of all the places I’ve lived, worked and played, the most jumbled and the most vibrant. The cultural makeup here is more diverse than any northeastern city, but laid out in striated patterns not dissimilar to its sprawling architectural limbs. (It’s like a thrashing monster with the downtown nexus as its heart.) Given very little other than crappy weather and a flat surface for its nature, nurture here has been given almost free reign. And, like the lack of zoning laws that allow cozy neighborhoods to reside in the shadow of huge apartment blocks, the action in H-Town is spread across an impossibly wide canvas—a club or bar with a dance event is as likely a tenant in any building or shopping mall as a seafood restaurant, lingerie shop, or the ever-ubiquitous tanning salon. Extend this pattern across more than 600 square miles, with a population (the fourth largest in the US) that has huge Mexican-American, African-American and Asian-American communities and, well… you get the picture.

I relocated here and have been here now for nearly three months (already?), and I hardly feel as though I’ve dipped a toe in the proverbial waters. But what I have found has been outstanding enough to excite my interest in plumbing the depths.

Of course, the most prominent scene in Houston (as your Aunt Judy could probably tell you by now) is the hip-hop one, which has gained enormous national attention in recent years. As a result, there are two kinds of specifically “dance music” events here—the ones that have a hip-hop element and the ones that don’t. Clubs such as the excellent, always free a38 have a loose “no hip-hop” policy and cater to those seeking a variety of house sounds. A number of regular events bring a classic retro feel—the requisite 80’s night, but also old-school garage and funk nights, classic hip-hop and disco-funk, etc. On the more eclectic tip, Rockbox! at the Proletariat (which also features possibly the most entertaining Karaoke night I’ve ever attended) and Danseparc at Numbers are the place to hear dancey rock, classic house, rap, old-school funk and disco—Sister Sledge rubbing up against Bowie and Kraftwerk, T.I. rapping over Metro Area while Justin brings the sexy back, etc. These type of freewheeling, anything goes events have become popular in most big cities of late, but there’s a real sense of looseness to the aesthetic in H-Town that keeps the events fun for the very mixed crowd they often draw.

The overwhelming virtue of Houston’s dance scene is one that can be found at any event: the casual, unpretentious attitude towards throwing a party that I’ve found sadly missing from too many clubs. There is very little focus placed on technique, a real off-center avoidance of the kind of “micro-scene” attitude to be found with many DJs, and almost no unnecessary stressing of “timeliness.” Unlike the been-there, done-that attitude of a lot of even the most eclectic parties in, say, the New York or DC area, people in the H, even the nebulous “hipsters,” don’t stress an overfamiliar 70’s disco cut or a played-out filter-house track (think Modjo’s “Lady”), an attitude I find deeply refreshing—in fact, it’s helped in many ways to cure me of my own eye-rolling habits (which, luckily don’t run that deep).

And, yes, that means in the last two months I’ve heard both “Losing My Edge” AND “House of Jealous Lovers,” and you know what? I was on the dancefloor for both of ‘em.

(To be continued…)

[Mallory O’Donnell]

December 1, 2006

From the Desktop to the Hilltop (via the Pill Drop)

A few weeks ago I put forward the proposition that clubland has become a drug culture that uses music, instead of a music culture that uses drugs. I’m still not sure if I agree. But the reactions of my nocturnal f(r)iends to the rant has been more interesting than my unresolved doubts: the beer monsters and stay-at-homes mostly agreed, saying (surprise, surprise) that the disco was too late, too hard, too loud, too taxing. The hedonists conceded a point, but felt that I’d overstated things: it isn’t just “that”—a party’s all about the people, the venue, the atmosphere—you can’t blame the essence of the problem on a substance, or separate it from the crazy tangle of elements that makes an event. But what was really interesting was the number of people who argued a combination of these two points:

a) “It didn’t always used to be like that” [historical]
b) “It’s not like that in {Hawtingrad}” [geographical]

I scanned the dark recesses of my own discotheque memory tapes for confirmation of both assertions, and found that… yes, it had been true. I’m not old school, so I can’t speak for the spirit of ’89, but I do remember where it was possible to go and see Laurent Garnier play for six hours to a room full of adoring fans and the best sound system you could imagine. Ah, Tokyo’s old Liquid Room, RIP. Sure, it cost the equivalent of forty US dollars to get in, but it was the business. But this is rare anywhere, and perhaps only metropolii that have the critical mass of both people and objects in circulation can make it happen. Tokyo of 2006 has Unit, Offenbach has Robert Johnson, Berlin has the Panorama Bar—but these places are the exception, rather than the rule.

The Rule is Rex. I have this wonderful/terrible memory of seeing Isolée play at Rex in Paris. Isolée was bringing his set to its crescendo with a speaker-blowing rendition of “Face B,” and there in the audience was this utter penis and his two mates, shirts off, fanny packs strapped across their fronts. I thought it was fist pumping. I thought it was praise. But no, these mofos were heckling the good man. They weren’t losing their shit, they were giving him shit. Now, I don’t speak much French, but it was pretty obvious what this guy was saying. I’ll offer what is probably as accurate as a machine translation:

“C’mon you pulsating glowstick, pump it up! I paid hard euro for this!”
“My pill is kicking in, you German pigdog!”
“Can’t you see my prune is pulsating—play Gehts Noch!”

Below said ‘ecklers in a small semi-circle were the discerning few, smiling that smile, dancing that dance, blowing that smoke, and all that jazz. Behind that were everyone else, not really dancing, just kinda nodding along. We could not have been listening to the same music, and yet there we all were…

All over the world (with the exception of the exceptional places mentioned), the same scene seems to be repeated. Is it Abletonitis? Is it the perennial sigh of the “misunderstood” artist casting his pearls before swine? Is it the fact that the nightclub and its needs are fundamentally at odds with the appreciation of, well, music? Maybe Isolée played his next set to an adoring, appreciative crowd the following Saturday somewhere in Hawtingrad, but my experience at Rex was typical of what I saw in Europe outside of the handful of “truly great” clubs.

It’s not just the drugs, boredom, or booze. The real enemy here appears to be habit. We need habits, no question. Repetition is our only defence against something disappearing—you wanna build something, you wanna make something happen? You’re gonna have to do it again. Try building a house, try being a drummer, try making a baby. Maybe life itself is nothing but the transformation of this repetition compulsion into pleasure, and our fear of death is simply a fear of breaking the habit of living.

But the problem with habits is that they brook no breakage—once established, their inertia will outlive common sense, boredom, even the end of the organism itself. Like Matthew Dear’s lyric from “Dog Days”: “Tell another story to your body so it makes sense / The reason for this story is to give away your last chance.” Indeed. And clubs, being what they are, are the final resting place of our deepest habits, the zenith/nadir of our bodily needs wanting to step on the good foot and do the bad thing again and again and again. It’s good that we have a space for our habits to prance about, but the problem for creativity is that habit will have its needs met, and nothing else. The drinkers want to keep drinking, the DJ wants to keep playing, and the dickhead hassling Isolée… well, he just wanted to “go off” in a timely fashion. They’ve paid hard euro, they came to get wasted, and your job is to satisfy their urges. Hey, they work all week, this is their only outlet, have some compassion! Point is, we may never “give up” our habits, but the thing we need to cultivate, more than anything else, is a sense of the “exceptional.”

The Greeks had the Dionysia, the Romans the Bacchanalia, the Haitians have Voodoo rites, and if you’ve seen Borat you know that even evangelical Christians get to freak out and speak in tongues for a few moments every week without guilt. Maybe we can leave the serpents, satyrs, and bloodlettings for another barbecue and just take the lesson that all these events dip their lid to a seemingly immutable human need to lose it without the fear of guilt or recrimination. It seems to me that we’ve inherited a potentially fantastic idea from Jamaica in the form of the sound system. Monsters and misfires aside, from Coxsone Dodd through the Wild Bunch to rave kidz and their rigs, a mobile sound system retains the greatest potential as a spacemaker. Alls you got to have is a kick-ass PA, some great DJs, choose your space carefully and imaginatively, and make sure you invite the good peepz. Mix, stir, and voila: instant party. Kids, if you’re listening, consider getting access to a sound system and throwing your own parties. It sure beats bitching about other peoples’… or does it?

[Peter Chambers]

November 10, 2006

From the Sex Drive to Beyond the Death Drive (via the Hard Drive)

The link between nightclubbing and music has always been tenuous at best. Classical music fans go out to listen to Mozart, Stones fans (still) go to see Jagger pout and strut. What do clubbers do? Clubbers go out to get wasted. Oh, and pull. Pilling and pulling (in that order) with music the distant, impoverished third link—functional for some, ornamental for most. The music is necessary, but it’s more of a soundtrack to a shared abuse trajectory than anything that people are passionate about. It’s noticeable only by its absence, like the saloon piano falling silent in a Western. The fact is that, qualitatively and quantitatively, we’re talking about a drug culture that uses music, not a music culture that uses drugs. Mikey, the drummer from Spinal Tap, really had his finger on this pulse, when he said, “Well… like, personally, I like to think about sex and drugs and rock’n’roll, you know, that’s my life… But as long as there is, you know, sex and drugs, I can do without the rock’n’roll.”

Mikey, like the blissful majority of clubbers, is under no illusions. But then there’s those others… you know, those silly people who think that groove-based electronic music is, well, an artform ‘n’ stuff. Absurd people. Fools. Me, for example. What do you do if you want to go out, want to listen to some techno, want to have a dance? What’s a guy gotta do? Well, first of all, you’re going to have to wait until it’s late, until the wee-smalls cave in on themselves, until time becomes a wounded snail and you’re already well on the wrong side of Sunday morning. “What is it with you electronic music people?!” a photographer who covered the Red Bull Music Academy asked me recently. I get asked, “Can you make sure you get down and get some pics of DJ Blah-di-Blah’s set tonight?” “Sure,” I ask, “What time’s he playing?” “Five in the morning! For God’s sake, whose hours are those?’ I tried to explain to him that five AM is a respectable lunch time in Spain, but my dig couldn’t evade the truth his question laid bare: whose hours are those?

Well, I hate to be the fella that says, “Dude, why is there an elephant in the room?” But, the truth is that those are the hours of four groups of people: bakers, religious ascetics, insomniacs, and amphetamine users. A real hardcore beer user might get all bendy and make it ‘til five, but it’s the exception, not the rule. Only when large numbers of people are on amphetamines can there be a room full of munters who are not only awake, but who feel like having a good ‘ol boogie at 8 AM. Maybe that’s your idea of fun. If I’m not wasted, it’s a grim foretaste of eternity.

So you reach this untenable situation that’s either intensely pleasurable, darkly humorous, or tantamount to torture, depending on how you’re getting on with your pleasure and reality principles. Clubbing’s fine if you wanna tie one on, but what if you don’t want to get munted? What if you don’t smoke, or don’t even drink? What if you have to concentrate on Sunday, or it’s your only day off, or it’s your only chance to shop for groceries, develop your own musical interest, or fill those pesky potholes in your lawn? Even if it is a whole lotta fun, in the long term, it’s just not compatible with human flourishing. And then there’s the cruel irony when you realize the status quo ain’t gonna go changing, no siree. Not when the very things that make listening to music in clubs unbearable are the same conditions that ensure its profitable sustainability. So what’s it gonna take to change? Or how much?

Well, the rise of methamphetamines has solved this problem, at least temporarily. You can out-dance the death-drive, then come home, mount your partner for four hours, and still find time to polish off a literary masterpiece and two bottles of whiskey before collapsing into the loving arms of oblivion. But what about Monday? And Tuesday? And your teeth? But apart from that, it’s just great. If a bright idea is represented by a light-bulb, what does it mean that you smoke Tina out of the broken end of one? So my biographical solution to this systemic problem has been simple: I don’t go out anymore. It’s not ideal, but something had to give, and the nightlife was all take-take-take.

In certain ways, it doesn’t really matter. The internet has meant that I now have access to more incredible music than I have time to listen to, and in between downloading last night’s incredible set from Berlin and listening to it with a portable hard-drive and high-quality headphones, I stumble blissfully (and rhythmically) through the cityscape with two cans full of heaven. Last year I nearly lost it listening to Roman Flugel playing in Frankfurt, while I was in a freakin’ second-hand bookstore in the Australian suburbs. In some strange way, information technology has made everyone a DJ. As one “real” DJ said to me, the difference between a person with an iPod and a “real” DJ is that the “real” DJ plays out. That’s it. It seemed trite at first, but the truth of it has stuck. If I can get all the latest tracks for free online, Ableton can beat-match them for me and I can listen to them in an environment that’s cheap, convenient, and allows me to hear the music in the order I prefer, at a quality far above and beyond what’s presented in most clubs, why the hell would I go out anyway?

Online information networks have enabled diffuse communities of like-minded people to create a common space of critical appreciation and sharing. It’s great, but if it’s Jack, then it’s Jack the bodiless. It makes something like a dividual disco, this strange, paradoxical shared/private space that manages to be at once the promise of a universal language and the very thing that makes going out to dance to music with other “real” people less and less probable. You might be sitting opposite the girl who you were chatting with last night online—and she may be the only sexy girl in the world who likes sleeparchive. But how would you know? And if you did, would you even feel comfortable talking to her in the flesh?

Clubbing’s done the full fling with me—I’ve gone from the sex drive to beyond the death drive, via the hard-drive. My new musical community’s got everything but anybody—and I want Jack back. House nation, anyone?

[Peter Chambers]

October 13, 2006


When I was growing up, I wanted to live in a commune. Just to be in one building or a small area with all my friends nearby and everyone in constant touch with each other. Somewhere that didn’t foster as many inhibitions. It may seem like a cultish pipe dream now, but I really believed in it and felt I needed it, being yet another young person staring in the face of alienation. In one sense, this is what house and techno has been all about: supplying a refuge for the oppressed and frustrated through music and communion, creating insular families that share a vernacular with each other, and providing outlets for exploring both spirituality and sexuality. But in the same way, this close-knit circle cultivates a sort of distant, blurred elitism from the outside, which is not only daunting to dance neophytes (let alone general music fans), but also creates an intriguing and/or frustrating confusion as to how house and techno should be confronted and evaluated.

Part of my fascination with house music is these contradictions. Community and exclusion, sex and religion, the organic and the mechanical: all these factors are working off each other during the best DJ mixes, the best tracks, the best parties. The insularity of each little scene and sub-genre these days has made those transcendental moments seemingly more fleeting. I’ve gone to many minimal/techno nights where you’d think the DJ has contempt for any sense of humanity or motion in music, I’ve been to deep house clubs where the edgiest part of the night is deciding what color lounge chair to bring with me, and then there are nights where I’ve heard people frantically mix mash-ups with loud electro-rock until you get a headache stuck on one dynamic level. For me, the element that I often feel is missing in the music as well as the atmosphere is a certain “physical” component. It’s not necessarily something that’s overtly sexual, but one that gives off a vibe of kinship, while still challenging your comfort zone.

The two-sided coin of sexuality and spirituality is one that is becoming sorely underused in house and techno today. This idea fuels a great deal of Chicago House, where the soul could be redeemed through the body, where salvation and release often came from sexualized dancing and music. For the quintessential example of this, look no further than the seminal “Baby Wants to Ride” by Frankie Knuckles and Jamie Principle, which is no doubt one of the most sexually explicit tracks to come from the era, but yet it opens with a prayer (“Now I lay me down to sleep…”) and a message from God (“Jamie, it’s time to tell my people the truth, it’s time to tell them the revelation of my second coming.”) While there are plenty of sun-coated soul divas and foul-mouthed ghetto-tech impresarios, there are too few people with the rawness of Chelonis R. Jones, too few tracks that play up the sense of community and physicality that is such an essential part to dance music.

This is a scene from the end of the film Morvern Callar that really illustrates the divide I often feel on the dancefloor. There is a sense of comfort being surrounded by these likeminded people, but there is also a sense of individuality. The headphones Morvern wears stress a sense of alienation as well as a kind of mute rapture. This sense of being almost paralyzed by a multitude of emotions is something that comes over me often on the dance floor. The scent and sporadic taste of these feelings, no matter how divergent they are, is something I chase, and is one of the major factors that has endeared me to electronic dance music.

[Michael F Gill]

July 14, 2006


In a previous In Our House column, I talked about music and obsession, and how being a fan of dance music can easily bend these fixations into something overwhelming. Lately I’ve been noticing how intertwined and reflective house, techno, and even disco can be outside of a club context.

It started when I read about a local arts project in which young kids document their entire day with a movie camera in order to create material for a mini documentary about their lives. They would re-watch each tape, gaining a sort of omnipotent view of the day, and notice little tics and movements of themselves and other people that they would have never noticed otherwise. Over time, they became more aware of their internal process, and how they carried about their everyday lives. It struck me rather personally, as I often engage with things on a minute level, where everyday experiences are sometimes even more important than the big picture.

It’s not hard to make the connection from these mini-documentaries to track-based or texture-based dance music, both being games of inches, compilations of precise moments. While I haven’t gone as far as carrying a movie camera with me, I have done similar experiments with a tape recorder, and with consciously being aware of the moment I am in. Feeling the ground for each step that I make, following the stock ticker of passing thoughts in my head, noticing the shapes of shadows, recognizing the patterns in which people move their eyebrows: these are just some of the things that can make something as mundane as riding a bus have a sense of individual meaning. I’ve also have a fascination with the rhythm and contours of language and words, which often overlap chaotically in public spaces, but perhaps that is the subject of another column.

This acute sense is habitually reflected in the music I connect with. Whether it is a reggae dubplate or a cornball Italo track, the flicker of a hi-hat is frequently just as tangible as a sweeping chord change. A lot of musicians and music fans are striving for something big: a single, an album, a box set, something approaching a blanket statement. Myself, I’m looking to capture a second; to be able to divorce it from time and have it flutter my veins. If I can manage to better understand one second, I might fare better in improving each minute, hour, and day of my life.

I say this not on a soapbox, but as knowledge of my own experiences and connections with dance music and my own life, in hopes that even people with no interest for house or techno can understand where I’m coming from. To me, dance music is like a satellite I move around in self-reflection, with its immense attention to detail acting as a reminder about the impact that I have in every action I take. It’s a slow process, but I think it’s helping me understand myself better.

[Michael F. Gill]

June 30, 2006

Sonar 2006

It’s been more than a week since I attended this year’s Sonar festival in Barcelona, and despite all that’s happened since in my non-musical life (and believe me, it’s been quite a lot), I find that I am still unravelling the tangled threads of Sonar, still searching for the plot in a three-day two-night onslaught of sounds, lights, and colors. Perhaps I shot too high for my first festival, perhaps they’re all that insane—or, maybe, just maybe the madness of far too much to do and far too little time to do it in is exactly what makes sense in this crazy lifestyle.In a way, my experiences at Sonar 2006 are exactly representative of how I feel about dance and electronic music in a larger sense—the scene is so vast, so multinational, so without a center of gravity, that one almost has to be either dilettantish or uber-precise in ones tastes. There is simply no way to know even the basics of what is going on in all these disparate genres and subgenres, just as there is no way you are going to feel as though you haven’t missed something during such an amazing three days.Sure, you can catch the minimal set on the lawn at Sonar Village, shoot up to the record fair to check out new twelves and reissued classics, watch a film on the seminal figures of Detroit techno, and then boogie down in the Sonar Dome to a Spanish reggae soundsystem, but in that time you’ve neglected Schnieder TM, an amazing performance by the Modified Toy Orchestra, your last chance to see the spectacular exhibit of avant-garde sleeve design in the MACBA building, and that dude selling hash, who totally just left. And I’m only talking about Sonar Day, here—the Night events make the Day look like a piece of cake.

So it is with a heavy heart that I admit to not having seen the bulk of Isolee’s set, or the first half of Miss Kittin’s. I will forever be scorned by those I gave a hard sell to on the Knife’s new album that I missed their (quite rare, I discovered) live show due to a rather unfortunate misunderstanding about the limited capacity of the Auditori. But while I did fail to do everything I had set out to do, I also discovered a number of enchanting new prospects—from the great sounds made by local Spanish and Catalan artists I never would have heard back in the States, to the overwhelming potency of Marco Passarani and Jolly Music—combining like Voltron to form Pigna People.

Hence the conclusion to this rather drawn-out analogy—part of what drew me to electronic music in the mid-90’s and continues to do so today is it is so very unlike rock, soul, reggae et. al. Rather than seek a coherent engagement with its roots, it draws upon the bedrock of its sound without particularizing it—broken fragments and twisted corridors of sound and beats refashioned by DJs, producers, laptops, and pulsating cones. An oscillator knob turned, a mouse clicked, and the next variation of waveforms and microgenres is born. Yet, this is precisely what makes it so damn confusing and impossible to fully grasp—not only is it vast, wide, multifarious—it is expanding at an exponential rate, constantly. And just as one is unable to not miss some of what goes on mid-June each year in Barcelona, one can never quite feel comfortable with their grasp on the “electronic music scene” (if such a thing can truly be said to exist), as a whole.

Maybe it took the tension and exhaustion of Sonar to drive this point home for me, but I couldn’t be happier about it. I don’t want all the answers, a canon of artists and recordings, a library of quintessential moments and “best songs ever.” I want a pile of 12″’s and burned CDs in the wrong cases, a rubbish bin filled with colored wristbands and the memory of being covered in sweat and in the arms of my new best friend I met three hours ago while a constant 4/4 hi-hat clicks somewhere inside my inner ear. Dammit, I want that blissful uncertainty that can only come from loving a song to death and having absolutely no clue what the hell it is. That is the reason festivals and raves and dance music exist—to give us something to hear and something to miss while we’re having the time of our lives, to give us a reason to be grateful and a reason to come back next year.

(For some additional thoughts on Sonar 2006, check out some of my blog entries
[Mallory O’Donnell]

June 16, 2006

Movement/DEMF 2006


as reported by enemy.combatant

A quick history: The Detroit Electronic Music Festival was first held in 2000 following a concept that was developed by Carl Craig and Derrick May. This event is the pinnacle for Detroit in the watchful eyes of the global electronic community. DEMF represents Detroit’s selection and taste, or at least that was its intention in the past. It has been an event that was initially looked at with esteem and pride, and represented a lot of things to many different Detroit artists involved in its creation. However, since shortly after its inception as the largest free electronic music festival, it has become a clusterfuck of corporate-endorsed sponsorship and control.I was ecstatic to have been given the opportunity to cover this event, not only because this was so important to the electronic music community of Detroit, but because a new organization was “stepping up to the plate because they did not want to see the City of Detroit lose out on such a great opportunity.” I respected this ethical statement, and now not only did I want to cover this event, but I wanted to make sure it succeeded. I really thought that with those words spoken, new DEMF promoters Paxahau would hold themselves up to a different standard than past promoters, and might even bring the festival back to its roots of free admission, so all the people of Detroit could enjoy the electronic music that we have come to know and love. I know some members of Paxahau personally, and had extremely high hopes that this event would receive proper representation. I even immediately contacted one of my buddies who DJ’d for Paxahau at various events and asked him how I could help out. He told me to send my info to an e-mail address, and that they would be making volunteer lists at a later date. Since this was two-plus months prior to the traditionally scheduled festival opening day, I really had no worries…until the third week began to approach the second week and I still had no information from Paxahau regarding volunteer lists, schedules, duties; no media information; and not even a final roster, let alone a schedule with set times on it. I was starting to worry.

I finally received word that there would be a volunteer sign-up being conducted at Hart Plaza on May 13, 2006. I made it down to Detroit with extra volunteers to boot, and was not going to let the fact that it was pouring freezing rain, there was no parking or validation, or that I had just traveled an hour to an hour an a half for a mandatory pre-meeting for volunteers affect my attitude or mood in any way. I knew Paxahau would be grateful that I had come all the way from where I was traveling from in the terrible weather conditions Michigan was having at that time, and that I would probably receive all the information and things that couldn’t be sent over the internet such as shirts, badges, etc. I arrived and went down the steps of Hart Plaza to the Underground Stage. There were 100+ people assembled near the Underground Stage, but it was for a hip-hop presentation. Humorously, I remembered DEMF 2001-2002; giant Trinitron screens were plastered all over the festival grounds that year that were constantly displaying a loop of Eminem walking down Woodward Ave. rapping, “It’s over / Nobody listens to techno.”After proceeding past this assembly, I saw the Paxahau Movement sign-up staff complete with a card table and two Paxahau members handling sign-ups, and a few people waiting to volunteer standing in line. I rubbed my eyes and squinted, and proceeded to ask the people in my party if they thought that it was the sign-up area ahead. We all agreed in a slightly strange way. I was the first in line of my party, and I waited for 30+ minutes before speaking to a Paxa-Rep even though there were only four people ahead of me. By the time I reached the card table I was happy that there were only a few people here for sign-up, but still hoped Eminem was dead wrong.I was asked what I do for a living, and in what areas I could help out. I explained that I am a studio engineer/musician. I was then asked if I would like to flyer. Puzzled, I also then explained that I would help out in any area, but that I was covering this event for a magazine, and needed to be able to move freely to cover the event. I was then told that I needed to write all this information down on a piece of paper (provided) and was told to give it to one of the two girls waiting at the card table a few feet away. At this point, I was asked for my ID, of which a digital pic was taken. With the organization level I was seeing so far, I immediately began worrying about identity theft. I then had a clipboard pushed in my direction with not so much as a hello or even a smile and was asked what shifts I could sign up for today. I explained once again, since the paper I had just written all this down on was not helping this individual, that I could work any shift or all shifts since I was expected to be there for the magazine anyway. I was then asked why I was even down here volunteering if this was the case. I explained that I thought I could help. I never got a response, only a shrug of the shoulders. I was then asked my T-shirt size, and was told I would receive one the day of the festival. I was then told in a very bossy way that I was expected to be ready to work every shift, and check in with my shift leaders for every shift. I was then told I could go, and didn’t even get so much as a good-bye. I felt somewhat frustrated at this point. All I wanted was a little pat on the head or any kind of slightly friendly gesture. It really might have helped morale since two days later, I was sent a barrage of e-mails from Paxahau asking to volunteer for airport runs and record lugging since their valet service was not covering this anymore.

I arrived at about 11:15 AM on the first day. I would have made it there much earlier even though the festival didn’t start until 12 noon, but there was no volunteer or media parking, and I had to lug all my equipment quite a long way, and absolutely no one I spoke to, including security, knew where the media entrance was, or the volunteer entrance for that matter. I finally found it, and immediately walked up to the press table. I was greeted by a sneering, short, bald man. I told him the magazine I was with, and he seemed to be looking me over a few times. I asked him if he needed to see my ID, since his assistant had walked over and whispered that someone else from Stylus had already checked in. Instead, he gave me a lanyard, and his assistant outfitted me with a yellow plastic wristband. I was then free to roam. I found it very interesting that I was not searched or that my identity was not checked in any way. Not that George W. was manning the decks this year for his N.W.O worldwide Uber-Freedom mix, but I thought that there would definitely be more attention paid to the safety of all artists attending this year.I checked in at the media center after taking 20-30 minutes to find it since, once again, nobody knew where anything was. The people at the press table said, “It’s downstairs, you can’t miss it.” I was finally helped by one of the filmmakers from the film High Tech Soul, who was very helpful and friendly. Once arriving at the media center, I saw the organization level did not exceed that of the volunteer situation. I was told that I could interview anyone I wanted, and that I should try to catch artists after they perform. (I later discovered this was quite challenging to do since most artists arrived right in time for their set, and disappeared shortly after.) I went upstairs to check in at the volunteer table, and ran into a friend and his wife who lived near me. He told me that he and his wife just each had been given two tickets to the min2max (named for the new comp on Richie Hawtin’s M-nus label) after-party that night, two tickets to the Perlon after-party tomorrow, two tickets to another after-party Monday, two 1-day passes for the festival, two 3-day passes for the festival, plus a bunch of T-shirts, and other items.I was immediately delighted, anticipating that finally I was going to see some appreciation from Paxahau. I might even receive more than the 12 after-party tickets and 8 festival tickets my friends just received since I brought three extra people down to volunteer for them. At least in my mind, and after I made it up to the volunteer table I saw that this was simply not the case. The person in charge of this table was right off the bat upset that I had a press pass. He immediately began questioning me and asking me why I was volunteering since I already had a free three-day pass into the festival. I explained I was just trying to help, but he looked about as clueless as he did originally when I made this exact same statement to him previously on the morning of volunteer sign-up. I was then asked what size shirt I needed. I didn’t bother making a comment about why I was dragged here in freezing rain on volunteer sign-up morning and not asked that question then. I thought that end was already predetermined. I guess not. I received my shirt, and then stood there for a minute. This person then consulted with one of the previous volunteer sign-up girls who then came over to me and very snottily ordered me over to the Real Detroit stage to see if they needed any help. I walked off toward the Real Detroit Stage without a thank you, a good-bye, or a damn ticket. I knew I shouldn’t be disappointed; my expectations of a reward were what was causing my disappointment, but instead I received a slight dose of what seemed to be the real spirit of the Movement—a genuine Paxa-bowel Movement right on my head. I didn’t feel so bad, though, because I volunteered for it.

I walked by the Real Detroit stage on the way to the Beatport stage. It could fit maybe 35-50 people in there comfortably. This stage was scaled down to about 20% of its size at past festivals. It was supposed to be the stage that represented real Detroit artists. I guess Paxahau thought only 35-50 people would care about about this stage and the Detroit artists; there seemed to be a lack of them this year.

I hit up the Beatport Stage where John Johr from Paxahau was opening. I stayed for about 30 minutes of it before leaving. His set was unemotional and uninspiring, and left me with no emotion other that the Amityville Horror slogan, “GET OUT.” Fellefell followed Johr up without missing a beat, literally picking up off Johr’s closing record while it was still spinning and absolutely killing it. I did not leave this area until I had to take off for the Pyramid stage to check out Sean O’Neal a.k.a Someone Else. I was going to break off for a quick second to see Ezekiel Honig , but knew that if I did, I would not be back to hear FelleFell’s closing, since Honig definitely has a way of mesmerizing his listeners.

They seemed to be having a lot of trouble with sound on this stage. I was hoping this would be cleared up, since Dan Bell was playing next—the last time I had the pleasure of seeing him was at the last Paxahau party he played at (with Thomas Brinkmann) where the sound broke down at least three times while he was playing. They continued having problems with this stage through the next few sets. I checked out the beginning of Dan Bell’s set before making it back to the Beatport tent to peek in on Marc Houle. Marc Houle was really throwing down, and I did not want to leave, but my stomach told a different story so I gathered up some of my friends, and headed to Oslo, the local techno/sushi joint. (Oslo is a great spot. They have the best sushi in Detroit, and the best electronic musicians DJing and performing live in the basement bar. Highly recommended.)

I made it back to the festival in time to catch the beginning of James Holden’s set. I was very happy about the extra time that seemed to be allotted to many of the DJs this year, who were playing two-hour sets or longer. I stayed for the first hour of Holden’s set who hands-down represented why he is the CEO of Border Community, and why more people need to check that label out. At about five minutes until nine I made it to the Main Stage area to finally park it, and listen to the concrete stylings of Kooky Scientist (aka Fred Gianelli) followed by Robert Hood.

The sound was atrocious for this stage except for the main floor. I cannot see why they did not take more time with the acoustic design for this stage, since this would be the stage that most people remembered from the festival. My party ended up leaving about 20 minutes before the end of Hood’s set toward the min2Max after-party to which I had tickets waiting at the door for me (via a friend). Hood would have been much better if he would have played in Kooky Scientist’s spot since Hood’s set was not anywhere near that of an opening night closer. Everyone would have benefited by having the Cranky Scientist close the night because Giannelli was absolutely and completely on point.

Gaiser and Troy Pierce fucking leveled the Masonic Temple, of course, leaving no room for closer Hawtin, who seemed plagued with sound problems. Something to keep in mind, future Paxahau event attendees—the price of a small can of pop or an even-smaller bottle of water jumps from $3 to $4 after 2 a.m. according to the Paxa-concessioner who sold them of a cooler in the coat room. I am not sure why the price of alcohol didn’t go up, but maybe that concession was run by Budweiser. I was told that the price increase is customary, and is a standard practice at all Paxahau parties.

I didn’t attend much this day since the only two people I wanted to see for that day were playing on different stages at the exact same time—Niko Marks and Mark Broom. I was really unsure about the J-Dilla tribute, even though it had a lot of top-notch performers taking the stage. I couldn’t help wondering if this was just a cheap attempt by Paxahau to cash in on Jay-Dee’s death. Still, the tribute seemed as though it held the most promise for the day, other than a Planet of the Drums drum ‘n’ bass set which were the major showcases for the day. But I was wrong—after leaving the festival, I headed down to Foran’s Irish Pub which was recently renovated and had been hosting a slew of off-the-cuff, slammin’ DJ sets of late. I had just seen DJ Psycho, an underdog from Flint, Michigan, throw down a wicked booty set the day before, and soon realized that for the next two days, this was the place to be. Especially if you weren’t fond of the blazing heat, which just seemed to get hotter and hotter since the tents this year had gotten smaller and smaller.

I couldn’t wait for this day to start. It started slow, as I had to wait at the press gate for a new wristband. I had cut mine off the previous night, and was now being scolded by the sneering, short, bald guy. I asked him if they just expected me to sleep in it, and he remarked a rather loud, “YES!” It was at this point that I remarked that I was not told to keep my wristband. I was not a patient in a hospital or a prisoner at Guantanamo Bay, and I don’t wear wristbands to sleep. I also remarked that I thought they would have changed colors on wristbands anyway for security purposes. He looked at me like I was crazy. I guess security is a pretty crazy concept for some people.Carl Craig was opening this day with a three-hour set. I couldn’t believe this guy was going to play this festival again after his bad experiences in the past. True perseverance—Carl played an amazing set.I got a quick bite before making it over to the Beatport Stage where I watched Mikkel Metal perform, and spoke to him briefly afterwards. He was very happy to finally be invited to perform at the festival this year. I asked him what he thought about scheduling this year at the festival, including the fact that instead of spreading all the Kompakt artists out over the course of the weekend for maximum exposure and visibility, everybody was crammed into the Beatport tent on the final day. Mikkel rolled his eyes and chuckled. He explained he was not a promoter so he shouldn’t say much about this, especially if he was expected to be invited back. He did, however, comment that most of the DJs and artists performing were doing after-parties to pay for expenses. I explained that I couldn’t see one reason why anyone wasn’t paid enough, considering how expensive single tickets and a three-day pass cost, as well as the extra 13% surcharge Paxahau was charging on all credit card orders. Mikkel chuckled once again, and explained that wasn’t the problem with him, but he could see how it might be a problem with others.

I cut our little conversation short since I needed to be at the Real Detroit Stage to see Kill Memory Crash. Mikkel told me before leaving to be careful so I didn’t get grouped in with the subversives. We both laughed, and I was off to Kill Memory Crash. I had missed the first 20 minutes of their performance, but the last 40 more than made up for it. I can honestly say I don’t think there was a stage big enough for their sound, and for some reason they were placed in the smallest tent. Go figure.

After they finished I spoke briefly with Adam of Kill Memory Crash before heading over to the Main Stage to see Adam Beyer finish off his blazing set. Beyer was followed by Derrick May, who dropped classic after classic. I didn’t stay for May’s whole set as I wanted to speak with Clark Warner, but realized upon entering the way-too-overcrowded Beatport tent that this just wasn’t going to be possible. I stayed for the finish of his set, and the start of Mr. Jeremy P. Caulfield’s live performance, which was more than promising. Then I dashed out to see Nitzer Ebb, who where absolutely hammering down songs like there was no tomorrow. They were followed up by Richie Hawtin, who seemed much less plagued with sound problems this shake around.

It was sad to see this stage as packed as it was when other tents weren’t full. I can definitely see how scheduling here was completely mismanaged—going on at the same time were the absolutely unreal performance from Kero (perhaps a couple hundred feet over in the Real Detroit tent), and one of the best DJ sets I have probably heard out of Frank Martiniq in the Beatport tent.

Overall, I had a good time at Movement: DEMF 2006. I got to see a lot of performers that I would not get the chance to see or speak with normally. But…I also think that it could have been promoted much, much better, and with three months of planning, there shouldn’t have been the level of confusion and disorganization there was surrounding this event. The pre-flyering was not straightforward, and there were no times posted until the very last minute. I did like the schedule booklets being handled by REAL DETROIT WEEKLY, a very nice presentation with lots of important, pertinent info and minimal advertising. I didn’t see the need for volunteers for the most part. If there was such a need, I didn’t really see it used efficiently. I mean, why else would you place a qualified studio engineer to put up flyers?I can say, however, that I was disappointed by the size of the tents, and the lack of decent audio fidelity on all of the stages and tents. I felt that with the amount Paxahau was charging for a three-day pass (including a surcharge), the sound quality should have been top-notch and unmatched. Paxahau has been known for throwing great parties in the past, but the last few events have caused me to reassess my position on them. I wonder if they’re are losing touch with their roots, like Detroit’s own Eminem, who would never even have got a MC gig at the Motor Lounge if it wasn’t for techno promoters. So Em, be glad some people still listen to techno. I was also very disappointed with the terrible scheduling, and the definite lack of Detroit artists. I just don’t understand how you can throw a musical festival to benefit the city of Detroit without more musical representation from Detroit artists. I mean, C’MON, how can you throw a electronic music festival for in Detroit without at least having someone from the Underground Resistance camp? And finally all I can say to the person handling scheduling this year is that next year it will work so much better if you take your head out your ass. Until next time…

June 2, 2006


Obsession is not an unfamiliar word to any serious or avid music fan. I assume many people reading this have dealt with it on one or multiple levels in music. I had always penciled myself in with music obsessives, people who loved to talk for hours on end about new releases, singles, genres, controversy, musical politics, et al. But lately, something has been feeling off about this pairing. Presently, it seems more likely that music is obsessing and dominating over me, instead of the other way around. And perhaps I’m a little uncomfortable with how good it feels.

I’ve enjoyed the recent intelligent and thoughtful musings on Stylus’ Soulseeking articles; I’ve marveled at the amount of ways music critics and bloggers can scholarly expound on musical and extra-musical elements that would have seemed esoteric to me, and I’ve watched heated message-board discussions develop with a sense of weariness and wonder. But when it comes down to it, I’d rather immerse myself headfirst in music than feverishly write about. I was a musician and music lover long before I wrote about it, and I commonly find it hard to distance myself emotionally from it. This is something a standard critic must do, in order to objectively interpret meaning and evaluate quality. Therefore, you can see how it would be to a critic’s advantage to be able to obsess and defiantly rule over the music itself rather than the other way around.

It’s no secret that I’m a zealous fan of dance music, from disco to house to techno to anything that can fall under the broad umbrella of “minimal.” Obsessing over every little detail, from sub-labels and sub-genres, to signature hi-hat sounds and keyboard patches has become a requisite part of the territory; removing this focus is like trying to appreciate and analyze a slide of germs without a microscope. It’s an intensity that I find seeping elsewhere. While listening to the new Superlongevity compilation on the bus recently, I glanced down at my skin and found myself counting the hairs on my arm. And look, there’s a tiny blemish near my elbow. By the time I’m squeezing each of my fingers, measuring the slightly different sentiment each one produces, the music has attained a strong emotional control over me.

Admittedly, there is something a bit wrong about this, being so tied up in one area of life, obsessively hunting down new music, information, and then going to see people play it. Surely, I should focus more on my job, my friends, and my physical well-being more than trying to find out the best Afro-disco singles from the 80’s. Or discovering that Daft Punk’s logo nearly rips of the Strictly Rhythm logo:

Yet music is the most consistent source of joy in my life at the moment, and for the moment I have no problem letting myself be overwhelmed by it, no matter the anti-social ramifications (this being America, not Germany.) Things like the buoyancy of a great DJ set, the nomadic surprises of crate-digging, that spunky drive you feel upon following scents of a sub-genre towards its actual taste; these things excite me more than they should. Perhaps it’s the archivist in me that sees these obscure vinyl releases, new and old, as forgotten fragments of feeling. That these abandoned feelings, dreams, beliefs, and hopes belonging to remote people and communities can trickle down from a piece of vinyl to my hand and into my head. What a joyous panic these thoughts bring me! A whistle and a fever, then I see a wall tethered to spinning circles. A knock on the wrong. A vision finally spread into two. Two skins into a flare. Oh the joy of discovery! Oh the pain of obsession.

[Michael F. Gill]

May 5, 2006

Bus Station John / Tubesteak Connection

Nobody I know ever saw Larry Levan. But can you really separate him from the Paradise Garage as a venue? I mean, the club unexpectedly closed in 1987, and Larry battled drug abuse until 1992 when everything finally caught up with him … so his personal history was always distinct from the club, and the era. As much as he did as a DJ, nobody can deny that a movement is never about any one person. Either way, because I’ll never see him spin, and I’ll never be clubbing at the Garage back in the 80’s, all I can do is try to understand what happened and try to appreciate it.

The spirit of what it is that I, in an incredibly limited personal sense, appreciate about that place and time is alive and well. Not just in some metaphysical sense, but in my own city: San Francisco.

Notoriously secretive about where he finds his art, typically 70’s gay porno, and endearingly pure about his motives, DJ Bus Station John has been all the rage on the internet for about the last month. Why? Well, anyone who can supply big screen b-boy projections, cheap drinks, early electro rarities, legit italo tracks, funky disco, and danceable champagne soul can find at least one person, in a room packed with people losing their shit, to go home and spread the word.

My first encounter with him was at a club called Aunt Charlie’s Lounge in the Tenderloin District for a weekly event called Tubesteak Connection. Anyone who has lived, or had an extended stay, in San Francisco knows that the Tenderloin is the neighborhood where sex workers battle pimps and the marginalized heroes of yesteryear beg for change and cigarettes. Even if you have a car, taking a cab is a good idea.

After paying my three bucks, I walk in to a small, dimly red lit room full of drinks clanking, Munich Machine posters, vintage gay porn flickering on a television, and shirtless man dancing to their heart’s content. To me, Aunt Charlie’s isn’t a dingy gay bar downtown, it’s one of the only places that I’ve been where you can hear serious early dance music without any sense of self-seriousness. There’s no retro value in any of the mashups, because there are none. Bus Station’s style is simply classic to classic via the fade. It’s a night all about track selection, not about the DJ’s ego, and what you are there for is the trip that he wants to take you on. And it’s great because this is a night where he shows the disco dorks and the disco devoid a perfect place to hook-up: the dancefloor.

Well versed in all of the relevant Mutant Disco, I-Robots, and countless numbers of Italo Disco compilations, I was floored by Bus Station. By the end of the night, and several very strong and inexpensive drinks later, I went home recognizing only one song: ‘Lectric Warriors – “Robot is Systematic.” But the thing about it all was not that he just played random twenty five cent finds off of Prelude Records or TSR, but every song is amazing … each one better than the last. First Choice, Invisible Man’s Band, Carol Hahn, Fascination, Gina and the Felixix, and Aural Exciters sit next to ‘Lectric Warriors as the night’s token “oh-yeah-you-obviously-know-this” tracks. Um, we do?

But more than anything, it’s about the music and the energy of the night. It’s not about obscurity, or DJ worship, but it’s about the way that he works the crowd and the environment that he provides. On one hand, the nights are definitely about hooking-up. After all, each event is at a gay club with porno on both the flyers and the projection screens. And I don’t want to ignore that aspect of Bus Station’s nights. I don’t want to gloss over the subcultural context and simply opt for the commodification of someone else’s culture. But on the other hand, each event has a certain honesty, a certain what-you-see-is-what-you-get, about it that would prevent scenesters from ever completely infiltrating. And honestly, DJ Bus Station John doesn’t seem like the sort of guy who’s going to sell out his crowd for a shot in the Cobra Snake or Last Night’s Party. When you’re at one of his parties, you definitely get the feeling that you are in his world, and you’re welcome there but it’s not about you, or even him for that matter. As I mentioned above, Bus Station seems to embody everything that I can only speculate about the Paradise Garage: movement, energy, a safe community, and fun. Pure, unadulterated fun. So, you can feel good about putting down the black hair dye and grabbing your dancing shoes.

[Cameron Octigan]

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