Wednesday, January 4, 2012

REVIEW-SMITH: DANCE PARTY 2, a post-modern post-rave post-Dumbo Gets Mad party

Feat. SBTRKT, Jamie xx & Gil Scott-Heron, The Field, Little Dragon, The Weeknd[i].

Electronic music and R&B fill the apartment tonight. The last time we had this much fun was when we fantasized about Dumbo Gets Mad playing our house party when we expected the Flaming Lips to perform. We weren’t disappointed with the results of our pretend party and we are not disappointed tonight—even when everything goes according to plan.

The DJ spins some established indie-club staples to warm us up, to make sure our joints are lubricated and our moves are primed. . . (LCD Soundsystem. Kanye. Four Tet. Caribou.) We know we’re in for a treat when we reach the main show—our first act of the night—the indisputable talent of—SBTRKT



The spattering beats, the grand jangles, the thumping synths. All of these are fantastical aural techniques in crafting electronic R&B. These techniques are mastered by the man behind the mask and turntables—SBTRKT (subtract). His mask is native, wild, colorful, multilayered in meaning and mystery. It provides a wall between the man and the music he has mixed for his audience—an entity he obviously cares to entertain and entice but not to know. His voice blares through the chords of multiple singers—Sampha, Jessie Ware, Little Dragon (Yukimi Nagano). They show us that we do not need to hear SBTRKT speak—rather we need to hear him perform and mix and produce and collaborate.

The dancing on the floor flows like the sea, crashing when the dub-step beats become invasive and washing away during the softer, seemingly-hollow-but-full-of-timid-life beats. The vocals are never anything but seductive and calming, never teetering close to the level of dangerous. We don’t want SBTRKT to give us a risky set—we want to be comforted. The “riskiness” comes from the calming effect of our dance party. We endlessly move and sway about. We coincide our movements with the beats, with Sampha’s flow, and in the end, when all is said and done, we are satisfied, ready to splay on the ground like sleeping children.

But the night’s not over.

Jamie xx and the ghost of Gil Scott-Heron are ready to perform.


Jamie xx and Gil Scott-Heron’s We’re New Here

Jamie xx’s beats are ethereal but not completely so. If you were to touch the music as you danced, it would feel semi-solid and would resist if you were to try to touch through the sound. The ghostly, bluish visage of Gil Scott-Heron, who died earlier this year (RIP), is not done affecting the musical world. Through Jamie xx’s remix ™ of his final album, I’m New Here, we understand the limitless possibility of music and how one can make minor changes and have it change the tone of a song; or major changes can show the song’s truest potential. The repetitive beats in songs like “Running” are perfect for the dance floor, soft interludes offer reprieve, and the apocalyptic “NY is Killing Me” is one of the most interesting remixxes—no songs—of 2011. When “NY is Killing Me” pops up on Jamie’s mixx ™, the crowd reaches their climax ™ in energy. Lights are blazing, the crowd is packed together, and when the song ends there is a sigh of relief because the energy was nearly too intense. Jamie xx has accomplished something magnificent at this dance party, and those who’ve already experienced it understand well.


The Field’s Looping State of Mind

“Is This Power” starts off shaky, but like the best electronic songs, when the parts start falling together it makes sense. This song morphs before our eyes, within our ears, and through our bodies. It morphs into something we’ve wanted to hear on the dance floor for a while, but have always had to settle for something else, something more violent and hard and at times frightening. The Field is anything but. These songs bounce and comfort. The looping state of mind is one everyone at any house party worth a lick can adhere to. The colors here are blue and purple, dark but beautiful and effeminate. The transitions are barely noticeable, and like other electronic giants in the Four Tet vain, the Field knows production. The set (album) ends with a loopy, repetitive catharsis of mashing on the piano keys and electronic percussion (“Sweet Slow Baby”)—a great moment to end on. Sometimes minimal loops work, and times where they work are right here, at this party, with this intelligently crafted music.


Little Dragon’s Ritual Union

This sexy, catchy group of pop/electronic songs is the perfect counter to what came previous. Much like Little Dragon’s work with SBTRKT, the beats are catchy, but here they are less experimental and more focuses on Yukimi Nagano’s vocals. That works for the Ritual Union set of songs where it might have faltered a bit on the SBTRKT set. The soundscape that Little Dragon creates can be complex, though. The whistle in “Brush the Heat” would not be found on a Top 40 or even your average indie college radio hit. “Shuffle a Dream” is a goofier version of a Brittney Spears / Madonna hit, and is met with applause and dancing. “Please Turn” has a minimalism that the rest of the night seemingly lacks, and again is met with much rejoicing. “When I Go Out” is the spaciest and most contemplative the album gets, but the primal percussion keeps the bodies moving. People are dancing in pairs, sharing their physical attraction in public. If their parents and elders could see them now, they’d be in a state between disgusted, disappointed, but also enticed by the adorable displays of affection—from nibbles on the ear to soft kisses on the collar bone. Was this set a life changer? No. But it was a fun reprieve that everyone enjoyed.


 The Weeknd’s Thursday

When the Weeknd last showed their stuff on House of Balloons, they felt a torrent of highs. The word of Thursday is not as unanimously uplifting, and I’m surprised. It is ironic that they’re playing our dance party, since they haven’t played a real USA show yet. But here they are, at my house party, enjoying the rush post-Little Dragon. Continuing in the pop / R&B style, the Weeknd play their brand of sugary pop meets creeped out dubstep. The Weeknd went from sounding like someone who’d rufie to your drink to someone who will bluntly tell you that they are going to have sex with you. It is hard to resist his charms.

Everyone here is a willing partner. The most sensual moments from the entire night came via the Weeknd’s personality-defining beats and backdrop. The music is more electronic than they’ve shown in the past, the sounds are lusher, and while the subtleties of their last effort are gone, the mixing is on point. The songs where the Weeknd fall back on their “older (by 5 months) sound,” like on the title track, the crowd is most pleased. The slow jams work well in any dance environment, and are a specialty on the two Weeknd mixtapes. When Drake appears to rap his distorted verse on “Zone” the crowd stops dancing for a moment just to bob and cheer at this popular Top 40 figure. The march of “The Birds Part 1” kicks up the energy with production values that even Kanye West would be impressed by. And then bam, the slow jams return on “The Birds Part 2.” Our highlight is “Gone”—as catchy as it is well put-together, dissipating by its end.

This review is breaking its rules, slipping away from the dance dance gimmick, but as all meta-writings go, the acknowledgement of the fallibility of scene is vital in understanding the scene and what the scene is about. Picture yourself at the Weeknd’s first show (here, at my apartment)—singing and crooning and dancing while the DJ plays the fantastic electronic background music. Bright lights blaze in our faces as we dance in the audience. We smell beer and sweat and vivid perfumes that are reminiscent of wild flowers and fruits and cheap perfumes. Everything is better during a show like this.

[i] This review will utilize a fictional house party that never took place (unfortunately). The irony and fun of LCD Soundsystem the song “Daft Punk is Playing At My House” is an obvious influence. Most of these acts are electronic acts, and if they aren’t, they still hold some semblance of danceablity. All of these albums are good and I recommend them, so go use your Spotify account and get a-listenin’.

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