DJ MUSIC AND THE “SELFIE” SOCIETY

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^ selfie music

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We have watched house music and techno develop, as pop music genres must, over the past 27 years or so since these genres first grew a name. Of everything that house and techno first came to me, however, nothing remains except for one aspect : it’s solo stuff. Yes, there are DJ duets, a few of them superb. They are exceptions. To probably everyone who imagines a DJ, the image is of one person, earphones on, commanding equipment that sends out good vibrations, good rhythms.

It was not that way in rock and roll, nor, for the most part, in jazz. Rock and roll was played by bands — mostly three or four musicians, sometimes five or more. If a rock band featured a soloist — and many did — he or she was always, always of that band, never by him or herself. In jazz, the small combo and the big band were the rules. Solo performance arose from ensemble performance and took place within it.

As ensemble genres, rock and roll and jazz signified community, demonstrated common interests, rose above the glitter of self, its smell, its gimme’s. Yet of course the urge to spotlight rumbled within the music and often burst through it. Stars arose aplenty and took over, nailed the fans, made their names immortal — backing band or no backing band. Yet even then, even with Elvis or James Brown, as elephantine as any egos that have ever walloped an audience, the music needed several players to build its arc, give context, outline the star’s temper and contours.

With DJ music there’s none of that. the audience is the context the setting the temper. There is one music maker and one only; he or she does it all. No previous pop music, except maybe the blues, has ever presented so singly. Yet the blues is best played within four walls, or on a front porch. It is also music of pain — maybe joy and pain (in the immortal phrase of a great song by Maze) — and of one person and nobody else. Blues is as personal as a toothbrush. DJ music, on the other hand, though almost always solo, is hardly ever singular, and though much house music cries pain as often as not, the pain it cries is the fans’ pain. (It may also be the the DJ’s pain, but only as he or she is of the audience as much as at the mix-board.

The art forms closest to what DJ music does are painting and photography. Here the presentation is exclusively the artist’s — hermetically so. If it speaks to those who look, it speaks to them all, equally; or to none. Paintings and photographs do not — cannot — send a message only to one fan, or a few. For how can the photographer or painter know who will look ? The most popular DJ music does the same. It sends the DJ’s message — and his or hers only — to everyone everywhere. There is no locality in big-arena DJ music, no observable bounds, no contour or temper. It contains no private messages, no communal come-ye’s.

If the most popular DJ music has no definitions, why does anyone like it ? Yet a lot do. All over the world millions love big, beachy, smiley DJ music. Why ? There is, of course,. never a simple answer to why anyone likes a work of art, expression, entertainment. Some like them because their friends do. Some are snagged by the rhythm, the squiggles, the giddy glee. This writer is tempted, however, to conclude that people who like big-name DJ music do so because the music is its own mirror, its own photograph; a “selfie” sound track.

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^ selfie at work

The “selfie” — a smartphone snapshot, usually, of the person taking the snapshot, usually holding the smartphone up to her or his face — is as much the watermark of DJ society as the hot rod was of rock and roll, the two dancer twirl and leaps of jazz, the packed-tight dance floor of disco. At the disco, no one thought of being just a self; one melded into a crowd, sweat to sweat, thigh on thigh. People went to jazz dances in pairs, foursomes, whole busloads. Rock and roll was rebel music, but a soften as not, the rebel of it was an entire generation of young people. At huge DJ gigs, however, the fans exult the music by taking “selfie” of themselves — all of them the same “selfie,” but who’s counting ? The only number that matters in DJ music is ONE. Sound familiar ? it’s the politics we live in, the music we live by.

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^ the selfie icon ?

This is not to say that there are no DJs who play to contours and communities. What today is called the “underground” features plenty of masterful DJs who play joy and pain, message and aspiration, struggle and stride, and a vast dome of images frightful, mechanistic, bellowed and screeched. It’s solo music, but solo is not the message. Friends, competitors, alliances, imagination — these are the messages often carved by “underground’ DJs. Still, the “underground” gathers a fan base maybe one-fiftieth as big as the solos who populate big DJ gigs by the tens of thousands. Is it surprising that one encounters hardly any “selfie” snap-shooters at “underground” DJ sets ? When you are one of 20,000, it is you and only you swimming in a sea of bodies. You’re very, VERY much alone, and you know it; and the “selfie” is an icon of aloneness as lonesome as any such this writer has ever seen.

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^ a selfie = alone = lonely

On the other hand, when you’re on a dance floor with less than 200, every shoulder next to you and leg on the other side of you become real people who matter. There the self has allies warmer than a selfie pic.

—– Michael Freedberg / Here and Sphere

STOMP OF BOOT AND SMOOVE IT OVER : RAMON TAPIA AND ANTHONY ATTALLA @ BIJOU 07.26.13

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Two track-making DJs of very dissimilar voice, Ramon Tapia and Anthony Attalla, dropped 75 minute sets each at Boston’s Bijou NightClub on Friday night. It was Tapia’s first local performance since 2010, when he rocked the now-shuttered Therapy in Providence; many scenesters and house music connoisseurs came to see Tapia reshape his well-regarded hits — “Intense Idea,” “Y Not,” “Wonderland,” and “Freedom,” his number one download at Beatport.com. As for Attalla, he has played frequently in various Boston dance-music clubs; and though he too has a large repertoire of produced tracks, it is his live mix work, not the tracks, that people come to see.

It played out exactly thus at Bijou. Attalla played many of his tracks — rough, racy, abrasive and energetic things — in loud big, boot stomp mode. He shoved his entire body into his mixes, almost as if he were doing push-ups. He leaned into the board’s knobs, bobbed his head, clenched fists at them, like a boxer in the ring. Using no PC — nor did Tapia — Attalla spliced two CDs into Bijou’s fully-arrayed mixer, set the boom, clang, and bamm going, let it ride; pushed the pitch now and then. At first that was all that he did, but before long he cranked the soundboard hard, and from that point on dropped big, scary truck beats onto the dance floor, one upon another with voice grins tooled atop — and in and out, like dancers stepping and jumping from spotlight to dark mists.

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Attalla put his stomp noise into full locomotive shape and kept it there with some of dance music’s current talk drops — “there’s whores in this house” made its second appearance in as many Fridays — normalizing what was a very loud sound, an almost solid brick of it. Waving his arms in the air, punching at the music, Attalla was his own go-go dancer. But one with enough grace to feature, toward the end of his set, a Ramon Tapia track, “Intense Idea,’ which might well have been written with Attalla in mind.

Then it was Tapia’s turn. In no time at all his soft, smoove sound put melody into service, and an interplay of beat and percussion that changed Attalla’s single-minded music of rant into a music of conversation, of two people or more than two. Tapia stood supple at the mix board, fingering the knobs but not attacking them. Into the mix he ran “Wonderland” and tracks similar, and then his own version of “Intense Idea,” more complicated than Attalla’s single-minded streak. This was followed by a soulful, uprising, melodic track onto which came a vocal climax. It was the entire evening’s sublimest song.

Attalla’s set featured very few pauses or bridges made of mix twists. Tapia, however, filtered many such twist bridges into his set, and all felt just right as he sculpted them. For the first two-thirds of his 75 minutes, Tapia had Bijou’s dancers swaying and swooning.

Curiously, though, Tapia had not played “Y Not,” perhaps his most soulful track, and, as he began the last third of his set, he missed a beat cue, flubbed a segue, and lost the handle of his tuneful smoothing. Inexplicable were the next ten minutes of his performance; but, as the end point of his time grew near, he recovered himself. The sound now was purely house music, and blues that seemed to apologize to itself. Tapia ended strongly, playing his top hit “Freedom” almost as a sigh of relief that he had escaped his own misstep. The Bijou dancers cheered, and many ran to get their pictures taken embracing a sweat-browed Tapia.

Wil Trahan opened in his usually commanding manner. Like the DJs of old, Trahan chases down tracks that no one knows but which, once heard, everybody wants to have. With tracks like that in hand — best was FCL’s “It’s You” — it’s easy to dominate a statement. Trahan stated; and dominated.

—- Deedee Freedberg / Feelin’ the Music

BLUES TALK : JOHN TEJADA @ ARC NIGHT CLUB 07.12.13

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When this writer arrived at Arc, a new room for Boston house music, at about 12.15 AM, John Tejada was already hard at it. Working his own mix board, rich with shape-shifting knobs and beat-breaking buttons, Tejada put the bluest house music this writer has heard recently into talk and walk shape. Blues is a music of talk and walk — of move and monologue — and in house music there are plenty of move and monologue tracks. Tejada dropped a couple of those — glitch vocal tool ins — but his talk works sounded most prickly and seductive when he made instrumentals do the talking.

Born in Vienna, Austria, to an Austrian, orcherstra-conducting Dad and a Mexican Mom, Tejada, who will be forty years old next year, has been workling his uniquely bluesy sound for almost fifteen years — but rareky in boton. His last vist that we know of happened four yrears ago. The rarity of his performing in Boston assured a full dance floor at Arc, and full it was, and entirely committed to Tejada’s mix work. Guys danced to the front; cameras flashed on all sides; and on and on Tejada moved his music, never coasting, not taking a bathroom break (something no DJ should ever have to do in a two hour set), no acceding to a fan greeting. (Why fans feel they have the OK to interrupt DJs, this writer will never understand. People at a rock or jazz concert wouldn’t think to come up on stage like that.) With Tejada, fans evidently felt they owed him the space not to play “hey good-buddy ! hi-ya !” with. He was able thus to concentrate all attention upon forty or so mix board edit buttons of which he made constant use.

He describes his sound as techno — but of the Detroit, not the German version. Detroit, at Arc, it was ; a sound almost entirely blues based from which ticklish, twisty, wire-thin strands of upper register noise arose, seductive to the body as to one’s ear. His sound had family resemblance to that of Carl Craig : choppy but soulful, airy as well as blues. Tejada, however, dropped a sound much more walk and talk than Craig’s glide and sublime.

Playing his best-liked “Elsewhere,’ “Somewhere,’ and “Here” — the titles felt appropriate to the sonic displacements Tejada made — as well as “Wanna,” “Seven X Seven” and several others similar, Tejada played stomp and tickle, rumble and fumble; and his fans loved every move.

There was, however, less dancing than appreciating. Most of the approximately 225 fans stood to watch Tejada do his mixes and to snap photos of it. This was not a mistake. Tejada played the mix board as if it were a piano. Almost every knob and button made its mark, as Tejada jumped from track to track and shattered, repeated, stuttered, undertoned, fade-knobbed, flatted and sharped his sound. He kept his head down, his hands on the music, making it a throat, lips, and belly of burp, squeak, and irresistibly lush blues walk-offs.

Curiously, Tejada’s set ended not at Arc’s closing time but at 1.25 A.M. he was followed by Matt Mcneil, a local DJ who dropped a plush, loud, embracing sound. Mcneil has the deep house chops needed to take over from a headline master, and he did not lose Tejada’s ground. This writer will be very disappointed if Mcneil does not get invited, and soon, to open at Bijou, Boston’s most important house music venue, and, quickly thereafter, to headline.

— Deedee Freedberg / Feeling the Music

SIMPLE TO COMPLEX, LIKE LIFE ITSELF : CHUS + CEBALLOS @ BIJOU BOSTON 06.14.13

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At Bijou on Friday night the Madrid-based DJ team of Chus and Ceballos dropped a masterly, three and a half hour set on a dance floor as crowded as always happens when this duo comes to town. They did not disappoint. Their set moved straight ahead, a long train ride as metaphor for the long ride that is life itself. We grow up from the simplicities of childhood to the ever more quizzical disputations and demands that pressure us as we come of age. At Bijou, Chus and Ceballos worked just that sort of narrative and message.

The music advanced from basic blues, bottom rhythms to overlay blends, then to overlays with streaks added and conversations; then to rhythms themselves more streaky and complicated, alongside top-octave sound effects intensely varied. The duo’s mixes, too, progressed from simple to not at all simple. DJ Chus, as inspired a shape-maker as any, bent and twisted the music, stuttered it, fade-knobbed it, and bounced it from one mode to another with intensifying aggressiveness.

His mixes touched skin and bit deep. From one-two-three on the fingers, the rhythm and scream of Chus’s work inexorably pulled the dancers beyond control into its vortices of ambition, doubt, wants, needs, dreams, and siren calls variously lovely or fatal. It was a sweet sound at first, then sparkly, cool as a crush.

As always, they worked two mix boards and two PCs; and, as always, it was Ceballos who cued up tempos and tracks — and mixed the basics — and Chus who crafted the complication. Ceballos mixed his stuff using headphones, Chus shape-shifted almost always without them.

Because Chus and Ceballos have been doing their work for a long time; ┬ábecause as house music has grown up, so they too have grown, with and by way of the music. And thus their life narrative was theirs as well as one for the Bijou fans. To make the point quite clear, they tooled into their set a great many tracks from their personal journey, including Todd Terry’s “Can You Feel It,” 1972’s disco classic “Soul Makossa,” and a drastic re-work of The Fog’s 1994 “Fired Up.” Also in their flashback mix were the venerable house track “Preacher,” samplings of Danny Tenaglia’s “Elements,” the monologue from Victor Calderone’s “Let Me Set You Free,” Queen’s scream from 1980’s “Another One Bites the Dust,” and — a staple of Chus and Ceballos sets — portions of two Celeda sides, “Music Is the Answer” and “The Underground.”

In addition, they slid all sorts of throwback voices into their mix, plus some segments of 1978-ish reggae toasting. And of course their basic choogle recalls that of Creedence Clearwater doing the Bayou slop. Their past is, as one expects, 40 years, at least, extensive and wide-ranging. They used all of it at Bijou.

None of these memory sweeps dominated their rhythmic progress. Their own more recent tracks, including the dreamy “Partenza” and the samba-fierce “Quimera.” (co-produced with Marcello Castelli), assured as much.

Rhythm dominated, persuaded, tossed the dancers . Choogle became ┬árumble, strut, sizzle and stutter. Upper register screams jazzed the beat; screeches lit it up. And then — in the final forty minutes or so, Chus and Pablo blew samba beats past talk which lifted the samba onto a babble of many percussions running across each other’s path.

This sounds like a heap of blues, and for Pablo and Chus, the blues it was. But it also sounds like an exciting adventure; Chus and Pablo’s long set was an exciting sonic adventure for sure. One that the Bijou crowd could not get enough of or adequately respond to except by yelling and dancing and raising their hands in stunned astonishing.

—- Deedee Freedberg / Feeling the Music”

RATING : sublime

GIRL TALK : DAVE AUDE’ at CLUB CAFE 06.07.13

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GIRL TALK DANCE : DAVE AUDE’ @ CLUB CAFE 06.07.13

Master re-mixer Dave Aude’ made a rare Boston DJ appearance last night at Club Cafe. The more than two-hour set by Aude’ was a highlight of Boston’s Pride Week. On the same night that Roger Sanchez, equally masterful as Aude’ and for just as many years, was dropping a two-hour set at a club not three blocks away, Aude’ rocked a dance floor full and excited.

There’s no mistaking what Aude’ does. He remixes pop bop dance tracks almost always featuring girly girl singers. In the studio, no one does it better, not many as well. His sound is creamy smooth most of the time but occasionally slap-nasty. Beats race along, synthesizers chirp and whoop, and the girl singer puckers her message of love-me, of go-away, of have fun and dance with me.

And so it was at Club Cafe. Aude’ played spiffy girl dances and nasty ones, hits new and old (Cazzette and Afrojack, but also early 1990s stuff such as Inner City’s “Good Life” and parts of tracks that echoed Snap, Ya Kid K, and Haddaway), and a long chain of racy giddy girls’ nights out — all of it segued with a smooth hand. He sound nudges the entire body. There’s roll and rumble, step and tiptoe for the legs and feet; shimmy shake sound effects for the hips and chest; and voices cute, chirpy, teasing, grungy — these and more; Aude’ has remixed an almost who’s who of star and wanna-be star girl pop voices — for the head and neck. In Aude’s sound each gets center stage only to give way — effortlessly in a dissolve mix, teetering on a quick cut — to its sonic companions.

Using the scantiest of equipment, two CD players and Club cafe’s stripped-down mix-board, Aude’ still managed to juggle his three-part sound without one flat moment, missed cue, or off-base segue. There were jet streak effects, twisty riffs, moody breaks, melodic serenades; sometimes he shaped his sound as a sharp slash, a kind of sword dance. But mostly he delivered his signature : girl going giddy, soprano soaring, heart a flutter. It was a night of girl talk and girlie action delivered mostly to boys for whom girl things are a necessary freedom to love and be loved in.

There is nothing simple about girl feelings. That’s why dancers — boy or girl — who embrace girl moves adore them. Aude’ focuses his sound and subject matter as narrowly as any DJ this writer has seen; yet at Club Cafe he made it serve an almost horizon-less expanse of tones, moves, talk, and beats. The many young DJs who play girl-voiced pop bop to party people often settle for sameness and surface. Not Aude’. His mixes at Club Cafe went inside a melody and turned it around and out, this way and that, changing on the fly and doubling back. Challenging, Aude’s rhythm action sure is, to a girl playing vixen, vamp, or Betty Boop. At Club Cafe Aude made sure that all of his chosen singers commanded her chosen role — and his chosen music.

— Deedee Freedberg / Feelin’ the Music

TWO-THEMED DANCE MUSIC : GUTI @ BIJOU 05.26.13

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On Sunday night, Boston dance music fans had an opportunity to see Argentina’s Guti drop a set in prime time. At Bijou, the rapidly rising DJ — whose full name is Jose Maria Gutierrez Hernandez — delivered a set unlike any other that this writer has seen, one with bottom beats and overriding detail so separated — and so individually spotlighted — that his two hours amounted to two entirely separate sets sharing the same time slot and space. There was realism in that: after all, two people dancing on the same dance floor are, in fact, two separate lives confronting in the same space and time. Guti’s Argentina has, for over 100 years, owned a dance, the tango, in which hot drama arises from the friction of two separate lives acting in the same space and time. Only fitting, was it, that Guti gave his Bijou fans a 21st century version of tango drama, a dance very different in its passions but much the same in its two wills willfully dancing.

In tango, the clash is of anger, of dislike, of sexual heat that forces itself through mutual rejection, power plays, sex as pain, humiliation, surrender. Nothing this dark happened in Guti’s Bijou set, but much the same plunge was implied — risked, even — yet gently avoided in his very dissimilar two waves. First came a big, alpha-male’s boot stomp, next an interlude of high-note bird’s calls followed by the boot stomp returning. This was the set’s pattern; the boot stomp had its minutes, only to give way to equal minutes of flutter, lullaby, whistling, twisty noises: seduction in a soprano octave.

His music amounted to two themes having an extened conversation, a give and take that, late in set, moved toward resolution as Guti mixed the two themes together in complicated angles — in each of which the two conversators worked their way around each other, as if to gain advantage. Yet no advantage was to be had; each theme in his \music maintained its tone, its movement, its initiative, and if, in his mix, the focal point between them tilted in one direction. Guti brought it back again to the other direction only to end up in the middle as stomp and flutter circled one another like side by side whirl-a-gigs of sound. Such too, was the tango.

Guti has, in the past four years especially — he has DJ’d for far longer than this — produced tracks, or re-mixed the work of other producers. His prolific body of work has attracted devotees almost everywhere that dance music is enjoyed. Many sound dream-like in their delicacy and whimsy : “Hope,” Ray Foxx’s “The Trumpeter,” “I’m feeling Interglactic,” Wols’s “Bushmans Oversized Vibe,” for example, and his remix of Livio & Roby’s “We Are.” Eqully many do a bounce, from squeaky squiggly to boot stomp: his remix of Davide Squillace’s “The Other Side of hiustler,” “option One,’ and “Bususki,” and “Non Adepto.’

This list by no means exhausted the sequence of excerpts from tracks, both his own and remixes, that he input to his Bijou workout. Using a PC program this writer hasn’t seen before, one that enabled him to pick and hunt from one track to another and punch it all into a scant two channels of mix, Guti squashed and jiggled the knobs on the PC mixboard. He cranked more two, three,m even four at once, pushing and pricking the sound into conversational cant. There was buffoonery in his mix and boasting too; zig zags and finger pointing. All of it pressured the dancers to move not just legs and hips but also hands, head, elbows, knees. Body talk took on advanced meaning — but not so advanced that a pair of classic tango dancers wouldn’t have understood every surge, sag, lean, pucker, wink, and prance in Guti’s battle of two wills willing upon each other.

It was aset not to be missed, as sublime and imaginative as any that this writer has seen in many, many years.

Opening for Guti was DJ D-Lux, whose reidency at Re:Set Wednesdays (in Cambridge) has made her a local, Boston star of deep house grooving. In front of Guti she played exactly what she is best at : two hours of rolling rhythm in murmur tones, a succulent flavor evoking the sweaty sentiments that deep house lives by. D-Lux’s set could easily have headlined almost any dance music club in the Boston area — at least at those few clubs hereabouts that are willing to embrace the deep house sound in its fullest evocation.

—- Deedee Freedberg / Feelin’ the Music