SMART-ALECKY : JAMIE JONES @ BIJOU BOSTON 03.07.14

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The first Boston DJ performance by Wales’s Jamie Jones was a smashing success for Bijou, the techno emporium at which he made the scene. The club was full, full, full, and it stayed all full right to the last note of Jones’ last track of a two hour set.

For this observer, however, Jones’s set fell short. This was a surprise. Beatport’s list of his top ten downloads feature some of the most ticklish joke-juke funk anyone has ever heard from a dance music track maker. “Road To the Studio,” “Jealousy,” “Percolator,’ and “Hungry For the Power” all squat, shrug, and grin like the vaudeville cameos they are. Not since the joke juke rap work of 1980s acts like Newcleus, Zapp, and (aptly named) Cameo has funny funk had its grinning in your face view of life this eloquently expressed. Unhappily, at Bijou, Jones’s lithe portraits of shrug, squat, and grin gave way to hard loudness — stomp, growl, grumble and gargle — shapes all standard-issue for DJs dropping sets in Boston.

It would have been all right for Jones to play that kind of standard sound had he shown himself its master. And Jones, though still very young in a DJ world dominated by middle-aged masters, has a world-wide reputation; in 2011 he topped Resident Advisor’s reader poll of DJs. One might expect that ANY list’s Number one DJ would deliver a sound profoundly original, daringly crafted, full of message and feeling; yet Prok & Fitch, purveying a very similar sound at a Providence night club some months ago, topped every aspect of Jones’s Bijou set : daring, clarity, originality, progression.

Perhaps that’s because Prok & Fitch played what they do; whereas at Bijou, Jones clearly was playing what he figured the Boston crowd wanted to hear instead. Jones’s tracks tickle and seduce. they’re light to the touch, a peck on the cheek, a soap bubble joke. They feel as delicate as Prince in that song where he pretends to be your girlfriend. But there was nothing girl-friendly about Jones’s massive yuck-work at Bijou.

He played several of his top ten list, including its number one, “Moan and Groan,” a caricature of the now out of favor “electro” style. Here was a balloon of sound blown up almost to the bursting point. As a spoof on bad DJs, it had legs. But it was a hard act for even its maker to follow.

Jones dropped several daredevil mixes — from acappella to a big stomp, big stomp to sharp tones, wobbly voice fade ins and glitch-tone fade outs, strips of tonality — that proved his chops and had me wondering why, given his ability to leap across sonar abysses, there wasn’t more of it. What there was a lot of was gimmicky sound-shaping, much of it glaringly tacky, as if Jones were caricaturing Donald Glaude, the DJ world’s emperor of tacky.

Caricatures of tacky still sound tacky, and irony as an attitude leaves many — certainly left me — at odds with the beat and the sound. House music wants to get inside your soul; techno wants to surround you. Both genres transport the dancer — “take you on a journey,” Danny Tenaglia puts it. Jones’s smart-alecky goose waddles, however, left me at the station. As an alt-rock kind of dance music, it had a point, I guess, and Jones’s young fans seemed to get that. I still prefer Prok & Fitch.

Local house DJ Tamer Malki’s opening set featured a lush low moan taken at a sleezy 120 bpm, a set as earnest and soulful as Jones’s was voraciously comedic.

—- Deedee Freedberg / Feelin’ the Music

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HOUSE AS BASIC AS CHICAGO BLUES : PROK & FITCH @ 360 PROVIDENCE 10.11.13

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There are some DJs and mix duos who trick up their house music as gussied as a drag queen. Others bend the genre out of shape, or clink it to other genres, or paint it with melody, all in search of a signature sound that, far too often, sounds more simpering than signifying. Then there are the DJs who strip house music down to its basics, simplify it, clip it to one tone, one stride, one vision in search of a connection instinctive as a nerve ending. Prok & Fitch proved at 360 in Providence to be of the latter sort and masterfully so. They didn’t beat around the bush, wander off, get all persnickety. From the beginning of their set at about 12:15 A.M. until well on toward 2:00 AM, they dropped a stride and strut, a push and push, a scoop and stomp : all of them low and grumbly and of a texture thick enough — without feeling like a cake mix.

360, by the way, is a new dance-music arena and a good one. Dark and spacious with a DJ booth as open to the fans as a handshake and a hug. It’s no frills, just the space and some lighting — an ideal match for the basic blues sound that was dropped upon it at this performance.

The two DJs began with a chant of “you don’t stop, no you don’t stop” — from their “After the World” track — and so it went for the many — but not quite enough — fans who danced into second wind and beyond. Using four CD players and mixing in teamwork — few solos by either man — the Londoners blended and cut, clippd the reperat bitton, squeezed the tone knob, and quick-cut the beat parade. Occasionally they flubbed a mix (I noticed one quite sloppy segue at 1:15 A.M.); but they made good the mistake so quickly that few minded. That’s one of the advantages of playing house music in basic mode: the mix flaws heal rapidly. It was that way with 1950s Chicago blues. In that most dependable of rigidly restricted, scream and ramble-effect genres, you knew what was coming, and when, and almost how’; and if a bass line went south, the guitar was there to kick it north again, and you liked the effect; it lent salt to the music ‘s pepper, spit to its shine.

Prok & Fitch have made so many tracks so similar — yet so grabbing — that they were able to salt their own pepper almost the entire night. One heard, I think, segments of their two Todd terry remixes (“Can You feel It’ and “Something Going On”), their collaboration with Roger Sanchez (“Take You There”), two collaborations with the UK’s Filthy Rich (“Time To Jam” and “Justified”), and many others of their prolific oeuvre. It was a spirit-chaser night of — so to speak — stride strut, leg lug, hip flip and brain sprain, without digression. Pause breaks were few; streakies, none. They poked the mix board all set long, but only to guide the music, not bust it open. As basic as a Bo Diddley jam, as sure as a Littler Walter, as double-played as a Howlin’ Wolf, they played house music pure and sure, and found within the genre itself all the drive and soul that lies within it, ready to pounce. Laying down the law of house. It was a set not to be missed.

Local DJ Marcus Christian, whom i had never heard play at length, opened with a set as basic and bluesy as Prok & Fitch’s. He perhaps mixed his sound with a bit more bending than they did; but the textures thus toyed with at low frequency led direcyly gto the bass and blaster work of the main men. Very well done.

—- Deedee Freedberg / Here and Sphere

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