Notes from the fires of hell, Saturday 24th January 2009...
Part 1: Heat (von) Stroke
"I'm melting... I'm meeellllltting..."
Not a scene from The Wizard Of Oz, but the Pulse Radio Yacht Club party on Sydney Harbour on the hottest day of the summer. Not since the torturous experience of Field Day 2006 has a party been this goddamn uncomfortable to endure. At least there was a harbour breeze and air conditioning to help us survive.
Unlike the last floating event tech-house/disco melange, this one was a model of good organisation and marked by a lack of promoter-initiated violence. And musically it was at least on par if not better--certainly in the main room, where Luciano had failed to overwhelm.
In fact, it really was the obverse of the hedonistic madness of boat #1. Almost too civilised. And so Mother Nature stepped in to make sure that it would still be a day to remember.
In the main room Emerson Todd started with one of his typical "I can't be assed playing a real warm-up" sets, banging out minimalistic proggy tech-house for 90 minutes. He was followed by Christian Martin, who almost seemed a let-down as he took foot off accelerator with a mix of traditional Dirtybird fare and more acidic journeys, even pulling out brother Justin's classic "The Water Song".
But that set the stage for Claude von Stroke's three-hour extravaganza. Turning the volume down at the beginning, he managed to pull the crowd close to him and then hit them with a slew of his biggest tunes ("Who's Afraid Of Detroit" getting a rapturous reception about half-way through the set), as well as farty electrofied tech-house with trademark ridiculously heavy basslines and drums that seem to erupt from beneath audible frequencies. It was also fantastic to hear his magical remix of local boys Poxy Music's "Warpaint".
As usual for CvS there was a tendency to mash disparate sounds to crank maximum party vibe out of the whole affair--there was even a brief foray into downtempo dubby breaks. At times I thought it was too all over the shop to hang together but the enthusiasm he brought to it meant it worked OK. Not as good as his Mad Racket set a few years ago, but superior stuff. One of the world's best party DJs without a doubt, as long as you can forgive his desire to thumb his nose at the pretensions of the tech-house scene.
If the main room rocked it was partly due to the fact that only the bravest of souls would be able to cope on the disco deck for very long without expiring. Which was a huge shame because the music kept up the high standard set by Greg Wilson last time around. James and Scottie from Better Days warmed up with cool-as-fuck Balearic-tinged nu-disco and italo before it was Luke Unabomber's turn to play. Weaving together downtempo funk, classic disco and modern nu-disco sounds, he was impressing the diehard disco-heads until the 41 degree heat caught up with him and he had to hand over to Ben Rymer of Gucci Soundsystem. A far cry from the tech-house sounds he was pushing with former partner Riton a couple of years ago, Ben strung together modern DFA shizzle like Shit Robot's unreleased newie with disco oldies and even some real yacht rock (Don Henley's classic "Dirty Laundry")!
If the excesses and catastrophes of the previous cruise had been unable to live up to the massive hype and expectation surrounding Luciano's first appearance on our shores, the less stellar build for this one meant that it could deliver, and in style. Full props to Jimmy, T-Boy and Wade for making it happen, and with a minimum of injury (although all the DJs on the top deck probably needed medical care by the end of the day).
Part 2: Random brilliance
So, this guy Garry Todd, he got it goin' on. To follow from the cruise I was assigned as advance party to secure a spot at the infamous Ladylux for my friends, Dave and Joanne. What were we, snobby music types, doing heading for a club that has often been pilloried for outrageous door policies and questionable clientele?
The answer, of course, was that with the relaunch of Garry's Bread & Butter night (now filling the prime Saturday night slot) we were going to see the Canadian-now-living-in-Berlin techno genius Mathew Jonson play live.
The night started early for me, watching Jimmy Posters and T-Boy from Pulse Radio play a mixed bag of house and tech-house, followed by a brief outing from Rif-Raf, who started a bit heavy before settling into some appropriately deep, melodic techno offerings.
As the post-boat crowd thinned a little it was supplemented by people coming for Jonson or just because 'Lux was their place to go. With Garry and John Devecchis concentrating on a very deep, underground tech-house sound (think labels like Oslo, Diynamic and 8bit, with a fair bit of 20:20 thrown in for good measure) this could've been a disaster. Instead, everyone connected with the sweaty, small-club vibe. Devecchis, in particular, played the most focused set I've heard from him for ages--a sign, perhaps, that he's feeling relaxed enough to play in his own style rather than feel the pressure of conforming to whatever the dominant sounds of the party are meant to be.
By this time Dave, Joanne and I had been joined by Ant and Lisa and, finally, after a long delay because of missing cables, Jonson hit the Allan & Heath mixing desk at around 1:45 am and proceeded to knock out over two and a half hours of his noodly techno. Using a laptop with Ableton, a drum machine and a midi controller (sans keyboard because no power adapter could be found) through the mixer he was like a conductor driving his large orchestra of instruments through their paces. Sometimes blisteringly hard and at other times ethereally melodic, he was unafraid to let loops run longer than they reasonably should or to allow tracks to peter out to silence before the next movement started. What he gained in the ability to improvise, however, he sometimes lost in a messy and almost haphazard looseness to the overall set.
I had to leave, exhausted, at 4:15 with Jonson still playing. By this stage the club was still heaving with blow-up plastic palm trees, crazy hats and bottles of Jager being passed around. The randomness of the crowd was mirrored in the randomness of the whole event... yes we've all been to loose and trashy parties, but rarely with music this satisfying. Last night Bread & Butter managed to have both. With a stellar list of internatonals over coming weeks and months, this could be the new Sydney night to watch.