Thursday, January 22, 2009

Drama on the high seas

With Saturday's Pulse Radio Yacht Party fast approaching I thought it was a great time to look back on the first Pulse boat party, featuring Luciano and Greg Wilson. This time around it'll be Claude von Stroke and Christian Martin of Dirtybird Records in the main room, with Ben Fat Trucker of Gucci Soundsystem and one half of the Unabombers on the deck. Support from Emerson Todd and the Better Days crew. Should be fun, but I doubt it can surpass the already legendary highs and lows of its predecessor. And maybe that's a good thing.

Here's an edited version of my review from the Inthemix forums to whet your appetites...

We live in a time when an epoch of excess is trying its best to come to a close in a very dramatic and painful fashion. But what of those who valiantly resist the tide, who carry on with their profligate ways despite the mounting evidence that the jig is up? Are they now just going through the motions, wearied and disheartened but putting on a facade of carefree hedonism?

The French have a term for it: Fin de siecle. Literally, the end of a century, but understood as the end of an era. And perhaps that's what those of us who braved the first ever Pulse Radio boat party were experiencing as the madness mounted on the not-so-high seas.

Rarely has such excitement been generated over one not-very-large party, headlined by a newcomer to our shores with a near-mythical reputation. "The Wait Is Over," the headlines screamed, and yet the weeks dragged on, the hype machine hit overdrive and another living legend was added to the bill, as if to prove this was THE EVENT OF THE YEAR.

If there was ever a metaphor for the bubble-like state of the capitalist system in the dance music world, surely the Luciano boat party was it. Expectations inflated inexorably to the point where something, somewhere, somehow had to go "pop".

I leave it to everyone else on the boat to decide when that moment of bursting occurred. For some it may have been when the bottled water ran out or the toilets were shut. For others it may be when Luciano started more than an hour late. For some it may literally have been the "pop" they heard when a punter was taken down on the dancefloor. And for many I'm sure it won't hit till at least Tuesday. But this party could never live up to all of its hype, much like the global financial system really.

Yet there was much to like about this party. The venue (boat and locale) was cool, the event wasn't oversold, the warm-up DJs on both floors were good and the weather was fantastic (if a little too hot at the start). I went with great friends, bumped into lots of people I knew and had a great time running between rooftop boogie and main room intensity.

The warm-up DJs in the main room (T-Boy and Jimmy Posters) did well, weaving nouveau tech-house like Johnny D's "Manipulation" and Ito & Starr's "Sudoko Kid" with classics like L'il Mo Yin Yang's "Reach", the latter sending the swelling crowd loopy. It was the correct tone for Luciano, whose reputation is for combing a retro sensibility with modern productions. However, as Emerson Todd slammed out the main lead-in, the waiting started and the time passed... but no Luciano.

Luckily, Greg Wilson (sans reel-to-reel because the pinch rollers had started to melt) was more than holding court on the roof with a euphoric mix of disco, boogie and early house classics as well as more re-edits than you could shake a stick at. This was altogether happier and cheesier than his selection on Thursday at Bondi, but like the archetypal British tourist he was lapping up the sunshine and good times. Starting with Imagination's "Just An Illusion" and blending it into his recent Missy Elliot re-edit was a perfect start and it only took off from there.

The peak of Wilson's willingness to let down his hair was when he dropped Hues Corporation's evergreen "Rock The Boat" to mass singalong action. Following it immediately with "Lady Marmalade" proved he had no shame but was reading clearly that we didn't either. But there was room later in his almost 5 hour set for more serious offerings--"Fool's Gold", "Voodoo Ray", "Orange Alert" and finishing with 808 State's "Pacific". There were also less well-known but completely bewitching classics like Geraldine Hunt's "Can't Fake The Feeling". And of course the hypnotic Ashley Beedle remix of "Running Up That Hill", which had me and whole bunch of others tranceing out.

Back in the main room, Luciano delivered a truncated set of big room tunes based around percussive loops, massive breakdowns and the occasional melodic riff. While I expected a retro sound, what surprised me most was that this was the sound of tribal techno, circa 2002, but slowed down for modern sensibilities. That he played perennial techno classic "Compound" not once but twice says something about the mood he created. Nice to hear Masters At Work get two workouts at a modern tech party ("Bangin'" following "Reach" earlier on) and also cool to hear the strains of Octave One's "Blackwater". I was surprised he didn't just whip out Umek & Valentino's back catalogue or some early Intec, but it was good clean fun, mixed with aplomb and, wow, the man has a charismatic and charmingly self-deprecating stage presence.

A year ago Luciano was strip-mining the late-90s Chi-town style of Sneak and Carter, now it's the Euro-tribal sound that soundtracked my introduction to proper techno. I think the recycling betrays a weariness in our scene. Here is a very talented DJ creating his own tropes on the achievements of a previous generation of jocks. Everything old is new again, but now much less altered and much more transparent. In that sense, Greg Wilson was no more a retro DJ than Luciano.

I had a fine time, avoided most of the worst debacles, and relied on fantastic people like Nataly, Dave, Joanne, Josie, Kate and Kimberley (who sold her Homebake tickets to come to this) to keep me company. And it was among an enthusiastic sea of punters who managed a high level of friendliness (but who the hell was that random girl who had her photo taken with me at the end?).

When we look back at this party, I think we may well decide that its "epic" qualities lay more in the dramas that played themselves out on board than the pinnacles of musical brilliance it promised. In some ways the problems with the party will become part and parcel of its legend. If anything the (ahem) "incident" will only serve to imprint this sunny afternoon in our minds more indelibly. And, after all, the hype promised us a spectacle so that's what we got...

Spotting Luciano's set
Spotting Wilson's set

Imagination - Just An Illusion
Young Dog Alien - Gotta Keep Workin' It (Missy Elliot Mash-Up)
Stevie Wonder - Superstition (Todd Terje Edit)
Blondie - Rapture
Chic - Good Times
Average White Band - Pick Up The Pieces
Hues Corporation - Rock The Boat
LaBelle - Lady Marmalade
Grace Jones - Pull Up To The Bumper
The Whispers - And The Beat Goes On
Raw DMX - Do It To The Funk (GW Re-Edit)
Stone Roses - Fool's Gold
Kate Bush - Running Up That Hill (Ashley Beedle Re-Edit)
Geraldine Hunt - Can't Fake The Feeling
Cheryl Lynn - Got To Be Real
A Guy Called Gerald - Voodoo Ray
Yaz - Situation
Metro Area - Dance Reaction
The Turtles - Happy Together
Teenage DJ - I Was A Teenage DJ (Pt 1)
808 State - Pacific State (Greg Wilson Mix)

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