There was a worry I had that the Sydney Festival closing night gig was going to be some sort of anti-climax. For some time now it has been de rigueur to expect local stalwarts Mad Racket to deliver a fitting last night at the Beck's Bar under the summer skies. With the likes of Herbert, Chris Duckenfield (he the greatest house DJ on the planet), Hot Chip and Moodymann being among the guests in recent years, the gig has generally been a synthesis of a loose party and serious artistic aspirations.
But as I bought tickets last November, my Festival program was noticeably sans Racket action. Maybe the happy marriage was over and there was to be a new coterie of Beck's collaborators? Happily, that was soon rectified, although I wondered if Recloose and Frank Booker were something of a consolation prize compared with past overseas guests—after all, Auckland is not as far away nor as glamorous-sounding as London or Detroit. And the ticket sales were certainly not up with the stellar ramming of the Hyde Park Barracks venue in previous seasons.
But the end result was something just a tiny bit special regardless of the hiccups on the way. Compared with the two other Beck's gigs I attended (this one and this one) this was easily the most consistent and thoughtfully programmed... kinda like most MR parties at the Bowlo, really. Or maybe it was the relative lack of high expectations which would usually be engendered by having *MAJOR NAMES* on the bill that created space for what was simply a great night out.
When I got there Simon Caldwell was keeping the vibe distinctly deep and chuggy, with recent faves like MCDE's "Raw Cuts #3" and Precious System's "The Voice From Planet Love", before taking a sharp turn into electro-funk territory with a Crispin J Glover stormer on the long-defunct Nuphonic label.
Then Recloose, Frank and vocalist Mara TK appeared on the main stage to smash out the live version of their Hit It And Quit It radio show. Working off two MacBook Pros, at least two turntables and a seemingly endless array of electronic and acoustic instruments, they delivered exactly that—in execution and spirit this was the staged equivalent of a very pacy, thrilling two hours of Black US radio circa 1979-89. The Hot Mix 5 they weren't, but this was a complete show, not just some DJs and knob twiddlers gazing at the ground, and any spotty transitions were more than made up for by the sheer joie de vivre of the performance (not to mention the exuberance of the punters).
Starting in resolutely boogiefied territory with Unlimited Touch's "Love Explosion" alongside newbies like Escort's "Starlight", they moved into more uptempo fare by dropping the likes of "Disco Circus" and the near-perfection of Black Joy's "La Stache". Then a sharp left into more electronic sounds, a smattering of hip house obscurities and a return to pure soul with Mara TK ably filling in for Joe Dukie on "Dust". With soulful disco back on the agenda there was a final foray into Recloose's back catalogue in "Can't Take It" before somehow fittingly closing the set with Was Not Was' politically-charged yet super-cute anti-Reagan diatribe "Tell Me That I'm Dreaming".
Then it was back to Simon, Ken Cloud and Recloose for a fittingly techy post-midnight B2B session for the swelling crowd. It was a salient reminder of what the Racket crew have created—the most consistent (and often most brilliant) dance music event in Sydney, still going strong after 11 years. Not every Racket is genius, but even nights like this where not everything goes to plan are still well ahead of the game. The Sydney Festival certainly has a good thing going here... it should stick to it.