Actually went to a show last night. With Anjali. Bass Nectar and edIT at Sabala’s. Packed house of young Burner types. Knit dread caps. Facial hair. Skinny young girls with belly buttons showing. edIT was playing glitchy dancehall-styled beats when we arrived. All the beats were under 100 bpm. Minimal hip-hop and dancehall beats with an emphasis on a very digital sound with some glitchiness and effects. Every song got played for a looong time. Songs would stop and reform many times with the central beat coming back in eventually. Always with some force but not much speed. Hip-hop vocals would appear sometimes, buried in the mix. Part of the crowd was really into him but the transition to Bass Nectar took a long time and some of the crowd was really eager for Lorin (aka Bass Nectar) to go on. First they had to wait through several songs that consisted of breakdowns with sampled voices saying “ediT” and then big glitchy beat bombs hitting. The bass did hit with some force and the sonics were not disagreeable, just repetitive, limited to particular sounds and frequencies, and all in a bpm range that felt slow and enervating.
So Bass Nectar and his four feet of hair finally go on. Bass Nectar is an exceptionally tall and skinny guy with long, long brown hair. Eventually it went up in bun, but that took a while. He was jazzed. Got on the mic and told the crowd they were nasty motherfuckers, they could feel free to come up and dance behind him, (a lot of them were) and that he was looking forward to playing music for us over the next two hours. You should know how we were feeling at at this time. Anjali and I were both quite tired. We dragged ourselves to the show, we had to park a ways away, and walk quite a distance. It was a cold night so I had on thermals, a sweater, and a heavy industrial jacket. The club was packed. Either squeezing by people the whole time, or them squeezing by you. Constant contact and a hot, sweltering vibe that had me pouring sweat the whole time I was there. If there was room to be comfortable, I had been dressed for the club instead of outside, and there was air conditioning, I might have lasted a lot longer.
Neither Anjali or I had ever seen or even heard Bass Nectar before. We had been hearing a buzz ABOUT him for quite a while. Seemed like a Burner focused subculture had sprung up around him. We had gotten the impression that there was some sort of international element to his sound and that had us curious enough to check him out. We blew off his last performance at the Greek so we were motivated to not miss him this time.
First of all, I expected something a lot faster. I pictured a sound more like 130-150bpm breakbeats. Not at all. The pace was very similar to edIT’s set. Dancehall/Hip-hop bpm range, but clinical, digital-sounding, largely intstrumental, with a constant emphasis on squelching midtones. It was those keyboard squelches that seemed to be the focus of the DJ and the crowd’s interest. As his first track was playing (a remix of the Bangles’ “Walk Like an Egyptian”) I leaned over to Anjali and mentioned how well it would mix with Bass Nectar’s remix of the Cheb I Sabbah track “Alkher Illa Doffor.” Sure enough, that is what he played next. The crowd seemed unsure of the Arabic vocal but approved greatly when the squelchy midtones came in. The sound was so consistent from track to track that I was basically just waiting for any sort of international content that might break up the monotony of the keyboard-heavy, slowish, digital beats. At one point he was playing a track with an African sounding vocal and then he mixed in a remix of Panjabi MC’s “Jogi.” Anjali and I are constantly drowning in piles of hundreds of new (and old!) Bhangra releases so we have to remember that even in 2006 the Panjabi MC release is still the only official Bhangra release in the US that isn’t a mixed artist comp. People don’t even know that the Panjabi MC release is a collection of oldy, moldy material that predates all his far more interesting material from the last eight years that has still yet to see a US release date.
I kept waiting for the tempo to pick up, kept thinking it would all of a sudden lurch into nu-breaks or D’n’B paced territory. Instead he gets on the mic and warns people he’s going to bring the tempo way down. Down? He brings a beatboxer onstage to show off his beatboxing skills. The beatboxer gets a solo spotlight for a while. (At the time I thought it was local wonder Fogatron, but Fogatron wrote me after reading my blog to tell me that it wasn’t him.) Then Lorin brings in the keyboard line the beatboxer has been mouthing and they start playing together. Soaked with sweat and exhausted, we began our long squeeze through all the people whose numbers were now only somewhat less than when we arrived. It was now 1:30am and as we exited people were still arriving.
Both edIT and Bass Nectar had very consistent sounds and tempos, that weren’t that far removed from each other. edIT was a little more glitch, a little more mainstream hip-hop. Bass Nectar was fetishistically attached to acidy keyboard sounds. Both stuck with slower than house tempos. Both did very little if any blending, instead bringing a song down to a single noise and then bringing in a new track. Effects played a big role in how they transitioned from one track to the next. Both moved a lot in place while they DJed trying to keep the crowd’s energy level up with their own movement and projected excitement about their own tracks. There seemed to be very little evidence of any tricks, scratching, blending, or other DJ fripperies. Nothing sounded horrible or awful, its just that the sonics were so samey over the course of the night, as well as the tempos. The international content was minimal in Bass Nectar’s set (I thought I heard some ethnic percussion buried in one of the digital rhythms) and I really look for those ancient textures and rhythms to add some passion and interest to the sterile digital beat array. I’m curious what happened in the next hour but I was far too exhausted and uncomfortable to stick around and find out.