A-Trak, Theophilus London, Treasure Fingers, Trackademicks
July 16th, 2009
Review by Noah Sanders
Better than: Actually attending a rave in the early '90s.
Last night's A-Trak show at The Independent seemed pieced together with a lingering adoration of the early '90s house scene firmly in place, each act embodying a disparate part of that faded bit of once cherished electronica. With the exception of local hip-hop favorites Trackademicks bustling 25 minutes of old school hip-hop, this was, surprisingly, an electro-house show in all ways, complete with flashing strobes, the caramel odor of fake fog, and a crowd of young 21-year-olds spastically bouncing along to throbbing music.
You would expect that headliner A-Trak (Kanye's touring DJ and the youngest ever winner of the DMCs World DJ Championship) would entrance the crowd with a more break-centric series of songs, but the spry DJ instead focused on a blistering set list of heavily electronic cuts. Playing in front of what seemed to be the largest, multi-colored tanning booth ever, A-Trak bounced between drum machine, laptop, and turn-table, spinning out a grimy collection of sample shaded electro-hop. Enmeshed in a thick, odorous cloud of weed smoke, the crowd of well-dressed attendees (many in high heels and suit jackets), bobbed and thrusted accordingly, a rippling sea of youthful energy. The Montreal-based turntablist was a blur of hands and technology, injecting a bit of humanity into the sometimes cold and mechanized world of a modern day digital DJ set.
Theophilus London, a looming silhouette towering above the darkened stage, tore through a short, but enjoyable set of songs that existed somewhere between Public Enemy, Joy Division, and Junior Boys - a madcap mix of sinister, pulsing synth and aggressively spat hip-hop. Tall and lanky, the Brooklynite prowled the stage, the microphone clutched in his hand, impressively dark shades resting on his face. And yes, he sampled Whitney Houston's take on "I Will Always Love You" and yes, his final song was more 8-bit whimper than crackling finale roar, but his exuberant stage presence and cobbled together sense of originality were more than enough to keep the crowd moving.
In stark contrast, London's DJ, Treasure Fingers offered a set of early '90s cheese synth. Like many, I stared on in befuddled disbelief as TF silenced the crowd with his mix of dull house standards. The audience, still thin, feebly danced as high pitched vocal samples sliced through the air. It was a dated set, the sort more comfortably listened to in an Eastern European discoteque's "House Room", and the Independent's attendees responded in turn, shuffling their feet and heading to the bar, obviously bored.
Whomever put Trackademicks on this bill owes him and his crew an apology. This talented group of throwback emcees performed well, but their glossy, old-school hip-hop seemed out of place last night, almost as if they'd been booked for an entirely different show.
Overall, it was a strange evening--an awkward (and perhaps unintended) homage to a mostly (thankfully) forgotten music scene.
Personal Bias: Once wrote an entire college essay about how much I hated my one rave experience.
Random Detail: I overheard the words "Red Bull and Vodka" an uncomfortable amount.