Lost in the Night: DJ Harvey
Frida, Nov. 18, 2011
Better than: An army of computer DJs.
"Usually, when I'm on ecstasy, I stumble around trying to find the right music on my computer. But this, this, is exactly what I want to hear right now... right now he's playing exactly what I want to hear." That's what an acquaintance of mine said while enjoying himself immensely during DJ Harvey's set at last Friday's Face party at Public Works (starring Harvey and Mike Simonetti). I can't say if he was just responding to Harvey (his first time), the drug (who knows), or the overall positive ambiance, but from my own perspective, I'll say this much: last Friday's party was easily one of the best I've been to all year.
We arrived at 11:30 p.m. to find Mike Simonetti about halfway through his set. I can't speak for the part I missed, but the Italians Do It Better label boss played the hour we caught perfectly. Instead of trying to steal the spotlight, he warmed up the dancefloor with an easy-to-take combination of classics and new material. Tracks like Benoit & Sergio's "Let Me Count the Ways" and Chicago Damn's "Be Your Man" intermingled effortlessly with older fare like Dan Hartman's "Instant Replay" and Quando Quango's "Love Tempo."
Listening to Simonetti's selections I was happy to hear that the sound issues I reported on last week were entirely absent: the volume level was comfortable, there was no digital clipping, and none of the DJs ever left their post to yell at anybody (always a good thing). Also, in sharp contrast to last week's party was an understated visual element: just two motorized spotlights, a disco ball, and a fog machine.
Looking like some kind of pirate troubadour, Harvey walked on stage at 12:30 and took control of the decks to wild applause and screams. Within a minute, the music had completely faded out and the room was thrown into pitch blackness. The crowd cheered loudly, but was immediately steamrolled by a mind-bending, Spinal Tap-worthy '70s rock drum solo that lasted about two minutes. Spotlights shot the room up with rhythmically precise splashes of white, creating moments of strobe in the darkness. Then, slowly but surely, he mixed the beat of the solo into a hard '80s breakbeat -- something that sounded like a mixture of industrial, Italo, and Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five's "Survival (The Message II)." People stood in stunned awe as a collective realization seemed to dawn on the entire room: the night had begun.
Harvey's DJ style is something to behold -- he is a master of the art of programming. His set on Friday worked in waves, its intensity ebbing and flowing in direct response to the audience. He never took the crowd into extremely high-energy territory, instead preferring to bring the vibe up with tracks like Mandrill's "Having a Love Attack," 6th Borough Project's "Planets," and Midnight Magic's "Drop Me a Line." He balanced out those moments (and made them count) by dropping the room into valleys of impossibly rare instrumental Italo disco and hypnotic late-night classic house. Midway through his set, he brought the entire night to a peak with Barrington Levy's "Vibes is Right" -- an unlikely selection, but one that had the entire room slow dancing at one in the morning.
This is one of the things you have to appreciate about DJ Harvey: His ability to play the right record at the right time and to communicate with the audience through his music is second to none. And his seemingly endless supply of obscure (but nonetheless amazing) records spans a huge variety of genres.
Later on, Harvey delighted the die-hard 3 a.m. crowd with an entire set of disco funk. A lull in the energy of the dancers was met with the rejuvenating spirit of Wood, Brass & Steel's "Funkanova", followed later by the cosmic waves of Rinder & Lewis' "Lust." From here he worked in a few more tracks before peaking his late-night set with a special version of Keep Schtum's "Hang Together." It was a noteworthy moment that saw him flexing his EQ skills. His style was impeccable, using the volume knob and frequency controls to bring the song to near silence before slamming it back for a hugely dramatic effect at the chorus. He did this multiple times throughout the entire song and each time it was met with an enthusiastic "YEAH!" from the floor.
The night finally came to a close around 4 a.m. Cries for an encore were met with Black Harmony's reggae cover of Jean Carne's "Don't Let It Go to Your Head." It was a fitting end to one of the best DJ sets I've heard in my life.