Underground party with Newworldaquarium and Octo Octa
Saturday, April 5, 2014
"The reason we can appreciate figure skating is not necessarily because of the tricks themselves, but rather the fact that the skater might lose their footing and eat shit at any moment. Hitting those triple Lutzes and Axels while simultaneously avoiding danger is the appeal."
Of everything I learned in college, this quote has always stuck with me. One of my professors was very much into this idea of art and danger. In dance music, I've always used this quote to explain my preference for vinyl DJing. Playing with vinyl (and to some extent CDs) is an art form that has a kind of danger: There's no digital handholding in the mix. But while it's easy to focus on the manual dexterity required for beatmatching, the real difference is in the song selection. With vinyl, you're limited. You have to spend a significant amount of time selecting tracks before a gig. This process forces a kind of focus and thinking that's very hard to replicate if you're able to bring every song you own to every gig. Nine times out of 10, I find that I enjoy sets on vinyl more. Surprisingly though, last Saturday evening offered a look at digital DJing done right.
The party was an underground at a medium-sized box of a warehouse in San Francisco. I arrived fairly late, but the space had yet to truly fill up (in fact, it never reached an uncomfortable capacity). Unlike a lot of undergrounds in San Francisco, the scene was almost entirely comprised of local music heads (it's often the case that illicit parties in the city draw a specific kind of sleaze). The laser system engaged, dividing the room in two halves with a floor-to-ceiling grid of bright green beams. The music was loud and banging, a result of two extremely large stacks of speakers that flanked the DJ booth. New Yorker Octo Octa played from this position, working the crowd over with a set comprised solely of his own music.
"Deep? Well, I don't know. Deep house has kind of become a bad word again," said a friend in response to my describing the music with the D-word. "It's like, that term doesn't mean anything. It was a bad word when it was like jazzy flute music (which, low key, is kind of awesome now in retrospect), then it wasn't so bad for a minute there, and now it's bad again. When you've got people calling Jamie Jones 'deep house' you can't use that word anymore, it's dirty." Point taken, but Octo Octa's music could be described as deep in a sense -- his sound is like a mixture of noncommercial '90s instrumental house and contemporary dub-techno, but with an added level of atmospheric moodiness that rounds it out into a solid and appealing package. Its the same concept as has worked on his studio output, like "So Lux" and "Come Closer."
His set was good. Unexpectedly, though, it was Newworldaquarium who stole the show: The Dutch DJ and producer has had a long career, but he's remained almost completely silent since his last release in 2009, which delved in an ambient direction. So it was surprising when he took the stage and started with an uplifting Moodymann/Trus'me-style disco house track. A high string tone buzzed while two spotlights shot diamond-shaped patterns that twisted out and flashed with the beat of the kick. "I looked up there at his setup, he's got one CDJ and a laptop, I have no idea how that works," said another friend. "But I'll tell you, he's like playing his own remixes or something. These aren't any versions I've ever heard." His mixes were smooth (which is to be expected from a laptop spinner), but more importantly, his track selection was impeccable. He modulated easily from banging house music to freewheeling techno, dropping the familiar and the obscure at the same time.
Yet, when he played more known fare, he beefed his selections up with big, round kicks. At one point, veering from techno to house again, he played a remix of Theo Parrish's "Voice Echoes in the Dark," but with a techno kick that blurted out of the subwoofers with a heavy punch. "It's all parabolas, I just hear parabolas. It's like the bass frequency is beefed up or something. I just stare off and see these parabolic frequencies," remarked a friend while the kick blared. And it kept going. It was a cohesive set -- not the kind that was about individual tracks, but rather one based on creating a larger narrative. It was the kind of thing that kept pulling dancers back to the floor. By the time I looked at my watch, I realized it was 5 a.m. "Yo dude, you want to go get a slice at DNA?" The lasers came back on, we gathered our things, and made the short walk over to 11th Street to get some pizza before sunrise.