A good friend just told me that June 1st three fantastic DJs—Bag Raiders, Classixx, and the Remix Artists Collective—are going to be at the Mezzanine. All three of these DJs should be on your must-see list, as they’re consistently putting out memorable remixes of indie bands you already love (or should). But don’t take my word for it, have a listen for yourself. Continue reading
In learning to DJ I have gained an even greater respect for the art of the drop. In mixing it’s the easiest thing to lift the pace of the music slightly up and up throughout the night. The energy in the room goes up and the asses shake it just a wee bit harder.
To do the opposite is far more difficult. We’ve all been on a dancefloor when a careless DJ tosses a slow groove on after a stomper and the crowd disperses. You know this is a real fail when the slow jam is actually a mighty sexy, danceable song, but it’s location after the fast bass makes is seem like the kind of tune that would make you want to change the station. But if you can pull off one of those drops you have a much more dynamic, interesting set than if all the songs volley around the same beats per minute range.
If you want an exemplary DJ in this respect, go see Diplo. As much as I love The Twelves and Miami Horror, Diplo will remain a favorite because he is so good at tempo drops. Befitting his name, you never know when Diplo is going to switch it up and drop a low sexy beat that makes the jumpers switch to vertical humpage (time to dip looooooooow). He dares to play slow lusty numbers after bangers and pulls it off every time.
I have this idea of the well-excuted drop on my mind because there is a beautiful drop Loo & Placido mashup Californication [2Pac feat. Roger Troutman vs. Plump DJ's vs. Zero Cash] that has me keeping the song on repeat. DJs talk about teasers, grabbing a snippet of the forthcoming song to get the crowd excited about what’s coming up. There’s barely any 2 Pac at the front end of this song. When the teaser comes in at around the two minute mark, “In the city…” it doesn’t sound like it is going to lead you into the familiar 2 Pac tune. There’s exactly thirty seconds of echoing build up followed by the most glorious drop I’ve heard in a long time.
Hip-hop is usually much slower than dance music, surprising to some, even slower than rock and roll. So when that voice sings “California loooooove” the whole room slows down. What slays me about this mashup is, at this point, the song isn’t even mashed; it starts right where it should if you bought it on the juke box. Loo & Placido are essentially having a cigarette break, just throwing that 2 Pac down into the middle of the song, naked as the day it was born, without all the fancy trimmings a DJ provides. They are saying with the wave of a hand, “this shit is so good we are going to serve it to you straight, no chaser. AND YOU ARE GOING TO LOVE IT. AND YOU ARE GOING TO DANCE.”
And it works. There is a gorgeous ecstasy in leaving that steady electro beat for the opening bars of “California Love” that will make you wonder if you have ever heard 2 Pac before, if you were every really listening. It will make you start to wonder what magical powers these two French men harbor in the simple act of selecting and combining songs. They will make you think perhaps every song is going to sound better when delivered by Loo & Placido. That’s one hell of a drop.
While Destructo was finishing up his set at the Mezzanine, I wandered upstairs in search of a better view. I was surprised to see a DJ setting up in the back room. Hope alighted my belly. I asked the gent assembling what his name was and he said Jaime. Hope swelled. I asked him if he had a DJ name. He seemed a little taken aback, like the answer wasn’t ready at his fingertips.
I said, “Oh, great. Then you’re who I’m here to see.” Well that wasn’t exactly true—I’d only found out he was going to be there a few hours ago, but it immediately outshone my interest in the main act, Major Lazer. Major Lazer’s set was probably starting at that minute, I didn’t know or give a damn.
He seemed shy and not at all accustomed to the cult of celebrity. When I told him “I love your album” I almost thought he didn’t believe me. But truth be told, in that crowd he wasn’t a celebrity. I wanted to tell him that by the time he comes back to San Francisco The XX will be the name on everyone’s lips but that sort of praise always sounds like B.S., especially in a loud crowd, especially when that crowd is not dancing to your music.
I originally thought they were going to squeeze him in for a short set on the crowded, enormous, sweaty main stage. Instead I had a sweet spot directly in front of the DJ with all the room I needed to lay down whatever dance move struck my fancy. There was no stage, he had a DJ table on the floor sandwiched between some cordoned off VIP booths. Basically, my pal and I were the only ones dancing for a time. We didn’t mind. It was like seeing (a third of) The XX DJ at a private house party. Upstairs at the Mezzanine is small, intimate, even hidden. It was warm and oddly dry. We threw our limbs where we damned well pleased. Even when the crowd picked up, it seemed the other groovers were happy to make room for us. Territory: marked. We tore that dancefloor up so hard that a random woman in the crowd went out of her way to score a high-five with yours truly.
One thing I’ve found pretty consistent about DJ sets is that most have a preferred BPM. Jamie was no different, most of his songs were, like the XX’s album, simple, chill beats. He mixed them beautifully, showing off a variety of techniques but never actually “showing off.” He played a mix of vinyl and CDs; most were songs I’ve never heard before. He chose only one hip-hop song and I wanted to ask him who it was but I was too busy getting busy. I would have liked for him to have played more songs with vocals but, unlike Diplo & Switch’s set, there was plenty of melody to please my ears.
My pal had a chat with a guy whose pupils were the size of silver dollars while they watched Major Lazer from the stairwell. In the throes of some ecstatic experience he tried to convince that we were missing out on the action. But watching Switch shout and hype frenetically over Diplo’s BASS BASS BASS and no melody, our peeks onto the main floor convinced us otherwise. The bass-hungry crowd only seemed to wander upstairs for respite (perhaps they were intimidated by our awesome dancing? I like to think so).
As the hour approached for Miike Snow’s upstairs set, girls crowded in next to me, snapping photos. I had forgotten I could take photos and almost didn’t want to. It seemed like snapping photos in his face would ruin the illusion in my head of a personal experience now (weren’t we single-serving friends now that he was on a first-name basis? Hmm, probably not). But then I got kind of annoyed that these bitches didn’t even want a picture of Jamie. By the time I had my camera out, he had already crept off the stage. I had just enough time to wonder if these girls newly crowding the floor thought he was some local DJ, how many didn’t know The XX was going to be their new favorite CD, how many were going to repeat “Crystalized” over and over on their trendy mp3 players. Then, like a secret whispered in the night, he was gone.
As a Floridian, most bands arouse the crowd by saying how surprised they are to see a lively crowd in the netherworld of suburban hell. All day at Treasure Island the bands were raving about how much they loved our city. While every band wants to sweet talk their audience, it’s easy to believe. Treasure Island has one of the best views of the skyline and I can only imagine, as a performer, what it must have been like to be standing on that stage with water all around you and San Francisco leaping up across the bay bridge. The weather was perfect when the sunset greeted the Brazilian Girls on Saturday night. They raved quite a bit about what a joy it was to come and perform at this festival. With the clouds turning yellow and gold and a warm breeze blowing through the autumn eve, I think most of us were happy to be there.
Even though they’re not actually Brazilian, I kept comparing the Brazilian Girls to the Brazilian act Cansei de ser Sexy. Both rely on a wordly, outrageous front woman that wears ridiculous outfits. Both have fantastic keyboardists. Both have a sense of humor and a touch of sexy. Where they differ is in their experience as musicians. Brazilian Girls have that been-around-the-block quality while CSS is still drunk on their own fame. For this reason CSS puts on a better show—there’s a ton of energy and excitement that it’s a thrill to be a part of. But Brazilian Girls were satisfying, even if their audience was mostly drawing blanks when it came to their multi-lingual songs. I’d like to see them again when they are the main act and have an audience that truly appreciates them.
Once Treasure Island was fully cloaked by the dark of night, MSTRKRFT took the stage. Seeing a live DJ-set is always like ordering the mystery meat, and MSTRKRFT was no exception. Simply because someone is a good producer doesn’t mean they are any good at throwing down tracks on the fly or anticipating what the audience is feeling. I had hoped that since half of MSTRKRFT was once in a rock band (Death From Above 1979) that they would be more committed to playing entire melodies unlike some other DJs I won’t mention *here. And they were slightly better. But I won’t say they picked the freshest dance tracks. More importantly, they did a lot of egotistical showing off of skillful song transitions that completely abandoned playing the best part of the song. A *lot of DJ’s do this and it drives me crazy. It wasn’t terrible but I would say the DJ that wasn’t even listed on the schedule was playing more songs that made me want to wiggle and jiggle than this all-star DJ.
MGMT was the headliner for Saturday night. MGMT started their set by announcing that this would be the last time they would be able to play these songs for a long time so they were going to play the entire album from start to finish. Holy smokes, right?! This implied that they are ready to hop into the studio to start working on new material, which is great news because we’ve all overplayed their first album and all it’s subsequent remixes till the phrase “Shock me like electric eel” leads me to **violent twitching.
It also meant that we of the mp3 generation were going to hear how the album was intended to be listened to. Hearing the whole thing played through really did give it more of a narrative quality that was more cohesive than, say, the entire ***Green Day’s American Idiot musical. I have often described MGMT to the uninitiated as a disco-folk band. But now that I’ve seen them I’d have to say they’re a psychedelic-disco-folk band. I caught some happy folks gazing at their shoes from time to time, including members of the band. They’re not a roof-raising show but they were skilled musicians and a good time was had by all.
*I lied: Bloody Beetroots, Crookers: shame shame shame
** not literally. It’s just overplayed, I’m saying.
***which was terrible. Just so you know.