Friday, July 13, 2012

Recent gigs – Amsterdam

Two retired couples stroll leisurely over the bridge. When they reach the cross roads on the other side they hesitate. They begin to squint in the sunshine and look about them. They point in different directions, confer and huddle close together, one occasionally straying away from the group  to check the surroundings for some landmark or recognisable sign. Are they lost or intimidated? Are they looking for something nearby or admiring the view? Suddenly a suited man in sunglasses appears in a door next to them and descends a few stairs to the street by their side. He opens his arms and bellows a loud welcome:

“Come inside ladies. Come and see a big cock for the first time in your life”

Ahh, Amsterdam. Still the greatest show on earth.

Calling a trip to Amsterdam a “recent gig” maybe some false advertising, but then, there is a gig in here somewhere, and it sometimes feels more like a world tour than just a one off show. In any case, I have been visiting Europe’s most open minded city and one of the most beautiful man-made places on earth for around 15 years now, lately almost once per year. I still can’t get enough and am always happy to be lost somewhere on the canals, whether it be the Red Light District or the beautiful suburb of Jordaan.

The musical part of the trip started on the plane on Friday morning when I happened to be on the same flight as M>O>S label boss Aroy Dee. He was easily recognisable in his Newworldaquarium T-shirt and Aroy Dee jacket carrying a bag of records. He’d played at Moog two nights before alongside Marco “Ma” Spaventi and resident DJ Omar León, a gig I missed as I was still trying to finish off my reviews and interviews for Sonar as well as catch the semi-final of the European Championships. Dee has released two nice 12”s this year on his label, one shared with San Proper (“Perfume”) and the other split with Spaventi.

Needing no more inspiration, I made a quick visit to the Rush Hour store that was conveniently close to the hotel. However, I arrived just before closing and had to rush through several 12”s while the two English attendants waited with diminishing patience - sorry. Given the house label’s house sound it wasn’t a surprise to pick up half a dozen house records.

One I grabbed without listening was a Rush Hour release I already had as digital, the excellent “Decoded messages of life and love” by B.D.I. which came out late last year. The A-side in particular is immense and very addictive. The strictly regimented rhythm really contrasts well with the out-of-focus soundscape that almost seems nonchalantly laid on top. It all makes more sense after the drop when new percussive and drone elements come in to create a more fluid channel.

Of the newer things were two releases on Rush Hour’s distribution chain. The first was Max D aka Maxmillion Dunbar’s “Orgies of the hemp eaters” single on Washington D.C.’s Future Times label (check out Resident Advisor’s label of the month feature from last year for more info).
No Youtube for this release, but instead, a taste of Maxmillion at the wheels of steel: a short mix posted to Soundcloud a month or so ago which features the Terekke remix.

The second was Simone Vescovo aka Simoncino’s “Dreams EP” released on Long Island Electrical Systems (L.I.E.S.).

Simoncino has also released on a number of labels, including Mathematics Recordings and I picked up one of their 12”s, the first volume in their “Music from mathematics” series as well as one from label boss Jamal Moss aka Hieroglyphic Being, the “A Romance for 2 Planets” 12” from 2010 on the short lived Alter label. The latter purchase was partly inspired by the recent 3 hour mix of Hieroglyphic Being at FACT Mag  which was an astonishing blend of house and free jazz. While technically it is not the easiest music to pull off and can seem a bit clumsy fading from strict rhythms to more free flowing sounds, it is nonetheless a type of music that I would love to hear live to see how the floor reacts to the interludes. “A Romance for 2 Planets” is, however, totally absurd and some of the best and most original music I have heard for a long time. There is almost no describing it. Hardly danceable at times it excels in low fi, being difficult to grasp and coming across as almost a dirty house version of Oneohtrix Point Never covering Sun Ra in a Chicago house club.

The original runs the full A-side at nearly 13 minutes, but here is a brief excerpt:

The title track sits at the end of side B and is also fairly long and again in excerpt form here:

Of the Mathematics release, dating from 2009, one of the highlights was Sir KaTie’s cover of Tears for Fears “Shout” for which there is sadly no internet media available. The closing track is Moss’s own I.B.M. (Insane Black Men) project using the additional Violence FM moniker and the track “2 live and die” which has a slightly more electro tinge to it.

Finally, I also managed to keep my Innervisions back catalogue filling up with a copy of the Henrik Schwarz/Âme/Dixon release “D.P.O.M.B part 1”, a driving track from 2008.

The two guys seemed a bit annoyed when I peppered them with questions about gigs that night. I already knew the Awakenings Festival was happening outside Amsterdam and that Xhin was playing at Trouw, but they managed to convince me that the Nightwork/Fourth Wave night at the Up-Club was the way to go. Fourth Wave is the house sub-label of London dubstep imprint Ramp. One of the deciding factors was its proximity to the hotel, a sad excuse, but if truth be told I was pretty exhausted from a few weeks of post-Sonar late night writing, so wasn’t sure how long I might last.

The Up Club is nonetheless an intriguing place despite being found in Korte Leidsedwarsstraat, a street around the corner from the legendary Melkweg (Milkyway) and in the heart of a commercial tourist district that looks like it promises little. The club is upstairs and has two rooms. The front room is the main Up Club and has a basement feel despite the elevation from the street, whereas the back room, De Kring, is lighter with windows looking over trees and a nearby street. Its biggest downside is perhaps this; it’s feeling of exposure, not to mention the covered pool table at the back of the floor. However, the Up Club is all about intimacy and proximity to the artists as well as a decent soundsystem that fills the modest space. Beer is also cheap and the crowd young and relaxed.

The night was a bit of a mess though. Being tired probably didn’t help and neither did wandering in and out of the two rooms to get a glimpse of what was happening. Out back, it was pretty standard and consistent deep house all night long with a bubbly crowd. Plenty of hits on show, from the likes of Drumpoet Community, Dial and the like, not all of it new, like Efdemin’s “Just a track” which sounded great, but sent me into a panic of confusion about how old I and it might actually be, even though it (we) is (are) not that old..

But down in Club Up it was difficult to get a grasp on things. I have no idea who played at the beginning or when. Each time I looked there seemed to be a different DJ on, playing largely house with a stronger techno edge. Presumably one of these was resident Mattikk. But first of the headliners was Felix Lenferink also known as Steve Mensink a producer from Utrecht who has also released under the name Urkelle. Mensink was joined on the stage by female vocalist Loes Jongerlink who performs on several of his releases. The combination worked well live, with Jongerlink’s voice a particularly jazzy touch to Mensink’s often jittery music. Joining house and dubstep is hardly a new thing, but Mensink’s set at times seemed distinct for actually dividing the two exclusively, unleashing smooth runs of neat house and then dirtying everything with less cohesive runs of breakbeats, while  eschewing the urge to overdo the bass. Despite the invention and live interaction between players, the restlessness of the music was sometimes distracting.

For a rough idea, here is a solo live set by Mensink from berlin’s Boiler Room (featuring pre-recorded vocals).

The debut single by Felix Lenferink on Fourth Wave:

Felix Lenferink was followed first by a support DJ for about thirty minutes, a strange move maybe except for technical issues, and then by young Suffolk producer Gerry Read.  Read has so far released the majority of the Fourth Wave releases as well as having the distinction of opening Delsin’s new house label with his single “Yeh come dance.”

Read has several claims to fame. One is apparently his age, 19 years old for the moment, the other is his lo fi sound. It’s not quite the hipster house of 100% Silk, but nonetheless it is something that keeps cropping up in reviews and discussions. Certainly live it was evident, as was a certain messy take on mixing, contrasting volume, beat and almost anything in between. Perhaps it’s something endemic to the eclectic approach of Ramp Recordings that also feeds into their sub labels? Anyway, Read’s set was almost bizarre, hurtling from one thing to another. Just as strange, he played sitting down, twiddling at some kind of controller that looked like it belonged more to a video game than a DJ. By now, I was getting pretty tired and leggy, so I decided to call it an early night. Curious and pleasant, but somehow a little disappointing overall.
Read also has a new 12” out on Fourth Wave called “Rhino”.

But two final things about the Up Club. I sat upstairs in the passage overlooking the main floor for a while to rest. At some stage, a reveller came up to me and said. “I have been watching you from the dance floor. You have white hair and the changing coloured light from behind you made it look like your head was on fire with different colours.” Glad to be of help in the psychedelic experience! The other side of that was the number of security guys going around asking people and me if we were ok. I wasn’t sure if they were trying to find people on drugs to kick them out or merely helping people who might have had too much. In any case, I was asked several times during the night if I was ok, something that doesn’t happen in Barcelona at least.

Not sure how Xhin was, or the Awakenings Festival. One of the local papers ran the headline “Hard, harder, hardst” on Monday morning which may have said it all.

I also picked up several great gifts for friends while there. One of these was the BBQ Rockin’ Fork for Heavy metal grilling. The label says this:

“Forged over centuries by a mystical roadie at the top of the highest mountain, the legendary BBQ Rockin’ Fork is finally ready to be passed down to you, the master of the grill. Grip and flip or poke and prod your steaks with a steely heavy metal hand. For those about to grill, we salute you!”

A great idea for your baby sisters next birthday.

For someone else, perhaps, is a bottle of Spanish Fly. Not much to do with music, but still a curiosity. When I first came to live in Spain I asked my work colleagues about it and none of them seemed to know at all, to my great disappointment (that was my last chance for an authentic family recipe). Apparently a few drops under the tongue of you and the partner and in thirty minutes your old chap is young again! Ingredients would suggest that chemical Vitamin C and amino acids have more of a placebo effect than anything. But sometimes believing is seeing.

But for me, Spanish Fly is something almost mythical. I first came across it watching the legendary Colin Higgins directed comedy “Foul Play” from 1979. The film stars Goldie Hawn and Chevy Chase, but it is Dudley Moore who steals the show with a scene that clearly reflects the times and where the film was shot, in San Francisco at the end of the 70s.

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