From when I first moved to the city in 2007 to about five or six years ago, it seemed like at least once every one or two months I would find myself in a random Tribeca church, an extravagant (and surely now condo-fied) LES loft, or one of a seemingly infinite amount of industrial loft spaces in Brooklyn where I could light a spliff, close my eyes, and bruk the fuck out to everything from neat-n-tidy German house to cynically groovy post-dubstep.
These days, I seem to find myself in such a location once or twice a year, suspicious of who the promoters are and wondering how they can afford not to have the cops bust up a 500+ person party in downtown Manhattan when the venue I first lived in upon moving here got raided if more than 100 people showed up in pre-gentrified Bushwick. Still, if you have the money to throw an “underground rave” featuring a bunch of sound-system artists with all the event info freely available to anyone on Reconstruct's Facebook page and charge $50, it helps if you see that money duly invested in both the talent and the overall experience. Suffice to say, the sound was banging. And yes, I realize having four fly-over DJ's is no small cost, but I also didn't get the sense that anyone other than the promoters were really raking in the cashish (all the poor "volunteers" they had conned into giving up their labor were likely at least happy to save several hours worth of a paycheck in ticket fees but is that what it takes to see a show these days?).
Considering the last show in this city to feature an artist from the Timedance, Mistry, or Wisdom Teeth labels was Laksa’s appearance at the much-missed queer freak fest that was Groovy Groovy, having two shows in three days that featured a quartet of the scene’s most exciting acts—Ploy, Piezo, Forest Drive West, and Batu—felt like a spoil of riches after an excruciatingly long drought. Talking to Batu (Omar McCutcheon) before his show on Thursday, he wagered that the music he and his Timedance cohorts are making is indeed post-dubstep. And while I would respectfully disagree, seeing that period having been given a merciful out by Peverelist’s Livity Sound imprint, to take McCutcheon’s assertion at face value, then this is a far less-referential, far more synthetic, and infinitely more varied sound being proffered by a wide diversity of artists than, say, much of the Night Slugs roster.
For me, the big draw of the night was Ploy as Batu’s two-hour set on Thursday likely provided a more intimate introduction to the artist than the one-hour set he was slated to play at 4:30. As it is 4:23 at the time of writing this, I hope you can forgive me for leaving after twenty-five minutes of Forest Drive’s tasteful tear-out of a jungle set. Having left Williamsburg from the Marcy J stop, it should have dawned on me far farther than it did that I had bordered the side that takes me to my apartment in the opposite direction. Entering the abandoned China Town office building and being spared the crippling entry fee thanks to the homie Ploy, descending down the stairs the tribal syncopation and polyrhythms quickly gained in volume, signaling his jazz drummer sits in with Haitian voodoo musicians remix of Romansoff’s “Graded." Finally arriving shortly after one, I (kinda rudely and very desperately) pushed my way to an elevated perch catty-corner to the wall of subs that served as a massive bass barrier between the DJ’s and audience. ”
The next forty-five minutes were a dizzying and deeply satisfying rhythm'n'bass cynosure, the producer whipping up a restless, vespine whir of rolling polyrhythms that often wrapped around a central sixteenth-note pulse, accented notes assembling patterns in mid-air that would vanish and reappear, swooping synth sweeps and unsettling sounds perforating this dancer's resilience as all limbs were sent flailing. Standing right next to the main speaker fortress, I could feel my rib cage rattling and reverberating in a way that I never felt back in 2007 when attending the city's preeminent dubstep night Dubwars (of which Reconstruct was a contemporary). In fact, there seemed to be a rather interesting generational divide that was especially apparent to me during Ploy's set as his hyper-kinetic beats likely struck many of the audience members as having nothing to do with dubstep--for those that dubstep beings with Skrillex, at least. Yet, walking around the catacomb/crypt-like tunnels of the basement venue, I ran into sound-system heads that I hadn't seen in years, the line-up presenting enough of a cross-section of assorted dance music trends to draw in both the black-clad trad techno crowd and gun finger-swinging spliffheads like myself (not to mention the countless disinterested models who always seem to be in attendance at gigs like these...it's Manhattan, what can you do?).
At one point during Ploy's set, I asked the guy who owned the system what he thought of Sam's (Ploy's) mixing. "It's a lot of (makes sixteenth-note rhythm)," he said, somewhat dismissively. My eye starting to twitch, I clapped back without a second's hesitation, "Well, at least it's not just (make monotonous 4X4 rhythm)." Oh well, the dude owned one seriously system with a phalanx of subs situated in the third hall of the venue where different attendants found themselves laying upon, absorbing the rhythm and bass vibrations. For while Ploy often produces and plays a style of sophisticated body bangers that make you want to both spin your shirt around your head like a helicopter (or eggbeater) and give those same tracks considered listens at home, in the club his kinetic production and DJ'ing style uses maximalism almost as a fake-out; as overwhelming as the current of drums might appear, tuning one's ears to the spaces in between reveals spacious and patient sound sculpting that fuses seamlessly with his neo-tribal and multiplicitous rhythmic patterns. In my own conversations with Sam, he discussed how he purposefully avoids breakdowns in tracks, preferring instead to retain a functionalist vitality in which there might be a four-bar break but it's only there for us to catch our breath before losing ourselves once more in his wild river rafting mixing style. Veering into a bruising Sean Paul edit before effortlessly bringing in his grand mal seizure of a track "Unruly," Ploy closed out the set with a ten-minute sequence of tracks that truly set the bar for the night including one of the rudest and most rhythmically dynamic halfsteppers I've heard in ages.
Of course, it being a relatively rhythmically-challenging set, the younger white boys and girls seemed a bit relieved when Italian badman Piezo brought down the BPM to the low 100s, playing a beguiling mixture of reggaeton-inflected abstractions, low-slung Príncipe batida, and a host of other broken house and techno tracks with a patience and purpose that seemed to really focus the crowd's energy. Also, as I found on his Twitter feed today and ID'd by Shy Eyez, he played Loefah's LaMont remix, so that's fucking sick (I unfortunately missed that one as I was having a lovely chat with a new chum...sorry:(. Having danced myself soaking clean during Ploy's rhythmic melée, I didn't return to the floor until the last twenty minutes when he picked up the pace and energy of his selections considerably before effortlessly bringing in his post-"Work Them" facemelter "Cala." Before I knew it, I was pogo-ing around the back half of a room with an uninhibited glee that likely freaked out the countless self-conscious squares in attendance. Seriously, since when did people stop just dancing to music and spend their whole time in da club looking at others? If there's any better evidence of the negative effects wrought by the indie rock migration to the dance music scene, well, it would be found in the fact that no one seems to know how to dance without bumping into each other despite there being ample space and the non-stop staring at those just trying to enjoy the music with the entirety of their being. That said, there was also a sincere nerdiness afoot that was positively refreshing as this was the first event I've been to where it felt like more than 100 people were actually there for the music, not to be seen.
This being the second of two nights spent with several dozen committed bass bobblers, there was a sense of relief gnawing at my ever-vigilant cynicism that my over-the-moon excitement about this pocket of contempo dance music is far from unfounded as this non-RA-ified line-up drew a wide variety of folks out of the woodwork in a way I never really see at dances anymore. Thursday's show was one of the more racially diverse promoted-on-RA events I'd seen since the old Dope Jam parties in the late 00s and early 10s. And though Saturday's event was considerably more monochromatic, culturally the techno black block seemed less overbearing as white crusties in dreads sauntered about with perma-stoned smiles on their face, a sentiment I was happy to return.
And so, despite being dangerously dehydrated by the time big room techno and heady jungle producer Forest Drive West hit the stage, the five minutes of beatless soundscapes that introduced his set intravenously pumped out vibes on vibes into the veins and domes of the collected masses, making that first dissected Amen breakdown feel downright transcendent. Remaining fixed in place until my lips were dry, I was truly impressed by his command over dynamics, alternating between valleys of intense atmospherics and peaks of jaw-dropping breakbeat science. Definitely a DJ I will not make the mistake of tiring myself out before the next time he plays the city.
Though the post-show social media chatter seemed to focus on Batu's sorta a surprise of a headline 4:30 am set, I can only imagine how enthusiastic the comments would be if he had gotten to play for a full two hours. Having been visibly knackered when I met him on Thursday, the man looked downright zombified following a flight-delayed trip to Pittsburgh's Hot Mass. How he managed, on no sleep, to patiently sit through six hours of music and then burn the mother down is still a mystery to me. Personally, I was just stoked to experience a truly exceptional and far-reaching in an increasingly homogenous NYC nightlife.