Last night's show at the Gothic Theatre signified Mark Farina's third trip to the metro area in 2010, and the first weekend-night set of all three shows. Farina did not disappoint, bringing his custom blend of funk, jazz, hip-hop, soul and old-school voice recordings to the Fox dancefloor -- but before Farina took the stage at 12:30 a.m., we were treated to stylings by S.P.E.C.T.R.E., Falty DL and Octopus Nebula.
Denver's own S.P.E.C.T.R.E. opened the night, mixing in hip-hop lines from Big L's "Flamboyant" with distorted, popping basslines fading into drums and space-station effects. His downtempo-influenced dubstep was an excellent example of the genre: technically perfect and aurally interesting, with sirens winding up, old-school techno beeps and whines, and a thumping bassline with quick, skittering drumlines.
He utilized some drum-and-bass staples, like high female vocals and sinister organ lines, melded with samples from hip-hop to pop music (Evanescence made an appearance in the mix) to Soul II Soul's "Back to Live (However Do You Want Me)". The bass shook his equipment so hard the music stopped for a moment early in the set, but he recovered quickly, dropping in chittering forest noises with slow, deep, vacillating bass and quick, light pops and smacks reminiscent of beatboxing. S.P.E.C.T.R.E.'s set was relatively low-energy and had very few people hitting the dancefloor -- but the night was still young, and audience members were slowly filling up the Gothic as he wrapped up his set.
At 10:15 p.m., S.P.E.C.T.R.E. gave up the stage to FaltyDL, who opened with some immediate technical difficulties. I'm not sure whether the sound or the equipment or the musician was to blame, but the first couple of mixes, well, didn't mix, the discordant beats failing to match at first. But the house/garage impresario recovered quickly, moving into charming, upbeat, dancing piano lines with breakbeat-style rat-a-tats. The deep-house style offered up sweeping vocals with crisp beats and a plucky bassline, and the crowd began filling in the dancefloor, starting at the edges and moving slowly to the center.
FaltyDL spun in soulful female vocals, steady melodic bass and syncopated beats that were almost drum-and-bass in style, with yelping barks and occasional low, moaning, descanting melodies. At one point, he moved into a few techno-influenced tracks; the escalating pops and squiggles, high and distorted female vocals, wobbling sirens and catchy beats showcased FaltyDL's skills as a mixer and were a pleasant departure from the lovely house beats. Toward the beginning of his set, it seemed like FaltyDL was attempting to emulate Farina's style, but he moved into other aspects of the house genre, which were more conducive to his own personal flavor.
Octopus Nebula mixed things up again with a livetronica set; the band's setup comprises drums, two keyboards, a guitar, a bass and computers galore to drop in samples and eerie sounds. They play groovy, deep electronic music, downtempo-influenced, but are more engaging than many other, bigger acts who play the same style of tunes.
You never know what will come out of the sampler, whether it's Bonobo-style strings, a didgeridoo, slow techy beats or a gong-like bassline. Octopus Nebula uses its band members to good effect; the guitar lines we heard wailing from the stage wouldn't be out of place at a rock show. In fact, the entire set seemed heavily rock-influenced.
It didn't take long before the dancefloor was packed while Octopus Nebula meandered through dreamy, poignant basslines with mournful sirens and Middle Eastern vocals to a track with an underlying melody like a music box and an overall carnival feel while the drummer played on his cymbals.
It wasn't a seamless set in the sense that each song/track came with a slight pause or break in between while the band members gathered their wits for the next effort -- and that was a tad unusual to see at an all-electronic show, but not unpleasant. They finished up with a deeply chilled final song, bringing up the tempo into an earnest and bold melody with clean breakbeats and sibilant cymbals painting a downtempo picture swimming in female vocal harmonies. The fade-out was alien and surreal, but a lovely end to a lovely set.
Then the DJ we'd all been waiting for, Mark Farina, came on stage to help direct his set-up. Farina uses the CDJ methodology, mixing CDs together using equipment that allows him to manipulate the sound and a mixer to blend the tunes. His two big books of CDs were set up on the table for his perusing pleasure, and he opened up with a typically Farina vocal sample exhorting the importance of fresh mushrooms and directing the audience on methods to distinguish the fresh fungus from its sadder brothers. This blended into high flutes and steady beats -- at a slower tempo than Farina begins many of his sets, but then, this was advertised as a Mushroom Jazz evening, and the funky, hip-hop infused downtempo is what Mushroom Jazz as a concept is known for.
And Farina used a lot of his extensive hip-hop selections in the set, keeping the tempo relatively slow but still very danceable, with funked-out grooves, deep basslines and samples from such underground heavyweights as Aceyalone and his "Treble & Bass" track. Farina looped some vocals as he worked, singing along and punctuating the beat with his hand. He's always a pleasure to watch as he creates his set; he dances and claps and smiles and generally enjoys himself thoroughly.
He moved from deep bass and steady drums with ethereal, barely-there vocals, to more old-school statements about mushrooms in mono, to sexy, bluesy jazz, to hip-hop samples, to James Brown-style cries, shouts and moans. We heard whispery flutes with wooden tapping beats and billowing basslines, all the sounds sharp and clean, which morphed into a soulful R&B number layered over sped-up female vocals with a tinny edge. Farina blended reggae with dubstep in the set -- his vast collection of music was showcased to beautiful effect, the smooth, mellow beats and washing melodies holding sway throughout the rest of the night.
He clapped and spun and danced and sang, and the dancefloor of the Gothic moved with him. Farina told us he'd be bringing "old gems and new goodies" to this set, and he did not disappoint, mixing in several Mushroom Jazz staples -- from his latest, seventh album all the way to the first -- with brand-new tracks that haven't yet hit the airwaves.
We were lucky to see him thrice in 2010; hopefully he'll keep up that track record and return frequently to the 303 area code in 2011.
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Personal Bias: Jazzy downtempo is one of my top electronic-music genres; I've always dug Farina's style. Octopus Nebula was the surprise for me last night -- I thoroughly enjoyed the livetronica set.
Random Detail: Those spotlights on the stage that sweep around the crowd are seriously annoying. I found myself wishing I'd brought my sunglasses once they'd blinded me a dozen times or so.
By the Way: The ever-approachable Farina spent a good five to ten minutes before his set shaking hands, signing posters and talking shop with fans at the front of the Gothic stage. When someone in the front row handed him a white T-shirt mid-set (I think it said "Native Son Records" across the front but was too far away to clearly see), he smiled, thanked them and stashed it carefully in his bag before moving back to the decks.