Downtempo guru Mark Farina has been touring with deep house DJ Miguel Migs, but fortunately for Denver, his stop at the Gothic added two local players to the bill.
First up was Half Color, a two-man group out of Fort Collins playing downtempo, live PA and hip-hop and comprising Paul Arnaud Brandt and Michael Menert. They used an array of keyboards, synthesizers and computers to create their somewhat melancholy yet undeniably catchy tunes, leading in with slow flutes and a simple guitar line before the snare drum, sax and dirty bass drop.
Half Color recalls a slower, dreamier Les Rythmes Digitalis, melding instrumentals like the flute and guitar with strange ethereal, mechanical, synthetic beats and noises you'd only hear in your weirdest science-fiction dreams. The effect was something like a soundtrack for a heartbroken mad scientist, bringing in soulful female vocals when you least expect it to give the whole set a jazzy, lounge-laden feel.
The dance floor slowly grew as Half Color swept through their hour-long set. Their mixing from one song to the next could use some improvement -- some mixes were flawless and some were definitely noticeable. But they're talented, experimental and apt to push boundaries, and no one else is creating quite the same blend of music. They've got the skills and the material, so it'll be interesting to see where they go from here.
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Next up was Boulder's own J Flash, who kicked his set off with a sample from old-school Run-D.M.C. before dropping into a typical house-with-female-vocalist track. J Flash's style is not quite disco house -- he carries an edge of electro that saves him from disco territory -- and although his mixes are smooth and his track selection solid, I couldn't help but feel I've already heard about a hundred house sets in the late '90s/early '00s that sounded almost exactly like this one (including the set Jon Bishop dropped at Caffeine last month), despite the mixed sampling of old and new.
I don't think J Flash blew any minds, but the audience seemed to enjoy it, clapping along to his beats and swelling the dance floor slightly. One of the last tracks J Flash mixed in was Everything But the Girl's 1994 hit, "Missing," which should tell you just about everything you need to know about this set: Perfectly acceptable, but by no means inspired or innovative.
After an hour of J Flash, Miguel Migs (also known as Petalpusher) took the decks with his blend of San Francisco-based deep house. Migs is a producer as well as a DJ, which always helps when creating a strong, danceable set. You can hear African and Jamaican influences in his music as well as funk and soul; it's jazzy and tribal all at once.
His set was steady and hypnotic, with fewer ups-and-downs than J Flash's work; Migs is polished yet organic, blending one track into the next cleanly and flawlessly, but still with enough energy to keep the audience wailing along with the saxophone melody rising above the bass. This was the perfect intro for Farina; Migs got the dance floor woken up and moving again with a selection of near-gospel vocals, infectious ass-shaking beats and a deep, steady bassline. Migs uses lots of vocal samples, too; his overall sound is pure San Francisco, a polished mish-mash of influences and backgrounds.
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Mark Farina hit the decks at midnight, moving straight from Migs' last track to his first, with no break in the music; the deep house playing segued beautifully into Farina's clean sax melody riffing jazz above the beating drums and booming bass. It's clear Farina's roots are Chicago-based -- no other city has perfected the sexy, sassy sounds of deep house music the way the Windy City has, and although he might be best known for the downtempo sounds on his Mushroom Jazz albums, he honed his needles on house records. His set moved seamlessly from highlighting wailing sax to singing piano, upbeat yet smooth and mellow, slightly dreamier than the average house music but continually anchored by the driving beat.
What was most impressive was how Farina moved seamlessly from house influenced by -- and mixing in -- hip-hop, to a distinctly Latin beat that had dancers shouting, "Arriba!" (no joke), to acid jazz, to vintage soul. He dances from moment to moment and theme to theme without losing, boring or confusing his audience. And he's a joy to watch at the decks. He claps and dances and sings along with his tracks, and the pleasure he takes from his work is infectious.
After about ninety minutes of funky house, Farina treated the crowd to almost half an hour of the mellow, tasty, smooth and drinkable tunes he's known for. He kept the energy high, but the beats-per-minute slowed seamlessly into a blend of hip-hop, funk and soul, ending with a mix of Guru's "No Time to Play" and surrounded by dancers on stage (not paid, just there) grooving to his beats. He clapped and danced and sang and smiled until after 2 a.m. and the house lights had come up.
CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK Personal Bias: Down-tempo/acid jazz/trip-hop is my absolute favorite genre of music. I was predisposed to love Mark Farina and Half Color, and Miguel Migs won me over through sheer talent. Random Detail: Fifteen minutes before his set started, Farina was up in the sound booth, checking out the atmosphere, talking shop with the technicians and setting up what looked like a digital recording device to capture his music. By The Way: Half Color recovered nicely when, halfway through their set, one of their computers "took a spill." They didn't let the technical difficulty distract them and were soon back to their soaring melodies. Well done, guys.