May 23, 2009
Better than: Much of clearly unengaged crowd deserved.
As if to signify this would not be a typical club set of techno, the three-man operation that is Moderat had set up along the side of the room that's usually the main-room bar at Beta. This not only gave them the much-needed room to set up their gear, but also transformed the room from a long, narrow alley between speakers (very dance clubby) to a short, wide and stubby stage-focused orientation (kind of rock star). This was surely intentional, as behind the trio were a series of screens showing their custom visuals, not to mention their individual rigs were decked out with some kick-ass lights.
The set fulfilled the expectation of the set up. This was not a continually mixed, dancefloor-focused mix of remixed album cuts designed to keep feet happy and asses shaking. It was clearly about the song. Most of the tunes had definite beginnings and endings and they frequently let everything come to a dead stop between. That injected an interesting element of space into the music, usually missing in this setting, and allowed each song to express its own personality. Better than the typical, continually evolving pulse of a club? Depends on one's point of view, but it was inarguably attention getting.
And how did those songs fare? Pretty damn well. There were some issues: the mix seemed off, lacking some clarity and punch in the high end. The vocals seemed to get lost (granted, they aren't that front-and-center on the album, but still...) and other elements seemed subsumed to the unbelievable throb and boom of the low end. Of course, this is techno we're talking about, so the low end is the money maker. Too often here, though, it seemed like perhaps there was something interesting going on that was just a bit too indistinct to really have an impact.
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Still, what was audible was powerful, particularly the last half of the set where things settled into a heavier, more powerful groove. The best tracks built to a peak of shamanistic intensity, strong enough to pull your consciousness right out of your head and send it floating in the space between the speakers. Even the less-engaging moments never failed to be intriguing. And accompanying it all were some amazing visuals, custom made by Pfadfinderei, that ranged from beautiful studies of the human body in motion to pulsing, globular abstractions. The visuals, clearly made with the music in mind, were a fantastic element that really added to the impact of the evening.
Moderat are the kind of act that is stretching the definition of techno and keeping the form vital. It's not that everything the act does works perfectly -- some elements seemed jarring or pointless. It's that the outfit is trying, pushing and experimenting, and bringing considerable musical talent and obvious creative friction to the process. The results were fascinating and often amazing and absolutely worth hearing.
Personal Bias: I haven't had a chance to really give the Moderat album the chance it so clearly deserves.
Random Detail: There was one crazy drunk/drugged-up guy falling all over everyone up front. I was hoping he'd fall down and knock himself out, but no such luck.
By the Way: Bulling your way up to the front for the last few songs, then ignoring the band to make out and dry hump right in front of me? So not appreciated, chunky Asian girl and super-mole-covered guy.