Dubstep is here to stay -- at least for a while -- and last night at Cervantes' Masterpiece Ballroom, several of the musicians there showcased the range and variety in style of this relatively new sub-genre of electronica, while also bringing the jazz and the funk and pushing boundaries. Headliners New Deal, whose livetronica skills show up the more heavy-hitting Infected Mushroom and STS9, rocked the party as soon as they took the stage -- but first, the Floozies, Tokimonsta and Sonkin warmed up the venue.
The Floozies kicked off the evening at the Other Side stage; this Lawrence, Kansas-based duo (brothers Matt and Mark Hill) played a drum set (Mark) and guitar, keys, bass and live looping (Matt). The Floozies play funk, mixed and matched with hip-hop, electro and dub, sometimes mixing a flamenco-style guitar line with deep bass and high hats, or high chimes like a toy piano mixed with low, wobbly bass lines.
The brothers introduced a couple of songs to the crowd, including "Afrofunk Sexplosion" and "Crunch Bait." Overall, their set comprised a heavily funk-influenced dub set, and they even threw in the playful synth lines from Men at Work's "You Can Dance If You Want To." The set was mellow and lighthearted, yet completely danceable, and I'm looking forward to see what these creative siblings continue to do with their talent.
Boulder-based DJ Rootz was packing the dance floor next door at Cervantes with his utterly unique blend of hip-hop, electro and whatever the hell else he feels like spinning into the mix. As I walked back over to the ballroom, I heard some of the nastiest, dirtiest drum-and-bass I've heard live in a long time -- exactly the type of track I thought Dieselboy would be throwing down at his Skylab appearance a couple of weeks ago.
Complete with nightmarish croaks and growls, unholy bass and frantic drums, it sent the audience into a frenzy, trying to dance quickly enough to catch up to the crazy tempo. He tweaked this into a full spin of the Beastie Boys' "Sabotage," dropping in extra beats and bass here and there to increase the energy of the track.
This led into some hard techno, with Rootz clearly enjoying himself behind the equipment, then a synthy disco-house number. It was all over the place as a set, but Rootz's mixes are tight and the overall integrity of his set remained solid, as evidenced by the number of bodies who didn't care what he was playing as long as he didn't stop.
Back on the Other Side, the Floozies were winding up with a dubstep track, emphasis on the dub; once they left the stage, Raw Russ proclaimed, "Let's get the fuck down," before opening his set with an eerie female vocal, almost childlike and chanting, then a boom-boom-tap breakbeat, syncopated and complex. This led into classic hip-hop rhymes with an escalating wobbly synth line, and I headed back over to the ballroom to catch the last of DJ Rootz's set.
Rootz had also dropped into dubstep to wrap up his time on stage, utilizing distorting, wobbling bass lines with techno-like lyrics (think Underworld), bringing the track uptempo and then letting it all crash back down. He used ethereal female vocals to mix with deep, dark bass, leading into a plaintive, clubby love song ending on a distorted scratch.
Sonkin took the ballroom stage next, with ... surprise! ... more dubstep, this time with high-pitched lasers and a bouncing beat to counterbalance that distorted, wobbling bass line; the crisp high hats kept things clean while Sonkin threw in a rhyme or two here and there, playing with the juxtaposition of innocent sounds -- clean chimes and bells -- corrupted by the dirty, wavering bass line. His mixes weren't always smooth, but Sonkin's poppy edge to the dark, reggae-influenced beat made for interesting listening
LA's Tokimonsta relieved Raw Russ at the Other Side stage, melding hip-hop and soul music in an experimental blend, beginning with gong and bell noises with a slow beat, hip-hop style "yeahs" and a sassy female vocal. The crisp staccato beat, dirty bass lines and bell-like melodies were fun to listen and dance to; she kept bringing the party and kept the energy up on the Other Side while, at the main ballroom stage, people were gearing up for the main event: the New Deal.
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The livetronica trio has heavy roots in the Canadian jazz scene; formed in Toronto in '98, the group is heavily focused on improvisation -- and, unlike some other livetronica groups we could name (STS9, Infected Mushroom), the New Deal has the energy, the vision and the execution necessary to play electronic music live on stage without it getting dull, repetitive or cheesy. Drummer Darren Shearer is especially talented, booming out massive beats that wouldn't be heard amiss in a heavy metal song or searing big rock ending.
Bassist Dan Kurtz keeps up the energy, too, bringing an edge to the ethereal, hypnotic keys of Jamie Shields. This progressive house/electro/trance/rock outfit uses the common method of repeating melodies while embellishing something different in each stanza, whether it's a drum beat, the eerie keys or the deep bass lines. They keep the energy up by maintaining the steady, deceptively simple aura of electronic music: It's easy to dance to, but still interesting and carrying a darker edge. Shearer's powerful drums were a pleasure to watch, and when melded with Shields's playful keys riffing on spaced-out noises and Kurtz's driving bass, this is a livetronica outfit that's truly pushing boundaries of electronic music while having fun and keeping things interesting and listenable -- not an easy feat in this world of Yanni-inspired melodies.
I had to bounce before Orchard Lounge managed to get set up in the Other Side space, which was truly a shame -- I was looking forward to hearing their undefinable mix of genres and inspirations, and will make a point to catch them on their next stop through town.
CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK: Personal Bias: I'm not a big dubstep fan, but when done well, I can appreciate it. Overall, the talent on display was impressive, and the range of music heard in the building was enjoyable and kept things interesting. By The Way: The vibe at Cervantes is always entertaining -- one man left the bathroom dragging at least six feet of toilet paper behind him and never even noticed. And someone was burning some serious white sage at the Other Side at one point. Bad energy? Random Detail: Vendors were selling T-shirts, jewelry and crystals at the back of the Other Side -- and doing decent business, from the looks of things.