The Roots Dirtybird & Mothership Showcase at Beta featured some of the best house and techno sets Denver has seen this year, all rolled up into one slick package and blasted over an amazing sound system. Tanner Ross, one half of Voodeux, transitioned beautifully from his solo set into the Voodeux live set with KiloWatts (aka James Watts) -- but first, underground Denver rave veteran DJ Hipp-E showcased his house sound, deep and driving with a touch of the progressive.
Hipp-E took the decks at 9 p.m., and I walked in at around 9:30 to tambourine chimes, a slightly tribal twist on the beats and bubbly climbs preceding droopy drops, melded with scolding basslines that moved from clean to distorted and took on an organ-like, unholy edge. It was a strong, utterly danceable set that ended with funky bongo beats, scratchy hisses and bass that made the roots of my hair vibrate when played over Beta's renowned system.
Tanner Ross relieved Hipp-E at 10 p.m., setting the tone for the upcoming Voodeux set with a blend of techno-infused house that started off mediocre but grew more energetic and enthralling throughout. Techno beeps, spinning rattles and soaring synth lines opened the set, and the energy in the room dropped just a hair from where Hipp-E had taken it -- the effects were a tad too spaced-out to fully keep the crowd's attention. But Ross then added in some male vocals singing soul songs that faded in and out of the mix, paired with a low, bouncing bassline, and once the beat kicked in, it kicked in with a vengeance, and the set only went uphill from there.
Ross interspersed dirty, insistent basslines with crisp popping beats that anchored the set, laying down complex syncopation and layering staggered cymbals and simple single notes here and there to outline the melody. He used different effects to give his tunes a darker, edgier feel, like an organ line cutting in and out, or the violin-like strings wobbling up and down. R&B vocals joined the mix with high-pitched sirens; the crisp beauty of the sound kept the noise from reaching ear-piercing shrillness.
The dance floor slowly but steadily filled while Ross executed flawless mix after flawless mix, utilizing funky, trumpeting basslines and beats that clapped, knocked and set the rhythm using other interesting noises. He knew exactly when to ease off on the soundscape, highlighting just one or two effects, before bringing back the rest of the mix at exactly the right moment.
The mood was getting progressively uncanny as Ross began to blend in strange, ghostlike vocals and ambient, spacey melodies. Marvin Gaye's "Let's Get It On" made a sudden appearance before KiloWatts joined Ross behind the decks, and the two collaborators comprising Voodeux transitioned smoothly into their joint set.
Voodeux opened with plodding basslines and a distorted male sci-fi voice, which were soon joined by unearthly noises somewhere between the tone of an organ and a human wail. Sinister strings picked up the mood, and then the driving, echoing beats kicked in, and the now-packed dance floor erupted with frenetic movement that didn't slow down throughout the rest of Voodeux's time on stage.
The two musicians juggled the sounds back and forth, using dirty, booming base with crackling, popping beats and deep sonic tones like a whale's call. The set was heavily techno-influenced, with a plethora of the plastic-sounding noises so prevalent in techno, synthetic and crisp. These were interspersed with distorted keys, yearning beeps and sigh-like releases of breath that spread over the sound like a blanket.
The resulting combination was layered and complex without sacrificing any integrity, each noise working together to complete the puzzle. The effect was like a soundtrack to some mysterious ghost story romance. Both Ross and KiloWatts showcased their skills, using scratches, whistles and evil cackles -- distorted and broken up -- to layer atop swamp-like croaks, groans and chitters.
Underneath it all, the beat boomed steady, with little embellishments here and there. Voodeux also used near-silence to good effect, dropping sounds in and out with precision and surgical skill. It was a showcase of talent, full of both crisp definition and dirty distortion, plus chilling, slightly discordant strings and squeaks.
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Spectral noises like bubbles popping and climbing synth lines -- and a long, distorted noise like controlled feedback -- merged with a screechy wail, ghostly sighs and hollow rattles to close down Voodeux's time behind the decks. After the hour-long set, Worthy's techno/house stylings came on board, and the music gradually lost the sinister edge that Voodeaux had honed.
One of Worthy's strengths was his heavily techno-influenced effects; for example, he opened with climbing and falling sequences of notes that sounded almost exactly like running a fingernail over the teeth of a comb, forward and backward -- only amplified, set to a funky house beat and accompanied by distorted beeps. A sassy little siren tone was dropped in every stanza or so, and then a yelping bark joined the fray.
Worthy used clean, crisp beats and monotone basslines to hold together the scribbles and scratches. Layering, mixing and repeating the noises, Worthy was able to draw out a melodic motif in a track without it getting old. He maintained the energy that Hipp-E, Ross and Voodeux had helped build, and club kids got hot and sweaty on the dance floor to Worthy's mixes till closing time.
CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK Personal Bias: I love a spooky, dark-edged house set, and every one of these DJs had me dancing madly, a dream lineup I haven't seen yet this year. Random Detail: A man donned a parrot suit behind Tanner Ross around 10:30 and could be seen wearing it around the club for the rest of the night. At one point, during Voodeux's set, the parrot joined -- then replaced -- one of the two go-go dancers positioned on either side of the stage. By The Way: Maybe I just don't get out often enough, but I can't get over the bathroom attendants, soft towels, candy, lip gloss, cigarettes, brushes, hair ties and bobby pins in the ladies' bathroom. Fancy!