Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Espionage feat. Jacques Greene and Machinedrum @ Roxanne Parlour, 8/4/12

Heading out dancing still gives me butterflies. They flutter round my stomach like old friends bringing back all the nights out I’ve almost forgotten.

Section 8 is bouncing to “Blue Monday”, but I miss the carpark where we’d smoke and laugh at the Club X sign that read “Discreet Rear Entrance”.

At least the Shanghai Noodle House will never change: wait at least two hours after Spicy Bean Curd Noodle Soup before applying caffeine and alcohol.

The Exford must have a secret for every backpacker that passes through: mine is kissing an older woman under the table.

Who are these smokers? Oh, it’s the back of Billboards – that must have been me once, me and the long lost raver goths in the last days of Teriyarki.

Then into the dodgiest lift in town and up past Charlton’s, where Dan’s birthday rendition of “Lust for Life” ended with a stranger stealing the mic and pouring beer on his head.

Hard to imagine this place splattered in fluoro and fractals and goa for the first Earthdance Melbourne in 1998. Was it this floor or the next? Christian tripped out and we had to walk him home before midnight.

Now the doors open onto Roxanne Parlour, where The Operatives put on Flying Lotus, The Gaslamp Killer, Dam-Funk and Harmonic-313 – a killer show, and one of their first biggies. Soon Roxanne is closing its doors and, if worrying rumours about the structural soundness of its dancefloor are true, maybe it’s going out with a bang tonight. Vision of the infamous “Israeli wedding disaster” keeps floating  to mind – too much booty-shaking and we might all end up downstairs singing karaoke.

But I guess a lineup featuring Jacques Greene, Machinedrum and Funkineven is just worth the risk.

The crowd is quite sparse but the dancefloor thickens up as the first international takes the stage. Mr Dibiase seems squarely rooted in the West Coast glitch-hop scene, and most heads nod in appreciation. There’s even a few gangsta moves being thrown up the front. If the stereotype is true, this is definitely music for Gen Y – every thirty seconds brings a new track and a new vibe. I find myself recalling an old friend’s criticism of hard psy-trance: “there’s just no journey in this”. I simultaneously wish I was playing Nintendo and remember that I don’t much like hip-hop – hardly a ringing endorsement.

Dibiase starts and ends late, so local DJ Ed Fisher’s set is seriously squashed. He barely has time to drop a few soulful dubstep tunes that keep the floor warm for Jacques Greene. And when the French Canadian steps up, things take a turn for the housey.

I am not a great supporter of house. In fact, if people who have barely made my acquaintance were asked about me, I’d like to think their recollection might go something like this: “Blonde guy. Glasses. Hates house.”  I fantasise about wearing an undershirt that read “That’s not techno, that’s house”, so if needs be I could strip down and march around ordering everyone to leave the dance floor, or sit down, or whatever form of protest my ecstatic megalomania saw fit to organise at the time.

What is it about house that gets my goat? In short, it’s that I can’t stand easy listening dance music. I want to be surprised on the dancefloor, to be shocked into action by a rhythm, a sound, a melody, a sample – or preferably an original combination of all of the above. House is essentially minimal disco, the generic club soundtrack to a night of champagne, cocaine and dancing in high heels.

But despite this long-held vitriol (which may stem directly from the many precious hours of life spent queing to get into Q on Rundle St in Adelaide) Jacques Greene’s set is not even the first time this year I’ve felt glad to hear some house. The first came on the Monday of Rainbow Serpent, when the Sunset Stage’s all-night barrage finally mellowed out. And now, after the unwelcome assault of Mr Dibiase, a bit of four-to-the-floor goes down rather well indeed.

Not that Greene’s sound can really be pigeonholed as house. If there was a bridge between the UK funky scene and Radiohead, he’d be playing a party somewhere in the middle: black music rears its head in the R&B vocals and some of the beats, but it’s all drenched in bittersweet synths and often downright laid back. The crowd goes nuts for him, even singing along at times, but I find it hard to get a groove on – even when the rhythms syncopate and he wheels out the 303s.

One guy who has found his groove has also found his way on stage, a slightly chubby geek who is hyping the crowd and even grabs a mic to introduce Greene early in the piece. “Who gave that guy the mic?” My crew is not the only one exchanging rolled eyes – do they let just anyone up there these days? – but the laugh is on us when the stage invader turns out to be none other than Travis Stewart AKA Machinedrum himself.

It all makes perfect sense: geeks do make the best electronica. The segue is quite smooth as Machinedrum begins in relatively ambient territory, but unfortunately he is a bit too comfortable on the mic. Outside the studio his voice is rather (what’s a polite way to say this?) tuneless, distracting from the crispness of the beats. Thankfully he only sings “Sacred Frequency” and one other track live, and then it’s down to business.

Although steeped in IDM, Machinedrum’s sound now draws heavily on the RnB meets happy hardcore vibes of the Chicago footwork scene. It makes for a frenetic dancefloor with loads of swagger, and things really ignite whenever a hint of jungle enters the mix. With footwork clocking in around 150-160bpm, the crossover potential is there – and already being mined worldwide by producers  including Africa HiTech and Om Unit (with whom Machinedrum collaborates as Dream Continuum).

At times I feel like my body is moving itself and I’m floating three inches above the floor. My feet haven’t moved this fast in years, and I keep pulling my jeans up around my knees in an effort to cool off. It’s euphoric but relentless and I run out of puff just before the hour is up, retreating to the back to prepare for the closing set.

The thing is, after the all-out assault of Machinedrum I just can’t quite catch the thread of Funkineven. He’s a cool London cat with a feather in his hat and he’s dropping the sweetest acid and electro (although I don’t recognise any of his own productions), but at 3:30am I need something dark to keep me going – and the ever present hint of disco in the mix keeps it a bit light and fluffy. I know I’ll regret it, but a quick conference reveals everyone’s pretty buggered. Back in the dodgy lift and out onto Coverlid Place we go.

It’s been another stellar event from The Operatives, with reasonable flow despite a seriously varied lineup. Machinedrum has destroyed the dancefloor and even brought some karaoke vibes with him – so, in the nicest possible way, my suspicions about what the night might hold have come true.

Before I know it I’m sitting on a couch with Burial on the stereo and a single malt whisky in my hand… then waking up walking to the train station, realising I’ve left my keys behind, running back and breaking back into my old house, running for the train and missing it, running for the tram and missing it, waiting for a bus that never comes, finally jumping on a train and dozing off until Melbourne Central then hopping on a tram, spotting Theresa walking in the opposite direction past RMIT, jumping off the tram and running after her to give her a big hug and tell her all about it.

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