Posted on Nov 16th 2008 11:49 pm
In a way, Halloween and dark dance floors exist for the same reason: to encourage people to let go of inhibitions and look a little silly, if only for a moment. Being on a dance floor during a good DJ set is analogous to attending a costume party, possessed by the temporary thrill of leaving one’s own mundane insecurities for the rush of an alternatively structured social situation. Maybe New York’s infamous Club Kids were on to something, always flaunting such flamboyantly unusual fashions.
The night’s main event is a live set from Audion, Matthew Dear’s hard minimal house alias, the desirous Id to the Ego confessions from his given name or the detached mechanical Superego that is False. First comes a series of DJs, starting with James Fucking Friedman, a local favorite at Studio B, I’m told. In a flamboyant leather daddy costume (complete with gratuitous chest hair and moustache), Friedman leans mostly toward disco-house. The previous year’s party, the first in what has now become an annual tradition, featured a split of DFA and Ghostly artists. Dropping LCD Soundsystem, Friedman keeps the spirit of that New York punk-disco label alive and well.
Next up is a Daniel Wang, a real treat in New York all the way from Berlin. Wang’s solo output is sparse but consistent – Pistol Oderoso and Berlin Sunrise are two of the best singles from the Ghostly catalogue, for my money. A skinny figure with a permanent smile and loads of classic disco 12″, Wang is a regular Larry Levan – impeccable selection and an ecstatic back-and-fourth with the crowd, many of whom venture up to the DJ booth to dance alongside him or offer kudos. Following Wang is a set from Mattie Safer, of dance-punk act (and former DFA flagship) The Rapture. Safer’s taken the Halloween theme to its extreme, dressed as Michael Jackson from the music video for Thriller. Further, Safer’s set consists entirely of songs that are either by, covered, or sampled from Jackson. Gems include I’m Billie Jean, Jackson’s cautionary tale of broken hearts sung from the viewpoint of the titular woman, and an extended mashup of the Thriller intro, utilized to prolong the epic drop of Quincy Jones’ signature beat.
A costume contest brings out the freakier side of things, though for such a hipster-filled venue, there’s surprisingly only one topless woman. The winner is an obsessively detailed Klaus Nomi, from the oversized triangular suit to the gelled-up receding hairline. My costume consists of a rubber skullcap with floppy green spikes, borrowed from a friend. Unfortunately, it’s itches like hell and is soon gone, leaving me in the unenviable role of “that guy.” It’s alright when the lights dim, however, and the main event quietly begins.
Audion is minimal like a nest of hornets. Look at the pocked enclosure, and you’ll see an indistinguishable plethora of the angry little beasts. Still, they can all sting, and scare, and bring one to attention. Likewise, Dear rides the Audion set through a repetitive structure: clouds of piercing hi-end synths, rushed over with throbbing bass, then flanking by microsamples of speech, clicks, cuts, and other groovy ephemera. The old favorites still stick out, as the crowd cheers for the introduction of signature single Mouth To Mouth, but much of the night consists of new and unreleased material.
Matthew Dear as Audion is, like the music, a radical departure from Matthew Dear the avant-pop artist. The lights are kept to a dim blue, such that the bobbing and dancing Dear is virtually in the shadows on stage. This being a Halloween show, Dear is dressed as club culture icon Leigh Bowery, in a snappily modern white suit and a headpiece fashioned out of leather, tape, and light bulbs (later taken off as the set heats up). Donning a costume, it’s not hard to imagine I’m seeing another side of this pop-house critical darling. Audion is the rawest of Dear’s aliases, with bass that never fails to throb and track titles that verge from suggestive innuendo (Your Place Or Mine) to blunt sexuality (Titty Fuck). The subwoofers receive a scorching workout at Dear’s hands, occasionally dropping out to focus on the tics and whooshes and build up to the next bass drum orgasm.
In a live setting, this all sounds dark and foreboding – the set begins with a slowed-down drawl intoning “the car is on fire, and there’s no driver at the wheel”. Crawling along at a snail’s pace, it’s hard to tell at first, but Dear is indeed sampling the opening monologue from Godspeed You Black Emperor’s Dead Flag Blues. Apocalyptic meditation, then, is the set up for what’s to come (the monologue also appears about 3/4 through the set, when the music drops out and essentially restarts). Right here is the wickedly enjoyable paradox of Halloween, a holiday about horror and fun, where escapism is employed not to visit utopia but to revel in the adrenaline rush of terror. Terror, such as the aforementioned unpredictable blasts of angry hornet noise. Dancing is a feverish and claustrophobic purgatory, and I’m not sure whether sub-bass this strong should induce elation or nausea.
Just like that, it’s over. A brief stripping of layers, and the lights are on, and it’s nearly dawn. This has been a party and an exorcism on the dance floor. I’ve grooved to dynamite disco riffs, and closed my eyes to be blown away by frantic swarms of clicks and cuts. Dear works well in the role of trickster demon, and I don’t think I’ll be able to listen to Audion against without hearing this faux-malevolent smirk. I don’t know about the rest of the crowd, but I’m spent, and ready to get back to my comfortable patterns.