Monday, February 25, 2013

Magic Touch and Mutant Beat Dance Work Through Sound Issues at Monarch

Posted By on Mon, Feb 25, 2013 at 5:00 AM

click to enlarge KAHLEY AVALON EMERSON
  • Kahley Avalon Emerson

No Way Back presents Mutant Beat Dance and Magic Touch

Friday, Feb. 22, 2012


There was some head-nodding, but not a whole lot of dancing at Monarch last Friday. This is an unusual occurrence for No Way Back, a party whose exuberant crowd generally creates one of the most active dancefloors in the city. Sound issues and the sometimes-atmospheric nature of Mutant Beat Dance, the headlining act, meant that things took on a more critical and cerebral vibe. Yet, even though the party had a few bumps, it turned out alright in the end.

click to enlarge KAHLEY AVALON EMERSON
  • Kahley Avalon Emerson
Tyrel Williams opened the night in typically flawless style with a set of mid-tempo house cuts that kept the vibe up while still setting the stage for something more. We arrived just in time to hear him play Jamie 3:26's tripped-out edit of Yello's "Bostich." Delayed cowbells filled the mostly empty room, ping-ponging between the club's four Tuba-shaped speakers. Below, Donovan's psychedelic visuals pumped and flowed across every surface, giving the venue's usually glossy sheen a dose of underground cool. A slide of a bird in flight wildly moved across the screen behind the DJ booth -- Donovan was manipulating it by hand, giving it the kind of erratic motion that a computer would have a hard time replicating. I grabbed a beer and watched Williams flip a record diagonally in his box that loudly read, "Das Ding." It was a portent of the industrial direction the night would ultimately take. About an hour passed, and the club began to fill up with a mixture of expensively dressed clubbers (who didn't seem to know what they were in for) and local faces on the first night of what would become a fatiguing three-day series with Harvey at Public Works on Saturday, and Sprinkles at Holy Cow on Sunday. Soon, Williams would play his last song and cede the spotlight to Magic Touch (a.k.a. Damon Palermo), who had set up on a stage opposite the DJ booth with a modest amount of gear, the center pieces being an MPC and an old Yamaha SU700 sampler (which seems to be the unit of choice for a lot of San Francisco producers these days).
click to enlarge KAHLEY AVALON EMERSON
  • Kahley Avalon Emerson
As he went on, the sound immediately took a dip in quality. The bass and highs were sucked out, as though everything was playing out of a cheap radio. This is, of course, very weird for Monarch, which has one of the best (if not, the best) sound systems in the city. Palermo didn't look phased; instead he stood almost motionless tapping the buttons on his sequencers with a cool nonchalance. What could be heard of the music was straight-ahead deep house, with short hypnotic loops circling around sampled disco percussion for an aesthetic that brought to mind both Daft Punk's early material and the four-to-the-floor drive of Detroit players like Rick Wade. But I can't help but feel that his live show could have been more dynamic. To just play a sampler and stay at the same tempo, with a continuous stream of music, gets tiring after a while. For a live hardware performance to take the place of a DJ set (at least for someone who makes dance music), I feel as though there needs to be an injection of improvisation, something that strives for a more fluid dialogue with the audience. Then again, it may have just been the sound quality that made it difficult to appreciate what he was doing.
click to enlarge KAHLEY AVALON EMERSON
  • Kahley Avalon Emerson
One brief interlude later and headliners Mutant Beat Dance replaced Palermo on stage behind a clustered tangle of synthesizers, oddball guitar pedals, and cheap drum machines. Cords snaked along the surface, creating the appearance of some kind of retro-cyberpunk gear console. This image was aided by one of the duo's deadstock T-shirts, which claimed allegiance to '80s dark experimental group Current 93. It all culminated in the music itself, which straddled the line between danceable industrial and raw Chicago house. By the time they started, the sound quality had gotten noticeably better. They warmed up their gear with a long ambient interlude, before dropping into jerking rhythms that careened through the room. They took turns on the mic, sing-speaking ominous riffs through muffled layers of delay and distortion. A bouncing bassline played off a bongo and they intoned simultaneously "take me to another world" and "feel the groove." These sound rather cliche out of context, but in the moment they felt relatively serious. This was due in part to the density and texture of the instrumental music beneath. Occasionally the vocals got a little too intense -- lyrics don't mean much if they're so processed as to be unintelligible. Those that did get through created a heady atmosphere that contributed to the head-nodding. And while Magic Touch may have benefitted from more dynamics, Mutant Beat Dance might have benefited from less. Each song was accompanied by an interlude in which the duo frantically reset their gear for the next song. They also had some problems with sound: at a few points there was a distinct and definitely arrhythmic digital clipping noise that drew attention away from their set. Whether this was their fault or the club's is hard to say. They finished and Solar hopped on the deck. The difference in sound between his first record and the music that had played before was startling. He dropped Sling and Samo's "DJ Tool #1" and the bass that had been absent filled the room, as if a pressurized valve had suddenly burst open. We stayed for a bit to dance as he rode a few records over their rough edges, but finally left to conserve energy for the long weekend ahead. -- @DerekOpperman Avalon_Emerson

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