Melodic and Minimal: Omar-S Leads a New Pack of Standout Detroit DJs

Detroit is a topic of frequent mention in this column, and rightly so — it's the birthplace of techno music and home to innumerable talented DJs and producers who have earned their place in electronic music history. For many, Detroit is metonymically linked with techno's “old guard” (Jeff Mills, Carl Craig, Juan Atkins and so on), whose careers show no signs of slowing down some 30 years later. Lesser known (but no less talented) is Detroit's cadre of younger, newer producers and DJs, a hardworking bunch whose unofficial leader is Alex O. Smith, better known as Omar-S.

Upon listening to any of Omar-S's tracks — and he has an awful lot of them, releasing four albums and 30-something EPs since 2004, all on his own label, FXHE — the reasons for his success become immediately apparent. Melodic and minimal, a typical Omar-S track consists of a plaintive synthesizer or piano melody, a hard-hitting kick drum, and just enough incidental elements (a vocal sample, some additional percussion) to finish it off. Borrowing from jazz, funk, and soul, his productions are remarkably idiosyncratic — you know an Omar-S tune when you hear one — in a way that belies their elegant simplicity.

Also top billed is Willie Burns, an equally eccentric house music wünderkind who shares with Omar-S a penchant for playfulness, for not taking things too seriously. Behind the decks, however, both are quite serious indeed, blurring the edges between hard-hitting deep house and moody techno. Rounding out the bill are Sure Thing resident Aaron J and Petko Nikolov and Alex Lin of Oakland's Shuffle Co-Op party.

Other worthy parties this week

Public Works presents One Night in Cómeme with Matias Aguayo, Lena Willikens, and Christian S. at Public Works, 9:30 p.m.-3 a.m. Thursday, March 19. $10-$15;

Sometimes crowded touring schedules make for a world-class party on a Thursday. That's the case here, as the gang from Cómeme (an offbeat, quirky, and uniquely eccentric record label focusing on house and techno with Latin flavors, owned by headliner Matias Aguayo) makes its way through San Francisco. Aguayo is a Chilean-born, German-based musician who creates infectiously rhythmic, rubbery dance music based around samples of his own voice, looped and chopped. His live performances are out of this world: Aguayo DJs edited versions of his own tracks while he sings, growls, and purrs over them, sampling and looping his voice on the fly. He's joined by Lena Willikens, a wildly creative DJ who has been making serious waves with her no-holds-barred sets, which run the musical gamut from post-punk to industrial to disco to psychedelic rock, all threaded through the eye of a techno needle, and Christian S, a playful mainstay of the Cologne scene. Icee Hot DJs Shawn Reynaldo, Will, and Ghosts On Tape will open up the evening.

Robot Ears presents Adam Beyer and more at Mighty, 10 p.m.-4 a.m. Friday, March 20. $25-$30;

Although not nearly as well-known in the United States as he is in Europe, Adam Beyer is something of a techno legend. The Swedish powerhouse DJ and producer has been at it for more than 20 years, releasing his first record in 1995 and launching his DJ career well before that. Through his own productions and others he released on his record label, Drumcode, Beyer pioneered a heavyweight, highly percussive, tribal breed of techno. Fast, intense, and highly energetic, Beyer's DJ sets rarely dropped below 140 BPM. These days, he's slowed down the pace a bit without losing any of his trademark intensity or energy, packing his DJ sets with the latest in mechanistic techno and tech-house. Opening up for Beyer is Layton Giordani, a young New Yorker who has been cutting his teeth at some of NYC's larger clubs; also supporting is an array of locals: John Kaberna, Fabian Campos, and Loui Vanhard of Robot Ears alongside Bardia F and Thuyvu of Blue Orb.

Public Works presents andhim, Frank & Tony, and more at Public Works, 9 p.m.-3:30 a.m. Friday, March 20. $20-$25;

This party features two contemporary house music production duos, andhim and Frank & Tony (from Germany and New York City, respectively), each representing a different facet of modern house music. Cologne natives andhim headline Public Works' main room, offering up their so-called “super house” sound: Built on samples of hip-hop, disco, and funk, andhim's productions have a built-in groove that make them warm, accessible, and easy to dance to. The real treat here, however, are New York's Frank & Tony, who have been quietly carving out a small niche of moody, downbeat deep house with their Scissor & Thread record label, initiated in 2011. Frank & Tony productions are simple, minimalist, and draped in minor-key piano and synthesizer melodies, making them feel like dancefloor-primed eulogies for lost lovers. Warming up the Loft for Frank & Tony is Nick Williams, a former San Franciscan who founded the long-running Sunday night weekly party WERD; meanwhile, downstairs, As You Like It residents Bells & Whistles will be supporting andhim.

Hostile Ambient Takeover presents Hieroglyphic Being, Its Own Infinite Flower, and more at Underground SF, 9 p.m.-2 a.m. Saturday, March 21. $10;

As far as electronic music performers are concerned, DJs are a dime a dozen; all-vinyl DJs are harder to find; live electronic musicians are rarer still; and live electronic musicians whose performances are as vital as their music are rarest of all. Hieroglyphic Being, also known as Chicagoan Jamal Moss, sits firmly in that last category. When Moss performs, armed with an array of hardware synths and samplers (and, lately, an iPad), he is not so much producing live electronic music as he is channeling it; as the cacophony builds around him, Moss' eyes might roll back in his head, or he may begin speaking to himself, or he may seem engaged in a war with his own gear. The music is fierce, noisy, dancy, and chaotic — but even if experimental techno is not necessarily your bag, it's worth going outside of your comfort zone to see Moss do his thing. He's joined by Its Own Infinite Flower, a local mind-bending psychedelic techno act, and DJs Solar, C.L.A.W.S., and Tyrel Williams.

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