Some Thoughts Of A Certain Sound: Timing Is Everything — Sometimes

Last weekend’s events illustrated how timing, in various senses of the word, is integral to the way one experiences electronic music.

On Friday, I attended the RDMWERK party at F8 featuring RP Boo and Traxman, footwork producers from Chicago. Footwork (or juke) is fast-paced, much faster than the house and techno music that generally fills San Francisco dancefloors. For reference, the rough standard for house music is about 125 beats per minute (b.p.m.), roughly — a steady, easy groove that makes dancing a fait accompli.

In contrast, footwork speeds along at 160-plus b.p.m., and jungle and drum’n’bass are even faster, generally 170-180 b.p.m. Unless you’re an aspiring DJ, you probably don’t notice or care much about the b.p.m. of the music played at a party, but in some ways, it’s the b.p.m. of a DJ set that matters most. It sets the mood, creates the rhythm, and it drastically changes how people dance — which, of course, can pump a dancefloor up (good) or clear it into oblivion (bad).

[jump] When I walked into the club at about 12:15 a.m., one of the supporting DJs was playing a rollicking set of jungle and contemporary drum’n’bass. It was a good, invigorating set, but it simply went on too long — timing matters a great deal as far as DJ lineups are concerned. By 10-minutes to 1 a.m., the headliners still hadn’t gone on, and the crowd was antsy, listless and distracted — in fact, both RP Boo and Traxman were hovering around the DJ booth, waiting for the support DJ to wrap it up and hand over the reins.

The pair finally came on shortly after 1 a.m., and wasted no time launching into a spirited DJ set of footwork courtesy of RP Boo, with Traxman hyping up the (now much larger) crowd on the mic. Footwork is definitely a challenge, dancing-wise: it mostly lacks a steady beat, like house, and it’s tough to move to in half-time, like with jungle. Still, the crowd did their best, and despite a disastrous attempt at engaging with Traxman in call-and-response (“A+ for effort, y’all” he said shortly before he put down the mic for good), everyone picked up the rhythm when Traxman came on the decks. He changed it up from Boo’s footwork and delivered a blistering set of techno, house, and disco classics (I heard Donna Summer, DBX, and Derrick May in the mix) played at footwork speed, about 160 b.p.m., which left me wondering if he planned his set that way or if he was just letting the crowd off easy, since they didn’t quite get it during Boo’s set. Either way — it was a fast-paced hell of a time.

On Saturday night, I made my way to an underground Honey Soundsystem party, headlined by Mike Servito, a resident DJ for The Bunker parties out of New York. It was a hot, sweaty, sticky mess — as the best underground parties are. Servito’s set didn’t begin until some time after 2 a.m.; true to form, he whipped the crowd into a frenzy, playing a nonstop series of jacking acid and mind-warp techno cuts.

Time-slots are, as mentioned above, critical to a dance party’s success. Just after 2 (in San Francisco, at least), crowds are inebriated, inhibitions are at their lowest, and the dancefloor takes on an entirely different character. Socializing takes a backseat to dancing and the energy of the crowd takes on a cohesive, unifying whole. This is when real magic happens, during the witching hours in the wee parts of the morning — the next time you’re at a club past last call (or at an after-hours party), stay longer than you planned to. Push through to the other side — the real dancefloor awaits you.

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