ALTERED STATES @ GEISHA BAR, FRIDAY MAY 17
Dancing is a funny thing. I’ve never been much good at it. As a weedy child I preferred the reliable company of books and imaginings; as an adolescent, it seemed already too late, and my less-than-graceful frame took refuge in “rock” and “indie” shows where standing very still (or sitting near-comatose on the ground) was par for the course. But time wears on and the body has ideas of its own. When someone asked me on Friday what I was doing over the weekend, I was startled by the words that came out of my mouth: the entirety of my plan was to attend two dance music events. And dance. The second of the parties would be 100% Silk’s triple bill at 133 Aberdeen Street (ex-Black Betty’s); the first was a night called ALTERED STATES presented by RTR’s all-electronic programme Full Frequency.
So it comes around; Friday unfurls, the sun dims to pink, shadows grow long and soon mask the windows and walls and the trees and sky. James Street greets me as James Street is wont to: buskers roaring away, oblivious to the world, on buckets and metal guitars; men in impressive drag milling incongruously outside a neon kebab joint; a brostep remix of “Wonderwall” disgorging itself from the Brass Monkey. I follow the footpath to the unassuming alcove that beams me up to ALTERED STATES.
When I get there it’s BASIC MIND on the far wall: the inimitable Tim Loughman (Astral Travel, Bermuda, and now Mental Powers) hunched over a baffling array of pads, effects and patch-cables. Collectively they form a rare sort of analogue synth paradise. Almost everything in this lush set of retro-futuristic house and soundscaping is performed live, which is a more remarkable feat than you might suppose. Dense polyrhythms, brought on by overlapping delays, richochet off walls of sticky soundwaves and tumble around amid a heady, unflagging pulse. While not as transparent and pure-sounding as Basic Mind’s memorable set at Actress/Oneohtrix Point Never a couple of months back (quite likely a sound system discrepancy), the many layers here are still discernable and mesmerizing. “Basic Mind” is either an excessively humble title for this project – which clearly emerges from a prodigious brain – or an auspicious omen; if this is the basic stuff, what happens when Tim Loughman gets fancy?
Suddenly it’s 11, and long-time Full Frequency presenter DECLAN DOHERTY is taking care of business, which he does with aplomb. Bodies leak into the Geisha loft steadily, and Declan douses them in old and new cuts of rich electronic titbits. Come midnight JOE STAWARZ is passed the baton. Stawarz is an interesting figure; apart from having a name like a George Lucas film he is a graduate of WAAPA, an esteemed producer signed to Soma records, and a composer of experimental new music. The first time I encountered Stawarz’ work was seeing Decibel perform his conceptual, ambient “Cells,” at the State Theatre Centre. Tonight is markedly different – all beat, thump, wash and squelch – though his experimental leanings are detectable amid the ruckus. DARIO KSIC takes us through into what is now very much Saturday morning, and his selections are dense and deeply danceable, with smoke billowing and bodies writhing emphatically. I require a breather, so I duck out to that new 24 hour pho place, but it’s due to no lack of good tunes on Ksic’s part.
The clock strikes two, and there are two at the podium: REECE WALKER and EMERALD CABAL performing the dark, minimal acidscapes live. While not the most danceable set of the night (there’s something a little bleak about the vibes these guys exude), it’s by far the most evocative. House and techno tends to allude only to itself: it is “here” and “now,” existing to be heard as a collection of rhythms, melodies and textures and to be danced to. With this duo, what you’re hearing almost feels secondary to what’s implied – dark, brooding, clinical timbres and thumps with Swiss precision congeal to hint at something greater than the sum of their parts, like those monsters not-quite-seen in quality horror films. So while the beats, clicks and sparse bass lines do keep the dance floor well and truly alive, it’s our imaginations that are thriving right now.
Of course, for all its many musical moods and artistic takes on EDM, tonight is chiefly about dancing, and CRAIG HOLLYWOOD & ALLSTATE know it. Their back to back set (which starts at 3, and sizzles on until dawn’s first rays begin to creep up the stairwell) is brimming with irresistible, funky, upper-mid-tempo goodness. Allstate, by the by, is another man-of-many-faces; you might know him as Jeremy Martin, guitarist from progressive/post-hardcore band Eleventh He Reaches London. Along with Alex Campbell (aka Emerald Cabal) who’s made noise as Royal Vomit, played in grimy punk band Happy Families and more, it’s interesting to note the curious intersection of hardcore and techno/house. You could read too much into it, but perhaps it’s the no-nonsense aesthetic that binds the two: the visceral, unpretentious nature of the tunes, simultaneously simple and nuanced. Both arise from underground, anti-commercial, often politically charged DIY scenes and so with them comes a certain set of ideals, a worldview. But more to the point, both contain a certain kind of raw power: the potential for deep impact, be it grimly pared back, or life-affirming and euphoric, or perhaps a thrilling combination of both.
I almost feel I’ve done my dash come 3AM, but these sanguine tunes seep into my bones and electrify them just enough to keep me on the dancefloor. I, the kid who never danced, is totally ensnared by the hypnotic, throbbing energy, like a snake being charmed. There’s an altered state for you. Sure, I’m not dancing “well,” I don’t look particularly cool when I pop my kneecaps and alternate elbow thrusts, but neither do scores of other people in the room, and it matters not. The beat is our mutual friend, movement is our common goal. In the morning, when the sky is bright, we’ll eventually rise and – as the grogginess clears and the weekend’s crisp coolness takes us by the hand – we’ll be renewed, still crackling with residual electricity, altered – but entirely for the better.