It’s Saturday evening and I’m trying to convince the Doc to come out and party. The Doc isn’t keen which is fair enough: he’s just worked fifty hours straight or some nonsense, it’s a chilly night and he’s already curled up on the couch with a bowl of porridge. So I join him for an episode of Seinfeld (“The Sponge”) and then step out the door, making the obligatory return for a forgotten item (phone), before setting off into the dark and damp. Past the school, past the lights, onto the burrito strip; Planet is having a DVD sale so I have a nostalgic rummage en route, and carry on.
Tonight’s BUTTER SESSION was set to take place at a “secret warehouse” – the native home of the contemporary subcultural discothèque - but for whatever reason that didn’t play out. This doesn’t bother me too much; I like warehouses as much as the next boogiebody, but it’s pretty nice to be able to walk to the venue, knowing home is only a stumble away. This proximity makes me biased, but it feels like Highgate is increasingly a hive of creative culture: there’s Highgate Continental over the road, peddling ever fascinating music, books, art, apparel – and the twin-storeyed Late Night Valentine is now less a blip, more a haunt. Highgate Conti’s sibling organisation GOOD COMPANY are the movers and shakers behind tonight’s party, aside from the Butter crew themselves, who are here to deliver no less than three (3) live sets for our aural/corporal pleasure. Local spinners “Viv G” and “Thelonious Mike” go back-to-back for the warm up, fanning the tentative first embers of the dancefloor fire. The selections are swell but it’s too early – the mood too subdued - to really experience them in full effect.
Things perk up a little with the arrival of CALE SEXTON, who doubles-down on some unapologetic, adventurous <i>ish</i>. Things are sounding four-dimensional, thick and bright and gooey. I order a whiskey sour at the bar and am told they don’t have any eggs. I didn’t realize whiskey sours involved eggs, and gladly accept the vegan version. Back in the huddle, Sexton delves into this spooky Y2K techno palette, and I suddenly want to play “Perfect Dark” on the Nintendo 64. A tall, loud-voiced guy behinds me announces that this is some “whack shit” and he feel like he’s playing a late ‘90s sci-fi shooter game. Clearly I agree with him on the latter point but whack wouldn’t be my descriptor of choice. Unexpected, maybe. The boy swims into yet murkier realms of synth dissonance and bubbly darkness, before scooping us back up with the arms of digestible analogue tanzmusik. A really healthy spread, so’s at various points I make spontaneous eye contact with my dancing neighbours as if to say <i> “aw yiss.” </i>
DAN WHITE follows, a seamless transition from one Butter brother to the next. His set is fine, and I mean that in most senses of the word. Fine as in “perfectly adequate” – but not (for me) especially memorable, ultimately less compelling than last year’s eclectic <i>Off Bluff</i> 12”. Then again it’s also fine as in “fine wine,” like there’s a certain refinement discernable via yr discerning schnoz, and fine as in “fine weather,” as in, this is definitely still a favourable backdrop to feeling good. It’s also fine as in delicate, like lace, albeit the heftiest most pumping lace you’ve ever heard pumping out of a big Voyager PA: it’s carefully, lovingly woven together. Unfortunately the threads used are just too stock to excite me, the same time-honoured drum machine sounds, rhythm patterns, politely gurgling basslines, so that it’s also fine like “finé” – that is to say, finished, somewhat <i>over</i> as soon as it begins, because you know what to expect and that’s what happens. (Although – was it Cale Sexton or Dan White who dropped that curveball isolated jungly breakbeat and masterfully wove it back into a house groove? Kudos to whichever). Anyway, for the most part this set strikes me as an inevitability unraveling as you dutifully step to the 4/4 throb. But “dutifully” makes it sound like an unpleasant obligation, like a “parking fine” kind of fine. That’d be unfair. In the end I simply temper the yin with some yang (or is it the other way round?), ducking upstairs for bursts of HENRY MAXWELL’s life-affirming disco and funk selections. This two-pronged approach works out well for me.
Back in the basement we’re wide awake for SLEEP D, a Frankston (Vic) duo comprising Corey Kikos and Maryos Syawish. They’re a pair of fun-loving, omnivorous scalligwags who also happen to be the Butter Sessions founders. What we get is a live set that’s beautifully honed but loses none of its spontaneous energy – the partners working in perfect telepathic sync to produce a singular mood, a pulsating trajectory dense with squelch, slap, click and tasteful EQ swoops. It’s really satisfying to watch these two tweak their mixers, sequencers, synthesizers – things falling into place neatly, like a smooth play down the field in a high-stakes footy match. And although the unwarehousey 2am cutoff may have disappointed some, I reckon it made the whole thing seem handsomely lean and concise. An elegant sufficiency.
If there’s one thing common to tonight’s Butter Sessions signatories (apart from demographic, and rough genre overlap), it’s a gaze set more upon the past than the future. These grooves call upon older technologies and mash up established tropes, intentionally plumbing the warm depths of memory to foster a nostalgic type of dance party (without being out-and-out retro). This is all good in my books; I don’t think nostalgia is all bad, I’m a big fan of analog electronic sounds, and I love to see what can be achieved by collaging aesthetics from our personal and collective pasts. Still, if the Butter Sessions artists really want to make an impression on the dance music landscape, they’d do well to (musically) acknowledge more of what’s happened in the last ten or so years - and what’s being pioneered now. That’s a thought, an option they can take or leave. In the meantime, we’re not likely to stop dancing.