Ferry Corsten, Deuce Stenstrom & the Obliteration of Dance Floors

ImageThe two break-dancing gentlemen right in front of the DJ booth at Sullivan room had amassed quite a crowd considering it was only 11:30 PM. Deuce Stenstrom was spinning another one of his infectious “funhouse” sets (as his girlfriend lovingly refers to them), and the rapidly growing crowd was loving every second of it. As I sipped my Amstel Light, the deep bass & creeping melodies pulled person after person out of their seats, away from the bar and onto the dance floor. Deuce, opening another one of the Friday night SOUP parties, is one of the few DJs in the city I bust my ass to never miss. We go back years, and his work never disappoints. The wobbly,jolly sound, infused with old school house & techno tracks, is unique among the DJs I know in NYC. It reminds me of Falstaff because of its gregarious, bouncy, bubbly feel. But, back to the breakdancers.

Two smartly dressed black guys were popping, locking & breaking back and forth, turning the floor over to each other after they pushed out routines of increasingly complex & ridiculous moves. They kept tempting each other, baiting each other into doing crazier shit, and before long, the front third of the dance floor was devoted to people standing around in awe of the twin Nubian cyclones of fashion & footwork. Deuce kept the energy building so eventually, exhausted and to thunderous applause, they stopped, took a bow, and headed to the bar to get some congratulatory drinks a few people rushed to offer to purchase for them. As the dance floor repopulated and Deuce’s set finished up, I headed to the door after congratulating my boy on crushing it for the dance floor before midnight, a skill in serious demand these days in the Gotham Underground. I had a date with Ferry Corsten, and my only concern was whether the club he was spinning at (PACHA NYC) would let him work his magic on the decks without interference.

Pacha generates very strong opinions among clubbers in NYC. A long standing institution in Ibiza, the NYC off-shoot on the west side in midtown is generally treated harshly in the eyes of the community, especially those in the lower-income brackets. The main room turns into a stifling, churning amalgam of sweat, alcohol and stays that way until sunrise. Despite this, Pacha devotees swear by the sound system, the lighting and the imported talent that creates parties that approximate the bastardized love child of Ultra Music Festival & the Meatpacking District, crammed into a not-quite-large-enough warehouse a few blocks from the Hudson river. Thousands of Gothamites have sworn to never set foot in the club, due to the fact that it’s usually a total clusterfuck by 1 AM. While I usually don’t inflict that kind of environment on myself, tonight I was on the VIP Press list.

ImageAfter skipping the regular line and being treated wonderfully by Pacha’s front of house staff, I picked up a jack and coke and found a spot on one of the comfy leather couches that ringed each of the absurdly priced tables next to the railings. The tables allowed for a birds eye view of the main dance floor, the DJ booth, and provided a handy way to empty your bank account in under 6 hours. While I had no intention of spending upwards of three to five hundred dollars on a bottle of champagne or vodka, others were snapping the tables up like a cheap HDTV at Wal-Mart the day after Thanksgiving. The openers for Ferry were doing a tag-team set, switching off between big room house and some mildly interesting trance that kept the (already packed way past capacity) dance floor throbbing in preparation for Ferry. The names of the duo escape me at the moment, but they were competent enough that I managed to stay entertained until Ferry hit the decks right around 1:15.

He broke into some of his bigger anthems immediately, with his track “Feel It” reminding everyone in the club that he was now in control and serving up a serious dose progressive & uplifting trance. I was delighted to see Ferry had been given free reign on the decks, and wasn’t pressured by the Pacha management to modify his sound to fit the feel of the club. After seeing Ferry spin electro and house at Electric Zoo and being severely disappointed, I could not have been more pleased as the trance continued, occasionally accenting the set with a more poppy crowd favorite, such as “Language” by Porter Robinson, or “The Force of Gravity” by BT.

While the set was building I started chatting with a gentleman who was dancing to the sweet-ass trance music that was oozing out of the speakers, and he invited me back to his VIP table. Apparently he’d purchased “six or seven” bottles of champagne (he couldn’t remember which) and needed some help consuming them all. Never oneto be impolite, I graciously accepted his offer and introduced myself to the Brazilian soccer players that shared the table with him. I sipped my champagne, leaned back on the couch, felt the bass and listened to drunk Brazilian guys aggressively hit on every girl that walked past them in their exceptional Portuguese (and total lack of English).

The epic set continued for hours, with most people not moving off the floor, especially when a personal favorite of mine “One Thousand Suns” ft. Chicane, hit. Girls screaming, people dragging their friends up and down stairs in heels, racing to make sure they didn’t miss the drop. “Trigger” by Marcel Woods & W&W could not have come at a better time, and “Live Forever” (another of Ferry’s tunes featuring Aruna on vocals) ensured that the entire first floor of the club reached face-melting status. The track absolutely killed and even the VIP peeps stopped hitting on things for 5 seconds while the beat and trancey breakdowns had them shaking like Beyonce. Around 3:30 AM he managed to tear himself away from the decks and we beat a hasty retreat before the proletariat downstairs realized that there wasn’t going to be another encore. After many glasses of gratis champagne, I bid my new friends adieu and disappeared into the night, high on bubbly and the fact that Ferry absolutely killed it. Can’t wait to see what he has in store if he comes back for A State of Trance 600 with Armin Van Buuren.

This is Terry Gotham, see you on the dance floor.

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Earworm of the Month – “Not Giving In” ft. John Newman & Alex Clare

What can I say about this tune? That it’s been my theme song for the last month?  That it’s one of the best drum & bass-infused tracks I’ve heard in a long time? Or that the video communicates not only the knowledge of the roots of Drum & Bass (namely Hip Hop), but also speaks to an even deeper understanding of why hip hop was created, as a way for urban youth to rise up out of the streets through dedication of mind and body.

“Not Giving In” features a 10 year old breakdancing prodigy from Manilla, where the video is shot. This guy, whoever he is, is going to have a long and sick-ass career busting moves, getting paid to run around LA and generally being a ridiculous b-boy. The video traces the story of him and his older brother, who wanders into the world of gangs, drugs and violence on the streets of the Filipino capital city. I usually don’t have a lot of faith that music videos and the songs they’re shot to go with have anything to do with each other, especially these days. And when it is done, it’s portrayed as some epic “story-song” narrative that’s disrupting the music world by existing.

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Minnesota Bumps Bass at Brooklyn Bowl

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My social media feeds exploded with joy at the return of the L train Thursday afternoon. This lifeline to Brooklyn, which had been out of commission since Sandy sucker-punched Gotham, started running limited service in time for the Thursday night party cycle. When the trains aren’t running, people are just not going to party. At all. And there’s not a damn thing a promoter in the city can do about it. The return also allowed me to check out a DJ I’d been watching for about a year now, who was set to drop absurd beats at Brooklyn Bowl.

Brooklyn Bowl has carved out a nice little niche off of Bedford Avenue over the last several years. The combination bowling alley, bar, restaurant and open assembly stage has a lovely Thursday night party called Bowl Train curated by DJ ?uestlove (of The Roots), brings in consistently quality talent from out of town, and is also the world’s first LEED certified bowling alley. Because yes, in Brooklyn, even the bowling alleys are environmentally friendly. That means 100% wind power, a stage floor made of recycled goods, HVAC efficiency controls and locally sourced/brewed beers. The last point is super important. The best way to deflate the gigantic “eat locally” argument is when it is being delivered by someone who is drinking beer from Germany or whiskey from Scotland. “Drink Locally” is far more important than we give it credit, a thought I pondered as I picked up my glass of Brooklyn Weisse. The service was prompt and the dance floor was slowly coalescing. The crowd of flannel rockers, stoners, IDM geeks, ravers and the people that (somehow, you just knew, you didn’t know why but you did) only listened to dubstep all day, every day. Minnesota had taken the stage, and the bass was building.

The sound that Minnesota creates is one that requires the DJ to walk a very fine line. Few performers have really gotten this right in the past. EdiT, MC Front-a lot, MC Chris and YTCracker are a few of the handful of artists who are able to use hip hop lyrics, samples, beats, styles and atmosphere without coming off cheesy or as the sad little stereotype Fred Durst was. The ability to flow through the different sounds and keep the beat feeling vaguely menacing, while enticing at the same time is difficult to develop because if you fuck up, you look kind of like the biggest nerd ever. The thick rim glasses & t-shirt are a stark reminder that you’re listening to West Coast beats being performed by someone who’s name isn’t 50 Cent, or Tupac Shakur. It’s a bit like having your suspension of disbelief broken when you’re watching a movie. Interestingly, DJ Minnesota did not have any of these moments, something that made me so very happy, especially considering the gangsta-ness of his beats.

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Sensation Soars

So there I was, surrounded by 15,000 intoxicated people, all dressed in white, seven years late on the other side of the world. I’d missed my last chance to catch Sensation when I was backpacking through Europe in the summer of 2005. While my experience traveling through a dozen countries (including a particularly excellent weekend in Ibiza) was all that and a bag of chips, there was always that one missed party. That is, until this weekend.

The speakers & sound system did not disappoint. It was massive arena with stadium seating  above the totally packed GA floor, filled with ravers, euros, hippies, brokers, club kids, junglists, chibi goths, bridge & tunnelers, guidos, creepers, jocks and thousands upon thousands of the same pair of white jeans & yoga pants. The chaos of large festivals like Ultra or Electric Zoo seemed utterly absent, as there was pretty much one choice of beer readily available (Bud Light Platinum), and there was one stage, so if you weren’t ok with at least one of those things, you probably shouldn’t have swung by.

Dennis Ferrer’s sound was starting to explore the speaker system and the people shuffled to a sexy, groovy, organic house sound. About thirty minutes into his set, an astonishingly funky remix of Come Together started tugging on the room. Each verse & word, drawn out along this infectious bassline with a remora of a staccato twang, drew more of the floor into unison, as people from across the world slowly recognized the Beatles lyrics, clicked into the beat, moving with it and the rest of the room.

Some people were impatient for some sort of break or drop, but five minutes after people found themselves dancing to the pre-drop tune, they seemed to forget that the music needed to go anywhere as long as it sounded this good while it was there. The set remained funky & groovy, without cheesy disco standards or any confused attempts at injecting R&B into moments that doesn’t need it. The former is annoying, while the latter just kind of quietly sad/creepy. While his set was neither of those things, I was getting a bit hungry, so I swallowed my fear and headed over to see what manner of sustenance I could find and whether I would need a co-signer to pay for it.

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Basic Throws a Party, Matias Jofre Shines

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After wallowing in maudlin self-aggrandizing pity all week over my recently departed companion, I hurled myself into the night, back to that ever so important stretch of L train stops in Brooklyn. There was a minimal & euro techno party going down at a private loft somewhere on Meserole and I was going to be one of the thousands dancing to forget their troubles on a Saturday night to thumping bass somewhere in Brooklyn. While the headliner, a techno wizard with 2 decades of album releases under his belt looked to be an amazing act, the earlier sets looked pretty enticing as well.

Luis Campos & Matias Jofre are two institutions here in the city. Luis Campos holds it down at Psycheground, one of the handful of actually good psy-trance events still in NYC, while Matias Jofre drops a dope party called Rite of Wednesdays once a week, bringing his (S)innerScene crew out on the weekends as well. Sleepy & Boo, the seemingly pervasive dj & promoter duo added heft to the lineup, so I knew I was in for something fun. Techno is a genre that I absolutely cannot stand in headphones, at home or by myself. I admit this without denial or shame as I require a well designed & equipped sound-system that is able to keep the beat pervasive in my awareness. The loft, I discovered much to my delight, had just such as system. As my greeter spent an inordinate amount of time affixing my wristband, I felt the techy, euro’y throb of the beat and realized just how long it had been since I’d been to a proper non-weeknight techno party.
The crowd was older, more ethnically diverse, ever so slightly better dressed than their equivalent cohort at a dubstep show (House fashion varies by sub-genre, still gathering data on that one). The private loft, emptied out save for some tasteful cylindrical spandex & strands of glowing LEDs wrapped around the lode-bearing steel, had  a dark, cavernous feel, with the visuals adding to the panache of the production. I headed to the dance floor to watch Matias Jofre drop what would turn out to be a masterful tag-team set with Kiwi.

I’ve been a fan of this guy since I was privileged enough to see him drop some amazing beats on a Sunday morning apartment party way back in 2010. His flavor of minimal techno, combined with dashes of worldbeat and tech house has always been at the top of my list when it comes to local DJs that are really keeping the feel of a good, globally minded dance floor alive. The bass oozed through the shadows in the space, the unadorned crowd kept moving, without a single energy drop, from the time I walked in the door as Matias was setting up, until he stepped off the decks hours later. At that point I remembered that I was a bit too excited for the opening act, as Jeff Mills took his place and the spaced out, respectful crowd pushed in a bit, to watch a master at work. And then, about 30 seconds in, he turned his back to the crowd and DJ’d…backwards.

Now before I got all concerned that we’re in Brooklyn, and DJ’ing with your back to the audience is the new hipster thing, I checked his set up. Seems there was a big 909 machine facing us, and his decks couldn’t fit there, so they went behind him. That’s right folks, it’s just that his set up was too sick, not that he held subtle disdain for DJ worship culture. The techno was exactly what it needed to be. Sharp, light (almost fluffy at times), exceptionally well-produced, and had this deep groovy vibe that would have felt alien in the cold universe that techno can be at times. The dance floor had a chance to get up close and personal, with no raised DJ platform, so people got an intimate look at the man in the act of making the magic. He was definitely not playing from a pre-created mix as some other supposed luminaries have been known to do occasionally 😉

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