It’s been said about a thousand times that electronica needs a “face” before it can become a part of the U.S. pop music mainstream. I suppose Depeche Mode and Eurythmics don’t count? Several possibilities have been proposed over the years—Produgy, Lou Bega, Moby, even Madonna took a stab at being “the heart of techno”—but none have stuck. There’s been plenty of techno in commercials and on soundtracks, but that’s is because of the very qualities that have made it hard to break into mainstream radio: it’s mostly instrumental and the artists are faceless. What the genre really needs is not just someone with a pretty face, but a star, someone who can be a rock star.
A few years ago, BT was known more for his remix and productions work than his talent as a musician, despite the relates of two full albums of original music. With the encouragement of Sasha, the extraordinary U.K. trance deejay, he had become known for a sub-genre of progressive house music known as “dreamhouse.” But he did not want to sit still, did not want to continue to create more clones of Ima and ECSM. “I could be making a hundred Imas or ECSMs,” he posted to a website, “but I would not be making a contribution.” He left his original record label, Renaissance, in order to expand beyond dance music. For a start, he composed the orchestral score for the film Under Suspicion. After the release of ECSM, BT was asked if he wanted to be a rock star. He hesitated, and said no, he didn’t think so. A few days later he called the reporter to say he’d changed his mind. Oh yes, BT wants to be a rock star after all. Indeed, BT is going to be a star. Though he no longer plays strictly progressive house music, the genre of electronica may well have found the rock star face it needs.
17 Aug 2000: 9:30 Club Washington, DC
Which brings us to a summer night at the 9:30 club in Washington, DC. A set list would be misleading because it doesn’t tell the story of the many snippets from “Blue Skies,” “Fibonacci Sequence,” “Orbitus Terranium,” “Flaming June” and others that appeared between and within the four full songs he played (which were, in order, “Love, Peace, and Grease,” “Mercury and Solace,” “Godspeed,” and “Dreaming”). There were also times that bits of the main songs played invaded others—“Love, Peace, and Grease” made a visit during “Godspeed.” With this blending, BT showed us that this kind of electronic music doesn’t need to be presented in the way more traditional styles are presented. Put it all in a blender and see what comes out. This was a live mix, with keyboards and a CD deck (which, appeared to contain only the vocal samples from Kirsty Hawkshaw, Jan Johnston, and M. Doughty, and possibly other recorded sounds). A mix in the truest sense, a remix that is never the same two nights in a row. The effect was brilliant. Throughout, BT himself never stopped moving, bouncing up and down, shouting out “Come on!!” to the packed club to keep us moving with him. We danced, we rocked, and we were almost satisfied.
Yes, alas, only almost. The only true disappointment of the night was its brevity, clocking in at 45 minutes for the main set. The encore, a head pounding rocked out rendition of the current single, “Never Gonna Come Back Down,” made it just over an hour. This, apparently, has been typical throughout the tour. The crime of it was that he walked off stage right at the point where at which crowd’s energy level was reaching its peak. If he’d stayed just another 15 minutes, it would have been less disappointing. As it was we all just stood in the same place for 15 minutes, with a stunned “nah, that can’t be it?” look on our faces as the stage crew came out and started dismantling BT’s setup.
BT is most certainly almost a rock star. But in order to be a rock star, he needs to learn how to work with the audience, gage their energy better, and not leave them stranded on the high of a show stops before it’s finished.