Timo Maas is one of those rare DJs with a style so distinctive he’s virtually a genre unto himself. Freely shifting from techno to trance to breakbeat, Maas marks all of his original tracks and remixes with a thick, pumping bottom end, and imaginative synth and percussion effects that until recently, when everyone started imitating them, were impossible to mistake. Maas calls his sound “percussive wet funk,” which is as good a term as any for his powerful and eminently danceable music.
8 May 2002: The Mayan Theatre Los Angeles
Although Maas has toured the U.S. before, he’s still better known on these shores as a producer and remixer than he is a DJ, the mad German genius behind monster tracks like “Ubik” and his killer remixes of Azzido da Bass’ “Dooms Night” and Fatboy Slim’s “Star 69”. And it was clear on his Los Angeles stop that Maas is at least as interested in establishing his reputation as a top DJ as he is in promoting his latest release, Loud, which also happens to be his first complete album of original material. Over the course of an intense three-hour set, Maas dropped a few tracks from Loud, but mostly stuck to spinning other people’s music, proving that he can assert his unique style on the decks as well as in the studio.
After a take-no-prisoners opening DJ set by the British duo Starecare, Maas took the decks with Teutonic punctuality at 11:00 p.m. sharp. He started off strong despite some technical difficulties—one of his turntables blew just minutes into his set, forcing the chubby-cheeked DJ to cut the music for the 6.5 seconds it took him to swap out records (not bad for a guy known mainly as a producer). The enthusiastic, capacity crowd didn’t miss a beat, and Maas kept the dance floor packed for the duration of his set.
Like many DJs, Maas’ sound has taken a turn for the darker, and for most of the night he stuck to bass-heavy techno and progressive house tracks, occasionally dropping in one of his signature percussive synth riffs or a vocal track to liven up the mix (a particular highlight was a track I’d never heard before with a voice intoning, “Do not be alarmed—the DJ is conducting a test of the club sound system”). He avoided old crowd-pleasers like “Dooms Night” and “Ubik” in favor of some his less shopworn earlier tracks, which the dancers seemed to enjoy just as well. Particularly effective were the ominous chant-like riffs of his “Riding on a Storm”, which pushed the energy late in the evening up a notch, and led into the tranciest and probably most entertaining portion of his set.
The two tracks that got the warmest crowd response were both off Loud, which should be good news for Timo and the folks at Kinetic Records, his label. The old-school electro-rocker “Shifter” got people slinking to its early Depeche Mode vibe, and vocalist MC Chickaboo dropped in for an entertaining turn on the song’s corny lyrics. Unfortunately, Chickaboo hung around for most of the final hour of Maas’ set, emceeing her heart out all over some of the evening’s best tracks, mostly by just chanting the DJ’s name over and over again. I couldn’t tell whether the crowd appreciated the MC presence or not, but to me it came off as an inane and unnecessary nod towards someone’s vague notion of how to make Maas’ music more palatable for a mainstream audience. Maas’ closing track was Loud‘s opener, the delightfully funky “Help Me”, a classic Timo stomper with sci-fi theremin effects and damsel-in-distress vocals from R&B diva Kelis. It’s his most successful attempt to date at wedding his distinctive “wet” techno sound with more pop sensibilities, and the way it kept a tired crowd moving at 2 a.m. on a Wednesday night suggests that it might be his next breakthrough hit.
L.A.‘s historic Mayan Theatre provided a great setting for Maas’ hard-hitting sound. A converted movie palace with booming acoustics and a massive dance floor, the Mayan has played host to some of the biggest DJs passing through southern California in recent years, including John Digweed and Danny Tenaglia. Unfortunately, the venue’s sound system apparently isn’t quite up to the task of handling Maas’ thundering basslines—a blown stage right speaker made for some muddy sounds on that side of the room.
After Maas and Chickaboo bid their farewells, Starecase returned to the decks to keep the party moving. But I, like most of the crowd, chose to head for home, having gotten as much of my groove on as I needed to get for one evening. Timo Maas’ set didn’t blow my mind as much as I had hoped it would—there were no real peak moments, just some skillfully executed transitions and one rolling, rock-solid groove after another. But he still demonstrated that’s he as strong a force behind the decks as he is on disc, and he does “percussive wet funk,” or whatever you want to call it, better than anyone.
// Notes from the Road
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