It’s amazing how ubiquitous 1980s references are these days. As seemingly inevitable as this cultural déjà vu was, I would love to be able to make it through a show review and not have to mention the ‘80s. However, with DMX Krew on the bill at the Lower East Side club Fun, I knew I would find myself swimming in yet another 1980s revival pool, at a time when the waters are feeling a little stagnant and not fresh. After all, Ed Upton (or DMX Krew) is known for his focus on the electronic music of this decade, while overlooking its ‘90s progeny. But, on the other hand, this is Rephlex Records we are talking about, Richard D. James’ (AKA Aphex Twin) label. It is James who is responsible for a lot of the progression of electronic music throughout the ‘90s, making IDM (intelligent dance music) before such a paradoxically inane genre term even was even coined. With Ovuca and Cylob (with whom I was not familiar) on the bill as well, I could at least hope for a mixed bag.
Rephlex Tour: DMX Krew + Ovuca + Cylob
23 May 2002: Fun New York
When Cylob hit the decks, he DJed an array of glitchy electronic pop, which at times bordered on retro-electrobeat (it actually made me think of a less scary, more technologically advanced Skinny Puppy), but all of which could be classified as electronic dance music. As Fun reportedly has no cabaret license (and/or perhaps for other reasons as well), there was not a lot of dancing going on. I could only imagine people were “braindancing” (Richard James’s own designation of his electronic performances) instead, while typical Japanimation and psychedelic blobs were being projected on the walls. Highlights included a progressive remix of “Fascination” by Human League, which was more of an update of the track rather than rehash. Another noteworthy track was Cylob’s own drum’n'bass-pop anthem “Cut the Midrange Drop the Bass”. I have to come out and say that this is an amazing track. I love it. After hearing 101 million tracks with “vocoded” vocals, finally here’s one that sounds as fresh as it probably did when Telex were popularizing this method in the ‘70s. I can’t praise Cylob enough.
Sporting an oversized, white New Balance T-shirt, one-man band DMX Krew set his Powerbook next to the turntables and plunged into the PA while Cylob spun his last selection. This meeting between the two DJ music media on stage made me think of the performance as a duel between turntables and laptops. Would spectators have a preference for one over the other? At any rate, DMX Krew surprisingly started his set with a few drums ‘n bass instrumentals, not the ‘80s-style electro-pop that has made him known. He worked onstage kneeling down, with his head bobbing in front of the computer screen, and an occasional sweeping arm motion, which provoked excitement among a few people in the crowd. After a few more instrumentals, he played a few numbers singing with an affected vocal style that sounded like a very low, monster rapper robots, a style which was very different from the one used on his first album.
After DMX Krew finished his set, another laptop was plugged into the console, this one belonging to the Finnish DJ Ovuca. People like to describe his music as “noodling,” which almost always works as a red flag. In his case, however, it works quite well. His songs are, for the most part, short, quirky, beaty, songs—sometimes pop, other times not. This style makes me think that if Richard Brautigan were young and alive today, and if wrote zany electronic songs on a Powerbook instead of writing poetry, it would sound like this.
Although the night was definitely replete with good and interesting music, I cannot shower the space—Fun—with the same compliments. The newish club located under the Manhattan Bridge is quintessentially a “hot night spot” (as so many New York guides have declared it): a huge line snaked outside the place, and a (stereotype of a) bouncer waited at the door with the power to allow you in or leave you out of the party. I noticed a few underage ticket-holders who were refused entrance to Fun (what ever happened to the concept of an all-ages show, where anyone can come enjoy the music they want to hear?), and even when I, a 27-year-old, came up to the door, the bouncer read my ID and said “You’re 20.” Inside, the situation wasn’t any less perplexing. The space seems confused: Fun is a lounge that wants to be a dance club, or maybe a dance club forced to be a lounge (maybe due to the fact that it does not own a cabaret license?). One could say that this ambiguity is akin to that of the “intelligent dance music” genre. I don’t know.