It’s becoming increasingly obvious to anyone whose brain hasn’t been permanently addled by too much Red Bull and Ecstasy that if dance music is going to survive as a meaningful art form, it’s going to have to evolve beyond the four-on-the-floor thump-thump that’s been its stock in trade since the earliest days of disco. This isn’t to say that house and trance and techno are ready to climb into the coffin and stay there—there’s still plenty of life left in all of them, and in about 2015 or so they’re bound to become trendy again—but after a steady diet of high-hats and kick drums, we clubgoers are starved for a little variety. And God bless Truby Trio for giving it to some of us one sweaty Saturday night in Los Angeles.
Like a lot of people, I first discovered Rainer Truby and his partners-in-crime, Roland Appel and Christian Prommer, by way of a sunny slab of Brazilian house called “Alegre” and an equally cheerful bit of African-flavored nu jazz called “Carajillo”, both of which started turning up seemingly everywhere beginning in 2000. The similarity of both tracks to works by fellow German producers Jazzanova was obvious (and cemented when Jazzanova remixed “Carajillo” to great effect), but Truby Trio’s obsessions with Afro-Latin rhythms and jazzy keyboard hooks felt warmer and less mannered than the sometimes herky-jerky products of their peers.
Then came their scattershot 2001 contribution to the acclaimed DJ Kicks mix series, followed by this year’s uneven artist debut album Elevator Music, and my faith in Truby Trio as dance music’s latest polyrhythmic saviors began to wane. They seemed far too interested in wild, eclectic sonic experiments and not enough interested in perfecting the sound they had pioneered on their earlier records. When they hit the mark, it was wonderful, as on the irresistible Latin/drum ‘n’ bass fusion of “A Festa” and their remarkable soul ballad collaboration with Joseph Malik, “Bad Luck”. When they missed, it was positively baffling. Whose idea was it to update the hopelessly dated funk lite of L.T.D.‘s “Love to the World”?
Despite all this, I was still looking forward to hearing an extended DJ set from this mercurial trio, and at the Larchmont, they did not disappoint, tag-teaming for four-plus hours through a mishmash of house, Afro-Latin, nu jazz, breakbeat and drum ‘n’ bass sounds that at its peak was one of the most exciting DJ sets I’ve heard in a long time. On an album, over the course of just 15 tracks and about 60 minutes, such eclecticism can become a distraction; on the dancefloor, over the course of a long evening, it’s invigorating.
Following an opening set by DJ Jun that was a little too long on hip-hop and reggae beats, Rainer Truby (a.k.a. “The Average-Looking One”) took the decks and quickly established a sexy, slinky vibe with tracks that layered plenty of Latin percussion atop classic house and salsa beats. Christian Prommer (a.k.a. “The Tall One”) came up next and wasted no time in flipping the switch, opening his first portion of the evening with a hat trick of great tracks: the new version of “Alegre” off Elevator Music featuring Marcia Montez’s sultry Portuguese vocals; a gorgeous remix of Latin Project’s excellent “Lei Lo Lai”; and a deeper, more percussive version of another new Truby track, the Afro-beat hip-shaker “Make a Move”. From here Prommer settled into more soulful, straight-up house territory, pacing his set beautifully to keep the crowd moving without wearing anybody out—it was only 1 a.m. after all, and they were scheduled to play until four.
When Roland Appel (a.k.a. “The Scruffy One”—looking stylishly out of place with hippie facial hair and a death’s head T-shirt) got his turn, he steered the music back squarely into Afro-Latin territory, dropping fiercely percussive tracks like Da Lata’s “Serious” and cranking the volume up a notch or two. After that, your fearless reviewer had one vodka tonic too many, and the rest of the evening was a blur of thundering snares and congas amid an ever-thinning dance floor, as the trio shifted into drum ‘n’ bass territory and more and more clubbers fled to the safety of the rooftop patio bar to get their last orders in before they stopped serving alcohol at 2 a.m. I fled with them, and when I’d sobered up enough I went home. I like Truby Trio’s brand of drum ‘n’ bass, which is jazzier and slinkier than most, but I still can’t dance to it, and all those trebly percussion tracks were not faring well in the Larchmont’s smacky acoustics.
Still, I give Truby and company credit for fearlessly mixing it up so much over the course of one evening, and even more credit for keeping a lot of people dancing through it all. If they were better known in the drum ‘n’ bass community, I’ve no doubt they would have had even more success in keeping the crowd moving; as it is, though the dance floor definitely thinned out, it hardly emptied, and the vibe was great all night long, as people were clearly enjoying this change of pace from the steady diet of house they usually get at clubs like the Larchmont. Clearly, the Truby Trio are still poised to do some interesting things in the world of dance music, and erase the disappointment many fans may have felt at the mixed bag that was Elevator Music.