The fail-safe indicator that we’ve reached the sweltering month of July is the onset of parties in honor of America’s birthday. While people in other countries may view our Independence Day as a tribute to Will Smith kicking alien butt, there’s a little more to it than that — you know, like parties. This year, the folks at Shifty Entertainment decided to carry on tradition by inviting Superstar DJs Moby, King Britt, and a handful of talented artists to New York City’s Highline Ballroom to ring in our nation’s 231st birthday. Dubbed Muzique Moderne, the event got underway with an animated performance from hip-hop heads ThE BeATaRdS. Consisting of DeejayO, Capt. Planet, and UTK the INC, the group bip-bopped its way across the stage in an explosion of spontaneous big-beat turntablism and speedy freestyle flows. Following The BeATaRds’ invigorating performance, Dubtribe Sound System member Sunshine Jones joined Michael Sultan for a tribal set. Famous in the ’90s for legendary live performances, Dubtribe Sound System is also known for developing a grassroots approach to house music that helped define the word “community.” Although DSS officially disbanded in 2000, Sunshine Jones couldn’t ignore his calling as a self-proclaimed “House Head.” In the liner notes of his most recent album, Seven Tracks in Seven Days, Jones explains that he wants “to sing, make music, mix records, and most of all dance with my people, my tribe, in the smallest little holes I can find where no one’s hitting on you, and everyone’s free to smoke, drink, trip, and travel wherever they need to go in order to shake off the filth of this world.” With Michael Sultan intoxicating the crowd with mesmeric drum beats, Jones’ spiritually charged, re-vamped sound did just that, making a cozy new home inside the ears of countless frantically dancing fans.
Once Jones and Sultan had finished pounding hypnotic rhythms into the crowd, Philadelphia-bred DJ/Producer King Britt stepped up to the glowing DJ booth. Spinning under the pseudonym “Silkworm”, Britt got his big break dropping records for ’90s coffee-lounge hip-hop trio Digable Planets. After Digable Planets split, Britt brought his funk-jazz-hip-hop fusion sound to the production table — remixing songs for artists such as Tori Amos, Donna Lewis, Jazzanova, and Gilles Peterson — before releasing albums under his King Britt moniker. “As a kid, I listened to my Walkman every day on the way to school,” Britt once told writer Dustin Driver. “I would stare out of the window of the train and everything was so visual, so coordinated with the music.” As if inspired by the DJ’s childhood trips, the view of the dance floor from upstairs caught a packed crowd bouncing in sync to Britt’s funky beats. As the revolving spectrum lights transformed Musique Moderne into a Club 54 throwback party, Britt pumped a mix of tracks from Michael Jackson, Deborah Harry, Red Hot Chili Peppers, New Order, and Del Tha Funkee Homosapien.
Britt’s soul-food set prepared the crowd for the super-charged sounds of New York City’s own Kudu. Consisting of vocalist/bassist Sylvia Gordon, keyboardists Nick Kasper and Peter Stoltzman, and drummer Deantoni Parks, Kudu is known for fiery fusions of electronics, jazz, soul, and urban musics. Despite the critical acclaim Kudu has received for its use of technology alongside live instruments, it’s Gordon’s soulful lyrics and vocal tenacity that have become Kudu’s trademark. Gordon demonstrated her range as she sang “Bar Star”, the first single off 2006’s Death of the Party. Wearing a dark, yet flowery psychedelic outfit, she lent weight to the New York Times’ description of Kudu as “bracingly physical,” flinging her body up and down to the thunderous beats. Leveling a pulsating rendition of Death of the Party’s “Hot Lava,” Kudu ended its set with enough seismic vibrations to rattle the building and everyone in it. The final and most anticipated act of the evening was none other than internationally renowned producer/DJ Moby. Trivia point: Moby’s parents nicknamed him after the title character in Moby Dick, the author of which is Moby’s great-great-great-great uncle. As the humble hit-maker walked behind the illuminated DJ booth, the crowd cheered wildly. This was Moby in rare form, without his band or singers; it was just him, alone. Moving quickly into his set, he built minimal beats into a full-blown sensory rampage. Before he took the stage, I had the opportunity to ask Moby if he was planning to incorporate any of his own music into the set, and he responded with a “maybe.” That “maybe” turned into a “yes” when he slammed the crowd with a remixed version of his first hit, “Go.” Dancing to his own synthetic compositions, he soon welcomed our nation’s birthday with smooth transitions between big-bass house and trance. The party continued through the night. The next morning, America woke up to a rain-soaked 4th of July — ready to BBQ and see some serious fire in the sky. I’m sure it was great, but those who’d decided to start the festivities one night early at the Highline Ballroom were still asleep, and we weren’t getting up anytime soon. In some sense, I guess it’s a shame, but then, we’d already seen our fair share of fireworks.