Some Thoughts On Frequency @ Warehouse Last Month (Mark Radford B2B Carnao Beats / Lance Morgan / DJ Majesty / Joshua James and others)
One of the many perils of committing every thought you have to bandwidth is that all your misjudgements and gaffes are written on a public wall for all to see, for as long as the servers aren’t swallowed by a tidal wave. When it comes to music, I write a lot, and misjudge even more. Deep tech was something I predictably got wrong, and got wrong publically. At first my misjudgement was total, and shameful. I basically said it was a bit boring. Then I reviewed my position, and said that it was alright cos it sounded a bit like dubstep. Another howler that will plague me til I die.
Having listened to DJ Continuum’s best of 2013 mix, having heard Amine & EDGE’s nowt less than seminal remix of Carnao Beats “Know My Name” and Hugo Massien’s equally anthemic remix of Nightshift’s Nas-sampling “Made U Look’” and - crucially - having seen Lance Morgan play out at Bristol’s Bodynod night, I was primed to get things wrong again, though less disastrously:
"Is this music the music of unity, of P/L/U/Rs hugging and blowing their airhorns? To some extent, but also not quite. When I went to see Lance Morgan play at Bodynod in Bristol recently, I noticed that the so-called ‘shuffling’ style of dancing, while potentially communal (I saw couples/couples-to-be dancing like this), is more usually solitary, a boxed-in aggressiveness which perhaps echoes or dramatises the sort of (justifiably) wary and paranoid psychology that the aforementioned vocal draws on.
Maybe this is the more brutally honest flip-side to the mainstream success of acts like Disclosure and A*M*E - who have made great pop-house tunes but are also quite bland, really? We really are yearning, I think, for something to liberate us from our class-ridden, reactionary, frightened society, our implicit belief in the ”BROKEN BRITAIN” tabloid diagnosis of our country. We want something that will make us dance together. Perhaps, especially in the middle of society, we feel we ARE together, bound so by our consumer products, our smartphones and our Movembers and so on. But a style of music that creates a crowd of more (temporarily) isolated individuals is perhaps symbolic of what life under neoliberalism is really like - competitive, aggressive, stand-offish?”
Here, enthusiasm got the better of me, whereas before it was my lack thereof. I wanted (as most writers do) to understand things intellectually, to decode physical movements so as to yield some sort of unconscious social critique. Now its time for another look at Deep Tech, through the slightly drug-frazzled lens of a post-rave enthusiast, and no doubt I will get things wrong again.
Actually, one thing I realised on Saturday night at Frequency in Tottenham was that somebody like me (middle class, sheltered, socially uncomfortable, a dorkazoid) will never be able to really “get” or describe what a scene like Deep Tech “is”. At least on a superficial level, Saturday left me feeling that this music is not meant for people like me. That it resonates so strongly with me does not change this fact, particularly.
I felt out of place at Frequency from the start. Firstly, me and my friends had to leave the snug enclave of Central London to get there, away from all the hip Dalston bars and tourist rammed super-clubs. Warehouse is situated about ten minutes cab drive from Tottenham Hale station, and is in an industrial estate. It looks like a warehouse from the outside. Getting into the club involved a lot of queuing, some negotiation with bouncers, a search and having my ID scanned into the clubs system. The crowd around us wasn’t the type I have typically encountered going out these last few years. I heard some Midlands and North accents here and there, but overwhelmingly Londoners. Racially the queue was mixed, but overwhelmingly black.
Of course this shouldn’t be a cause for concern in of itself, but - sadly - it was. At least it heightened my sense of alienation, like I had ended up at the wrong place, a cultural tourist who not only was going to come a cropper, but DESERVED to for wanting to in some way “slum it”. I had that same anxiety shooting through me that I used to sometimes get at DNB nights. Needless to say, I hadn’t been threatened or insulted once at this point (and wasn’t all night); I simply sensed that me and my friends (two London natives, at least) had strayed out of our depths. My suburban Spidey-sense was tingling, and I needed a poo.
We got in, and were presented with a quarter filled room, dark with strafing green lasers and a LCD display above the shadowy DJ booth announcing that “Joshua James” (never heard of him, but he was great) was playing. At this point still intimidated, I none the less was thrilled to feel like I was walking into a subculture removed from any mainstream or even underground (more on that term later) house nights I’ve been to. Already you could see the Shufflers - shirtless, muscular black guys, guileless, pubey looking white kids with bugged eyes, girls in sleek dresses, their hair pulled back, gaze fixed on the floor in deep concentration - outlined against the lights and smoke, doing their notorious - and widely, sniffily derided - thing, their feet shuffling and hopping like decks of leather cards on Pogos, their arms wheeling and circling and jabbing.
Shuffling is the sort of thing that older, more tasteful house heads absolutely loathe, for a number of reasons, some no doubt quite unsavoury, but the most salient of which is perhaps that it encourages egotism and alienation on the dancefloor, where house has traditionally offered communion and interaction between dancers.
Well, if that’s what they believe they’re wrong. Firstly, there is plenty of communion between shufflers. They approach each other, and I’m not sure if they’re being competitive or mutually appreciative. I can only guess that its a bit of both. Even those who, like your aged correspondent, are unable and shuffle are energised by those who do. The Shuffler also helps make the night as much about the crowd as the DJ. Perhaps it is an idiosyncracy of the club, but at Frequency I couldn’t see any of the DJs all night, even when I was fairly close to the front. They were shrouded in smoke and darkness. This is what rave is all about - not DJs as “personalities” , not fancy visuals or scantily clad dancers - just music and the ravers.
The shufflers, on top of all this, do a very important thing: they show you how to dance to this music. They might well have shown producers how to make it (though of course there’s give and take here). Certainly the music being played by Mark Radford and Carnao beats in their set did not conform much of the time to traditional ideas of house. (Radford calls this music “deep house”, but the word ” deep” means something entirely different than what you might imagine.)
Every sound in these tracks is HARD - on Warehouse’s Function 1 sound-system it all sounds terrifically weighty - jabbing, rattling, slapping. There are samples from golden age garage anthems like Little Man and dubby effects, but the most responded to tracks are ruthlessly pared down and Spartan (the word is apt, as there is something militant about the music and the rave, in spite of the celebratory feel). It is rigid and loose, as Ive written before. Perhaps this is because the beats tend to be quite straight while the bass lines are characteristically syncopated (if stabbing like a sewing needle).
Hearing these tracks where they’re supposed to be heard, with those who they’re supposed to be heard by surrounding me, the fatuousness of my previous analysis of shuffling hit me. There’s no doubt that this was a rave which was entirely happy go lucky - there are a lot of intense faces around, and shuffling is itself quite an aggressive thing; an aerobic stroppy demonstration and one which you sometimes fear is going to shuffle right into you. But shuffling is, it is clear, exactly what you would do to this music if you could. All those jabbing beats get your feet moving almost automatically. Your head drops (and face screws) as if your ducking headfirst into battle. (Just as Jungle naturally makes your arms flail like a Gibbon that’s miscalculated a jump.) Shuffling is above all, and despite its aggressive appearance, FUN.
Fairly early on in the night, me and my Red Stripe drinking friends realised that we were practically the only people drinking alcohol to be seen. Five pounds a can might help explain this, but what might help explain that price, and the omnipresence of water bottles, was obvious. The first time I really let go and started to enjoy the night was after I had done a nitrous balloon (they were being SD at the side). The sheer gaseous adrenaline of watching Amine and EDGE’s (can’t recall the name of the track now) drop made me laugh with sheer wonder, like some sort of born again Christian emerging from a river of pitched down Aaliyah samples and other assorted Burial knock-offs.
All night I’d been having non narcotic rushes as tracks dropped that were super dark, super hard, reminiscent of Sheffield Bleep N Bass - or evocative of it, rather, since I wasn’t THERE for Bleep’N’Bass. When Know My Name dropped it was a huge buzz, but it was actually seeing Made U Look drop that somehow sealed the deal for me. This isnt just house, I thought, this is London music, grime made danceable again (without using bait Eski sounds from 2001). There were anthems that the kids obviously knew to sing along to which I didn’t know - which was also great as far as I was concerned. How long since I have been to a night and wondered whatthefuckthattune is, often for fifteen or twenty minutes straight?