Electronica's Kingdom Comes

Miami's annual Winter Music Conference

Monday, March 27
If you're looking to discover which big-name house DJs have jetted into town for an unannounced gig, there's a much more reliable option than relying on the grapevine. Simply drop by the Beach's Y&T Music and see firsthand which èminence grise is holding court amid the aisles there. That's exactly where New York City's Danny Tenaglia, reigning star of the gay circuit, was spotted early one Friday evening, listening to a stack of new twelve-inches. The records he seemed most enamored of though -- several dubbed-out minimalist techno outings on the German Chain Reaction label -- were a far cry from the steady diet of generic thump Tenaglia spins on his frequent local engagements. So, Danny, ahem, what gives? "I can't play that stuff in Miami," he replies with a sheepish shrug. "The club owners here would never go for it." That's a restriction that thankfully should be absent tonight, when Y&T presents Tenaglia in a thirteen-hour solo set at Club Space, a recently rehabbed cavernous warehouse whose downtown location should help keep clubland's stifling aesthetics at bay. Expect a sonic history lesson: Tenaglia has promised to work his way from vintage '70s Salsoul sides to the tribal-flavor remixes with which he established his name in the mid-90s, and on to whatever his little heart desires. Of course a diverse playlist is almost a given -- he does have thirteen hours to fill, after all. Music begins at 11:00 p.m.; arrive before midnight and admission is free. Best of all Space is fully equipped with a (better sit down for this one) parking lot.

Before we chime in with the rest of the media hosannas singing the praises of Moby, a few notes of perspective. For the past decade, prior to 1999's Play, Moby's oeuvre consisted of cringeworthy stabs at college-radio accessibility, the kind of electronic dance records that appealed chiefly to creaky rock-oriented critics grasping for a handle on this "dance" thang (and perhaps subconsciously identifying with Moby's bald crown). It was music that held little actual interest for the techno fans for which Moby was supposedly a standard-bearer. Furthermore the "breakthrough" heralded by the press on Play -- the melding of sprightly breakbeats with impassioned gospel chants and field hollers sampled from dusty old Folkways albums -- is hardly revolutionary. Chicago's Green Velvet (who spins at Level on Monday, March 27, under the Cajmere moniker) married a frenzied African Orthodox sermon to a driving house loop back on his 1993 "Preacherman" twelve-inch; Detroit's Moodymann did much the same on his 1997 cut, "Sunday Morning."

Armand Van Helden
Armand Van Helden

Setting the historical record straight, however, shouldn't take away from what Moby has done with Play: crafted a sublimely satisfying pop record, a naturalesque fusion wherein Bessie Smith tiptoes out on to the dance floor, throws her head back, and lets loose. For tonight's live set from Moby at crobar, expect full-band reworkings of much of that album, marred only by the kind of goofy frontman moves that make even the Spin Doctors' lead singer look butch by comparison.

With 1999's Programmed Carl Craig confirmed his status as one of electronica's visionaries, drawing on the language of sprawling '70s jazz ensembles, such as the Human Arts Ensemble, in the hopes of crafting an altogether new tongue. While it was a reach that at times exceeded his grasp, when it clicked, with Craig laying down coruscating keyboard vamps amid his live Innerzone Orchestra rhythm section, Programmed hummed with power. Of course it also was the capstone on a decade's worth of musical experimentation, from the android body-popping R&B of 1991's "Jam the Box" to the following year's spring-loaded, protodrum and bass single "Bug in the Bassbin" to the mournful synth peals of 1997's More Songs About Food and Revolutionary Art -- each of which would help redefine exactly what "Detroit techno" has come to mean. For his DJ set at Red Square tonight, expect selections that willfully tweak expectations while exposing many of Craig's early influences, from electric-era Miles Davis to the B-52's.

Many of Craig's records have been issued on his own Planet E imprint, which has of late been exposing a younger generation of Detroiters to the world; this evening's event is a celebration of that label, with a little help from some of Craig's friends. Next-generation Planet E signees Recloose and Common Factor both will perform live, no doubt madly banging away at their laptops in an effort to summon their boundary-hopping everything-but-the-kitchen-sink tunes.

Rolando is the newest wunderkind addition to the Underground Resistance, a group of Detroit DJs whose pioneering early '90s techno records were famed as much for their accompanying messages of Afro-Futurism and disturbing war imagery (often etched right into the twelve-inch vinyl itself), as for their stomach-lurching forward motion and teeth-grinding aural feel. Rolando continues with much of that apocalyptic iconography, but favors a much wider sonic palette. As his liner notes to The Aztec Mystic Mix state: "Many Detroit DJs hired to play abroad would modify their sets drastically from what they would play to an urban Detroit audience....The omissions of house, hip-hop, electro, Latin freestyle, and many other inner-city classics made for throngs of 4/4 beat drunk, rhythmically inept, media-controlled audiences that unbelievably have to go to different rooms or venues to hear different rhythms, beats, and tempos." Beyond his own set-list choices, Rolando's commitment to diversity is proven by his recent "Knights of the Jaguar" single. A string-driven scorcher that somehow seems equally at home seguing from Stevie Wonder's "Do I Do" as it does from Jeff Mills's latest paint-peeler, "Knights of the Jaguar" manages to conjure the same past-the-breaking-point tension as one of Sylvester's vintage disco barn-burners, yet maintains a timbre that's utterly of-the-moment. Just how it works is a mystery, but anyone who's witnessed the frenzied dance-floor response it unleashes knows Rolando has a promising future ahead.

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