Electronica's Kingdom Comes

Miami's annual Winter Music Conference

Jazz is a word bandied about in electronic circles, not only for its aesthetic connotations exalting the art of the improviser and the cult of the lone auteur, but also for its attendant imagery. Goateed hipsters in sharp suits are a far more preferable sight on TV newscasts than the latest police bust of a posse of scruffy ravers in desperate need of a belt with which to hold up their pants. Still, injecting jazz elements into electronica often has translated simply into watery beats underpinned by saccharine wisps of sax -- more Kenny G than John Coltrane. The German Compost label has neatly sidestepped this issue by celebrating the jazzbos who themselves looked explicitly to the dance floor for inspiration: finger-snappers such as Cannonball Adderly and Freddie Hubbard (whose Night of the Cookers album seems to lay down a template for much of Compost's roster). Tonight at Groove Jet, Compost stalwarts Rainer Truby, Jazzanova, two-thirds of the Truby Trio, and Michael Reinboth (whose work with Beanfield has resulted in some exceedingly infectious deep-house wrigglers), all get to strut their stuff.

Outside on Groove Jet's patio, Viennese mixologists Kruder and Dorfmeister fashion their own spin on somnambular trip-hop, transforming even the menacing sing-song thuggery of Bone, Thugs-N-Harmony into a dreamy lullaby. England's A Guy Called Gerald, famed for his "Voodoo Ray" back in the acid-house days, has reinvented himself with sideways excursions into skittering drum and bass. For his live PA here, he's joined by ex-Deee-Lite singer Lady Miss Kier, who thankfully is giving her own stabs at jungle DJing a rest and returning to her strengths: grabbing the mike and demonstrating the fine art of being fabulous.

Carl Craig
Carl Craig
Craig's Innerzone Orchestra
Craig's Innerzone Orchestra

Tuesday, March 28
Drum and bass is still regarded primarily as a British phenomenon, with its American practitioners shunted into the role of redheaded stepchild. Tonight at the Mission, the Yanks get a chance to shine, with the lineup standing as a veritable roll call of the domestic jungle scene. Miami's own Marco and Tea Farmer (residents at the weekly Beatcamp party), as well as Fort Lauderdale's Element are holding down the Floridian component of the evening with their abstract take on tech-step's chilly vibe and drill-like attack. Fellow hometown heroes DJ Craze and DJ Infamous should raise more than a few eyebrows as well, with their furious slicing, scratching, and general turntablist mischief -- no doubt chopping up several sacred drum and bass anthems in the process. From Chicago comes Phantom 45, from Philadelphia Karl K and Dieselboy, from San Francisco a good chunk of the Phunckateck crew, and from Houston BMC with MC Gremlin. As American drum and bass struggles to forge its own identity, it should be interesting to see if this assemblage of coast-to-coast talent points out any new trends, beyond the already-perceived eschewing of the Jamaican ragamuffinism of the genre's birth.

Wednesday, March 29
Dance music is too mercurial to ever establish a working canon, but the output of New Yorker Armand Van Helden comes pretty close. His singles just seem to pop up in everybody's sets, from the Chemical Brothers' live shows to the crates of virtually any house DJ within 500 miles of Chicago. Best of all is Van Helden's proud schizophrenia: How else to describe the mind of a producer that can concoct both the inventively raw, aggressively macho jeep beats of "Reservoir Dogs" and then fashion the luscious nouveau-disco of "Flowerz," with its sweeping strings, hair-raising falsetto-crooning, and a vibe so deliciously sleazy you can practically smell the amyl nitrate?

Also spinning on this bill with Van Helden at the Shadow Lounge is fellow New Yorker Todd Terry, who these days is known less for his classic late '80s house twelve-inches (many of which traveled across the Atlantic to become seminal British acid-house anthems) and more for his production work: It was Terry's radical remixing of Everything but the Girl that breathed new life into that duo's career, transforming them from adult-contemporary washouts into the flagship for urbane dinner-party drum and bass.

For this evening's showcase at the Mission, Miami's foremost (okay, its only) leftist collective-cum-experimental electronica record label, Beta Bodega, has scooped up a number of their cutting-edge brethren from around the nation. DJ Assault and DJ Godfather are two Detroit figures who have led that city's "ghetto-tech" explosion, jamming the already hyperkinetic tempos of Miami bass (as well as that music's, ahem, potty mouth) into insanely pitched-up techno grooves. Imagine Derrick May wrestling with the almighty Luke, and you still aren't anywhere near approximating how downright ludicrous this forced union can sound. Annoying? At times. But never boring -- traits apparently first honed after sonic field testing in the Detroit strip clubs where ghetto-tech first found favor as the pole-dancing soundtrack of choice.

Ectomorph operates on the fringes of ghetto-tech, a role befitting his current residence in Ann Arbor, Michigan -- a college town to which avant-garders, from the MC5 in the '60s to the Laughing Hyenas in the '90s, traditionally have fled when the boho life in Detroit proper got a little too malevolent. Like those storied acts, Ectomorph never lets getting out there supersede getting down, though the roots reference point this time around isn't the blues, it's the early '80s electro of Afrika Bambaataa. This isn't a retro move, however. In electro's analog nature and slippery textures, Ectomorph simply sees endless possibilities for turning the beat around.

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