samedi, octobre 07, 2006

Richie Hawtin, Nuit Blanche, and Space Invaders

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First, the Space Invaders. I found another one of his mosaics, this time a "serialist" one, on a small street in the Marais, south of the Marché des Enfants Rouges. This market is one of the oldest in Paris, having been founded in the late 17th century and named after the garments worn by the children in the orphanage nearby. The market fell into disuse by the early 20th century, but was revived in the later part of that same century. Now, it's a bustling market with a full array of vendors, including a special emphasis on organic produce. There's two green grocers (maybe more, I didn't look carefully), a couple of butchers, an Italian deli, a Spanish and Portugese specialty shop, a fromagerie, a couple of "oriental" (i.e. Middle Eastern/N. African) pastry shops, and several hot food vendors (Moroccan and Asian especially). Oh, and also a couple of florists.

Anyway, I met a friend there for lunch and we wandered the market a bit before buying lunch at a Moroccan place. As we waited in line, this British guy with a group of 8 people got on the wrong side of our food vendor. You see, aside from a few restaurants set up in adjacent buildings, most food vendors only have a booth, so they also keep a handful of tables in the alleys that run alongside the market. This vendor had only a few tables, and they were nearly all filled with customers. This guy comes along with his huge group and orders 4 dishes for his group of 9 (including him). As you might imagine, the vendor was displeased. He scolded him, but didn't do much else, possibly because they had also bought a bottle of wine. However, by the time we got to the front of the line, the guy came back and asked to order another bottle of wine. In other words, he was going to continue taking 9 spots in this vendor's very crowded real estate to drink another bottle of wine (keep in mind that a cheap bottle of wine would cost half of what he was charging for one plate of tagine or couscous) without ordering any more food. The vendor flatly refused and the Brit threw a hissy fit (in French, to his linguistic credit) and stormed off. This counted as my lunch-time entertainment.

After a quiet lunch, I did a bit of produce shopping (grape season!) and then we wandered off past the Space Invader mosaic, by my friend's place, and off in our respective directions. On the way, we stopped at this boulangerie on rue Vieille du Temple between rue Roi de Sicile and rue Ste.-Croix de la Bretonnerie. I think it was called Boulangerie Matineau. Either way, I got a religieuse (trans. "nun"; a pastry that is sort of like two frosted cream-filled doughnuts, but with choux pastry and really, really good cream) and a couple of beignets de pomme, which pretty much apple slices wrapped in doughnut batter and deep fried. Mmmmm.

I also found a Québécois restaurant which was, in true Québécois style, showing only the provincial/national flag of Québec. I'm sort of intrigued by the restaurant, since anglophone Canada tends to associate "Québécois cuisine" with poutine and tourtière. Oh, and beaver tail soup, of course.

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Nuit Blanche, from the
Hotel de Ville, looking to Notre Dame

The event for the evening was the M_nus party at Nouveau Casino, but this was also the night of Nuit Blanche in Paris, so I had to make an effort to see some of the sights before the party. Nuit Blanche is a yearly event that has been going on for 5 years, where the certain neighborhoods in the city stay open all night (till 7am) and exhibitions of contemporary art are mounted everywhere. (Click here for a review of the event from AP.)

At around 10pm, I headed downtown to the Marais district--which was one of the areas featured for Nuit Blanche this year. Greg, the same friend that had met me at the marché for lunch, had thought ahead to buy us presale tickets for the M_nus party, but the tickets were "only valid until 3am," which meant that I needed to wrap up my Nuit Blanche tour and make it to Nouveau Casino in about 4 hours; I was aiming to be there before 2am, because I suspected that the line would be really long and I didn't know if they would allow ticket holders to jump the line.

As I started from Hotel de Ville and made my way around, I noticed that most of the art installations were inside buildings and required waiting in a long line to get in. The advertisements had placed an emphasis on the use of public space for contemporary art, so I had been all excited to see artistic "happenings" all over the streets. Instead, certain public enclosures were turned into exhibitions, but the lineups and security guards made for a different kind of publicness. Also, considering that most of the exhibitions in the Marais district were in municipal or state buildings, you could argue that this was more about state space than public space (presuming we're following Habermas in locating the public as a space between private and state). Nuit Blanche was still arguably public (and certainly free of charge) but the spatialization and choreography of "public" wasn't quite what I had expected. On the other hand, it seems as if some of the other neighborhoods involved in the festival had a few more outdoor installations, so this impression might be skewed by the area I chose to visit.

With a fixed deadline and a 30-45 minute walk to Nouveau Casino ahead of me, I had to choose between waiting in line for one or two exhibitions, or wandering around the entire neighborhood, but viewing everything from the exterior. In the end, I took the latter option, which resulted in a short series of photographs of the few outdoor installations I saw, as well as some shots of building interiors when I could get a good angle. In retrospect, I should've taken pictures of all the lineups outside every building. That would've been an amusing narrative of Nuit Blanche.

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A peek inside Hotel de Ville. The lineup was apparently 3 hours long.
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Heinrich Lüber standing ontop of himself, while rotating (seriously).
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A closer shot of Lüber.
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This wasn't an official installation but I loved the idea. Hair salon turned into nightclub with the stylists as go-go dancers.
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Closer shot of disco-salon
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A trans-rights poster I saw while wandering around the Marais that night.
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0h00 - 2h30 : Troy Pierce

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At around 0h30 I started my trek towards Nouveau Casino, arriving there around 1h00 and getting in around 1h30. As I approahced rue Oberkampf, I felt a bit peckish and thought about getting a bite to eat in one of the sandwich/crêpe stands before getting in line. When I saw how long the line was, I decided to just get in line. After a few minutes of waiting in line, somebody came down the line, asking for presale ticket holders. I jumped out of line along with the other presale holders and we were taken up to the front. On the upside, I got to skip the line and get inside in pretty short time. On the other hand, I had to push through the bodies and glares of those who had to wait while we passed them.

The club inside was packed. 1h30 is still relatively early in the French/European club night, so it was pretty significant that it was this busy already. I imagined all the people still waiting outside and cringed at the prospect of an entire night squashed between tall sweaty people. I went to the bar and got a beer. Obviously, they were charging "special" prices that night, because a cup of beer (not a pint; about half of one) cost me 10€. That's about $12.50USD / $15.00CDN! That was the first and last drink I had that night. Before things got too crowded, I stopped to take a picture of the stage from the back of the room. As you can see from pretty much all of the DJ portraits I took, the mixture of lighting, cigarette smoke, fog machines and humidity made photography nearly impossible.

I pushed my way to my usual spot at the front of the room; if you're right at the front, it's often a few degrees cooler, you have a bit more space to move around, you get a good look at the action on stage, and if you're short like me, you don't have to deal with anybody elbowing you in the face. Unfortunately, it was just as packed at the front, and real estate against the stage was in high demand, so I had to settle for putting my bag on the stage and then dancing a few rows back. As people in front of me moved away to get a drink or go to the bathroom, I would push forward. This has always served me well as a strategy for scoring front-row spots, but the last person ahead of me, the one holding the coveted stage spot, was recalcitrant. He looked pretty high and didn't seem to feel the need to get a drink or go to the washroom. Also, he had eye-watering B.O., which I suspect he used as his "secret weapon" in an attempt to deter me. Occasionally, he would lean over against the stage and stick his ass out, bumping into my crotch. I don't know if he thought that was going to discourage me by invading my intimate space, but that was one tactic I could handle. In the meanwhile, a girl leaning against the stage a few spots over suddenly hunched over, vomited, wiped her mouth, and kept on dancing. Some of it got on the stage. One of her friends hurried over to check on her and, himself high as a kite, subsequently sat on the stage, right on top of the spattering of vomit.

What about Troy Pierce's set? It was good, although not thrilling. He mostly stuck to a minimal techno set, with occasional tracks that ventured into the microhouse end of the spectrum. The mixing technique was spot-on and all the tracks selected were great, but the level of intensity was a bit low. Since he was the opening DJ, I suspect he sort of had his hands tied. It's pretty poor form to upstage the headliner (i.e., Richie Hawtin); if you spin a hard, thrashing set, the crowd will be exhausted afterwards and the headliner will have a much harder time setting the "vibe" in the room (or so the theory goes). Either way, it was what it was: an opening set—and I certainly didn't refrain from dancing.

2h30-3h30 : Gaiser

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Gaiser's set was a bit more intense, and a bit more on the microhouse end of the spectrum (although the entire night was very techno-centric, so it's still miles away from Chicago House). Sometime during the set, Greg caught up with me. Apparently, he was able to jump the line as well with his presale ticket. At that point, I was still fighting for a space at the front of the room, so he joined me in the struggle and otherwise got down to Gaiser. By this time, the population density in the building was incredible, and it seemed like they were ALL chain-smoking. I've been in smoky clubs before, but this was eye-watering.

3h30 : 6h30 : Richie Hawtin

As Gaiser began to wrap up his set, Richie walked on stage to check his setup; his mere presence elicited a round of cheers/screams from the audience. I'll admit, I cheered too. I've been seeing Richie at parties since 1996 (his birthday party in Toronto was one of my first raves). Although he has sometimes disappointed me with a set, he much more usually delights and occasionally astounds, so I'm always excited to see him spin. As the set started, I was worried that he was going to spin one of his lower-intensity, "ambient techno" sets which he occasionally does. Those sets can be quite complex and beautiful, but entirely inappropriate to the feel of this particular evening. However, after a somewhat abstract opening track, he dropped a thick, bassy track into the mix and the intensity was set to "high."

It occurred to me that Richie has a particular way of organizing his set that allows him to be both a high-intensity "party" DJ and an intellectual, abstract, "conceptual" DJ at the same time. He starts with a track that is abstract or atmospheric, or minimal but low-intensity and very sparse. Then, he highlights one or two aspects of that track, tweaks them to create exciting or interesting sounds (e.g., running it through an effects box such as echo or delay, messing with the EQs), uses this to create a rise in tension and expectation, and then drops a thick, bassy, pounding, "big room techno" track. Rinse and repeat. It's not that I'm accusing him of being formulaic (and I'm not necessarily against formulae either) but rather I'm interested in how he incorporates low-key, abstract tracks that lean towards IDM, into a high-intensity, dance-oriented party setting. In many ways, this sort of reminds me of episodic form in music—except the main musical theme is not the same material, but different tracks with similar textures/intensities. Much like Bach fugues, there's a feeling of departure and return; much like the episodes in a Bach fugue, there's a heightened tolerance for unusual or experimental sounds tied to an ever-increasing anticipation of the main theme's (or, in this case, the main texture's) return. Whether or not it is or should be assimilable to other musical forms at other times, there is a certain elasticity in Richie Hawtin's sets that definitely works with his crowds.

Of course, now would be a good time to reference Mark J. Butler's writing on the topic of form in DJ sets, but I don't have his book, Unlocking the Groove, in front of me right now (it's at work), so I'll post an addendum sometime soon.

6h30-8h30 : Heartthrob

At some point near 5h30 or so, Greg threw in the towel and headed home. I stayed around to hear Heartthrob, who was great at the M_nus party at the Detroit Electronic Music Festival last May. This time, his set was fantastic. He did a live set from his laptop and it reminded me a lot of Mikael Weill's laptop set from the Katapult afterparty two weeks ago. Unlike Richie's set, this was solid, punchy techno and tech-house. Unfortunately, I also threw in the towel around 7h00. I was beat and dehydrated and I had done a lot of walking during Nuit Blanche, so my feet were really sore. I wanted to stick around and see Matthew Dear, but he was scheduled to come on around 8h30 and I knew I wouldn't make it till then. Also, I've seen Dear a bunch of times over in Chicago.

After a long night of dancing, I stumbled out of the bar. On my way out, I was told to exit through the café. It was then that I realized that the adjoining café, Charbon had been turned into a "chillout room" for the event. Ah, this explained a lot. With this rather large café added to the total space of the event, the club could get away with packing far more people into the main room and still remain within fire code. Thus the near impossible density of people in Nouveau Casino.

On the way home, I picked up a baguette and a bottle of orangina at my boulangerie, and then closed my blinds and fell into bed.

3 commentaires:

scruggs a dit…

thanks for the generosity -- it was more like a few minutes to 5:00 when I threw in the towel (same story: too much Nuit Blanche).

FYI: the disco-salon is where I got my hair cut last week. The one that looked like a gay club, didn't I say something about that at lunch?

nice coverage of the event and thoughtful commentary on hawtin

wayne&wax a dit…

sounds like quite a night. sorry i couldn't be there to dance alongside y'all. your assessment of hawtin's sets sounds spot-on to me.

btw, curious to hear what you think of butler's book, LMGM; been meaning to give it a good read myself.

LMGM a dit…

Greg: Either way I think you were there for the better part of the set. Unfortunately, you missed Heartthrob, who was both really good and kinda cute (in a cheek-pinching sort of way).

Wayne: Reference to Butler's book coming soon! I'm hesitant to post a review of the book for a few reasons: 1) it would turn into an academic-style review, which would take ages to write; 2) I'm good friends with Mark; 3) the book is at work and every time I'm in my office, it seems like everybody's laptops explode simultaneously and I'm busy from the moment I arrive to the moment I escape while no one's looking.

anyway, there will be a tie-in sometime soon. As soon as I post about my adventures with Traktor. Who knew Paris would be so time-consuming? =]