samedi, avril 28, 2007

Cooking, Drinking, Clubbing

Well, today started out as a low-intensity day and turned into a rather packed one. After getting out of bed rather late in the morning, I headed off to the open-air market at Belleville to do a bit of food shopping. I was having brunch at a friend's house the next day, so I was hoping to find the necessary foodstuffs to make a few dishes for tomorrow. In the end, I picked up a huge handful of hot red peppers and some brousse sheep's-milk cheese for salsa huancaína, a few mangos and some more peppers for my mango-jalapeño salsa, and a bunch of cilantro for a chimichurri-style onion pickle.

I took a break and had some tom yum soup and green papaya salad at a Thai restaurant in that neighborhood, then headed back home, with a stop by an Antillean store to buy some cassava/yucca/manioc. I spent the rest of the evening preparing as much of the food as possible for Sunday morning. Ironically, I almost forgot to make anything to eat for dinner. At the last minute, I whipped up some quinoa noodles (interesting, but I don't think I'd buy them again) and then headed off.

La Petite Maison Electronique @ On Cherche Encore

Nathan and Fantômette of Be My Chose were running another one of their "pre-clubbing" events at On Cherche Encore, so I headed over there to hang out and say hi. When I first got there, around 23h00, Nathan and Fanto weren't spinning quite yet (another DJ, 3c was on the decks), so I hung out with both of them and chatted for a while about what they had been up to since last Friday.

By around midnight, the Be My Chose duo took over the decks and started spinning. They use Final Scratch (a digital-via-vinyl mixing interface and program similar to Serato Scratch, discussed yesterday), so I spent a fair bit of time peering over their shoulders and watching them work. As far as I could tell, the interface was very similar to Serato Scratch, but without as much of the "visual aids" for mixing that Serato offers. Nonetheless, it was interesting to watch them a bit more closely and see how they organize their sets and how they manage transitions.

Transitioning between tracks, which is probably THE central act of mixing, is actually an interesting and challenging problem. Well after you've beatmatched your two tracks (i.e., adjusted the tempo of the incoming track to match the playing track and then lined-up the beats between the two), you have to consider how to bring the two tracks together. The most basic options you have include simply doing an abrupt cross-cut--cut the old track and bring in the new at the same time--or gradually fade in the new track into the old one, wait for a little while, and then fade out the old track.

However, not only are these methods a bit boring when used excessively, but they pose potential problems when elements from one track conflict with elements of another track. It may be that a set of musical chords from one track is in a different key than a melody in the other track. Or, perhaps there's some rhythmic ornamentation in the mid and/or upper freq's on one track that sound lovely on their own, but sound out-of-place when superimposed on those of the other track. Most importantly--especially if you're mixing without the help of visual aids for beatmatching--since the bass kick drum is almost always 4/4 in techno and house (and various other EDM genres), you risk creating some really awful beat collisions if your tracks are even microscopically out-of-sync. In this last case, the common solution is to "kill" the bass on one of the tracks (using the EQ knobs on the mixer, usually), mix them together, and then mix out the old track. However, there are many more problems and possible solutions to this situation, most of which involve manipulating the levels of various frequency bands (usually hi, mid and lo), using filters, and taking advantage of the structure of the tracks to mix in/out during texturally sparse moments, such as the breakdown or the intro.

So, it was great to watch Nathan and Clothilde doe their work and see how they make bring tracks in and out. While my dissertation project doesn't focus as much on the specificities of DJ technology, Mark Butler's upcoming book will apparently cover a lot of this topic. Plus, that boy has what appears to be many, many DJ sets videotaped with a good view of the gear, so he has a very enviable archive. At least I covet it...

Anyway, I didn't just exclusively trainspot on my friends. I did chat a bit with a few folks that I recognized from last Friday or from previous events. As is often the case here, discussion tended to revolve around travel and work: where you're from, where you want to go, how the club scene compares in various cities, what you do for work and/or what you want to do for work, what you study or did study, etc. As formulaic as it may sound, there's something pleasant and intimate about these rituals of mutual discovery.

By approximately 1h00, I headed off toward Le Rex to hear Apparat and Modeselektor....

Apparat vs. Automatik @ Le Rex: Apparat, Modeselektor, Das Glow

[In case you're wondering, I haven't been posting flyers as frequently as before, because Flyerweb database hasn't been as comprehensive as before. Not sure why...]

???-3h00: Apparat

I'm not sure if someone was spinning earlier as a warm-up, but I got there too late to catch that. In fact, I only really caught the last 30 minutes or so of his set.

Even though I arrived there around 1h30, the line was surprisingly long. Clearly, Apparat and Modeselektor can draw a crowd. I ended up, oddly enough, sandwiched between a group of kids from the Berry region of France, and a group from Bayonne (France / Basque region). One of the guys from Bayonne liked my zip-up top and said so, which started a chain of conversation about where I got it (Chicago), where I'm from (Canada), how I know Chicago (school) and why I'm here (see before), and so on. As soon as I declared that I was current living in Paris, he asked me if I knew how long this lineup would take. Well, normally this would've been a 30-minute wait, but things were just a bit too busy for this early in the evening. Anyway, I said it would take probably more than 30 minutes, but even I couldn't have predicted that it would take almost an hour...

While we were waiting in line, the two groups of people started chatting a bit and making jokes about each other's regions. I've noticed that most of these sorts of regional conversations in France revolve around food: "I love that ham you guys make in Bayonne, but what's up with that cheese you make?" "Oh whatever, does your region even have cheese?" "Are you nuts? Haven't you even heard of the crottin du Bery?! Hey, Alice, check this out: this guy is insulting our cheese!" "Oh, now it's ON." And so on... Anyway, it all seemed like good-natured fun, as evidenced by the fact that both groups were soon sharing beer and joints while waiting in line.

When we finally got in (2h30!!), I parted ways with the group (they were busy trying to get bottle service), checked my coat, and then headed over to the front of the club to see what was going on. The guard at the door had told me there were no pictures allowed, so I had to be pretty stealthy about taking photos and video. As a result, I don't have any good photos of Apparat, and the only video I have of him actually shows more of the two guys from Modeselektor in the foreground, with Apparat (in the black shirt, scraggly hair) working on his laptop in the background.

Apparat's set (what I heard of it) was really good, but not particularly danceable. Although everyone around me seemed to be very much enjoying his set, it was hard to be inspired to do much more than bob your head rhythmically. The set seemed like somewhere between "atmospheric" broken-beat and trip-hop. Lots of long, sustained effects over churning but somehow static beats. Anyway, I managed to sneak a video, so you can get an idea of the sound:

3h00-5h00: Modeselektor

By the time Modeselektor came on, the house was PACKED with people, so I barely moved at all from my spot. I only shifted back and forth to avoid this one group of guys near me that were determined to start a mosh pit (yeah, you can imagine how well that went down). Also, there was this tall guy next to me who nearly took my eye out with his elbows. Oh, and there was this other really drunk guy who had a lit cigarette in his hand as he danced, waving it around at eye-level. I began to feel very protective of my eyes...

Anyway, Modeselektor's set was mostly fantastic. The majority of the set fell within that "minimal" category here in Europe that seems to sit somewhere between minimal techno and microhouse. However, this was definitely one of those minimal-maximal sets, where the textures and structures might be minimal, but the sound was set for maximum intensity. They kept the bass LOUD for the entire set, while managing to keep the hi's and mid's at a level that wasn't hard on the ears. I could describe their sound more, but I actually managed to get a whopping 7 snippets of video of them, so you can listen yourself. Unfortunately, my camera doesn't pick up bass very well, so you have to imagine a very heavy bass kick under all of this. It's amazing how different a track sounds when you cut out all the bass frequencies.

Either way, it was a very high-intensity set, and everyone was going crazy. Both members of the duo had great stage presence as well, yelling at the crowd, gesturing, mimicking ass-slapping, and generally looking like they were having a great time. They were also wearing these cute t-shirts that said "I am Gernot's left hand" and "I am Szary's right hand." I'm guessing that this had something to do with Gernot's hand being bandaged (the guy with the shaved head); apparently there were supposed to have done a live set, but instead they did a vinyl set because Gernot's hand was all busted.

Toward the end of the set, things took an odd but amusing turn, as they moved through classic Detroit techno (Jeff Mills!) through to happy hardcore and gabber, through to French rap tracks, and ending with this hilarious and campy electronic version of J.S. Bach's Prelude in C that sounds a lot like something Wendy Carlos did. In the last three videos below, you can hear them drop two classic techno tracks (Jeff Mills' "The Bells," and I think "Jerical") as well as a hardcore track. This last recording is muffled and black because the security guards had seen me taking video and told me to put my camera away. Nonetheless, I couldn't resist recording some of that! Also, one of the French rap tracks they played is currently available to listen on their Myspace page (click on "BANDE DE MECS SYMPA").

5h00-6h00: Das Glow

At least, I think it was Das Glow. Anyway, he started up a relatively hard techno set, which quickly got rather noisy and then made its way into a bit of electro and house. In another situation, I might've really enjoyed it, but I was already a bit tired from the madness that was Modeselektor's set, so I started to get ready to leave.

As I was heading out of the club, who should I see but Nathan! Since he hadn't actually slept since Friday, he had told me back at On Cherche Encore that he was going to bed after his set. Somehow, he had managed to find a second wind, as he was cheerfully dancing up a storm. He introduced me to a bunch of his friends, who I recognized from On Cherche Encore earlier that night. I stayed with them for a little while and danced, but then eventually threw in the towel and headed home.

Getting home was a bit crazy. I tried to take the night bus and some guy tried really aggressively to sell me hash. When it became clear that he wasn't going to leave me alone, I headed off to the métro station to wait for the métro to start running. At 5h30, the station opened and headed in. For some reason, the first train took nearly half an hour, and when it did come, two guys were about to have a fight in my car. As is almost always the case, it was less a violent encounter and more an opportunity for both males to grandstand and show off their manly selves in front of their friends, who were making a big show of holding them back. When I got off several stations later, they were still yelling at each other, with not actually physical contact. Boys!

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