Despite how my night ended yesterday, I woke up feeling a fair bit better. I puttered around the apartment, took care of a bit of work, and finally got around to getting my MySpace page up and running. I had delayed "publishing" the MySpace profile until I had at least one bit of music to upload as well, and that part of the project had been lagging behind. I managed to throw together a little track from two audio samples, some MIDI instruments, and a fair bit of audio FX--all of it through Ableton Live. Once I find a decent mp3 hosting site for all of the audio examples, I'll make a short "how I did it" post, explaining how I manipulated a few short recordings of my hand brushing and tapping the body of my laptop into an actual track. For the moment, you can hear the finished track on my MySpace page here.
Working on that track and then uploading it took the larger part of the day, so at 21h00 I found myself getting ready to head out. Although I wasn't due at the Rex that night until 1h30, I had two friends in town that I was going to meet for drinks and possibly clubbing. I picked them up from their neighbourhood and took them down to a bar/café on Place des Vosges that I'm particularly fond of. The food was decent and the beer was fine, but we had one of those especially saucy waiters whose demeanour seemed to waver between acerbic wit and contempt hidden behind humour. We took a little walk through the Marais and ended up in the gay district for another round of drinks. By approximately 1h00, we all headed off in our own directions. I was on a guestlist that expired at 1h30, so I had to make a quick dash to the Rex.
45: Kiki & Silversurfer Live, MIA and Mlle Caro
0h00-2h30: Mlle Caro
I zipped over to the Rambuteau métro station and waited on the platform. At first, the sign on the platform said "Next Train: 1 minute." After a minute, the number disappeared and the sign was blank. Another minute later, the sign lit up again and said "7 minutes." Well, there was no way I would make it my métro at this point, so I ran up to the surface and hailed a taxi. My hope was that the cost of the taxi ride would be balanced out by the 13€ I would save by getting to the line in time. Despite the fact that the Gods of One-Way Streets were plotting against me, we managed to make it there with about 15 minutes to spare.
I rolled out of the car and got into the guestlist line. There were maybe 20 other people there, so I was optimistic about getting in under the 1h30 deadline. Then, all of a sudden, the speed of the guest line decreased drastically. For every 20 people that went through the cash-only line facing us, only 1 or 2 would go through from the guest line. It was pretty clear what they were up to: when the deadline for the validity of the guestlist passed (1h30), suddenly the guest line started moving and the door man shrugged his shoulders, saying "You're too late, now. You'll have to pay full price."
A few minutes (and 13€) later, I found myself inside, eyeing the line for the coat check. It was an unmitigated mess, and I was wearing a relatively light sweater, so I just kept it on and headed off to the dancefloor. By the time I ran into Fantomette and Nathan, Mlle Caro had pretty much finished her set, which is why I have nothing interesting to say about her set.
2h30-3h30: Kiki & Silversurfer Live
As the music paused for a moment and I heard a lot of cheering, I noticed that they were switching from Mlle Caro's vinyl setup to the dual-laptop setup of Kiki and Silversurfer. I parted ways with the Be My Chose crew and headed up to the front of the room to get some pictures and video. After getting a few pictures of the two of them from the front (Kiki is the twinky blond one, while Silversurfer is the swarthy one with the hat), I went around the side of the stage area and took a few pictures of their laptop setup from over their shoulders.
Essentially, both of them had Ableton Live running on their laptops (which were both Dells, I think), each connected to FireWire audio interfaces (which allows the laptops to manage multiple audio and MIDI channels, rather than the built-in "line in" jack), each connected to an outboard midi controller (so that they can control the tracks in Ableton Live using physical knobs and sliders, rather than a mouse pointer) as well as a shared multi-channel mixer (I didn't count the number of channels, but you can see it in the pictures below).
While taking these pictures, I was interested to note a certain division of labor going on. Silversurfer's laptop only had one track playing in Live, which he seemed to rarely touch. On the other hand, Kiki had numerous loops on several tracks running in Live. While Kiki was entirely engrossed in the manipulation of the various elements he had running in Live, Silversurfer spent more time working directly on the mixer, manipulating EQ levels for the channels. A few minutes later, things shifted and Silversurfer started spending more time at his laptop.
I have to admit to being not as excited about their set as I had expected. Based on the individual tracks I had heard from them, I expected something a bit more minimal and glitchy in texture. Instead, while they certainly maintained a formal minimalism (i.e., lots of repetition, slow or infrequent changes), their sound was closer to a noisy, thick-textured, big-room techno set. While this in itself wasn't disappointing (I can definitely enjoy thumping techno), I found the pacing of the set kind of off. I think this is a common risk with live sets rather than vinyl. When you're working with vinyl, you have a set of "finished" tracks (although they're always "finished" with an eye toward being recombined with other tracks) that usually come with their own well-proportioned topography. As long as you line up the next track with a breakdown or an upcoming climax, you can usually be assured a great overall pace at the 5-10 minute level. Outside of that, it's still very much up to the DJ's selection skills to create trajectories and pacing that span the entire set.
Live sets, on the other hand, tend to come out of improvisation with a collection of pre-made materials (loops, samples, etc.). The form is much more open-ended, and it is up to the performer to think about pacing and variations of intensity at the 1-minute level, 5-minute level, 10-minute....pan-set level, all at the same time. As a result, the quality of a live set's pacing rests a great deal on the performer's ability to set and maintain a good large-scale rhythm.
That much being said, I still had a good time and managed to get a few choice bits of video:
I really like MIA's set a lot more. Her selection of tracks were a bit more microhouse and minimal, with an emphasis on complex, crystalline patterns in the high end, and punchy bass. In general, the pacing of her set was better, working up the crowd with "arrivals" and "departures" (see waaay back for what I mean by this) without becoming erratic or boring. She seemed to have a good feel of how long a particular "moment" should last before she moves on to something new.
Hot man-on-man action after the images & video!
During MIA's set (and also a bit during Kiki & Silversurfer's live set), I noticed a group of male friends who were hanging out near the front of the crowd and having a great time. Much like the homosocial behaviour I reported on way back at the Techno Parade (and which I've seen in many other contexts since then), these guys were engaging in forms of sexual play with each other while dancing--until a cute girl walked into their midst. One moment they were all over each other and mimicking same-sex sexual acts, the next moment they all re-oriented themselves toward the hot female in their midst their "divining rods" all pointing in her direction. As soon as she had passed on (and after usually some failed attempts at winning her favour), the boys were back to feeling each other up. While you sometimes see a bit of this play among (presumably) straight guys in North America, you rarely see it at this intensity: they were grinding on each other, crotch-to-butt, rubbing and pinching each other's nipples, licking necks and biting ears. Even when a girl might deign to dance with one of them for a moment, often another guy would dance against him from behind, forming an unexpected female-male-male sandwich (instead of the usual girl-in-the-middle thing). I think what stuck with me the most was how sustained a lot of it was. If, in Chicago or Toronto, your average str8 techno boy wanted to joke around with his male friend, he might approach him and grind on him / smack his ass for a few seconds but then quickly pull away and laugh, creating a certain "corrective" distance. In this case, however, these guys would casually grab their friend's hips and grind on them for minutes on end, without the "Ha Ha! This is funny because we're not gay!!" gesture at the end.
Anyway, I still haven't decided what I think of this, but I wanted to mention it and sort of add it to the "archive" that is this blog...
5h00-6h00: Kiki & Silversurfer Vinyl Set
It took me a few minutes to realize that Kiki & Silversurfer had taken over the DJ booth from MIA. Their vinyl set was better and well-paced, but by then I was tired and ready to head home. Keep in mind that about 24 hours ago I wasn't feeling very well at all. I kept dancing until the subway reopened (5h30) and then headed up to the surface and made my way home. I realized as I was getting on the subway that--aside from a few sips of water stolen from friends--I had not bought anything to drink while inside the Rex. I took a certain satisfaction in knowing that what Rex took from me at the door, I took back from them at the bar (in reduced consumption of alcohol). I know it's an empty satisfaction, but you'll have to allow me this one comfort....