Sunday, February 11, 2007

Full Tilt

Live: DJ Tak (Drum & Bass)
Club Troop, Kobe, Japan

Part 1: A State of Mind

The last time I attended a Drum and Bass show was in early 2006, when DJ Tak hit Japan on one of his occasional jaunts from his adopted London. Tak is now resident in Tokyo and played a jaw-dropping set in Kobe last Saturday.

For more than ten years now we've been hearing that DnB is dead, but try telling that to the crowd at Kobe's Club Troop, or Drum & Bass Arena website, which receives 350,000 hits each month. With its in-your-face energy and skittering beats there is still nothing quite like DnB, and it remains far and away my favorite electronic dance music. You have to get out of the house to hear it properly, though. The calmer atmospheres of sub-genres such as Liquid Funk are fine for home listening, but you gots to check DnB full tilt on a mega sound system to experience its manic physicality.

Due to an injured back I'd vowed not to dance on Saturday, but once I fell under DJ Tak's spell, resistance was futile. I quickly lost myself in the veering polyrhythms, subsonic bass and relentless momentum of his creations. For true fans, DnB is a state of mind. It's as much about community and belonging as it is about self-expression, and I was swept away by the exuberance of the Troop crowd, a friendly and welcoming bunch who crave the vibes generated by "the psychedelic drum and bass" as one young lady described it.

There is something inherently ephemeral about electronica, and like other sub-genres, DnB thrives on mutation and innovation. The DnB at Club Troop seemed more hard-hitting and aggressive than I'd hear before. Wondering what further developments are to come, I asked DJ Tak for his thoughts. He feels that DnB is presently in a state of flux, producers and DJs alike waiting for the next exciting development. Whatever that may be, I'm sure it'll maintain the DnB tradition of combining complexity, melody and inclusiveness with an attractive underground vibe.

Part 2: Ear Protection

My ears were ringing when I left Saturday's event, underlining the importance of a good sound system to the crowd and the DJ. Clubs owe it to their customers to install systems which not only can properly express all the frequencies and dynamics of DnB, but which can also help to protect DJs and listeners’ ears at the same time. Sonic clarity is more important than volume when it comes to enjoyment and appreciation of this music, and all clubgoers know the frustration of trying to carry on a conversation when there's no decent chill area to escape the techno barrage.

Anyone who thinks extreme loudness is no biggie should ask Glen, a Kiwi fellow I was speaking to on Saturday. He explained to me that he suffers from severe tinnitus (constant ringing) in one ear. He's lost all hearing on his right side and the buzzing he has to endure is a constant irritation. After that sobering story I suddenly acquired a new appreciation for my comparatively healthy auditory nerves. Imagine if you were denied the pleasures of stereo, or, worse still, couldn't enjoy music at all.

Glen's hearing loss came about as a result of a childhood accident rather than exposure to loud music, but in the course of your techno travels you’re likely to meet many a DJ with tinnitus. Though too few DJs wear hearing protection, the smart ones own ER15 plugs, specially molded to the shape of your ears for $300 a pair. Drum and Bass top dog LTJ Bukem owns a $2000, dual-use earplug/monitor system. That's probably beyond the reach of most clubbers, but cheaper alternatives are available for the masses.

It's one thing to suffer for your art, but needlessly sacrificing your hearing seems to me like foolhardiness. Next time you get down with the techno tribes, do yourself a favor and invest in some ear plugs. Some added aural protection will make the experience that much more enjoyable and ensure you continue grooving to Drum and Bass for a long time to come.

Stream 1: Bassdrive
Stream 2: Drum & Bass Radio

Friday, February 2, 2007

Gimme Danger

Iggy and the Stooges (Rock 'n' Roll)
iPod choice:
The Stooges (1969) / Funhouse (1970) / Raw Power (1973) / Metallic KO (1974)

Sean was a real chancer.
Born of high-powered Irish politicians, he was the black sheep of the family. We had a lot of adventures together, mainly in and around San Francisco and down the west coast to LA.

Like me, Sean loved Iggy Pop, and we listened to The Stooges, Funhouse and Raw Power as we drove around in his souped up Chevy. We both agreed we'd love to meet Iggy some day. "Ah, but he'd probably just tell us to fook off," said Sean. I had to admit he was probably right.

One time we were on our way to see Iggy play in San Francisco. Sean was out of his tree - Raw Power cranked on the car stereo - practicing his handbrake turns in front of the Paradise Lounge at 6th and Folsom. Then, "for the crack", he said, he took off down Market Street in pursuit of some brothers, burning rubber and cackling hysterically. How the cops didn’t catch us I don’t know.

Another time we got thrown out of a biker bar in Hayward. As usual, Sean had managed to offend someone.

You don't want to do that in Hayward.

As we were leaving the bar we noticed some rough-looking dudes in the parking lot. They were trying to break into a truck with chains and crowbars. They eyed us threateningly.

Indifferent to the malevolence emanating in our direction, Sean enquired sarcastically if they needed a hand.

Not now, Sean,” I prayed, “I'm too young and delicate to die.”

They growled at us menacingly, gesturing with their crowbars.
“Get outta here if you wanna leave with your wallets and your watches!”

We high-tailed it toute suite. Sean was rattled.

“Good crack, eh?”
“Are you kidding?” I screamed. “Those guys were gonna cut our throats!”
“No sweat,” said Sean. “Put Iggy on. Gimme Danger, if you please.”

We finally ran into Iggy himself in a parking lot in Santa Barbara. We'd just seen him perform a kick ass show in a tiny club on State Street. He was short and muscular, accompanied by a burly minder and two gorgeous blondes.

“Great show, Jim!” I shouted at Iggy, as he was climbing aboard the tour bus.
“Thanks, man” he replied.

"That was Iggy," gaped Sean.
"Yes, that WAS Iggy."
“And he didn’t tell us to fook off.”

Later that night we were on Route 101 heading for home, Metallic KO blasting on the stereo. Sean had his foot to the floor, both of us high as skunks.

Iggy’s bus passed us near Montecito, rolling south to LA. We were leaning out of the windows, yelling "IGGY!" as it cruised by. I don't think Iggy heard us, he was otherwise engaged, but the sign on the front of the bus said it all: Rock ‘n’ Roll.

Iggy & The Stooges, "T.V. Eye", live in Cincinnatti 1970: