May 1: Field Test 01, with Jason Fine and others
nlike my old blog, where I back-dated my reviews of EDM events so that they appeared to be posted on the same day as the party itself, on this blog I plan to leave the post date as-is, and instead include the date of the party in the post title. To those of you who used to read my old blog: whaddaya think? Is this better?
So this was my first night out to a substantial party after several weeks of hiding and nearly two months of working under a fair bit of pressure. The lineup itself was interesting (I’ve heard good things about Jason Fine, in particular), and when I read on the flyer that it was going to be held in a warehouse location, I was sold. On the day of the event, they revealed the location to be in the south-west of the city, about 2000 S. and 3000 W., in the triangle between the I-55 and the I-290. While that area certainly isn’t a “hard” ghetto like some other areas of Chicago, it sure ain’t Wicker Park, either. As you’ll see as the story of tonight progresses, this became an issue at a few points in the evening.
One of my friends, who was going to play the part of bartender at the party, sent me a text message saying that admission was reduced to $10 before 11pm, so I headed out a bit early to make it down there on time. Getting there early meant that I was able to park my car close to the location and on a large, well-lit street. I took some care to make sure that nothing valuable-looking was hanging around in my car and headed straight over to the location. I wasn’t getting a menacing vibe from the neighborhood, but a lot of my friends and acquaintances that had lived here longer than I thought of this area as pretty dangerous, so I was trying to be careful. Here the front door to the warehouse space, to give you an idea (with the street number deleted from the photo).
Well, the price I paid for showing up early enough to snag the early admission price was that I was maybe the 15th person at the party and only the second or third who was not directly connected to the party somehow. So I spent some time walking around the space and taking pictures before it filled up. As you can see in the slideshow below, the look they were going for was slightly psychedelic, rather D.I.Y., and otherwise pretty simple. The space itself was a “real” warehouse loft, with dirty concrete floors, a makeshift kitchen area, and improvised bedrooms made from thin drywall that didn’t reach to the ceiling (which was very high). The main dancefloor was easily the size of my whole apartment.
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For me, the space and the décor hearkened back to some of the smaller raves I went to in the 90s, held in warehouses and rented banquet halls; there was the same improvised and somewhat incoherent decoration, the emphasis on psychedelic visuals (a screen projection going on during the party), the makeshift bar (modern difference: now they’re selling alcohol), a bare floor, and almost nowhere to sit down. The crowd, too, felt like those early, pre-candy-raver raves, with an eclectic mix of people; I identified a few people from the techno/minimal scene, a few people that appeared to be from the “Burner” community (i.e., people who go to Burning Man every year), a few art school students, and otherwise lots of “random” people who were probably friends-of-friends-of-friends. Mind you, it still wasn’t anything like the excessive, campy, costumed, queer, messy crowds that I partied with in the 90s. If anything, the crowd at Panorama Bar in Berlin these days is closer to that.
Another thing that reminded me a lot of 90s raves was the relative lack of coherence between DJ sets. Back in the mid-90s, it was common to have a wide variety of styles represented (since the community of dance-music lovers was still too small to support genre-specific ones), so you would have 1 or 1.5 hours of hard techno, then house, then trance, then hardcore/gabba, then drum’n’bass, then breaks, and so on. It wasn’t always a hallmark-card array of EDM sub-genres, but it was always pretty diverse. That sort of thing is pretty rare, nowadays; even at the loft/warehouse parties here, you’ll usually just hear several gradations of one genre or group of genres, such as minimal house and techno, or trance and progressive house, or drum’n’bass and dubstep.
The DJs tonight weren’t hailing from completely different genres—most of it fit within a spectrum of techno and house—but the kind of sets they played were really disparate.
Joseph Sylthe started the night off with a set that began with downtempo house and slowly moved up to a more intense tech-house set; the mixing was rough around the edges, but the track selection was wisely-chosen for the opening slot.
Michael Serafini came on and slowed things down considerably, giving us sparse landscapes of slow-churning house and rather noisy electro; it was really lovely, but there was something out-of-place about playing “afterparty” house at 1am.
Phillip Stone took over and put in an excellent set of fine-grained microhouse and resonant deep, dubby house, bringing a lot of energy back into the room and giving the whole event a sense of forward motion.
Jason Fine came on with his set, which was excellent and ALL OVER THE PLACE (in a mostly good way): there was classic house, there was ghetto-tech, there was space-disco, minimal techno, and there was, of course, the shuffling, skipping sort of house that Detroit has been producing recently (he is one of the newest producers in this vein). The highlight of my night was when he played Giorgio Moroder’s “Midnight Express (Chase Theme)” ; that totally killed it for me. My only complaint: it was supposed to be a Live PA (i.e., a set improvised from loops and other “parts” rather than complete tracks), but the set sounded like he just had a bunch of complete tracks lined up in Ableton Live or something.
Mike Brankis followed with a live PA of pounding, intensely-focused minimal techno. Although there was a bit of a house flavor to the way he used hi-hats, the tempo and the relatively-even emphasis on all four beats in a bar made it sound much more like techno. The set was very, very good for what it was (i.e., pounding minimal techno), but it felt too intense at 4am. If he had taken Michael Serafini’s slot or maybe preceded Jason Fine’s sweaty workout, he might’ve found a more appreciative audience. Everyone seemed to be exhausted from Fine’s set, though, and not ready for another 1.5 hours of slammin’, so the crowd thinned out drastically. By the end of his set (5am), there was only a handful of people on the dancefloor and another handful sitting down looking entirely spent.
This wasn’t good news for Matt Main, who had to follow with a small and exhausted crowd. He took the right tack, immediately putting down a mid-tempo, deep house track. A few more people gathered on the dancefloor in support, but it wasn’t quite enough. The party promoters decided to end the party and told Matt to cut the music before he had put his third record down. I felt really bad for him, considering that I had seen him there since 11pm and he had hung around (and stayed sober) until 5am just so that he could play. It’s tough when you’re not the headliner, I tell ya.
Throughout the evening, there was also some tension around the police and the neighborhood. Apparently, the promoters had hired an off-duty police officer to provide security at the door, who helped prevent the party from getting shut down by on-duty officers. We got the inevitable visit relatively early on in the party—maybe just after midnight—and one of the promoters got on the mic, turned down the music, and told everybody that the police had allowed us to continue partying on the condition that they make the following announcements: be careful when you’re leaving the party; don’t leave alone; don’t try to flag a cab on the street (call for one instead); ask the security personnel to walk you to your car if you’re alone; don’t hang around outside. Understandably, the police were happier having a bunch of middle-class (mostly white) kids together indoors than wandering the streets of the neighborhood, trying to sober up and figure out where the next party is at.
Nonetheless, something happened at around 3 or 4am. The head promoter suddenly asked the DJ to turn down the music to very low levels and he yelled across the room that the police were outside dealing with something and that we needed to lay low and be inconspicuous. Word got around quickly that somebody had gotten jumped coming out of the party.
I told this to one of my friends next to me, who is a Chicago native, and she was unconvinced. “There’s no way you get jumped like that in this neighborhood,” she said. “I know this city and I know where I can walk safely, and I came here alone and walked from my car alone. Sure, the kids on the block belong to gangs, but they’re not the kind to mess with you unless you mess with them. They’re not stupid, they know that the cops know that there’s a bunch of white kids partying in the middle of the neighborhood and the cops are running a detail up and down the block all night. They’re not gonna try shit with the cops flooding the place. I’ll tell you what happened, some kind from the ‘burbs who doesn’t know the neighborhood and doesn’t respect it stumbled out of the party, probably fucked up, and got in somebody’s face.”
“He’s probably like this guy, “ she said, pointing to this short guy in a newsboy hat who had been getting increasingly drunk and obnoxious as the party had gone on (on the whole, this party felt more druggy than drink-y). “He probably came out of here all lit up and said some stupid shit to someone and got his ass kicked. That’s some bullshit right there; ruining it for the rest of us.”
While I wasn’t as sure as she was that the mugging/beating victim had brought it upon him/herself, she made a good case for why you should question the idea that this person was randomly and spontaneously jumped right in front of the building, on a main street, half a block from a train station. I don’t know what happened to that person, but eventually the police left, the music came back up, and we kept dancing. I felt relieved, and then I felt a bit bad about feeling relieved.