Emerson Suites, Ithaca College, 10/30/2011
Part of my college experience has been the discovery of new music that a few years ago I would not have known about, regardless of the Internet’s capabilities of providing exposure to up-and-coming or underground artists and musicians. Although I have a soft spot for the aural atmospheres, textures, and rhythms of electronic and dance music, I’ll admit I’m not terribly well-versed in the big names of contemporary “jamz.” This past Halloween weekend’s Electronic Dance Party concert, held at Ithaca College’s Emerson Suites, was the perfect avenue to introduce me to the radical, shape-shifting sounds of three of electronic music’s current practitioners: Manchester producer/DJ Starslinger, and opening acts Shlohmo and Shigeto.
As a bass player, one of the appeals of electronic music for me is the sheer presence of low frequencies. Indeed, Emerson Suites was decked out with two sets of four speakers and six subwoofers, the latter which pushed so much air throughout the show that, standing directly in front of them, I could feel my heart and lungs reverberate within my chest cavity. Having had too many experiences with temporary hearing loss and tinnitus from loud concerts in the past, I came prepared for the evening with a pair of earplugs. Arriving half and hour before the show began at 8:00pm, I managed to catch IC student Phillip Chung, performing under the alias CTRL as a warm-up act. Though venue was sparsely populated during his set, Chung displayed a keen ear for mixing and matching, drawing a wide inspiration from house, techno, and breakbeat into his repertoire, and transitioning from song to song in a fluid and seamless way.
Shortly after 8pm, Brooklyn-based DJ Shigeto took the stage and injected the growing crowd with a solid set of complex instrumental hip hop. Much like Bay Area turntablist legend DJ Shadow, Shigeto delivered an intricate, highly textural, sometimes dissonant, but nevertheless infectious amalgamated sound. Impressions of hyperkinetic jazz, subsonic bass, uneasy ambient, fragmented IDM (Intelligent Dance Music), and urban rhythms permeated the building while samples of 8-bit NES bleeps and traditional Japanese instrumentation weaved in and out of the sonic mix. Though Shigeto spoke only occasionally to his audience during his set, his excitement for performing could be felt, as he sequenced his elaborate bed of cutting-edge sound with a collected sense of concentration. Though his audience was not exactly “bumpin’ and grindin’,” each and every one of us were swaying our heads, lost in the wave of sophisticated, postmodern soundscape.
Around 9pm fan-favorite Shlohmo assaulted the dance floor with a sound crush of intoxicating “downbeat.” Mashing up dubstep bass with psychedelic textures and hip hop swagger, the Los Angeles-based producer turned up the heat, sending everyone on the dance floor into a frenzy of sweaty skin and gyrating limbs. Having only been casually familiar with dubstep in the past (and once referring to it as “the sound of a drunk computer malfunctioning” as a joke), I was completely capsized by the wave of bass that erupted from the speakers. I was swimming in a sea of ominous low-frequency mayhem with an undeniable street spirit that, while welcome in any dance club, displays more sonic sophistication than your typical Top 40 hit. Shlohmo was friendly and engaging, dancing along to his own mixes, plopping himself in front of the stage and eagerly planting high-fives to everyone hanging onto the barricade, and at one point even made a shout out to Gus Griswald from the Disney cartoon series Recess. His wicked performance set the stage for the main attraction that spooky evening, as Star Slinger made his grand appearance around 10pm to rapturous applause.
If electronic dance music is the gospel, then Star Slinger is a worthy preacher, as the flannel-clad Mancunian injected the energy of Shlohmo and the intricacy of Shigeto into an infectious collage of sound that drew upon everything from soul to shoegaze, hip hop to house, dubstep to downbeat. There wasn’t a dull moment to be had while Star Slinger stood as his laptop-cum-pulpit, effortlessly weaving together more genres of dissimilar musical styles than I could name or recognize into a cohesive, flawless, and overall fun experience. His skills as a producer justify the argument made for dance music as a valid genre, and the laptop as a legitimate instrument. With syncopated and assertive rhythms and melodies both fragmented and resolved, Star Slinger brought everyone in the room, including myself, and I suspect Shigeto and Shlohmo, who sang his praises all evening, into an elevated state of euphoria and transcendence. His entire set, a full hour’s worth of music with two generous encores, indulged my appetite for oscillating sub-bass and uninhibited dancing, and after his marvelous set came to an end, I could only crave more.
The best concerts have always made me wish I could sustain my feelings of joy and sheet exhilaration forever, and Star Slinger was no exception. It made no difference that I wasn’t familiar with the music of any of the featured artists, I walked away from Emerson Suites that chilly October evening a newly converted fan. For me, this concert was a secular epiphany in which I could fully comprehend the sheer transcendent powers of electronic and dance music at its best. It’s all about losing oneself in the wash of texture, rhythm, and so much bass. Dancing is an escape into a world where nothing matters but the music and my state of happiness. That’s something for everyone to believe in.