DILLINJA with DJ SPINZ , DJ PRIME , MC TRAJADY and MC BANDIT at Funhaus (536 Queen West), Saturday (June 12). $15-$25. 416-703-4999. Electronic music and rock festivals like North By Northeast have always created a bit of a square-peg, round-hole situation. For previous NXNE fests, organizers tried to put together DJ showcases using the same model as the band nights - one slot per hour. But one hour for a DJ isn't much time to make a statement when you're just playing other people's records. The action of DJing has much more to do with reading a crowd and manipulating tension and release over a whole night. Just playing your top 20 records of the moment isn't much of a DJ set.
NXNE's focus has typically been on live electronic acts, which works better in a showcase format but tends to favour the experimental side of the music, a small sub-category of the larger dance culture. Not to mention that watching someone click a mouse behind a laptop is rarely visually stimulating.
The big dance showcase this year veers away from these models and instead bases itself on a good old-fashioned party.
Black Market Records is a new player in the Toronto scene, but it brings a wealth of experience from the UK and has already made its mark locally with high-profile parties featuring some of the most respected names in house, techno and drum 'n' bass.
Drum 'n' bass is the style highlighted this time around, and Black Market has thrown together a night featuring a great cast of locals along with UK legend Dillinja.
For a while, it seemed like d'n'b was being pushed out of the UK scene by its younger cousin, UK garage, which was slower and more melodic than the hard-edged sound d'n'b had moved toward in the late 90s.
Lately, though, UKG has started sounding tougher, and d'n'b has gone back to a more open-ended sound that embraces as many influences as it can within the confines of the genre.
D'n'b's original fans have outgrown their young thug stage and are now an attractive market for bars - the only way the music can survive in North America in the post-rave era.
Even though its main audience is now of legal age, the d'n'b scene still throws all-ages parties (like this one), which is vital to any dance music that wants to remain relevant once its core audience get real jobs and settle down.
Dillinja has been a key artist in the history of the form. He's been producing for more than 10 years, and continues to churn out tons of big tunes each year.
While some complain that he's saturated the market, his releases over the past year have been consistent floor-fillers. He's still got that hard and brutish edge, but elements of house and hiphop seem to be coming to the foreground again. Soulful vocals and melancholy chords get the crowd's hands in the air, and then a devastating drop into heavy metal sub-bass lines and clattering snares gets their feet in the air.
He's currently in the studio preparing to drop My Sound, a retrospective of his past decade of producing, which will also feature his big tracks of the past year. Saturday's gig should see the more recent ones played, but you can also count on Dillinja to arrive with a bag full of dub plates - unreleased test pressings that will give fans a sneak preview of the next year and help him decide which are worthy of proper release.