A lot of people did a double take when they saw the flyer promoting Denise Benson's CD release party for her Gay mix CD on Stickmen Records at System Soundbar Saturday. This big all-night dance club usually features pounding jackhammer beats and throbbing progressive, not the deep, laid-back jazzy grooves that Benson is known for. It's the kind of place that instructs even funky Chicago house DJs to play harder than normal, because they know what their crowd wants.
Benson adjusted to the vibe well, dropping one of the hardest, fastest sets heard from her in some time.
Surprisingly, the deeper tracks she started sneaking in toward the last hour of her set seemed to get a better reaction than the more obvious, dark, tribal-influenced thumpers that she use to warm up the crowd. Also popular with the dance floor were her excursions into contemporary electro, although she played it pretty safe, keeping to the obvious anthems.
It was weird to see her in this environment but refreshing to have her playing for a big room at prime time instead of being relegated, as she sometimes is, to lounges and side rooms.
Word on the street is that System will be showcasing more deep funky techno, so they may be aiming to integrate more of the local scenes into their lineup. Probably the best direction for larger venues, since the fragmentation of the city's dance music scenes, combined with dwindling attendance overall, has forced promoters to reconsider the niche marketing that was successful in the past.
It's beach party season again, and it seems that last year's trend of informal Sunday-afternoon Cherry Beach parties has succeeded as a way of avoiding the noise complaints that plagued the previous tradition of Saturday-night lakeside bashes. The Promise boys threw one last Sunday, bringing in a modest sound system and a variety of quality local techno, house and dub DJs to serenade the sunset.
A DJ unfamiliar to many, Lewis Kaye -- a name to watch for if he starts playing out more often -- impressed partiers with his smooth deep techno and house set. Kaye left Steve Yanko in a good position to get the dancers moving, which Yanko proceeded to do with one of his trademark funky, soulful house sets. Good vibes, decent-sized crowd, good music, sunshine and the lake made it a memorable event, and hopefully a precursor to more free outdoor bashes.
Every once in a while a DJ finds the limit of how deep the local soulful house scene is willing to go. Jephté Guillaume found that limit last Friday at Una Mas. He almost cleared the floor a few songs into his set with an oceanic techno track that, while beautiful, wasn't what the crowd wanted to hear after being warmed up with lots of upbeat vocal house by the Solid Garage residents, the Groove Institute.
Guillaume played some powerfully intoxicating music, but it took patience to really appreciate it. He barely mixed any of the records and favoured epic, obscure nuggets over current anthems.
On the other hand, clearing out the curious early on left a crowd willing to listen, including more than a few DJs bobbing their heads to the tunes. New York-based producer Ron Trent was seen dancing up a storm. Considering how much he's been here lately, why doesn't he just move here?