The dust has settled. The last of the overpriced beers have been consumed, the worst of the collective comedowns negotiated, the final cigarettes extinguished. The sixth annual Brooklyn Electronic Music Festival (BEMF) wrapped up a few weeks ago (November 8-10, 2013) and with its end, a whole host of established and rising musicians, all uniquely talented, made their presence known in New York City.
But that’s now. Time to go back a couple of weeks, and capture a few moments that made this festival experience special. Staff writers Joey Giaramito and Sarvesh Ramprakash bring you: the BEMF 2013 Experience.
I close my eyes.
To my right, I can hear Kinect-mediated synthesizer glissandos, shaky laughter, and the unmistakable click of a DSLR camera shutter in burst mode. To my left, pounding techno and the rustle of wristbands against jackets. All around me, the low-frequency drone of innumerable conversations, lubricated no doubt by the free Sailor Jerry’s and ginger beer offered in the next room.
I open my eyes.
Is this really happening? Have we managed to weasel our way into the Ray-Ban x Vice party at the Williamsburg space known only as Villain merely three hours into arriving in NYC? Are we going to be listening to electronic music for the entirety of the coming weekend? Well, alrighty then. Let’s do this.
We stay for a little while, exchange pleasantries with an acquaintance, and avail ourselves to the amenities before stumbling out towards Output.
Thursday, November 7, 2013: Skream
We arrive at Output to the last few tracks of Oneman’s set to an environment best described as a sauna rave. The audience is packed shoulder to shoulder, coats strewn over the front lip of the stage to avoid paying for coat check. Laser lights poke frenetic lines through the fog and sweat, and we take care moving through the crowd to avoid bumping into dancers in between light strobes.
Skream (Oliver Jones), hosting the first Skreamizm show to be held outside the UK, put on an outstanding performance. His track selection varied wildly between acid house, deep house, and disco, leaning towards old-school disco as the night wore on. Amusingly, one of his transitional tracks was an electro rendition of Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe” with the vocals smashed through a vocoder. Oliver looked tired but overjoyed behind the decks and stood up at the end of his set to thank listeners and partygoers for making the show–and the US debut of Skreamizm–a rousing success.
Friday, November 8, 2013: Lunice
If Skream’s live sets operate at the edge of human sanity–the abruptness of his transitions between cuts increasing linearly with his BAC–Lunice’s set is a tightly controlled, well-oiled machine completely within its operating envelope. Used to devastating effect, of course.
Preceded by rapper Rockie Fresh, Lunice’s loud and bass-heavy set at the Music Hall of Williamsburg hit all the right notes with the Friday-night partying crowd. Opening with Kanye’s “Blood on the Leaves”, and featuring other Yeezus cuts (“Black Skinhead”) and Magna Carta material alongside his own material, the producer strode across the stage like a possessed man. That being said, Lunice spent nearly as much time enjoying his set and headbanging behind the mixing desk as he did pumping up the crowd. The cheers and applause at the end of his set were the most I saw the entire weekend.
Saturday, November 9, 2013: Oneohtrix Point Never
Oneohtrix Point Never, the most prominent of Daniel Lopatin’s many musical projects, was one of the two artists that sold me on the somewhat-scattershot BEMF 2013 lineup. The other was Actress.
Oneohtrix’s set at Glasslands was quiet and restrained, featuring mostly material from his latest full-length, R Plus Seven. Ominous bass rattles coexisted with silence and abrupt samples, and the effect was trance-inducing, but far removed from the ravey, dancey set the crowd (and I) was expecting. Not unexpected, still enjoyable, but I wished it could have been more.
Saturday, November 9, 2013: Actress
This. This is the kind of set that injects dingy 90s warehouse raves into the collective (altered) consciousness. This is the kind of set that makes me wish I could drop $1000 on plane tickets to Europe and squat at Fabric, Plastic People or Berghain.
Musically, Actress, aka Darren Cunningham, was in top form, mixing ambient interludes, hard techno, and bouncy, sampledelic house. Adding to the ambiance at 285 Kent were the stage decorations, consisting of reflective polyhedral balloon sculptures lit from the audience with laser lights. But the moment is bittersweet: given that Darren has announced his intention to retire his musical identity as Actress, I’m happy that I caught one of his final US festival performances but sad that I won’t hear more of his brand of blunted, snarling techno.
Sunday, November 10, 2013: Groundislava, Jerome LOL, Kaytranada, Jubilee
In the sort of charismatic, compulsive haze attainable only through repeated application of $1 King Cobra tallboys, I set off alone into the freezing abyss of Williamsburg for BEMF’s final night. Headlining the Thump-sponsored night at Glasslands were mainstays of LA bass music collectives Wedidit and Body High, Groundislava and Jerome LOL, accompanied by the precociously funky beatsmith Kaytranada with a final DJ set by Mixpak affiliate Jubilee.
A producer who is at his core just a huge video-game nerd, Jasper “Groundislava” Patterson has established himself as an exceedingly talented producer who isn’t afraid to wear his influences on his sleeves. His style makes use of lush backdrops alongside heavy 80s synth lines with nostalgically sprinkled 8-bit chiptunes. As a huge fan of him and the distinctly hazy “Wedidit sound” his crew has established, I approached the tall, boonie-hat clad lover of vape pens after the set, asking if it was him that my friend and I stood behind during Deerhunter’s FYF set this summer (Joey, asking the hard-hitting questions).”Yea man, that was me.” he said as he humbly extended his hand in thanks.
Shuffling between the entirely too well-dressed NYC youth, I had the good fortune of accidentally bumping into Jerome LOL (Jerome Potter) in the line to the bathroom right after his DJ set. A DJ and producer currently co-running LA-based label Body High, Potter’s music exudes a playfully crafted Internet 1.0-fused aesthetic, perfectly applied to club-friendly house music. His set, like his personality, was a light-hearted motley of tunes ranging from house classics to a few of his own tracks to some darker bass vibes and he spun the likes of Joy Orbison and Slackk towards his sets end.
The twenty-year old Montreal based producer known by the moniker Kaytranada was an act with a well-deserved aura of hype. His style is immediately noticeable–an original take on instrumental hip-hop with a penchant for funky, well-placed bass lines and highly danceable R&B samples, giving new life to a genre overburdened by recycled themes. A young gun who started producing from the tender age of 14, the now 20-year old Kevin Celestin delivered an extremely danceable, bass-heavy set, popping off club bangers with his brand of bass-heavy, funk-infused beat music as well as his love of R&B.
Finally, Jubilee ended the night on a high note, bringing to the table a DJ set filled with what I had immediately noticed missing from first glancing at the festival’s lineup–a substantial presence from influential bass music labels Night Slugs and Fade to Mind. Her set reached its peak with the surprise appearance of Night Slugs co-founder L-Vis 1990, who aided Jubilee in finishing off an night of inherently fun, yet likewise compelling electronic music.
Adopted as a customary procedure by now, I sprinted to the other end of Williamsburg towards Cameo, taking in face-fulls of frozen air to catch only the tail-end of prolific bass-music producer xxxy. Greeted with a much darker, almost criminally massive wall of bass, with fast-paced tracks borrowing from 2-step garage, Chicago House and God knows where else, any sentiment of creeping drowsiness plaguing my body in the wee hours of the morning were destroyed by his energetic set.
With its wide array of underground electronic acts, a cavalcade of talent drawing from both veterans of the past and newcomers alike, the 6th Annual Brooklyn Electronic music festival certainly had its highs, but suffered from a few notable shortcomings. This diversity of styles present served as its bane–as a standalone festival, it lacked a sense of continuity and its mixed bag of producers and DJs could be described as random. When compared to its previous year’s lineup, this year had a noticeable shortage of movers and shakers in the progressive electronic arena, largely resigning itself to a hodge-podge of unknown, stylistically homogeneous DJ sets with a light scattering of performances by cutting edge producers.
With the exception of local techno label Sci-Fi Fantasy, there wasn’t a huge presence from the Brooklyn electronic scene which was disappointing in light of previous expectations. This lack of cohesion in terms of the stylistic synergy of its repertoire was something manifested in the fans, who were themselves an interesting melting pot of NYU girls in club attire, veteran bass-heads, and the ubiquitous “2hip4u” Bushwick-Williamsburg crowd that we all know and love.
Despite its issues in constructing a cohesive, well-booked lineup of emergent game-changers, something which would have endowed it with an intrinsically purposeful goal beyond being simply an ordinary few nights of electronic music in Williamsburg’s clubs, the Brooklyn Electronic Music festival definitely had its moments of glory. Life isn’t perfect and at the end of the day, what’s more fun than a weekend of music in Brooklyn, a veritable breeding ground for the shaping and development of emergent art in all its forms? Truth be told, the high points of the weekend certainly made up for the low.
–Sarvesh Ramprakash & Joey Giaramito