For 90-plus minutes, Alix Alvarez, a DJ of recent reputation, dropped a set of slinky texture, sultry tone, chunk beat house music at Boston’s Good life, a set that at its best sounded like a tone poem. In a tone poem there are no words; the tones speak both message and feeling. So it was with the middle portion of Alavarez’s set, powered by blues beats fat and big but also sultry and warm. Using the delicacy of tribal rhythm as his lead-in, Alvarez highlighted the voluptuousness of his blues beat. Much of this effect arose from his own tracks, “Champion Sound’ and “Fayall” especially expressive.

The music gyrated, bottom to top, side to side, and, working the basics — two CDs and a two-channel Traktor program — Alvarez inflicted one quick cut mix after another upon the music, shifting it from left foot to right and from haunch to haunch. Thus nudged and shaken, all the bodies in the room found themselves dancing to the pressure.

Unhappily, the room was barely half full of bodies even at one AM.

Alvarez’s chunky, shove-shove somewhat resembles the signature gait of master house musician Steve Lawler; but where Lawler favors toying the playful, Alvarez caressed the lascivious. It worked; bawdy is, after all, truer to house music’s roots; appropriate it was that Alvarez dropped lots of Chicago house style : a Mike Dunn, the Adonis classic “No way Back,” an entire sisterhood of chants; horn blasts; and the message monologue from John Ciafone’s classic “Club Therapy.”

So far, so great. Everybody was into it. But then, at about 1.30 AM, Alvarez ended it all and took a different route to somewhere puzzlingly else..

What he had on offer was a stream of old disco; but why ? Alavarez’s taste in old disco is sharp — Gino Soccio’s “Dancer” (pitched up), George Kranz’s “Din Daa Daa,”Loose Joints’s “Is It All Over My Face” (also pitched up) — but  what possible mood or feeling could an oldies show impart to for swimming on a chunky, sultry, slinky tip ? His oldies medley sounded like a long joke : music wisp thin dangling from beats thick as plum pudding.

It was not a joke that I want to hear again attached to an edgy set — unless next time the man drops “Duke of Earl,” “Gate’s Salty Blues,” or even Bukka White’s “New ‘Frisco Train.” After all, if a house music DJ is going to go tiptoeing back, why not go way WAY back ? And not on dainty cat feet — please !

Opening DJs Randy “Bison” Deshaies and Chad Spigner set up Alvarez with two hours of funky balls beats, blues twang, and psychedelic effects : powerfully centered on the self of the music.

—- Deedee Freedberg / Feelin’ the Music




Yesterday was a sad day for everyone in house music nation. Frankie Knuckles, the man whom many fans of the genre call “The Godfather,” died at age 59, reportedly of complications from diabetes.

Knuckles played a major role in formulating house music’s unique voice : the fey, angelic tenor singing; the low-riding, tape-distorted bass voice; the psychedelic effects, the keening metallic instrumentals, sad and joyous at the same (as was the singing). Working at Chicago’s Trax label in 1986-87, with singer Jaime Principle, Knuckles created two of house music’s archtypal songs : “Baby Wants To Ride” and “Your Love.” The first was rauchy, blues and funk, a mix of Prince at his girliest and Zapp at its most beastly. “Your Love’ was soul and gospel, even doo-wop, a hymn of physical sensual joy.

There were others who forged house music out of the many genres that it reshaped — DJ Ron Hardy especailly, Larry Heard, and Marshall Jefferson — and there were voices equally inspired a Principle : Liz torres and Robert Owens. Knuckles eventially worked with both Owens and torres and went on, after houe music’s first explosive years had cooled, to remix almost every soul and funk singer’s tracks into house music’s shape and sound.

He remained true to his sound — joy and pain in one embrace — even as house music deepened, darkened, and grew gluttonously physical. His work in the early 1990s with New Jersey singer Adeva made clear that Knuckles was not going to change with the times. And the hits continued : “The Whistle Song” became a staple of DJ libraries. Remixes of it continue popular, attested by their inclusion in Beatport’s current Frankie Knuckles top ten list.

Knuckles’s major impact on the music in the early 1990s was in discovering nnew talent ” Eric Kupper and Satoshi Tomiie began their careers working Knuckles’s studio sessions.

Knuckles also continued to show the way as a DJ. In live performance, his overlay mixes of track to track were triumphs of rise and shine, of strength, of swoons. He set the standard that for over a decade defined house music DJing : soul music in all its silky trextures, celebratory singing, harmony duets a la Ashford & Simpson, deeply grounded in soul music of the 1970s.

The turn of the new c entiury saw Knuckles’s old school taste losing much, even most, of its popularity; the new generation of noise makers hardly knew Knuckles’ name, much less his music. But in the past two years or so, Knuckles’s “Director’s Cut” remixes gained him new fans — five of his current Beatport Top ten bear this rubric. And after the success of Daft Punk’s disco-rmembering RANDOM ACCESS cd, Knuckles’s 1970s sound became quite the rage among people who hadn’t realized there was a Giorgio Moroder, or that Pharrell Williams had predecessors who mattered.

Knuckles passed just as his second popularity was rising to the top. Hopefully it will continue to rise and that the new generation now aware of him will take up his innovations — the best of them till unequalled.

—- Deedee Freedberg / Feelin’ the Music


Stefano Noferini dominated RISE Club in two hours of techno first, house music second.

Here and Sphere


Performing in Boston for the first time since Spring 2012, Florence, Italy’s Stefano Noferini dropped a two hour set on a dance floor less than full but more than devoted to his sound. Using a pc program running two channels only, swiping the mixboard’s knobs up and down constantly, Noferini pumped out two separate one-hour sets : the first, clanking dark techno almost 1980s industrial in texture; the second, a brighter tone plus a peppy step done in a major key. Noferini’s first hour sounded like giant robots growling amidst various kinds of jawbone booming — fantastical and seductive; his second sounded lithe and joyous, unexpected by the dancers but convincing enough to those who gave it a chance.

But back, for the moment, to the gargantuan. No techno master sports a construct as roomy as Noferini. Big and heavy, his signature sound surrounds, from underneath and all sides. His…

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We continue to feel the music even when the music doesn’t feel itseof.

Here and Sphere


^ at least his massive overlay mixes felt strong : Butch at the Bijou mkix board

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The first Boston performance by Butch, one of the top attention-getting DJs of the past four years, should have been highly anticipated by house music adepts. Yet even at its fullest, the Bijou dance floor saw hardly 250 fans — and that number did not last long. That his big dance floor hit “:No Worries” — for a year or more, a staple of almost every DJ set — reigned almost three years ago, with follow up similarly successful, certainly hurt Butch’s numbers. That his set sounded nothing at all like his current top ten downloads at Beatport surely hurt his keeping even that small number grooving till closing time. What was he thinkling ?

Puzzling it was to hear Butch — real name Bulent Gurler, from the ancient, Roman city…

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Satoshi Tomiie proved himself one of techno’s deftest and most imaginative mixers.

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^ flexible flirty techno, exotic and almost ballet deft : Tomiie at RISE Club last night

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If you, as a long-time fan of Satoshi Tomiie’s DJ work, came to RISE Club last night expecting to hear his dreamy, lissome, almost deliquescent house music — his signature for two decades — you found yourself puzzled. Until very late in his set Tomiie played none of his signatures. Almost 50 years old Tomiee may be — and, greying, he looks the age — but his three hour set was all about what DJs are dropping now, at the doorway to 2014. Tomiie played lots of grumbly boomy techno; and when he did lift the lid to give chants, streaks, and melodic echo a chance, even these effects felt edgy, uneasy in the headlights.

Still, this was no Chris Liebing or Lutzenkirchen factory work. Tomiie, who performs all over the…

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My latest DJ set review… Chus & Ceballos thanksgiving Eve — DDF

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^ severely programmed at first, almost free form later : Chus & Ceballos at Bijou Boston

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The dance floors that DJ duo Chus & Ceballos fill these nights are smaller  than they used to be — the part time fans prefer flavors of the moment — but in no way have these two Madrilenos lost even a nick of their sonic imagination, their rhythmic force, or their powerful blends of boom and boomier. At Bijou, on Thanksgiving Eve, a Boston performance date that has now become a Chus & Ceballos tradition, they played a full three hours  of music expressive, in two modes.

The first mode came severely programmed; Chus made few edits, Ceballos fewer. Yet the program was a strong bodied blues, and blues is, fundamentally, a strict form. Sure enough, strict led to loose, as an overlaid voice cried “dance away the blues, you say”…

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Feelin’ the Music reviews Victor Calderone’s two-hour encomium last night aty Bijou Boston.

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^ full tilt train trip into the mystic : Victor Calderone at Bijou last night

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There were two distinct parts to Victor Calderone’s masterful set dropped on a full dance floor at Bijou last night : the absolute certainty of classic train-trip R & B, and the limitless fantastical of an escapist movie soundtrack. Calderone laid down the law of train trip sure enough to carry an entire matrix of escapist sounds. Everybody got on board — his train-trip beats sounded huge, magnetic, commanding — and once on board, found all their imaginables piqued, tickled, salivated, gravy-ed.

Rarely have I seen a DJ dominate a mix board as relentlessly as Calderone last night. Deploying one channel or two, even three at a time, he left hardly any bars of sound as-is. He whittled, blended, jumped, stuttered, progressed all of his tracks — including such feasts of abstraction…

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Here and Sphere


There are some DJs and mix duos who trick up their house music as gussied as a drag queen. Others bend the genre out of shape, or clink it to other genres, or paint it with melody, all in search of a signature sound that, far too often, sounds more simpering than signifying. Then there are the DJs who strip house music down to its basics, simplify it, clip it to one tone, one stride, one vision in search of a connection instinctive as a nerve ending. Prok & Fitch proved at 360 in Providence to be of the latter sort and masterfully so. They didn’t beat around the bush, wander off, get all persnickety. From the beginning of their set at about 12:15 A.M. until well on toward 2:00 AM, they dropped a stride and strut, a push and push, a scoop and stomp : all of them low…

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This was a lush an d transportive set, a sound very much his own, a set too short but that’s Boston.

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Much-appreciated, but seldom Boston-seen DJ Luca Bcchetti, who lives in Barcelona, dropped a 105-minute set at arc Night Club on Friday night. The smaller than usual, but highly committed, crowd got to hear a Bacchetti sound radically different from what he presents in his own tracks. There, he projects a sound twinkly and dinky, high-pitched, with light-footed, often Brazilian beats. At Arc, however, his sound hugged the bottom octaves. The tone was bluesy, the tempo shaggy, the overlays darkly foreboding. The music was sexy and hugged one’s body. It might easily have been a John Lee Hooker performance, were Hooker alive and licking today.

Using a pc program to direct Aerc’s CD players and mixboard, Bacchetti added his own cuts and tool-ins to a set featuring — so far as I could tell — only two of his Beatport Top ten tracks, the Italo-techno “Such a Dreamer’ and his remix…

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Here and Sphere


Sante’ — no real name given in his bio — had played Boston but once before last night’s two-hour set dropped by him on about 150 fans at Arc Night-Club. It’s likely, however, given the lascivious power of his music at Arc, that he won’t have to wait two years for a next visit.

Sante’ is no grizzled veteran of house music — he’s made his bones only in the past six years, based in Berlin, Germany — but he plays like one. The shape of hil set harked back to that of jazz bands back when jazz was dance music played live. Like those bands — Count Basie especially, and his legion of imitators — Sante’ laid down a deep, knees to the floor bass line, extended it, mercilessly until everyone surrendered to it, then complicated it with voice tools, a familiar tune or two, breaks and repeats. Always…

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