Only for the Hardcore UK Raver

Since I think I may have finally regained the ability to express coherent thoughts, I can contribute a bit of content to the internet instead of just staring blankly at the public Twitter timeline. (To my credit, I did have a semi-productive morning on Yoshi’s Island DS, clearing half of World 3 and unlocking Baby Wario, so I’m not a complete waste of space. And “finish World 3” is even a fairly high-priority item on my weekend to-do list.)

Richie Hawtin is easily my favourite techno DJ of all-time (no offence to my Docile boys). Always has been, always will be. His Detroit parties have consistently been the best events in their class, never failing to raise the bar with the bedtimes. Unfortunately, however, whenever he would come to Chicago to spin, it just…. kinda sucked. His Chicago appearances were capable, just boring – it could have been any DJ in that booth. The Detroit parties were special because they were hometown gigs, yes, but couldn’t just a bit of that have come with him to Chicago? At a Detroit Hawtin gig it was not uncommon to have the beats completely fall aside for a few minutes to give space for ambient noise and voices claiming to have called us when we weren’t there. In Chicago, it was always techno-by-numbers safety, or worse yet, tepid house music. Was it that Detroit was extraordinarily receptive to experimentation or was Chicago just more sonically conservative?

With no better way to answer this question than through empirical research, I attended the Minus Records night at The End on 30/12/06. This was my first foray into a club since moving to London, so I was well excited to break in the city’s nightlife. And despite the ticket-taker being a real cockgobbler (he dropped one of our tickets after we handed it to him, then insisted that I pick it up for him), we eventually made it inside.

The venue was impressive: just the right balance between spacious and intimate, with full bass warmth eminating from the sound system and easy access to the bar and toilets. As the night moved forward, intimate would give way to overcrowded and reaching the toilets would become a journey for which the George Cross should be awarded, but for now we were there early and the club was ours.

We did a fantastic job finding an almost perfect base camp for the night. I say “almost perfect” because it had a couch, a pleasant breeze (a fan or the bass wind, I wasn’t sure) and a friendly group of strangers by us, but it also was about a million miles from the nearest toilet. Clearly the place was oversold, but that wasn’t the problem here so much as the lack of basic common sense. I know, it’s hard to think on drugs, but trust me, standing or sitting on the stairs connecting the dance floor to the area with the bar/toilets is a rather bad idea. If you’ve consumed too much ketamine, there are some very nice stretches of floor near the speakers where you can have a sit down.

But the effort required to wee didn’t cramp my style completely. Quite the contrary, it gave you something to do, a good chance to take a break from the dance floor and buy another round of booze so that you could repeat the whole experience all over again in half an hour.

When not peeing, I danced. There was so much music worth dancing to. Magda’s set was at her usual level of brilliance. I can remember the first time I ever saw her. I had never heard of her before in my life, but she was warming up the room for Hawtin at a Detroit party that he threw sometime in the early 00’s. At the time I happened to be getting into a lot of old acid house records, so when she smoothly cooked up a set packed with 80’s Chicago-style treats, my night was made. Her set at The End was more modern, but consistently hard and funky, just like I like it.

By contrast I wasn’t sure what to make of Gaiser. Perhaps I was just too tired at that point, stuck somewhere between my second and fifteenth winds, but his music fell flat for me. It lacked the funk that Magda was able to bring, no doubt in part because she had several artists’ music at her disposal, hers being a DJ set instead of a live PA. The homogeneity hurdle can be a difficult one to overcome for an artist doing a live PA. Gaiser’s tracks are quite good on their own, but they weren’t enough to keep me awake when I needed it most.

A word about keeping awake: I was in it for the long haul here. This wasn’t a simple leave-by-5am Chicago club. Officially The End was open until 7am, and Richie wasn’t even starting until 4:30 a.m. My lame ass probably should have taken a disco nap in preparation for it, however I do think I slept standing up in the middle of the dance floor for ten minutes around 6:30 am. My apologies if I impeded anyone’s efforts to get to the toilet.

Finally the time was here to get the proper techno treatment that I came for. Hawtin was getting ready to spin and one of my friends suggested we make a move closer to the DJ booth, just to shake out some of the laziness bred by the comfy sofa we controlled for the past few hours. Sounded like a good idea to me, so off we went into the sea of people.

Have you seen the “Dawn of the Dead” remake? You know the part where they say fuck it and just leave the shopping mall on a school bus to try and reach that one dude’s boat and find some island? Yeah, it sort of felt like that side of an ill-conceived equation once it was too late to return to our shopping mall in the corner. It was so fucking overcrowded. I thought I was going to get eaten by mutant zombie ravers.

Thankfully, my flesh remained intact, though my beer did not. I was stupid, but too tired to fend off morons anymore. Some chick asked if she could have a sip of my beer and I just gave it to her. Now I’m no germ-o-phobe — I’ll share water and drinks with people I know. But some random girl hanging out with some random guy at a club? I think I’d rather everyone just kept their backwash to themselves. The best part was when she took a sip of my beer, then handed it to the guy that was with her. After he took a sip, he passed it on again to one of his mates who then gave it back to the girl. I was really entertained with the whole scene, wondering if they had so much nerve as to just keep the beer. Unfortunately, they didn’t. She returned the beer to me with a polite smile moments later. A few moments after that I discreetly left it in the corner without taking another sip. (In all honesty, I’m sure she did me a favour in the end, sparing me a hangover on the morning of New Year’s Eve.)

Up close and personal with the DJ booth, we were ready for the main event. I still wasn’t sure what to expect. Would I get a proper Detroit techno night like all signs were pointing to or would I be disappointed with a phoned-in club set? Happily, I got a lot more of the former than I’d hoped for and none of the latter. Richie slammed it hard and played it weird, pulling out stops that he wouldn’t even bother wasting on a Windy City crowd. I even got a replay of his favourite Lil Louis sample from “I Called U”.

It wasn’t Detroit-quality, but that would have spoiled the legend a bit, wouldn’t it? Of course I really didn’t care so much about the differences between Detroit’s and Chicago’s ears as I did to suss out London’s. And I was pleasantly surprised to find that I’ve relocated to more of a techno town than I’d originally given it credit for being. I’ll be back for more, but first, a bit more sleep.

End of weekend update:

I did finally finish World 3 of Yoshi’s Island DS. I am even well-into World 4, with or without that fickle Baby Wario!