To the Manner Born

Sometimes you think you can dance to Mouse on Mars' electronic fart-funk. But the drum'n'bass cartoons of their past few releases, particularly 1999's adorable Niun Niggung, only fleetingly cross the line between ass-inspiring rhythms and final theses at Bard College's vibeology elective. Yet you admire their spirit of kooky experimentation, as unlikely as it is to do more than influence their descendants. Andi Toma and Jan St. Werner, your very polite hosts at Irving Plaza on July 3, aren't afraid to turn the BPMs up to ludicrous levels and interrupt steady riffs with noodling. Nor are they shy about their mission to bridge the wide gap between hambone and hi-tech. You have a soft spot for goofballs like this, whom one can laugh at and laugh with. If MoM were from Seattle, and not Germany, they'd be the Presidents of the United States of America, wouldn't they? What you suspect their idiosyncratic beats need in order to be danceable is volume.

Deja Fugee: Appleseed (left) and Thandiswa of Bongo Maffin
photo: Cary Conover
Deja Fugee: Appleseed (left) and Thandiswa of Bongo Maffin

So you go to hear them with mind open and hamstrings expectantly stretched. The group has made of themselves a power trio, adding drummer-singer Dodo Nkishi to their bass, synth, and laptop lineup. MoM mostly stick to the material that has any hope of getting four on the floor: Niun Niggung's warped disco triptych—"Gogonal," "Diskdusk," and "Pinwheel Herman"—are all included. The holiday-thinned crowd, composed of those shy people a few cubicles down, spazzes out to the too-fast, too-exact tempos, with a kind of skinny-person neck-jerk motion. You briefly question the utilitarian mindset that would require them to make dancey dance music in the first place, but they're so close, why avoid it? Theirs is among the most civilized rock concerts you've ever seen, something that might be more comfortable accompanying a digital art opening. And your hamstrings have stiffened up. —James Hannaham

On the Verge of a Nervous Breakbeat

New York's pioneering 2step garage party Drive By celebrated its first birthday in style with a riverside bashment at Pier 63 and a bill headlined by top-drawer U.K. talents Zed Bias and Deekline on July 3. Both DJ-producers are identified with "breakbeat garage," the inevitable backlash against 2step's mainstream crossover, and a mutant offshoot that strips away the r&b vocals and treble gloss in favor of bass-too-dark minimalism. Deekline's sound has virtually no connection to garage, but instead mashes up hip-hop, a lickle bitta dancehall, and whole lotta hardcore. He played two tracks that are basically unofficial remixes of rave-era Prodigy classics: the Max Romeo-pilfering "Out of Space" and the Arthur Brown-sampling "Fire." His absolute boom tune was uncharacteristically housey—Nu Yorican Soul's fevered "Runaway"—and other New York allusions flew by with licks ripped from Todd Terry and Mark the 45 King. Once again, you had to marvel at the Brits' verve (and nerve) at taking U.S. originals like hip-hop and house, then exporting them back to America as exotic hybrids.

Zed Bias's sound has more "swing," using U.K. garage's sticky snares and crisp, skippy hi-hats more often than the rigid, jackknifing electro beats favored by Deekline. Bias also has a stronger feel for the subliminal skank that is one of 2step's secret rhythmic ingredients: Tonight he dropped a great version of Tenor Saw's "Ring the Alarm" and climaxed with "Neighbourhood," his own dancehall-infused soundboy killer. "Neighbourhood," I've found, is the one tune that infallibly sways skeptics who profess to hate this music (usually based on hearing one Artful Dodger song). In this respect, Zed Bias is the Photek of 2step. Just as Photek drew people into drum'n'bass through his techno edge, five years on Bias seduces nonbelievers with the jungalistic feel of his 2step: growling sub-bass and mash-up beats, corseted within garage's plush elegance.

What a difference a year makes: With its crammed dancefloor and amazingly euphoric atmosphere, Drive By left one convinced that New York's 2step scene, after false starts and prematurely announced demises, is finally set to EXPLODE. The city now boasts several U.K.-level DJs (two of whom, Dinesh and Greg Poole, also played tonight) and a fervent core audience who really feel the music. Indeed I'd actually say the New York scene is better than its London prototype, which is increasingly blighted by moody attitude, gangsta bizness, and violence. In the London underground there's always been this weird mismatch between the music's effervescent joy and the crowd's screwface sourness. But New York has "corrected" that discrepancy. There's never been a better time to join the party. —Simon Reynolds

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