The Grunk and the Rackle
It’s a strange notion, this idea of clubs going on tour. For what else defines a club if not the specificity of a space and the vibe generated there by resident DJs and a regular crowd? Limelight’s bimonthly collaboration with Berlin’s legendary Tresor seems especially bizarre, because physically the two places couldn’t be less similar. Tresor’s main floor—once the subterranean safe of Europe’s biggest department store—is a low-ceilinged sweatbox, whereas Limelight’s is airily voluminous, like you’d expect from a converted church.
Musically, they’re more compatible, given Limelight’s recent self-reinvention as home for “serious” techno as purveyed by DJ/producers like Jeff Mills and Surgeon, who’ve both recorded for the Tresor label. Last Saturday, the Berlin-New York alliance was inaugurated by two other Tresor affiliates, Joey Beltram and the Advent. Both emerged at a time when “techno” referred to the soundtrack of rave in its entirety, and was unashamedly bangin’, kickin’, and slammin’. And both have followed the logic of purism that transformed techno from people’s choice in the early ’90s to its current status as just one of many subgenres.
Queens boy Beltram earned his place in the Rave Hall of Fame with two eternal classics: 1990’s “Energy Flash” (a foundational track for everyone from tranceheads to junglists to gabba fiends, possibly the last anthem of the era when the rave nation was one) and 1991’s “Mentasm” (whose dark-swoon swarm-drone of blaring synth distortion is one of rave’s six or seven immortal sounds). At some point, Beltram crossed the subtle but crucial divide between hardcore and hard techno, purging the E-rush triggering elements in his sound and settling for a more subdued but “credible” post-rave career. His Limelight set alternated between spangly filter house and minimal-but-muscular techno, and, while never as perfunctory as his old friend/foe Frankie Bones, still felt like a hard day’s night at the pleasure factory. Oh, the kids dug it well enough, but gazing at their pursed lips and rolled-back eyes, I couldn’t help thinking they were wasting good drugs on nothing special. From the passed-out guy on a pew to the candy-raver hypnotized by her gyrating glowstick-gadget and the clean-cut techno warriors punching the air with grim fervor, it’s the same old scene(s) you’ve seen since the East Coast first got it on back in 1991, courtesy of Beltram’s erstwhile Brooklyn buddies—but with a little less in the way of surprise, or point, every passing year.
Recently slimmed from a duo to just Cisco Ferreira, the Advent immediately broke Beltram’s deadlocked groove with some Gothic electro, introducing such barely-heard-that-night novelties as syncopation, basslines, even melody. But even in more typical pump’n’pound mode, the Advent’s live set had way more internal frisk than Beltram’s dour scour, changing gait from surge to lope to sprint to shimmy. Relentlessly abstract, built from loop-riffed sounds like the creak-hiss of a fissuring ice floe or a windshield’s smash-tinkle, and offering few latch-points of real-world emotion, it’s a sound that can only be evoked via onomatopoeia: This music grunks and rackles. But like Richie Hawtin, the Advent showed that purism doesn’t have to mean imaginative poverty or deadening ends. At the set’s several peaks, you could stand near a clutch of manic smiley-faced Asian kids, say, and still believe rave’s the best fun in town. —Simon Reynolds
If the times shape the great artist and, simultaneously, the great artist shapes the times, George Gershwin represents more of the glory, expansiveness, and ominous insouciance of the 1920s than his peers. Entranced by how composing might reflect American diversity, Gershwin was too hyperactive to confine himself to a single arena. He would go to one of his pianos (he had two next to each other in the East Side duplex he occupied for a while) and out sprayed popular songs, Broadway scores, symphonies, and the opera Porgy and Bess in no particular order but all dazzling as geysers.
Mark Nadler, one half of the American Rhapsody duo tributing Gershwin at Triad, doesn’t look like his subject at first glance, but the longer he sits at the keyboard or cavorts near it, the more he resembles Gershwin in the angles of his profile and in the breadth of his skills. Perhaps nearly as compulsively inventive and certainly as Jewish, Nadler mines every facet of Gershwin’s output. In formal wear and with hair brilliantined, he turns a swingy rendition of ” ‘S Wonderful” into a serious examination of the meandering, romantic, jazzy “Rhapsody in Blue,” and then resumes singing the hit song while playing the rhapsody. He offers a gleeful version of “Slap That Bass” and quits the 88’s to slap that piano while tap-dancing (choreography by Donald Saddler) around it.
Nadler is joined by KT Sullivan, with whom he’s teamed at least as long as Gershwin pals Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers did. Of the latter pair, it was said she gave him sex and he gave her class. What Nadler and Sullivan give each other is the latitude to be as silly or introspective as the moment demands. Nadler is the properly retiring accompanist when Sullivan (Jazz Age-outfitted) delivers a mocking “Blah, Blah, Blah” (lyrics by Ira Gershwin) or croons as rueful a “But Not for Me” as imaginable. They get laughs with a tab version of Shall We Dance?, the film for which the Gershwins supplied the score. They also take jaunty, ardent “Swanee” (Irving Caesar’s words) and transform it into a stirring anthem.
As they tell the composer’s story, Nadler and Sullivan refer to “the rhythms and rhymes” Gershwin was mad to capture. Their work is a swanky demonstration that those rhythms and rhymes remain profoundly vital and Wall Street-heady today. —David Finkle