The following directive is a lie.
Drift on through the beautifully crafted art deco doors and discover a place filled with flirtatious laughter, exhilarating live performances, swirling lighting, and lush billowing velvet.
Sounds fun, right? Too bad. That’s totally not what Spiegelworld is like, despite the promises made on its website. There’s no drifting. There’s no flirting. And for a while on Friday night, I feared there would be no live performance, either—exhilarating or not—when it was 1 a.m. and Lady Sovereign still hadn’t taken the stage for Spiegelworld’s opening-night celebration. (We all know her track record with New York.)
Am I being too negative? I mean, I like the idea of Spiegeltents, the mobile entertainment venues that originated in Belgium in the late 19th century: There’s a European romance to the teak-and-beveled-mirror constructs, intended to travel to fairs in towns that didn’t have proper dance halls. And sitting with two complete strangers in one of the large, U-shaped booths that line the tent’s circular perimeter, I do have a sense of transience. But that transience is being gobbled up by the metastasizing sense of annoyance I’m feeling since it’s two hours after Sov was supposed to start, and instead of being on my way to Studio B to take shots and kiss strangers at the Simian Mobile Disco show, I’m sitting with two perfectly lovely but perfectly homosexual men waiting for a potty-mouthed half-pint rapper to start her bloody show. Come. The fuck. On.
Her tardiness wasn’t the only disappointment: The crowd took up little more than half the floor, and according to one of the bartenders, this turnout was representative of last year’s typical attendance (this is Spiegelworld’s second season at the Fulton Fish Market). I hope that changes, because there are some solid acts (José González, Daniel Johnston) that deserve solid crowds in the weeks to come. Go to those. Also: Pack a flask.
So there I am, chatting with my new friends about New York and the state of fashion, when a cheer (finally) rises up and Britain’s favorite ponytailed pistol is upon us, in her trademark baggy tee and a pair of white sunglasses. She’s feisty, and admirable for it, and she terrifies me more than my ex-boyfriend’s mother ever did. She opens with “Ch-Ching,” and the girly-girl fans in the audience eat it up; the room’s male contingent is made up entirely of boyfriends who got dragged to the show. I wouldn’t mind staying, but if I leave now I can make it to Greenpoint before 2. In two and a half hours, I saw her perform one song.
Across town, Simian Mobile Disco has taken over Studio B’s Fixed party, and the club is pulsing with light, sound, and bodies (as Go! Team’s Ninja calls out on the eponymous SMD track, “It’s the beat!”). The British duo—James Shaw (the blonde) and James Ford (the ‘fro)—are performing their first-ever “live” show in New York, and the rock-tinged dance tracks have found an ideal audience in Brooklyn. Positioned on opposite sides of a round table onstage, Shaw and Ford crouch in front of the machines, fiddle with wires, twiddle knobs, and generally seem oblivious to the hundreds of people going justifiably insane just a few feet away. Ford mans the laptop and occasionally engages the crowd (smiling, slapping front-row hands at the show’s end), while Shaw only peeks up to glance at Ford. No one in the crowd is standing still.
For the uninitiated, SMD started out as Simian, an English electro-rock four-piece (Shaw, Ford, Simon Lord, and Alex MacNaughton) that got too big too fast and burned out. While on tour, Shaw and Ford would also book DJ sets at area clubs under the moniker Simian Mobile Disco to “sate their love of electronic party music,” according to their Web bio. Around the same time, their record label offered up a competition for other acts to remix one of Simian’s songs, “Never Be Alone.” Then-unknown French outfit Justice submitted “We Are Your Friends,” which didn’t win, but became an idyllic party anthem anyway—one that’s still totally ubiquitous, even four years later. (The Voice‘s own Tricia Romano, for example, called it “the aural equivalent of crack.”) That song, with its infectious refrain, got Justice signed to Ed Banger, and gave SMD the confidence to have a go on their own as full-time DJs, remixers, and producers.
Clearly, it’s working out quite well. Ford has produced albums for the Mystery Jets, the Klaxons, and Arctic Monkeys; together, Ford and Shaw have done remixes for Muse and Air. Perhaps most important, SMD has just released its debut album, Attack Decay Sustain Release—a quick succession of 10 bouncy tracks that still feels like a cohesive record.
I grab a drink and position myself on a barstool next to the dance floor to watch the last part of the set, hoping I haven’t missed “Hustler,” but I have. (Seen that video? It’s the sexiest game of “Telephone” you’ll never play.) Most of the enormous crowd is visibly familiar with the new songs, even though ADSR doesn’t hit stateside until September; when “I Believe” starts up, the throbbing mass fairly roars with appreciation. (Simon Lord’s pretty voice guides the track, which is grounded with booming synths; Girl Talk’s remixing it for the official release.) When the finale is over, the lights go purple, then black; Shaw and Ford take their bows and leave the stage. The smokers flood the exits.
The house DJs ensure the dancing doesn’t stop as the night shifts into its final stages, while the tall Swedish boy I’ve just met complains that strangers in America make out in public far too often. This is only moments after the Swede and I made out in public; I argue that we just know how to have fun. Studio B might not have lush, billowing velvet (thank God), but flirting transience? In spades. Kissing a foreigner there offered something a hell of a lot closer to European romance than some old tent.