Brooklyn Electronic Music Festival
Friday, November 9 and Saturday, November 10
Better Than:The EDM debate
It’s hard to believe the Brooklyn Electronic Music Festival started five years ago in what used to be BKLYN Yard, now known as Gowanus Grove, and to those in the know (a/k/a everyone) as where Mister Sunday’s afternoon dance parties go down. The first and second iterations were so successful that MeanRed Productions masterminds Jen Lyon and Katie Longmyer expanded the third BEMF into multiple venues, taking over the spaces in and around Williamsburg’s N. Sixth Avenue a la Austin’s South by Southwest, whose artists cluster around the bars and concert halls lining that city’s own Sixth Street. This year’s edition was the biggest yet (as these things tend to go), with over 40 artists and six venues — Glasslands, Cameo, Public Assembly, 285 Kent, Brooklyn Bowl, and Music Hall of Williamsburg — involved. Despite the continued expansion, BEMF still fulfills Longmyer’s original mission statement “to show off Brooklyn, because people don’t even realize what’s in it.”
All evidence to the contrary as I navigated a morass of very, very drunk people pinwheeling like bumper cars outside the Music Hall of Williamsburg at 3:30 a.m. on Saturday night. In my preview of the Brooklyn Electronic Music Festival I billed it off-the-cuff as the “anti-Ultra,” but I was at least partially wrong. “Whoa, dude, did you hear that bass sound?” someone next to me asked, wide-eyed at Nicolas Jaar’s subtly body-rockin’ drops as another girl announced, impatient with the producer’s slow builds, that she was done here. I suppose I couldn’t blame her; like everyone else, she was hungry for beats, which until that moment had been amply provided by openers Lauren Flax and Dave P, not to mention the hazy memory of Friday’s nail-biting choices between noteworthy DJs from across the country and pond.
In the interest of avoiding streetside revelers as much as possible, on Friday night I stuck with dance/electronic label Fade to Mind’s showcase at Glasslands. Mike Q, who’s just one of the growing number of DJs being recognized for their presence in the East Coast vogue and ballroom-house scene, opened the night with a self-referential (i.e. a pre-recorded “Big shout out to my man Mike Q!”) set of vogue standards, including “The Ha Dance” and Moi Renee’s “Miss Honey.” When he finished, Fatima al-Qadiri took the stage. The Kuwait-born producer’s work is heavily influenced by her experience growing up during the first Gulf War, from the religious a cappella religious songs of both Sunnis and Shiites to juke. Though she seemed more nervous than Mike Q — no shout-outs, and she focused with unmoving intensity on her laptop — her set flowed with hard, entrancing meticulousness.
But I came to see Kingdom, and I wasn’t disappointed. As opposed to his on-stage predecessors, he knows how to take his time. Equal parts DJ and songwriter, the Brooklyn-based producer mixed samples like Frank Ocean’s “Cleopatra,” Missy Elliott’s contribution to J. Cole’s “Nobody’s Perfect,” and “Where Have You Been All My Life” by Rihanna, mitigating the last’s Calvin Harris-via-Dr. Luke industrial drop with his own. It was the perfect balance of viscerally satisfying and esoteric, the perfect way to kick off a weekend of 4 a.m. nights, a lot of loud music, and crowds moving together like schools of stylish fish. Half of Brooklyn witchy house duo CREEP, Flax (who might be most widely known for “You’ve Changed” featuring Sia) started spinning at midnight. I couldn’t help noticing (and kicking myself noticing) that with her mop of black hair, squarish glasses, and angular features and attire, she looks like an alternate version of Skrillex. Throughout the night, I wondered how Nicolas Jaar was going to take over after the techno momentum built up by Flax and Dave P, a Long Island DJ who got his start spinning for Long Island “teen clubs” like Industry and Navanti. You’d think that tells you all you need to know about him, but his Top-40-EDM-house — including a bangin’ remix of “Dreams” — was as easily digestible and unremarkable as the People Magazine you read while in line at Duane Reade.
After an interstitial playlist of intermittently remixed Radiohead, Tame Impala, and Emeralds, Jaar came onstage with a “What’s up, Brooklyn?” to cheers. Like the good crowned prince of Hipsterdom that he is, he appeased his subjects and won new followers with a well-timed mix of ambient samples, vintage visual displays, and that “bass sound.” I was pleasantly surprised that his set has matured since I last saw him at the Music Hall in February. The first indication was a sample from Grizzly Bear’s last album Shields, which Jaar stretched and pulled like skin over a skeleton of deep bass hits, unleashing the so-called drop for just less than enough time, leaving everyone hanging on his next move. He also pulled “Feeling Good” by Nina Simone out of his computer of tricks, pairing it with the tornado clip from Wizard of Oz. The audience ate it up until about 3:30, when he started to wind down and everyone felt the space between the beats in their aching eardrums and, tomorrow, their livers.
Random Notebook Dump: There are a shitload of models here.
Overheard: “Should I go get more shots?” Five minutes later: “Are you sure you don’t want me to get more shots?” An hour later, at the bar: “Can I get five shots of Jack?”