Enlightenment 101:

The Critique of Pure Reason

Cex, a/k/a 19-year-old Baltimore-based Rjyan Kidwell, is an infamous figure in the world of IDM (Intelligent Dance Music). A recent IDM digest contained an open e-mail to Kidwell and mentor kid606: “Do not bowdlerize our subculture just so you can finally get your goofy looking nerd asses laid.” Their crime? Bringing too much showmanship to live performance, which left-field electronica purists believe should be faceless and abstract. The trouble with the purist line is that IDM, because it’s not dance oriented, can’t count on involving the audience through physical participation; in the absence of visual stimulation, it runs the risk of lapsing into background ambience.

On April 23, a kid606-and-friends night at Tonic showcased various strategies for avoiding the laptop musician’s nightmare scenario: that “all is lost” switch point when the audience chatter gets louder than the music. kid606 held the listener rapt through sheer density of sonic events per second (and was helped not a little by Kurt Ralske’s ravishing improvised video projections). Matmos usually incorporate an eye-catching performance-art element in their sets, but tonight they simply played tunes from their new plastic-surgery-themed album (A Chance to Cut Is a Chance to Cure) against a backdrop of discomfiting close-up footage: ear canals, eyes, hair follicles, and the like.

Opening the night, Kidwell took the most radical approach. Instead of playing what he puts out on record (plaintive, melodious electronica perfectly suited to the IDM palate), he’s got a totally different live set based around the premise of Cex as “#1 Entertainer in the Game.” Naked save for his fashion briefs, he looks like an emaciated computer programmer but sounds uncannily like Eminem, his rhymes oscillating wildly from professions of alpha-male omnipotence (“I know you’re stressed/cos there’s only one Cex/and your girlfriend’s pissed/cos it’s not you”) to touching admissions of terminal dorkhood. Often he’s rapping over purloined grooves (like the Neptunes-produced instrumental track from Jay-Z’s “I Just Want to Love U”), and like a rap CD, he does between-song skits—like his hilarious fantasy about going to the MTV Awards “the year minimal techno blew up.”

“Representin’ for fun” versus art-techno solemnity, Cex reminded the audience, “You got booties, let’s use ’em,” and then vowed to “take your maturity/eat it up, spit it out” (this accompanied by cartoon-raptor gestures of devouring/regurgitation). Surprisingly, the audience lapped up Cex’s wiggatronica shtick, avidly participating in call-and-response and throwing hands in the air on cue. As an in-joke/polemic within the cloistered IDM context, Cex’s Apple Mack Daddy persona is inspired, although you do wonder how a real rap audience would respond to his not-exactly-fluent freestyles. Then again, only the sternest purist (techno or hip-hop) could fail to chuckle at Cex’s adapted-for-PC booty song, which starts by exhorting “Ladeez in the house, get the fellaz in the house, to take their balls out,” then extends its equal-opportunity agenda to the inanimate: “Objects in the house, get the people in the house, to take their balls out.” —Simon Reynolds

Enlightenment 102:
The Spirit of the Laws

For all the legal trouble the rave scene in its many permutations has been dealing with (both in New York and around the country), the culture is still producing some of the city’s more unusual events. Friday marked the one-time return of Jivamukti’s Liberation Lounge parties, meant to announce the Dum Dum Project’s debut album of also-ran Eastern-influenced grooves, Export Quality. Chai tea and samosas were served in the foyer, while in the main room, Sean Dinsmore (head Dum Dum) spun last year’s Thievery Corporation tracks to an appreciative crowd. Most memorably, Dinsmore played songs from his new album, accompanied by chants from Bhagavan Das and Asha Puthli, as well as an electric sitar player.

The dank walk-in closet of shoe lockers offered a clue to the crowd’s diversity: canvas Chuck Taylors with “Animals are not ours to wear” stickered to the heel sat neatly aligned with black leather Cole-Haans and Guccis (the women in Christian Dior refused to shed their heels, causing palpable consternation among toes). The night ended with a meditation from Jivamukti cofounder Sharon Gannon (a/k/a Tripura Sundari): “There are atoms of air in your lungs that were once in the lungs of every human who has ever lived,” she explained to a roomful of people sitting cross-legged in the dark. “Did you meditate?” asked one stilettoed woman of her friend. “Ew, no.”

Speaking of lungs, Eau de Weed seemed to be the scent of choice at the 15th annual Squatters Mayday concert in Tompkins Square Park on Sunday. As in the last few years, electro breaks and hardcore provided the soundtrack for ravers to “take over” a park that even Giuliani seems to leave be (ah, the joys of after-dark drug deals). Benches were lined with gawkers from all walks of life, given the rare opportunity to peep a raver in its natural habitat: the bass-laden regions of the makeshift dancefloor, where the droves attracted dancing mates with colorful plastic beads and voluminous denim. “Do I know who’s DJing?” asked a thin young man wearing an upside-down, backward visor, selling angel dust. “Doood. I don’t even know my name.” Dancefloor Zen, it seems, follows many a path. —Bill Werde