I hate the term "Deadmonton". I like to think that despite our city's small population and geographical isolation from any sort of relevant cultural hub, that we can still be a force when it comes to music. I feel as though there are enough people here with enough knowledge and awareness to create a thriving scene where inspired bookings, lesser-known acts and underground shows can flourish amidst mid-sized, but utterly enthusiastic and grateful crowds of partygoers. I felt that perhaps a paradigm shift was underway within the city. I know that I have matured not only as a person, but as a consumer of music as well. I have also met many more who share my sentiments of late, for which I am thankful for.
It's difficult however, to remain faithful after what I saw on Saturday night. Or rather, what I didn't see: people. I didn't see people on Saturday night. Normally this is not uncommon, for one side effect of getting older seems to be a "pickiness" when it comes to most things. Music is certainly one of those things to which I have become overly picky. Some may call it "jaded", others may say "bitter"... and perhaps those are accurate descriptors for what I have become. In any means, as a result, I am more selective in what I would constitute as "a fun night out". So needless to say, this has resulted in less and less excursions into the clubs I used to frequent on Saturday nights. Therefore, I do not often see many "people" on Saturdays.
Last Saturday however, was different. A very talented young producer/ DJ who goes by the name of J Phlip, was in town. Unfortunately, I have somewhat neglected to mention her in depth in this blog. Two of her tracks, "Sleazy Pancakes" and "Fever" were on my radar for the top 100 tracks list, but came up just short. She also released a very good mix for DJ Mag which I enjoyed quite a bit. However, by most accounts, it was a quiet 2011 for the dirtybird DJ. Most of her best work came in the previous two years, from a productions standpoint. The only thing that I can refer to, was that I had her at number 42 on my top 50 DJs/ Producers list. Hardly a very positive story, and one that I wish I had a chance to rectify.
Upon hearing the announcement of her appearance at Level 2 however, I immediately jumped into action. I had not heard a live set, or even a youtube video of her DJing live, but I knew that this would be a show to see. I posted all the information I could on this blog a few weeks ago. Yet despite my best efforts, it was hard to find decent footage from her shows. There was one common theme however amongst the poor-quality and overly distorted camera and cell phone uploads that sparsely littered youtube: all the comments pointed to the fact that she was an AMAZING DJ. Everyone who had seen her, had nothing but very, very positive things to say about her shows.
Taking that into account, I knew I had to catch her. The whole reason behind the "Deadmonton" title however, was the fact that there was literally no more than 20 people at the venue. Needless to say, I was very disappointed. Here is one of dirtybird's most prominent and established stars, and twenty people show up? No, check that, twenty people show up, then some of them leave ten minutes into her set. That would be very disappointing to any performer. I can only imagine coming from cities like Chicago, San Francisco and Berlin (all cities she either has, or currently lives in) to Edmonton, only to find that nobody showed up for your show. Most DJs would probably be noticeably perturbed, many might play shortened sets, some might not even play at all. Fortunately J Phlip showed a lot of class throughout the entire night. She not only socialized extensively with the crowd before the show, she actually played for two and half hours!
Despite the limited numbers, everyone who was present understood how fortunate that we were to be seeing one of dance music's best kept secrets. The set itself was nothing short of masterful. She eased into the empty dance floor, and mostly lethargic crowd with a few deep house cuts, then upped the intensity (and the tempo) quickly, until three or four tracks in, she had completely won the crowd. Soon into the set she played the dance floor destroyer "Booty Clap" by Kill Frenzy, which naturally went down well with the sparse but energetic (and highly motivated) crowd.
From there she continued to throttle the tempo with an effortless transition into banging 808 techno/ electro. The energy reached a fevered pitch as each track either built upon, or sustained the momentum that she crafted seemingly out of no where. After about 30 minutes of straight jump/ dancing, as elicited by the rave-beat techno, people began to sit, or exit for some air. The set then changed it's direction to a slower pace. Less intense jackin' house became the order for the next twenty minutes or so, while people regained their energy and ventured back in from the outside. Despite the quality music expertly being played, it was still very apparent that there was as few as seven people on the dance floor at one particular time. For a little while it seemed as though no matter how good J Phlip was, there was just too few people to make a good show. The set seemed as though it had already reached it's brilliant and fleeting peak less than a half hour in. Despite the good tunes, there was a struggle between DJ and crowd to find a common ground.
With that said, props to both her and the crowd for giving absolutely everything they had. Once everyone mustered the energy back up, she was only all too happy do the same. From that point, we were treated to a feast of bass. For the next hour and a bit, she put us through a gauntlet of bass infused house like Justin Martin and Ardalan's "Lezgo", while seamlessly transitioning into old school west coast breaks and break-beat techno. She took full advantage of each track, using extremely long blends to create new tracks, and careful EQing tricks to create accapella's and mash-ups. The crowd was all too appreciative, shouting and exclaiming with every drop.
From there she played a very crowd pleasing stretch of "big room" "anthemic" cuts. Despite the propensity for music of this style to be "uninspired" or "generic", everything she played was very original and intelligent sounding, without ever degrading into cheezy territory. But it was the last half hour-forty minutes that were truly the best. At this point the tempo had dropped, but the beats took on a hypnotic nature. The crowd at this point was completely invested in the set and responding appropriately to her enthusiasm. She was also masterfully sustaining the atmosphere with slower, deeper grooves, which she actually seemed most comfortable playing. Though the presence of bass never dropped.
The tracks varied from Chicago inspired tech house, to classic mid 2000's inspired German techno; yet they all existed brilliantly together within the context of the set. Despite the scorching, up tempo sections that came earlier in her set, this was by far my favorite portion of the night. No track stood out, yet every track was essential in creating the mood that persisted until finally it was time to close. She received the word, and played her last song. Everyone there could have likely kept going for at least another hour, I know I could have. She looked as though she would have been game to play until the last person on the floor had their fill, however, the venue had to close.
Despite the poor turnout, those who there on Saturday got a real treat. It isn't often that a producer of J Phlip's caliber makes it out to Edmonton. It is even less often that you find great producers, who are also incredibly gifted DJs. Her mixing skills were not only precise, but the flow of her set was second-to-none. She was able to push the small, initially apprehensive crowd into a frenzy, adapt to the momentary loss of numbers, then take everyone back into another frenzy, before finally dipping into a completely euphoric stretch of deep and bass-riddled main-room house. However, what really impressed me was the fact that I knew only three of the tracks that she played. Five if you include remixes of tracks that I knew.
This is pretty special, considering how much time I dedicate to finding tracks that fall into that specific dirtybird sound. Granted, very little of what she played sounded like the label to which she contributes, but that unexpected aspect was what made it so special. It makes for an incredibly interesting and unique show, when the audience feels as though these tracks are somehow out of reach, and mysterious. With Justin Martin, I knew probably 40% of what he played, which was cool, don't get me wrong. I loved hearing all those tracks on a good sound system and with a receptive crowd. But J Phlip left me saying my favorite thing to say after a really good set: "Where does she find this stuff?"