2013.04.05 Locust at Public Assembly, Brooklyn

Williamsburg is a strange place for electronic music. With a genre best known for sizable clubs and warehouse spaces, the small venues of northern Brooklyn can feel almost inappropriate. But the fans that do go to a show in a space like the Public Assembly (capacity 200, as dark as any club in Brooklyn) are the fans that are devoted enough to request a specific song. The kind of fans who take too many photos while a DJ sets up or casually sits and waits for a drink. Very devoted people excited by the presence of a DJ. Amongst casual conversations about cocaine use and a sea of New York British accents, I had some expectation that the show would be a bit indulgent and overly experimental, but I was thankfully proven wrong.

Opener Goitia Deitz was a really pleasant surprise. A brooklyn-based duo, Goitia Deitz label themselves as Krautrock, referring to their work as improvisational. I’m no Krautrock devotee, but with the volume and insistent beats the duo uses, the “rock” part of krautrock may not apply as strongly. I’m tempted to call it Krauthouse, but even that portmanteau doesn’t capture how they use the krautrock model. Adding serious percussion to a rigid structure allows them to create a consistent melody, constructed through pace. It was at once faster than krautrock, but not so fast that it lost its German heritage. A fifteen-minute track goes note by note, and because the two DJ’s are so skilled, it was anything but monotonous.

My only complaint about Goitia Deitz is the lack of risk or ambition in their work, despite the improv format. If I hadn’t done a bit of research, nothing about their show would have indicated improvisation. The music sounds very arranged. Well-arranged, but arranged nonetheless. A distinct measure of a DJ’s skill is the willingness to make mistakes, to play a record unintended for public hearing, or to mangle an old beat in search of a new beat. Even with krautrock, this can still be a factor. With a venue like the Public Assembly, I think that kind of experimentation is even expected.

Which is why the next performers pleased me. Locust, made up of Mark van Hoen and Louis Sherman, is a seasoned duo who experiments while holding the crowd’s interest. van Hoen has been making electronic music for over 20 years, and has made clear in interviews that his recent work includes elements from the last 50 years of electronic music. This gives you the impression that he knows what he’s doing. And he does. Working within the same theme of improvisational and found material, Locust’s set progressed through a series of electronic genres, all while retaining their own style. Like many electronic acts, they included projected video keyed to each song, visually distorted to match their experimental tone. But the most striking thing was their use of human voice samples as beats and breaks, as opposed to melody or incidental backing. Each voice was cracked against the synth like a drumstick against a metal grate, but without any serious dissonance. The Locust have a comfortable playing style; while Mr. van Hoen is definitely the center of attention, his partner Louis Sherman is a gifted keyboardist, and sets the pace for the duo.

First, familiar to any fans of Mr. Oizo, Daft Punk, or Jus†ice, Locust worked an arena rock track against the backdrop of a Chinese (?) exercise tape, a great track for introducing their style, melding old and new. Next, the set explored a little deep house and/or dub stylings with the help of Soul Train on the screen, moving into a more purely techno piece accompanied by a woman and her hawk. This may be my only complaint about Locust; their multimedia works against the grain of their music. Distorted, pixilated video from the late 70’s may seem strange or kitschy, but I think it undercuts some of Locust’s desire to make you want to dance.

The last two tracks included a take on drums-n-bass with a barbarian woman (from a future ruled by ABBA?) and an electronica piece set in time with a late 70’s breakdancer. Both were more aggressive than the other tracks, but still kept a bounce in the rhythm that the crowd appreciated. Locust’s approach is experimental, but it still gets heads bobbing. They never stray too far away from music that is viscerally fun, and van Hoen’s comprehensive knowledge of electronic genres is endearing.

Unfortunately, the opening two sets were brought down by Tropic of Cancer, which labels itself as post-industrial. Their southern hemisphere beats keep their set interesting for a song or two, but everything else about them was unremarkable. Inconsequential vocals, the same new blues-rock riffs we heard in commercials last year, and a misused atonality that gave it a drone-like quality. While post-industrial can use the drone of machinery to its advantage, Tropic of Cancer misses the mark. After three tracks, I felt compelled to leave.

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Photos provided by http://trevorwilsonphoto.com

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