The recent departure of Magda, Marc Houle and Troy Pierce from Richie Hawtin's Minus imprint certainly came as a surprise to many. Citing a desire for artistic diversification as the central reason for the parting of ways, eyes were on the recent Items & Things party in Berlin to see what the trio had to offer.
The venue, Prince Charles, provided an excellent backdrop for the event. The main space was intimate, the sound system was loud and punchy, and every square inch of the place was very, very dark. A careful attention to detail was also evident: Gold decorations lined the walls and ceiling, masks and a seemingly endless stream of golden confetti rained down on the dance floor, while mix CDs were handed out to the crowd throughout the night.
Photo credit: Katrina James
And what exactly is the sound? Bassy, clicky, hook-driven and loop-centric—Minus techno, dare I say it. From beginning to end, the party essentially felt like a Minus showcase, albeit without Richie Hawtin. Although certainly enjoyable in its own right, Magda's set never strayed from the bass-heavy, "horror-tinged" borderline disco sound that she has come to be known for. There were plenty of inspired moments, and occasionally the anticipation built and it felt as though a curveball might pave the way to pastures new, but—sure enough—a new chunky bassline always snuck in and brought things firmly back to familiar territory.
Next up was Marc Houle's live set, which, for me, stood as the highlight of the evening. Straddling the lines between moody bassline melodies and harsh percussive motifs, the hour-long performance was structured almost entirely around new material, with none of the signature tracks that have remained staples in his live set over the past few years. At a time when seemingly every techno artist on the planet is churning out a live set that ultimately relies far too heavily on slowly changing textures to warrant an hour's attention, Houle's ability to construct such an engaging array of tracks with a clearly defined progression and constantly evolving focus sets him far apart from so many of his peers.
There was no mid-set lull when everyone realized they needed another drink, and the crowd were vocal and receptive throughout. At no point did this feel like a half-hearted mid-week party: He may not have reinvented the wheel, but Marc Houle shows no signs of losing his touch. To close the party was a DJ set by Troy Pierce. Again, expertly executed, well selected, and perfectly enjoyable—but this could have easily been 2006.
Photo credit: Katrina James
A friend later commented to me that the purpose of the new label was not necessarily for its three central artists to redefine their sound, but rather that it provided a platform for them to continue what they were doing while signing other artists to extend and diversify their palette. If this is how future parties pan out, the contrasts will certainly make for some intriguing listening. It will also be interesting to see whether the label's new signings will be given more prominent DJ slots at the future Items & Things parties. Tonight, they were relegated to very early warm-up duties, so they'd finished before most people had even arrived at the event.
For such well-established artists, starting something new was always going to be difficult. On the one hand, it seems unnecessary to change a winning formula—and, indeed, many elements of an excellent Minus party were very evident here. It's quite possible that over time Items & Things will establish its own niche and create a genuinely new identity for itself. So far, though, it really is difficult to see anything that's radically different.