"Some people say we make bedroom dance music, so we decided to do this tour to show that we leave our bedrooms sometimes!" So said Amanda Brown, founder of the LA-based 100% Silk label, as she took to the stage to perform under her LA Vampires alias. There's been plenty of controversy around Silk—the sub-label of agenda-defining underground label Not Not Fun—since it opened for business last year. Broadly speaking, the label's output reflects and charts a particular trend of the last two years: that of artists from the DIY/noise underground, many formerly affiliated with Not Not Fun, experimenting with dance music forms. To some this reeks of hipster opportunism; to others it's an intriguing new chapter in dance music's long history of miscegenation. With this tour, Brown and her cohorts are clearly intent on settling the debate once and for all.
Granted, they could have made a more watertight case by performing in a more established club, but the basement of the newly minted Birthdays in Stoke Newington turned out to be more than up for the job. Magic Touch opened proceedings and, as his distinct brand of playful but undeniably muscular house music pumped through the Funktion-One, it occurred to me that this could have been peak time fare. With at points a warm wonkiness reminiscent of Workshop at their friendliest, and at others a trance-like but slightly louche quality not dissimilar to Pepe Bradock—and in spite of the slightly awkward segues between tracks—this was obviously the work of a talented producer meeting house music on its own terms.
Swinging from one extreme to the other, next to the stage was Maria Minerva, opening her set with the caveat that after ten days of touring she may be on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Perhaps that excuses the sloppiness of her performance: what followed was basically house music karaoke, the backing tracks having their own murky, leftfield charm but never less than subservient to Minerva's meandering, largely tuneless singing. At points you could feel a ragged, punk-ish energy trying to burst through, but the prevailing impression was one of laziness: thoughtless lyrical and musical posturing, gesturing at some kind of profundity without ever reaching it.
I had my reservations, then, about LA Vampires: Brown's set followed essentially the same format—her up front singing, her collaborators supplying the synthetic backing. By comparison, though, this was infinitely more refined. Brown's recent collaborative EP with Silk producer Octo Octa drew on the softer edges of house music for its inspiration, fluctuating between the excessively smooth and the gently divine—live, the effect was much the same. Granted, it's easy to see how the self-referentialism of Brown's lyrics (about the ecstasy of dance floor communion, the catharsis of bodily movement) could be alienating—particularly for somebody who sees those aspects of dance music culture as self-evident, not in need of a fetishising touch. But at its best—the slowly unfurling "Freedom 2K" in particular—it was difficult to see Brown's sentiment as anything other than earnest.
That left Planet Mu-signee and Silk golden boy Ital to round things off. Daniel Martin-McCormick's music often sounds a little sterile on record—his Mu long-player, Hive Mind, had a digital clarity that often seemed at odds with its psychedelic underpinnings. Live, though, these tracks were brought to life: scorched washes of delay raged across the music's surface, submerging the whole thing in arid distortion, giving even familiar moments a bewildering, disorientating edge. At first Ital struck just the right blissful balance between chaos and clarity, always with the metronomic thud of a kick drum pinning everything down.
As things progressed, though, levels were pushed, mixers crept into the red and managed disarray gave way to confused mulch. Eventually the sound engineer stepped in, calling a premature halt to proceedings. There's a metaphor to be found here, if we push for it: at its best, 100% Silk's output is a heady compound of dance floor convention and outsider iconoclasm. Miscalculate, though, and you're left with something ineffectual—or, worse, self-indulgent. With this tour, Silk have certainly proven that they can leave their bedrooms—it remains to be seen just how far onto the dance floor they're willing to venture.