A name like "Great American Techno Festival" probably deserves an explanation, lest observers think it overly high-minded or arrogant. Last year's inaugural edition of GATF originally drew inspiration from, and was scheduled for the same weekend as the 30 year-old Great American Beer Festival which attracts an annual sell-out crowd of almost 50,000. Although the festivals did not line up this year, it looks like GATF, too, with its weekend-long collection of US talent taking over small and mid-sized venues in and around the downtown area, is here to stay.
All weekend, the crowds were enthusiastic and tuned-in. Especially to their local crews. On Thursday, Mick Finesse helped kick off things off with a raw, thumping set that hit hard, but not too hard for an opening night event, while upstairs Mike Day was spinning some of the deepest and sexiest tracks I would hear at any point during the festival. Attentat, given the opening slot for Saturday night's main event with Kevin Saunderson and Mike Parker, picked a proper selection of moody, slow-burning rhythms to warm up the room.
There were also a few out-of-town outfits that flew in to join the fun, like LA's Droid Behavior, who threw a Saturday-night afterparty. I arrived at that one to see Raiz silhouetted by a huge visual display and working over a crowd eager to push the limits of the weekend, and although I hit the eject button relatively early, I heard the Droid crew kept a small but devoted pack of dancers happy until close at 8:00 AM. Tired legs meant I slept through the after-afterparty hosted by Bay Area collective Direct To Earth, which was unfortunate, because reports would later describe a messy breakfast of techno served with pancakes and waffles.
The first headliner of the weekend, Donor, played lived and moved between loopy, bleepy minimalism and tough-as-nails stuff like "Lapse." The next night, John Tejada's live set underwhelmed even if it did provide an airy bit of variety to the proceedings. A few stops between tracks made it hard to find a groove, and by the end I felt that all eyes were on the woman on stage setting up a laptop and controllers. The woman was Rrose, in drag, and he/she lashed out with long, psychedelic swaths of sound that left just about everyone in a daze. Mike Parker, Saturday night's first headliner, presented a challenging and precisely-mixed set of techno that often featured the endless poly-rhythms of his own material. He was followed by Kevin Saunderson, who used his own veteran skills to swing easily through hard-hitting house and harder-hitting techno. His sons bouncing jubilantly in the back corner of the stage, The Elevator blew past the 2:00 AM curfew with a crowd stuck at full throttle until the very end.
After all of that, it took a while for Sunday's afternoon session to summon a small, weary collection of festival-goers. Many chose to relax on the venue's patio, but as the sun went down, more and more people moved inside to enjoy the weekend's last acts. I was most impressed with Jason Short, whose laptop was wired to an assortment of analog gear. Funky and upbeat, his live set struck the right chord with the floor before Deepak Sharma closed the festival with one last dose of big, chunky techno.
Throughout the weekend I caught up with GATF organizer John Templeton who, aside from promoting, also DJs and produces his own music. When I asked him why he wasn't playing during the festival, he explained his firm belief that there is plenty of work to do in spreading the sounds of Denver's own scene, and those of artists across the country; in his view, putting himself on the bill would appear arrogant.
My primary gripe with GATF was the lack of outdoor events. In 2011, I was told the festival featured a daytime party in a park, and I hope that something like that returns in the future. I also hope that the venues involved next year get some of that delicious local beer on tap. (It seems a shame that nightspots only had the most predictable national brands, considering the GABF.) Still, each of the festival's intimate gatherings felt like a success, thanks to rock-solid performances from the artists and warm, appreciative crowds. Adventurous techno heads seeking a late-summer/early-fall weekend of music away from the country's obvious big city hotspots would be wise to keep an eye on GATF.