Many supposed Stewart Walker’s new album ‘Concentricity’ would be the long awaited sequel to ‘Live Extracts’ It isn’t. Walker resisted expectations and released an album of well-crafted studio-made tracks. He has long history of bending, stretching and redefining expectations: the cross-fertilization experiments, his efforts to reconcile dancefloor and home listening techno. It’s a tendency not restricted to his productions, but also affects the presentation of his music. After making the unusual choice of releasing ‘Concentricity’ as a mix CD in the face of claims that ‘no-one wants mix CDs anymore’, he also made an interesting choice of venue for the release party: Arenaclub, a small place tucked around the back of some warehouses on the Spree.
After being barely a blip on the radar, Arenaclub is a little venue that’s started attracting some big names. Next week is a M_nus party with Richie Hawtin, Steve Bug and Troy Pierce. I was looking forward to checking it out, and to the three live sets billed for the Persona party: Ada, Walker and Touane. Ada unfortunately cancelled at the last minute, but Trapez’s Jeff Samuel stepped up, and in the end no one was disappointed.
Arena wasn’t easy to find, but it’s within earshot of canal-side Club der Visionäre, and I was given friendly directions by the loiterers outside. The club is dark, and late, late, late getting started. I get there at 1:30 and the place is empty. An hour later it’s starting to move, but it’s three before it fills up.
As I take in the red lights embedded in the walls and floor, Nuel (Manuel Fogliata) lures dancers out of the bar onto the main floor with early 90s Kenny Larkin. Italian Touane (Marco Tonni) follows and gets the building crowd worked up with his deep funky live set: grooved-up Thriller-like basslines and stripped-down melodies. At about four, in the dark, with the crowd throbbing for more, Jeff Samuel takes to the turntables.
Samuel more than did justice to his reputation. Already well known for his excellent DJ sets, and tight productions on the Traum sub Trapez, 2006 was a good year for him with the release of his overdue album, and the killer remix of Phonique’s ‘Gift’. He delivered a complex, grooving set, and the scale of the club meant none of the nuance was lost on the appreciative crowd.
The main room of Arena is small enough to keep a nice sized crowd very intimate: more than a hundred strong and it’s comfortably heaving. The sound reflected around its high brick walls is sweet and deep.
Walker took over at around 5:30. People were spilling into the cavernous empty spaces behind and upstairs from the sweaty main floor. Walker played off the energy of the crowd with perfect timing, rolling out big, deep, propulsive bass and grinning back at the cheers and screams. The clean sounds were assembled with material from the new album, which worked brilliantly live. It was a set of restless, pulsing melancholy with subtle melodies.
DJs Dash and Dry (Thomas Kalber and Nico Starke) from Rampe D Records took over from Walker near seven and kept the party going until after ten. These two are veterans of Tresor's Headquarters parties, an institution that played every Wednesday night for almost ten years.
Staggering out into the bright spring sunshine, I was pretty happy with the night. Skip the long queues and picky door policy of Panorama/Berghain. Escape the department store feel of Watergate. At Arena, you get nice sound delivered on the right scale, friendly people and great small parties, and maybe something more than you were expecting.