The concept of "indie dance music" is a funny beast. At this point, the increased availability of information via alternative mediums has created this amorphous catch-all, an ideology that seems more defined by distribution channels and various tastemakers than any sort of unifying sound. In part due to heavy curatorial groundwork laid by labels like DFA or Italians Do It Better, the current wave embraces all original styles of dance music now (disco, techno, house), which should logically create a full circle blending of the old guard with the new, such that "indie dance" could itself become, comfortably, "dance music."
But judging from the people in attendance at Azari & III's second appearance in New York—a young, seemingly hand-picked cross-section of fashion culture and downtown cool—it appears there is a certain degree of trendiness buzzing around Azari & III; something which actually struck me by surprise. I mean, this kind of crowd is normally reserved for venues that court exclusivity based on cultural cache...You're telling me this isn't just about great new house music?
Thinking back to their video for "Hungry for the Power," with its stylish mix of American Psycho perversion and urban couture, I reasoned that a good portion of the crowd came strictly with this visual in mind. As such, disappointment struck when I noticed that the turntables were set-up right at the front of the stage: Vocalists Fritz Helder & Cedric Gasiada would not be performing with them that night (apparently due to ongoing visa issues that have plagued their American tour dates before. A word of advice: always check for the word "LIVE" on the bill). Adding to that frustration was a noticeable lack of sub-bass, a situation that didn't improve as hoped when the warm-up DJ, JDH, handed over the decks.
The gripes began to subside, however, when the duo opened things with Wendy Carlos's theme from A Clockwork Orange. They quickly cut the power on the turntable, letting the record wind down into detuned sludge before taking us directly into the jacking zone. What followed was a near flawless selection of seedy, drum machine-heavy records played at low BPMs, which fit exceedingly well, both as a primer into the darker sides of Chicago and Detroit, and as the soundtrack to what felt like an impromptu magazine spread for a glossy magazine. Eventually the lights dimmed so that only the faintest glimmer crept out of the bar-side chandelier. The vibe culminated with the heavy, strobing arpeggios of Azari & III's own "Manhooker," the sharp ticks of an 808 in slow-motion invoking a lost 13th hour, that moody kind of haze locked in the deepest part of a night, despite it only being somewhere around 2 AM.
Shortly after, they launched into Adonis's "No Way Back," only to have the amps blow halfway through. The sound stayed dead for over twenty minutes, causing more than half the crowd to vanish into the night. Frustrating, I'm sure. But in a way, it was a perfect litmus test for those who came strictly to let loose. Once the amps fired back on again, the patient among the crowd were rewarded with a markedly different vibe. All the posturing from the first half of the evening gave way to a wider palette, a set ranging from the roaring energy of Sylvester to airy classics from Art of Noise, with the highlight of the night being the unabashedly sunny euphoria of Tensnake's "Coma Cat" dissolving into the swirling cosmic liquid that is Floating Points' "Vacuum Boogie." In this idealized space, music was king, and even the staunchest purists and most "indie-centric" dancers realized "Reckless With Your Love" is already a classic record.