When people look back on Rotation IX, I wonder what people are going to remember most about the night.
Will it be the oppressively hot packed Room dancefloor?
Will it be Luke Slater playing ‘Remanipulated’?
What about that smoke machine?
Perhaps it will be the blistering performance of Ben Cromack and Simon Coyle.
Or maybe Mistress Barbara’s self-indulgent extended set.
Or her playing ‘Remainipulated’.
If you picked ‘(g) None of the above’, then you would be correct. To find the highlight of the night we need to begin with the end of the evening, when a DJ named Dave Rankine stepped up to the decks. In fact, let’s just do the whole review in reverse order. “The last shall be first...”
From the opening wake up call of ‘Unknown Synthetic’, Rankine was something very, very special. From there it was hard, it was driving, it was everything good about techno. He sucked us in with throbbing basslines of the warehouses of yesteryear and then pounced on us with novel mixes of more recent favourites.
Rankine’s mixer abuse was relentless, chopping up tunes with long mixes that got the crowd hollering with the promise of each new track. The driving rumble of DJ Bold’s new ‘Cheap Thrills EP’ creeping up on us, the basic beat of ‘Vitalian House’ sneaking in, the tear-inducing strings of a beautiful Johannes Heil track flooding the dancefloor, both highlights of a very, very satisfying set.
Rankine’s contribution as pert of Team Forklift’s Rotation warmup at Seven on Friday night had been brilliant, but this set had quite a different character. Although the latter two monsters had set the Lasergun floor on fire, the feel of the Room set was somewhat darker and more menacing. Yum!
Simon Coyle picked up the microphone to draw an end to proceedings, letting Rankine squeeze out a ‘one more’. To take us home, electro silliness, accompanied by screams of appreciation of the mastery the stayers had just witnessed. Rankine had played for just over an hour, and it wasn’t enough.
Rankine had it all to do after a lacklustre finish from Misstress Barbara. To be honest, I had taken a pew and was fighting to keep myself awake. It was a far cry from a far more invigorating opening to her set. Hard-edged, not needing to rely on hits to get the crowd cheering, it was rarely as hard as her 2001 Australian debut, but it certainly had its moments. The first section of her set saw tight mixer technique and some fresh tracks. Was it to continue?
I have three gripes with Misstress Barbara’s performance and it’s a shame, because in 2001 she really endeared herself not only to me but many more techno aficionados around the country.
Firstly, the breaks in her records. She would frequently turn away from the decks, back to the crowd, only to have the record fall completely silent for a few seconds and then building to a lacklustre crescendo at what felt like a snail’s pace. One such tune was ‘That Horn Track’ by Egyptian Empire, which Luke Slater had also played. Too often we were left standing around waiting for something to happen when the same records could probably have really worked in tandem with another.
There were also a few records in there with a lot of cutting and such incorporated into the track. The DJ is picking through her record bag, and yet it sounds like she’s wreaking havoc on the mixer...what’s wrong with this picture?
Secondly, the flow of the set. Frequent breaks as above didn’t help keep our attention, but neither did chopping and changing between genres, and not always smoothly, either. From ‘Chicks on Speed’ (interesting) to ‘Rhythm Machine’ (nice) ‘Body Freefall’ (YES!) to ‘Pontape’ (yawn) this set certainly had variety, but the transition from sound to sound was often abrupt, out of time, misconstrued, or simply unnecessary. The set really seemed to lose its original impetus and flair.
Even Barbara’s EQ work became amateurish. For example, a huge tune would often pass its crescendo with the bass still way down.
Thirdly, her attitude. When Barbara came to town in 2001, she was bright eyed and bushy tailed, a talented girl thrust into the spotlight and ferried around the world. She worked up a real rapport with the audience, making eye contact, smiling, winking. But at Rotation, while she still had that lustful bop behind the decks, she had changed. Cheering herself for the duration of her set made some people cringe, but there was more. Flouting a sign asking DJs to keep drinks away from the mixer, she promptly spilt a beverage on the equipment.
Her impromptu extended performance ate into Rankine’s set which disappointed many, particularly as her mixing here became a little more sloppy, and her track selection a little more unoriginal.
From that harder, chunkier start, the set became flat, and even seemed to take on a slightly trancey feel. Playing in excess of half an hour overtime, she did start relying on hits, slamming in the ol’ faithful ‘Poney Part 1’, the intense remix of ‘Point Blank’, and more. And then she played ‘Remanipulated’.
I enjoyed the first part of Misstress Barbara’s set immensely, and many more enjoyed the whole show. If nothing else, her ravishing Sicilian good looks were entrancing. Speaking of eye candy, Luke Slater had girls going ga-ga as he stepped up to the decks. Perhaps it was that boozy, squinty leer, perhaps it was that dangly cross-motif earring, I don’t know, but this firm Melbourne favourite had the crowd yelling riotously as he took the decks.
Getting underway with ‘Pontape’ and then leading into some lighter techno, in many ways Slater’s set was somewhat of a precursor to the Misstress’. Changing from genre to genre with gay abandon, interrupting his set for extended buildups, and of course his trademark sloppy mixing.
The set had no real flow. At one point, Slater slid in The KLF’s ‘It’s Grim Up North’, a psytrancey classic that ends with an out of place, stand-alone organ melody. Sorta like ‘God Save The Queen’. Slater let it play out uninterrupted, which I really don’t think worked. Parts of the audience loved the surprise, but others didn’t quite understand the interruption. On the other hand, I loved the acidy track he finished up with. Unfortunately, it was to be only a brief sample of the last genre touched on in a real mish-mash of a set.
But back to that sloppy mixing. If there’s one thing Luke Slater is consistent at, it’s fucking up mixes. And I love him for it. Last time I saw him, at Gatecrasher Summer Sound System 2001, he played with four decks at his disposal, and he earnt points for trying even if he was unintentionally double beating a lot of the time. See also his ‘Fear and Loathing’ CD – here’s a man that is game enough to be adventurous with the mixer, but when he doesn’t nail it, he doesn’t hide behind ProTools. Respect.
Anyway, at Rotation, he was still up to his old tricks. If Babs had a couple of mixes that sounded like a highway coach bus accident, Slater reenacted the Granville Train Disaster.
Yep, not much had changed from 2001, right down to his track selection. At GCSSS, I remember him playing ‘Remanipulated’ and bitching with other techno elitists, as we pretentious purists tend to do, about how tired it was. Well, when he wheeled it out at Rotation, people were gobsmacked.
Slater seemed to use the hits as a bit of a crutch, slamming one in when the set became a bit flat to snap the audience back to attention. ‘Body Freefall’ had me going absolutely mental, it was the one track I had been hoping to hear. This mix was a good example of Slater’s technique – it came at a point when the set was meandering a little, it was at odds with the style of track either side of it, and, to Slater’s credit, he teased the crowd with it – his elongated mixing style was a consistent highlight.
Many of Slater’s mixes, however, were almost nonexistent. Too often he just slid the fader across, something Misstress Barbara would also indulge in later. Overall, Slater failed to hold my attention for any great length, changing the set up too often and not letting the floor settle into a groove.
This was not the case for Ben Cromack and Simon Coyle, however. These two worked extremely well together and had me instantly dancing as I entered, with Bryan Zentz’ ‘D-Clash’ – a track later repeated by Misstress Barbara. I was later told I had missed favourites such as ‘Sunshine’. Coyle had also dropped ‘Rub On Ya Titties’ (Pete Simpson remix) before my arrival, and continued to wheel out his stock favourites such as ‘Get On Up’ (Chris Liebing remix) and ‘Pontape’. Cromack played the very familiar Ben Sims remix of ‘Fresh People’, but there was a lot more to this set that a cavalcade of hits.
If anything, this was the real “drummy funky pumpin’ techno” of the night. Hits were there but they complimented the set as opposed to interrupting it. The crowd was already going nuts because the set was so good, they didn’t need hits to get them dancing!
Extra gold stars for playing a personal favourite, ‘Spool 6’ – I’ve never heard it out before but boy oh boy...it certainly deserves more of an airing! This kind of delicious techno, together with some tight as all hell mixing, is what made this set a cut above the ensuing two.
Well done to both DJs for starting the night off just right – and for contributing to the full time score of Melbourne 2, Internationals 0. As one pundit said, “Ben Cromack made Luke Slater look like a retarded chimpanzee.”
It would be dishonest not to make a few firm comments about Room, but then again, many people knew what to expect. The heat, the smoke, the hot water, the crowd. They were all there. The Rotation guys had gone to a little effort, dividing the seating from the dancefloor, moving the podium stage out of the way, and rigging up some DVD projectors. At Kamoflage, I wasn’t really won over to the idea of simply showing videos as visuals, but the selection here seemed to work; favourites such as ‘Run Lola Run’ and ‘Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon’, together with extreme sports films and the scandal-ridden skating doco ‘Dogtown and Z-Boys’.
The latter was sold to festivals like Sundance as an independent film, and after winning many awards it was uncovered that it had actually been devised and financed by Vans, who had used it as a vehicle for a product placement-ridden, glorified infomercial.
But it wasn’t the only bum steer on display at Rotation. Room, sold as the glamour club of the inner-East, was far from comfortable. The club was rammed, sardine can style, with everyone from men in suits to girls dancing as per a Christina Aguilera video clip.
With the club so full, and so hot, people were desperate to cool down. Newcomers to Room were disgusted to find only hot water in the taps and exorbitant prices at the bar. Charging $4 for a tiny 300mL bottle of water and refusing to give cold water to patrons is irreprehensible. Never mind what the law has to say, it simply defies basic commonsense. A club has a duty of care to its patrons. Engaging is such profiteering is sure to come back and bite them with a nasty incident.
The club was stinking hot as soon as I walked in, and I was instantly sweating as I got into Cromack and Coyle’s set. Everyone in the place was soaked through. Utterly ridiculous. Then there was the smoke machine. Unleashed on a full club, aimed straight into a packed dancefloor. There is absolutely no reason why that thing should ever have been turned on at Rotation.
To Rotation’s credit, they fixed up the sound good and proper. I was last at Room in December and the sound was abysmal. At Rotation, I didn’t reach for the earplugs until midway through Misstress Barbara’s set.
I was very much turned off the idea of Rotation IX by the thought of sweltering at Room. I’m happy to report that Agent Mad and Wet Musik did as much as they could with the venue. If only they could do something about the air con, the water, and the crowd size, then Room may actually become a viable venue for future parties.
The internationals were flat, but the locals saved the day. Rotation is back. Viva Melbourne techno!