Among the venues earmarked for closure is The Bongo Club, one of the city's largest underground club spaces and host to Jeff Mills's first Edinburgh show in some time. Outside, before he was due to take to the decks, sat a queue about 40-50 ft in length, and one that, should folk want to make a point about Edinburgh nightlife being "alive and well" (the show was a sell out days in advance), was bristling with Fifers, Glaswegians and others from further afield.
However, it is real estate, and not the city's apparent lack of enthusiasm for such nights, that remains the more pressing issue, and it's one that extends beyond a lack of availability. Swathes of venues in more "gentrified" parts of Edinburgh (where, ironically, you're more likely to find yourself in a spot of bother) are largely owned by men with short arms and deep pockets; so-called "underground" nights are monopolised by promoters selling snake-oil gimmicks (monthly examples include: electro-house burlesque, Balkan gypsy funk, a Britpop pastiche called Madchester), all offering "something a bit different"—the subtext of which often reads "anything but techno."
And so, it was this rather withered vine on which Jeff Mills was asked to bear fruit, and where Substance, one of the very few serious techno monthlies in Edinburgh, hosted him. On a stage elevated some seven or eight feet in the air, Mills towered above at least 300 people, nearly all of whom demonstrated an inexhaustible capacity to whistle and rattle in sustained appreciation. After opening with a mist of spectral Kubrick/Carpenter synths, Mills's bank of drum machines began to stir and sputter into life, hi-hats and snares clawing tentatively at thin air before blunt thuds began to beat loops out of them.
From start to finish, Mills judged proceedings beautifully. "Phase 4" and "The Bells" came and went in minute-long snippets, and where other DJs might have let such seminal trademarks linger, Mills had the nous not to spoil the crowd. Only "Sonic Destroyer" was afforded the space to bloom, and in having done so was drowned out by a collective roar that reciprocated the sheer ferocity of the song in kind. As the hour trickled past 3 AM and the bulbs blazed across the ceiling, the obligatory chorus of "one more tune" bellowed from the pit, but the cry was so feral that it sounded, hilariously, more like a threat than it did a polite request. Mills obliged with a barebacked drum machine workout that would doubtless have driven Edinburgh's anti-techno contingent into ear-bleeding apoplexy. Sadly, the whole event felt more like a violent, blissful death throe than any sort of call to arms, but then perhaps this is what the city deserves. Edinburgh, with its rich literary traditions, seems lately to prefer tragedy over triumph.