Tresor holds a place in techno circles that can only be described as legendary. Both as a label and a club, Tresor is widely recognized as playing an enormously important role in the techno scene in Europe. Early club bookings and label releases by Jeff Mills, Robert Hood, and Mike Banks helped bring European attention to the Detroit techno scene. Ever since then, Tresor has built a reputation for innovation. So when two of the more widely acclaimed innovative artists associated with Tresor come to town (in this case, Club Unit in Tokyo), it’s worth sitting up and paying attention. Or is it?
The evening started well as Japanese DJ Sodeyama warmed things up nicely with a set of darkly pulsing minimal techno that slowly but surely brought more and more people onto the dancefloor. The crowd cheered approvingly as his set ended and Stewart Walker came onstage.
Berlin based producer Stewart Walker is perhaps best known for his downtempo “home listening” techno, such as 1999’s Stabiles and the recently released Grounded in Existence. On the dancefloor, however, Walker is a different beast entirely, knocking out jacking sets of minimal techno that he plays live on nothing but hardware (although he confessed in a conversation later that he will soon be performing from laptops). In interviews Walker stresses the importance of live performance, and works hard on differentiating his shows from the often static laptop sets of many minimal techno artists. At Unit, Walker’s hands were a flurry of activity as he deftly operated his hardware, building up driving loops that quickly had the crowd whooping.
Early in the set everyone realized just how live Walker’s set really was, as he somehow lost his rhythm and momentarily dropped the beat. Walker grinned apologetically as the crowd whooped their approval of the fumble and then cheered as he quickly restored the beat. It was the techno equivalent of a guitarist breaking a string because they were rocking out too hard, and the crowd loved it. Walker continued, playing for a little over an hour, concluding with some jacking beats and catchy basslines taken from his 2003 Live Extracts album.
As Stewart Walker finished and Cristian Vogel walked on stage, the crowd surged forwards. Everyone was eager to see what Cristian, long celebrated for seminal releases on Tresor and Mille Plateaux and acclaimed for his innovative and abstract style, was going to serve up. The set started promisingly with dark minimal waves washing over the crowd, and a palpable feeling of excitement began to build as Cristian settled behind his decks, laptop, and microphone.
Alarm bells began to go off when Cristian’s second track failed to build on the first, and the alarms only became progressively louder as the third and fourth tracks also failed to build on each other. It soon became apparent that Cristian was not creating a unified set at all, but was instead playing tracks at whim. Before too long his set had descended into a mish-mash of styles that went nowhere. Drum and Bass was followed by Electro, followed by Minimal Techno, followed by abstract and broken beats…
As the set continued it took on the qualities of a train-wreck: absolutely horrifying, yet somehow sickly fascinating. A group of people towards the back of the club were actually laughing as Cristian stumbled from track to track, sometimes even letting tracks trail into total silence before “mixing” in the next. The dancefloor began to clear as each new track took things in utterly different directions, clubbers looking around confusingly.
Cristian, however, continued on unfazed, firmly convinced he was rocking the crowd. He began dancing spastically behind his decks, and then grabbed the microphone and began freestyling, repeating the word “fuck” quite a few times over, before posing for the press photographers on stage.
People began to leave as the sun rose outside and the first trains started to run. A feeling of disappointment, of sadness, was all that remained in the club as everyone saw an artist who was once innovative, vibrant, and exciting become a parody of himself. Reputations are important in techno, but reputations need to be maintained. Stewart Walker, on one hand, is still a vibrant vital artist. Cristian Vogel, at least as a DJ, has only his reputation.
Ratings: Sodeyama (7/10), Stewart Walker (8/10), Cristian Vogel(2/10)
Special thanks to Ikuko Maeda @ Unit.