A smaller-scale show than the recent extravaganzas put on at the W2 space by Vancouver's influential LIGHTA! Sound crew, it was an unassuming and laid-back event that carried none of the clout you might expect from a gig with a headliner like Ikonika, Hyperdub's first lady of what was once called "wonky" and now chief engineer of experimental chiptune house. Organized by rogue LIGHTA! member (and producer and DJ) Max Ulis and Love Dancing, the night had some birthing pains, and the show's tight schedule was completely thrown out the window, but it turned out to be for the better. The way the proceedings unfolded felt completely natural, like a house party thrown by a few friends.
The night feigned a beginning of wobbly, old-school-leaning dubstep—exactly the kind of thing Vancouver crowds love—before dropping deep into the bowels of house with quirky Vancouver duo Love Dancing. The two played everything from pulsating electro to disco-flavoured vocal tracks to horn-led excess, and the willing and eager crowd ate it all up eagerly even as they struggled to acclimate to the more straightforward beats. By midnight—Ikonika's scheduled set time—it was finally Max Ulis' turn. The city's favourite Jesus lookalike played an expert and measured set that nicely eased the crowd back into more dubstep and garage-flavoured sounds. His set veered from local and North American variants—including some promising new originals of his own—to bigger UK anthems (like the Doc Daneeka remix of Breach's "Fatherless,") recklessly veering between dubstep, UK funky, garage and, of course, some footwork flavours as well.
By the time Ikonika reached the stage—for a closing set just over an hour long—the crowd had been whipped up into an adoring frenzy, but I don't think anyone was prepared for what Sara Abdel-Hamid was readying to release on Vancouver that night. A set heavy on unreleased new material—very few tracks were recognizable aside from bearing the unmistakable Ikonika sonic stamp—beats switched on a dime from more syncopated dubstep and garage patterns to thumping house. Integrating bits of vintage house and even acid, her set was a solid hour of crystalline playground melodies and chunky, visceral percussion, incorporating R&B vocals and even dropping Starkey's supreme orchestral overture "Playing with Fire" towards the end. When her set had to come to an abrupt end at 2 AM, the air buzzed with leftover potential energy, as eager dancers lovingly booed promoter and staff as they hurriedly removed the equipment.
All in all it was a promising and exciting night that actually went all the more smoothly for its few starting glitches. With a fantastic audience, a brilliantly diverse lineup, and a wonderful mix of ubiquitous UK bass anthems, local dubplates and hidden gems, it showed that Vancouver could be more in tune with musical goings-on in UK and Europe than your average North American city. Even better, it felt like an informal underground party with all the coal-fired vitality of scrappy underdogs; it just happened to have a rather recognizable name attached to it, and one of the best sets Vancouver's bass scene has ever seen.