My Heart Still Beats in 4/4: Virgin Festival Dance Tent & Blank Artists Review

Electronic Dance Music was not the first music I fell in love with. My first aural affair began at an early age with the music I was playing on the piano and cello–classical (my favorite composer was Bach). As I grew older my taste diversified, though I still maintained a love of art music. However, I just wasn’t as into punk as all my friends were. In fact, I just wasn’t into the whole live band experience.

A bunch of factors led me to EDM, mainly the fact that it could still be heard on WHFS at the time. My taste matured from the near-rock of Prodigy, to drum and bass, and finally to that purity of sound of techno (mainly the Detroit, acid, and minimal kind). I began frequenting parties, club nights, “raves,” anything with beats coming out of a sound system. I began DJing with kids at school, then organizing our own nights in high school and college (though they where never heavily attended).

Techno was one of the passions of my life. I read, and re-read Techno Rebels: Renegades of Electric Funk. I spent way to much money on vinyl, and mixed instead of doing work. But slowly, I lost interest in that music.

My tastes became more inline with that of the indie trends. This is most likely due to the death of the EDM scene around these parts, and the astounding emergence and quality of Baltimore’s indie scene. The new indie electronic acts, though technically electronic, didn’t fit into the old paradigm. Dan Deacon is electronic, and he does make dance music, but not in the same way that Jeff Mills does.

The end of an era came for me when I packed away my second turntable, because I wasn’t using it, and it was taking up space. I sold much of my vinyl on ebay.

However, the electronic music I have experienced live over the past few weeks has re-invigorated my interest in the music that was once the sole pursuit of my life.

Virgin Festival

Sunday of Virgin Festival was far stronger than Saturday, but no stage had as strong a line-up as the dance tent, or so I anticipated.

Chromeo was up first at 12:30. They are not exactly DJs, but they do make dance music. If we want to split hairs, then yes, they should have been on one of the band stages, not in the tent. Critically, I judged them as one would a band. But the fact of the matter is that Chromeo killed it. P-Thugg and Dave 1 are true showmen. The crowd urged the duo onto stage with the chant “Chrom-eee-ooo, oooh–oooh!” The tent was amazingly full for such an early time slot (a fact not lost on Dave 1, who repeatedly thanked the crowd for such a great turnout so early in the day).

There isn’t too much substance to Chromeo…in fact, there may be none. But it’s meant to be that way. P-Thugg–decked out in a Bull’s jersey with a matching red cap, and bling–mans the samples, synths, and, most importantly, the talk box, the campiest of all effects processors. He is king of the talk box, and gives Thomas Bangalter, or Dr. Dre a run for their money any day. In fact, one of the highlights of the set came when P-Thugg sang (albeit through his talk box/vocoder combination) Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing,” while Dave 1 accompanied him on guitar.

Overall, it was a very impressive performance from a band I had dismissed as a throw away.

I had seen Rabbit in the Moon once before at Starscape. That particular night, Rabbit in the Moon came on at the exact moment my drug experience was peaking, leaving me with unforgettable memories. I was so enamored by front man Bunny’s stage antics. This time seeing Rabbit in the Moon, sans drugs, I was not as impressed. The stage show–which involves Bunny climbing into an inflatable plastic ball and running around on top of the audience, among other things–seemed to trump the actual music. The music, itself, was generic sounding EDM. I was even more let down than I had expected. Not to mention the fact that this was the same exact show I saw some 5 years ago. The only highlight was the epic, goth tinged, breakbeat reworking of Bowie’s “Let’s Dance.” A good track, but not enough to make me want to see Rabbit in the Moon again, provided they keep the same stage show for the next 5 years.

Deadmau5, whom I kept calling Danger Mouse, spins those electro-house tracks, which are neither proper electro, nor house. Instead the genre is the bastard child of Electroklash and Progressive House, I guess. I dub Deadmau5′s music Rodent House. We’ll see if the name sticks.

Deadmau5 stepped to the decks (well actually just a laptop, and channel mixer) with his trademark Takashi Murakami-esque mouse helmet. The effect of watching him mix, and bounce his head–which, in turn, flopped the giant foam ears back and forth–was pretty cool, and didn’t come off as too gimmicky. The music was not sacrificed for visuals (as was the case for Rabbit in the Moon).

Deadmau5 has openly expressed his disdain for DJing, and basically says he does it to keep up appearances, and because it is what the public expects of him. He’d rather just stick to production. This made me skeptical of him at first (and the fact that his set was done off of a laptop, persumably running Ableton), but he actually seemed to enjoy being in front of the crowd, which was going crazy. Despite the fact that the crowd wasn’t comprised of EDM conissouers, but rather many guys and girls of the Bro persuasion.

But I can’t judge.

When Deadmau5 dropped “Faxing Berlin” late the in the set, the crowd collectively raised their hands and moved them to the gentle chord progressions of the track. If you’ve never experienced a live DJ set before, there is usually a point in the set where the DJ (if he is good) drops that one track that sets everything off. “Faxing Berlin” was that track for this crowd. However, I’m not completely sold on the track’s power, but after the set Deadmau5 was redeemed to the point I could respect the music he makes–not necessarily enjoy, but respect.

Next up was Windsor/Detroit/Berlin techno DJ, producer, and god Richie Hawtin. His work under the Plastikman alias paved the way for minimal techno, and his Deck, Efx, 909 (two Technics 1200 turntables, stomp efx pedals, and Roland TR 909 drum machine) project set the benchmark for innovation in a live set. He developed the first generation of digital interface software to be used by DJs, among other achievements.

The last time he spun in Baltimore, indeed the last night I had seen him, was about 6 years ago. At that point he was still spinning pummeling Detroit techno. He has since served into more heady, atmospheric fare with the launch of his label Minus. Plus 8 was his former label, home to his more aggressive recordings.

I have to say I was somewhat disappointed. Hawtin proved why he just isn’t relevant anymore–his music lacks that edge; he’s doing nothing new. He still churns out technically flawless mixes, but that may be the problem; his mixes may be too sterile, too clean. At least with his earlier, more aggressive sound the listener got that raw sense of power, but now, not so much.

Hawtin was still the best DJ at V Fest by far. In fact the others may not ever be close, but he didn’t get the closing spot. Instead that would go to Armin Van Buren, but not without a little Moby first.

Some people have mixed feelings about Moby; most have very clear-cut and defined feelings about Moby. I fall into the latter camp. I like Moby, but let me qualify that with the fact that I like Moby out of nostalgia. I grew up listening to his albums (I didn’t know any better, I was young!), in particular Play. This album is a crowning work of pop, nothing more, nothing less. I should also point out that I consider Moby to be a pop artist, not an electronic musician. I was also very suspicious of his mixing ability (he was doing a DJ set).

Moby’s set went off pretty much as expected. His mixing was minimal, and basic. He spent a large amount of time away from the mixer hyping the crowd (that’s a plus about Hawtin; he sticks to mixing and EQing–constantly EQing). Moby even spent some time standing on top of the mixer. He dropped tracks like Basement Jaxx’s “Where’s Your Head At?” Mind blowing record selection, right?

One strong point of Moby’s mix, and production, are the abundant piano rolls. I can never get enough piano rolls. On Moby’s latest album, Last Night, the only standout track features a hammering piano roll. The track is aptly named “Every Day it’s 1989.” If only he dropped this track in the set, I would have gone crazy. There were other Moby songs mixed in though, like an awful remix of “Porcelain,” which I think was originally a very pretty song.

My take on the Moby set: Moby DJing–not good; Moby making pop records with field recordings of old black men singing–very good.

I was a little let down by the Virgin Festival line-up I had so eagerly anticipated. Primarily, I was let down by Richie Hawtin, but I was expecting a repeat of a night 6 years ago, that will probably remain a once in a life time event. I got to meet Richie Hawtin, though. He’s a pretty nice guy, if that counts for anything.

Blank Artists Tour

The big names had failed to substantially impress me, so it was up to the underground. More or Less/Bmore-electro, Baltimore’s techno forum cum record label/party promoters haven’t let me down since I started going to their events. The parties are under-attended, but Baltimore isn’t really a techno town, nor has it ever stopped me from having fun at the events. More or Less began with monthlies at The Depot, but lost that spot and spent some time in the desert, so to speak, traveling around various Baltimore venues. Now with the re-incarnated Lo-Fi Social Club (now known as the Hexagon), I hope that they have found a permanent dwelling, and can start to rebuild their base. They have a wealth of solid local DJ talent like Craig Sopo and love/hate (who provides the graphic design talent for all the parties’ flyers), and also bring in national acts as well. This was the case for the Blank Artist’s tour.

Blank Artists Label mates Drew Pompa, Josh Dahlberg (who provided a remix of the MOL release “Shell Tone” by Craig Sopo), and Jared Wilson hail from Detroit, the birthplace of techno. They bring a mix of techno, house, and electro.

Drew’s set alone was enough to impress me, and win me over to Blank Artists. Being the opener his set slowly built up momentum. He started with a more house-y flavor, and then gradually moved to the more percussive techno, with some electro sprinkled in along the way. It was a perfect demonstration of pacing in a set. In a sign of humility (and playing the part of a good opening DJ) he refrained from dropping the bangers, and instead methodically worked the crowd up for the next man.

One wouldn’t think that showmanship comes into play when playing other people’s music (the simplistic version of a DJ), but it does. Drew was truly a blast to watch, as he was very much into the music. That sort of enthusiasm bleeds over into the crowd. It certainly did for me; I was dancing like a fool.

Josh opened up his Mac powerbook and booting up Ableton Live. We were in for a “live set,” in the EDM sense of the word. This meant all sequencing was done live, but the sound isn’t necessarily synthesized live. Compared to Drew, Josh’s set was more techno, more pure, less eclectic, but this is understandable as he is performing only his own productions. At one point Josh let loose a sustained bass frequency that shook the Hexagon’s speakers and the stage they were perched on (one minor change I would have made is to put the speakers on the floor, so the stage doesn’t rattle…that stage looked kind of rickety to begin with). Perhaps some better lighting effects would have bettered the experience, but from Blank Artists’ end, everything was dead on. I hear there is some talk amongst the MOL camp about creating portable lighting effects–that would be nice.

Jared Wilson was the focal point of the night. Unfortunately, he was unable to do a live acid set, as a key part of his equipment was stolen at a prior gig. Jared makes some of the best acid out right now (the genre, not the chemical…I can’t speak for that). His Office Analogue and Jared Wilson’s Drug Related Stories are at the pinnacle of the genre. In fact, legend has it Tony Wilson died to the sounds of the TNT remix of Jared’s acid squelches. And when he did drop the TNT Perceptions Remix, the place went bonkers. As Drew put it, “I play records, Jared is an artist.” Too bad I had to be up early the next morning, and left midway through Jared’s set.

There is already talk of getting Drew to come back and do a marathon set. If this is the case, then I am there without hesitation.

The small time label artists impressed him and got me to actually dance (the whole point of dance music!) in a way that the big time artists had failed to do. Seeing Blank Artists, one also got the impression that here was something new and developing, whereas watching Virgin Fest DJs felt like watching boxers fight well over retirement age.

Blank Artist Photo Credit: Paul Baker

Blank Artists August Podcast- Drew Pompa mix



Matthew Dear – Elementary Lover (DJ Koze RMX)
Tokyo Black Star – Violent Rush
The Detroit Experiment – Think Twice
Milton Jackson – Adventures in Stereo
Spirit Catcher – Sweet Deal
Recloose – Cardiology (Isolee RMX)
Rick Wade – Prime Expansion
Dennis Ferrer – Son Of Raw (Loco Dice RMX)
Dj Koze – Cicely
Two Armadillos – Hamin
Kelley Polar – Rosenband (Magic Tim’s Instrumental Version)
The Soft Pink Truth – Soft Pink Missy (Brook’s Pink Mafia Mix)
Dimension 6 – Living In The Sunshine (Ame Ohio Dub)
Jazzanova – Another New Day
Herbert – Moving Like a Train (Lidell’s Radio Raw Hymn Mix)
Robag Wruhme – K.T.B. (Ruhig Brauner RMX)

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5 Responses to “My Heart Still Beats in 4/4: Virgin Festival Dance Tent & Blank Artists Review”

  1. Daily Breather says:

    The Blank Artists MoL event was such a great gig. Nice write up. I missed Drew Pomps’a set but caught Jared Wilson’s set. It’s nice to see vinyl again and records cued up so fast. I was moved to dance often with the occasional break to stop and say “aww shit!!”. Hexagon’s a cool venue too. I hope to see more MoL events there.
    I agree with your comment on the music sounding fresh like a sign of what’s yet to come.

  2. Alex Mudge says:

    You raise a good point–out of all the sets reviewed in this post only Jared used vinyl.

  3. love/hate says:

    Drew played some vinyl along with Serato too.

  4. soundslikesterling says:

    The “sustained bass frequency that shook the Hexagon’s speakers” is actually shaking the a/c vent above the stage and the exit sign by the bar. There’s a subwoofer under the stage, those big speakers you see on stage are just stands for the smaller (higher quality) ones perched on top. Fun facts.

  5. Daily Breather says:

    Hey Auralstates! Congrats on your Best of Baltimore Award ’08. You had my vote! Keep up the good work.

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