Better Late Than Never Live Review: Michna at The Hexagon

I had no expectations of Michna going into this night, literally none. I had never heard a single track of his before, but he did come highly recommended from the More or Less crew, and others. Further more, Michna’s label, Ghostly International, is home to the crème de la crème of American electronic acts.

I read his press release, and knew he would be performing with a live backing band, that he had some connections to Diplo, worked with Bonde do Role, etc. But I knew nothing substantial. I was prepared for anything, and ready for nothing.

Quite simply, Michna’s set blew me away.

The party was held at Hexagon, in conjunction with More or Less. Typically, MOL parties draw from a very limited crowd, and that crowd doesn’t come out in force until around 12. However, this night a group of unfamiliar females—apparently from MICA—showed up at the door right at 9. They had heard a Michna track from an iTunes recommended play list, and seen the poster around town. This immediately signaled to me the fact that Michna’s appeal went beyond the typical dance music crowd, that there was something more to him.

In the main room, Adrian Michna and crew were diligently piecing together the elaborate stage set-up–2 LCD screens, 5 TVs, 3 scanners, a giant fog machine, and laser lights. Not to mention all the sound equipment. This was, by far, the most elaborate set-up I had ever seen at the Hexagon.

Ari Goldman started the night off with his space-disco (not really sure what to call it) tracks. The founder of the failed Night Moves party at The Depot (a lot of seemingly solid nights fail pretty regularly at The Depot) is now working on a project called Beautiful Swimmers. It was nice to have him spinning back in Baltimore. Though some technical difficulties arose. Up to that point most DJs at the Hexagon have used the Serato interface technology. Ari was using straight-up, old-fashioned vinyl, and feed back hum started to occur. Basically all the bass frequencies had to be cut for his set. The Hexagon is working to fix this problem by setting the turntables in sandboxes to dampen vibrations.

Then Michna got started.

The stage went black save for some backlighting, and heavy fog from the machine rolling in. Michna raised his trombone, and the accompanying saxophonist placed his lips on the reed. The two waited for the prerecord ambiance to build, and then launched into the opening horns of “Triple Chrome Dipped.”

Talk about a song that exudes smoothness. The beat was tight (really tight considering it was being played live), and the vocal samples played across the sonic field. The presence of trombone, sax, and a drum set called to mind a small jazz group, not an electronic performance.

Michna’s take on hip-hop, break beat, and general electronic music is so profoundly unique. I kept finding myself grinning in discovery—I had never really heard anything like this before. Sure, some producers sample horns, and brass, but here was one actually playing it all.

His use of live instruments in a sample-based genre never felt like a gimmick, like The Roots, for example, sometimes come off as seeming. Michna used live instruments because they best expressed his vision for the music, and, frankly, he’s a sick musician that wants to flaunt his chops.

The segment that really stuck with me the most was a track I later learned was entitled “Bumper Car Masters.” The bass line has a row of ascending quarter notes, before a sly descending slide; about the best bass line I’ve heard in awhile. However, the bass was prerecorded, or at least running off a laptop soft synth. I think it would have added an even deeper element of musicianship if the bass were played live.

For the most part Michna’s work sticks close to mid-tempo instrumental hip-hop, though there are some occasional nods to the time the Brooklyn native spent in Florida. “Redline Flights” is straight-up Miami breaks, but sans cheesiness. The track is probably too well produced (if that makes sense) for DJ Icey to drop it in a set, though it still definitely gets people moving. At that point I kind of wish the stage show included rump shaking women, along the lines of a 2 Live Crew video.

And speaking of the stage show—I was duly impressed by the music and visuals alike. The band included a VJ, who ingeniously worked in real-time manipulations with old school MS Paint. Though the band had to lay-off the fog machine, as apparently the vapor was building-up in the apartments above the Hexagon.

At the center of all the music and visuals was Michna, who while setting-up seemed something like a control freak. However, after seeing his set, I understand him as a man with a very clear vision of what he wants. He acts as something like the big-band leaders of yester-year, or the conductor of an orchestra. He is the director, but also the main persona–the wowing performer upon whom the audience focuses attention.

The night didn’t stop when Michna’s set was finished. DJ Exclaime took to the decks, and delivered an impressive set. He didn’t seem fazed in the least bit by the act he just followed. To Exclaime’s credit he moves through mixes swiftly, and keeps the pace up. He also had some monitor problems, and so his actual mixes weren’t as tight as they could have been, but you must work with what you got.

Many people decry DJ’s, producers, and electronic performers as not true musicians. However, the fact that MOL (a dance night for Christ’s sake!) had the most talented and skilled musicians booked for that night in Baltimore, was an irony not lost on the MOL organizers.

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4 Responses to “Better Late Than Never Live Review: Michna at The Hexagon”

  1. pasta says:

    Michna is pretty sweet, Alex. Your review makes me truly regret missing this show. Good stuff!

  2. Daily Breather says:

    This was one of those nights that I like. Discovering a band that you’ve not heard one note from. No expectations but prepared for anything. And then they keep me smiling. We remember those ones longer. Hey you didn’t mention the innertubes used for hissing sounds. They went all natural on some sounds.

  3. [...] Better Late Than Never Live Review: Michna at The Hexagon [...]

  4. sheila says:

    dope! i am going to see him in gainesville!

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