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Five things I learned about The BPM Festival

The BPM FestivalDisclaimer: I was only at The BPM Festival for three full days and was insanely sick for one of them. My observations come from a very small sample of what’s become a pretty massive global event.

1- Playa Del Carmen is a much better party destination than Miami

The fact I only stepped into a taxi to go to and come from the airport is enough to give Playa Del Carmen the edge for me.  You can travel to Tulum or to the forest events if you choose, but all you really need is a short walk away from wherever you are. And who minds walking when you’re in such a beautiful tropical location with amazing weather (something never guaranteed in Miami in March)? Paying half the price for drinks is another major plus for Playa over South Beach.  Not feeling raped every time you order a drink is an excellent feeling when you’re on a clubbing vacation.

2. BPM is all about the day parties

La Santanera was a nice spot for the INTIMATE & UNDERGROUND concept. It has great sound, a pro booth and a cozy dance floor. The problem with our event was that it was inside at night. When there’s sunshine and a beach available, that’s where our funky house beats should be played. And coming from a cold climate, I felt ripped when I slept the next morning away. The vibe, energy and visual of a day event in Playa is absolutely epic. If we’re lucky enough to be invited back next year, that’s where I hope we can make the magic happen (at Canibal Royal to be exact).

3. The BPM Festival is a massive “party!”

Crazy crowd for Richie Hawtin at Blue ParrotI could complain about the quality of a lot the mixing and a lack of programming. I could even get into the subjective genre argument and the suitability of the music for the environment (okay, maybe I just did), but one thing I cannot debate is the enormity of the party both in numbers and energy. The BPM crew brought it big time! I enjoyed myself at every event, whether I was into the music or not. And as you can see  by the sea of people trying to get into Blue Parrot on the first Saturday night, A LOT of people share my excitement for something Ibiza-like on this side of the pond (click the pic for a larger size).

4. To be successful in today’s EDM you need to have a gang with a brand

This is the most important lesson I learned throughout the entire experience. DJ’s used to be the most prominent names on a flyer, nowadays, it’s the name of a party, label or some other community. The music doesn’t necessarily need to be cohesive, just the image. Electronic music is now mainstream. Even if your sound is underground, you need to play by commercial rules. It’s quantity over quality, style over substance; however, if you can achieve all four, the sky’s the limit. That’s our goal for 2013.

5. Take your shots BEFORE you go to Mexico

I have next to no pics of my trip, because quite frankly, I wasn’t up for much. I began to feel weak after my first full day in Playa, and by Day 2, the day of our event, I became violently ill with a strand of the Norwalk virus. I was trapped in my room the entire day. If it wasn’t for a shot of antibiotics and another shot of B12 administered by a house-music-loving MD, I would have missed the only party I was at the festival for. With so many people shaking hands, hugging and talking ear to ear, it was a miracle if you didn’t get sick. Next year I’ll definitely take the shot before I get on that plane.

Sasha at Stereo

I’ve waited over a decade to write the above title. I can’t believe Sasha’s never been booked at Stereo before. Thankfully, the wait’s almost over. This Friday the puppet master finally steps into the booth of the world’s coolest club and I’m convinced it’ll be a killer combo.

Back in the day, trips to Montreal were as given as nights out at the Guvernment, but of course, always better. I can’t tell you how many times we drove six CDs to either Stereo or Aria, danced for 10-plus hours, and then headed right back home. The parties and music were so damn good we couldn’t even imagine missing one of the big ones.

Sasha’s Airdrawndagger appearance at Aria in 2002 definitely stands out from the rest. I’ve told the stories and shared these videos hundreds of times.  It was one of the few occasions on the dance floor where I could honestly say I was completely at the mercy of the DJ. It was so exhilarating I spent most of the night / morning jumping, not dancing. It was the perfect music and warmest vibe inside one of the underground’s most spectacular spaces. The right time, place and DJ were all there in equal parts that magical night.

But for as incredible as it was, I always wondered if Sasha at Stereo would be better.

Aria had a fantastic glass booth allowing for a bird’s eye view of the talent in action. The retractable light stacks on the ceiling, and others imbedded in the floor, created a breathtaking glow.  However the sound, though good, couldn’t ever touch Stereo’s.  And because of the hip hop room upstairs, the crowd was never truly underground.

Until the recent renos, Stereo’s décor was nothing to brag about.  It used to be a sound box and nothing more.  But that was enough.  Stereo waves pour over top of you.  You don’t feel a digital pound in your chest like you do in other inferior clubs.  You’re never worn out by vibration, your ears never ring and you never lose your voice amongst the warmth of Stereo’s sound.  The unimpressive look of the space was easily overlooked by the perfection of the system.Stereo Montreal

Today however, the club is classy.  It’s everything I’ve ever wanted in an underground space.  It’s big enough to host a DJ of Sasha’s stature, but still maintains a tight, intimate vibe.  The existence of a proper chill-out area just outside the action, but close enough to be on top of the party (literally), is much appreciated by us, the more experienced.  It’s an absolute bonus for it to be as comfortable as it is.

We’ve only experienced the new Stereo once, and that was for Danny Tenaglia last summer.  The music was crap, but seeing the new style instils a level of anticipation for Friday night that I can hardly handle.  I haven’t been this excited for an event close to home since the Sasha & Digweed / Spooky / Sander party at the Pepsi Centre in 2007, and we all know how freakishly insane that night turned out to be.

Yes, Sasha’s let us down as much as he’s impressed us, but from the short amount of time I’ve been around him, I know he’s more like us than most superstar DJs.  He also finds inspiration in the music and space.  If we’re not feeling it in a club like This is London, you know a guy like him, with the best view of the sketch, is probably seeing it the same way.  At Stereo he should not lack sources of inspiration, and that’s why we’ll be up front and centre soaking it all in one more time.

What’s up with this?

Before I get too deep into a rant, let me confirm how much I enjoy the music in this set. It’s reminiscent of what I’d play at the East Liberty Lounge (aka our home). But that’s one of the major problems I have with it.  I said, “What I’d play.”  I’m no DJ!

Wolf + Lamb vs Soul Clap Live @ The Modern Love Affair Vol.3, Footwork, Toronto – 22-05-2011 - Part 1 by R_co

Here are my beefs:

The club

I rarely go to Footwork, even though it’s the best underground space in the city.  I just can’t waste time, when it’s become so precious, testing out different acts at a club that stacks the odds against us.  Let’s be honest, Footwork likes it sketchy. But I get it, the crowd is loyal and spends money every week.  The guys have to pay their bills, so they need to cater to the clientele who puts food on their table.

And to be honest, I just had a vague awareness of who Wolf + Lamb and Soul Clap are when I heard they were spinning on the long weekend. All I knew is they look hipster and have cool websites.  I would’ve never expected them to spin cool down-tempo disco when they support boring minimalists like the Art Department.

But it frustrates me so much they give a night like this a huge push.  We’ve pitched light-hearted music to the club for years and they brush us off like INK dodges issuing cheques.  In the only occasion we were able to partner for a funky party – The Rogue Show – they treated it like a night off and didn’t mind us assuming the loss when 90% of those who walked through the door were on our guest list.

This Modern Love Affair proves one thing about our rocky relationship with Footwork; it has nothing to with the music, its personal.  I’ll take partial responsibility for being so head-strong when it comes to professionalism, but I’m not so sure they’d be quick to share the blame.  I know they don’t even care.

The music

Back to my opening point:  I’m no DJ and this is what you’d hear at my kitchen table right now, both musically and technically.  We’ve always been into funky-soulful music, both classic and fresh.  Our new sound system comes with an unlimited streaming account from Napster, so we have the entire anthology of favourites at our fingertips.  We’ve spent hours dancing around the living room to a random selection of hits spanning our entire lifetime.

But I emphasize random, and I point out we’re using software that has no mixing or equalizing capabilities. I’m just winging it, track by track, and what comes out the speakers is undoubtedly fun, but by no means pro.  You can get away with this by a pool, on a patio, in a lounge or even on a boat, but in a proper underground club?  That’s blasphemy!

If you’re paying top dollar to hear a DJ in a dance club, it should be about dancing.  This is after-party music, not club music. I’ m sure Footwork views the night as a massive success, as social gatherings like this sell tons of booze. But I’ve already concluded above, Footwork’s primary concern isn’t music.

In my opinion, a night like this continues to waste Toronto’s coolest underground space, and further buries the entire underground concept in this city.  I remain sad and frustrated, even when I dig the tunes.

Brazilian Club Tour 2011 || MOB Festival 05

Three months planning and over ten hours flying to find something fresh and funky and we often ended up with much of the same… but always better.

In our continuous quest to be at the right place, at the right time, with the right people – our recipe for a memorable clubbing experience – an abbreviated version of the btb crew packed their medium-size luggage (except for Danilo) and headed south for the warm vibes of the Brazilian dance music scene.

Our crew of six included two gals, four guys, four mainstays and two new recruits, bringing a few different perspectives to the party.  We hit up three distinct environments, a lounge, a boat party (to the extreme) and a good ole club party.  The events were everything: intense, spectacular, cheesy, breathtaking, fun, frustrating and most definitely memorable.

In many ways the Brazil scene mirrors what we have here in North America.  The masses are into commercial electro or dark techno.  Underground house is still pretty niche.  Too their own account, the warm up DJs are usually much fresher and focused than the headliners.

Where the scene differs from ours is in the prominence it has within the everyday culture of Brazilian people.  There are billboards promoting DJs and clubs in cities of all different sizes and you can hear electronic sounds in public places everywhere.  EDM is a real part of all of Brazil, not just in the big cities like it is here.

Check out the pics: part 1 || part 2 and read the full story to check out our vids.

Caught in the Mau5 trap

Before: In a few hours I’ll hear Deadmau5 for the first time, live to air on Much Music at the Masonic Temple studio courtesy of my friend Tracy who did the publicity for the event.  I’m quite intrigued by what I’m about to experience. I couldn’t trainspot a Deadmau5 track to save my life, but it’s going to be cool to see what this phenomenon is all about in an INTIMATE & COMMERCIAL setting.

See, I’m still the kind of guy who longs for the days where DJs made their money through the clubs and producers cashed in on the charts. If you could do both, you were a destined star. If you were only skilled in one of the two aspects, you were pretty much in the game strictly for the love.

Unfortunately, producers now dominate the dance floor; whether you can properly rock a room or not, you’re shit out of luck if Pete Tong isn’t playing your original cut. Add a marketing hook – for instance a pair of over-sized ears – and all you need to make it on DJ Mag’s Top 100 is a big phat electro track or some stripped down techno with your name on it. How it sounds in the mix (or not) doesn’t really matter, because let’s face it, flow and direction are so 2002. Look ridiculous in a few promo shots and you’re well on your way to being a sure fire hit.

I guess I’ll hear and see the winning formula up close and personal tonight.

Barney caught in the Mau5 trapAfter: Well I’m relieved about one thing: all my shit talk wasn’t just shit talk. The entire event was actually worse than I thought. The music was incredibly horrible and the production was absolutely sensational. My worst nightmare comes true.

Deadmau5′s music is simple and unimpressive. His first half hour was nothing more than banging noise. The rest of it was generic electro trance. Anyone with any knowledge of music production could piece together his sound. It’s tailor made for the untrained ear. Fortunately for him, there are lot of those mau5 ears up front and centre soaking up his cheesy energy to fuel their party.

Then there’s the corporate planet – the accessories to the crime – playing this crap off as the “best there is” with such an elaborate production. I get it, the mouse ears are marketable. Kids (and subsequently their parents) are buying it. His stage and light show are absolutely incredible and they even do an amazing job making that wacked thing on his head look ultra-cool. Deadmau5 truly puts on a Grammy-like performance and that makes money.

But put bluntly, the music sucks and I don’t feel he’s earned the fame. Unlike the likes of Luke, Nick Holder and Carlo Lio, buddy hasn’t paid his dues and worked the Toronto circuit as these guys have for many, many years. Let alone they make and play out music ten times the quality.  I compare it to the hard working blues artist who’s been entertaining lounges for years with passionate tunes and is forced to watch Bieber Mania run wild after a couple half rate YouTube videos go viral. It’s just not right.

It is what it is and I guess we have to live with it. Just as we’ve endured years of Tiesto we’ll have to deal with people thinking Deadmau5 is a DJ (which he’s not).  I’m sure he’ll be around for just as long as he seems just as popular. On a positive tip, kids are one step closer to real DJ culture by being exposed to any type of electronic music. We can only hope over time some on these fanatics escape the trap and trade their mau5 ears in for more musical ones.

Underground Redemption

Just when I thought it might be winding down, the passion I feel for the underground seems to fire up again. See, I’m approaching a crossroads, a point in my life where I need to begin to focus all of my energies on only the important things in my professional life. Now I just need to figure out what it is that’s important in my professional life.

I’ve come to grips, many times, that EDM is not where I see myself in 5-10-20 years. I’ve always said that it’s too unprofessional, too random an industry to spend the rest of my life trying to make a difference and earn an honest, secure living. But really, is EDM any different from the corporate world I find myself in now? Truly, no matter the profession, isn’t the secret to professional success about choosing to work with people you respect in an environment that’s inspiring?

INTIMATE & UNDERGROUND is a great example of getting the most out of the choices we make (Check our pics from I&U v8). We’ve stayed true to the underground essence, embraced it for what it is and have never tried to make it anything more than what it should be. And by doing so, we’re creating unforgettable memories each time we fill the dance floor.

Now we’re well aware the true tests are yet to come. Will we be able to recreate the electricity of our gigs headlined by Luke & Ricky with lesser known, up and coming artists? That’s always been our primary focus and in the end, our success will be measured on how many people come to bringthebeats / INTIMATE & UNDERGROUND events, not just for any one particular DJ.

And will we be able to properly launch The LocALe and finally become a recognizable group within the Toronto club circuit? As mentioned in the promo piece for v1, our long term success throwing events and introducing new talent to this city will be implicitly tied to our ability to attract local support from others working behind the scenes.

Over the next few months these questions will definitely be answered and the results will be one of the deciding factors in whether or not we should take bringthebeats to a full time level.

Saying all this, it’s the global effort that still excites me the most. How can it not coming off such an incredible Winter Music Conference in Miami (Check our pics Part 1 & Part 2). Damn was the music ever incredible and once again we met an abundance of like-minded, equally motivated colleagues.

Our friends from Embrace have definitely become a power house at the WMC, but it’s the detail, vision and enthusiasm of the Listed crew that has once again impressed me the most. They work so bloody hard and it shows in the quality of the music, production and most of all, the people on the dance floor.

Yes, the conference is starting to look quite a bit like a Jersey Shore pilgrimage, but that also means more of the mainstream is taking notice. We all most likely entered this scene with a style that we’re not as much interested in today. Let’s hope these people similarly convert to a less party focused participation and help the continue growth of the more underground sounds we believe should be at the forefront of this industry.

All in all, things are more positive for our movement than they’ve been in a long time. Looking back to my last IMO over 18 months ago, I think bringthebeats and the underground have taken more steps forward than in reverse, a tone I was definitely not writing in back in the fall of 2008.

It remains to be seen how the rest of the year will unfold, but whatever happens, one thing is for certain, 2010 is shaping up to be an all or nothing year for bringthebeats. Is it time to follow a dream or is it time to move on? Only time will tell; but the last few weeks has me looking more towards the stars now than ever before.

Letting it out

It’s been a struggle getting this column off the ground. I’ve been hanging in underground clubs for almost nine full years and have seemingly a lifetime of DJ culture and partying to shoot my mouth off about. Over that amount of time I’ve accumulated an abundance of in my opinion’s, making brainstorming for v.1 super confusing.

EXPOSED - August 24, 2007However, Alex’s stellar debut of Holologic was motivation enough to just get started and see what flows out of this annoyingly overactive brain of mine. I’ve broken the process’ success down to bottling up a little of the passion (aka obsession) so that I don’t come off sounding too bitter and / or pretentious.

Because being misunderstood is always what I’ve been afraid of when posting reviews or making any type of critical comment on the web. I honestly love the scene more than most other aspects of my life; nevertheless, the club industry has become an incredible nuisance in so many ways. So much so that when I get on about my experiences, I too often find myself speaking in a very unbecoming tone. I definitely don’t want negativity to be the basis of my conversations and most certainly not this website.

But on the other hand, for the sake of my sanity and the longevity of my involvement in the underground scene, it’s imperative I let out some of this pent up frustration. I figure there’s no better place than the space we pay for to go off about all the shady and just plain ignorant moves I see taking place in the club world. For way too long I’ve watched the powers that be do very little to nurture the credibility of dance music.

It’s all the nagging behind the scenes bullshit that fuels this criticism. I guess to some extent it’s the disappointment we feel for the current state of the club scene that has us still working so crazily on the entire bringthebeats project. Because trust me, we’d all much rather be the crew that just shows up on the dance floor each week, drink in hand, smile on face, stress left at the door… oh man I miss those early Breathe days.

But the unfortunate truth is that the widespread perception of our culture is most certainly not underground. And its the businesses at the top of the scene who are th most to blame. Who would have ever thought bottle service and house music would be found under the same roof? That dudes with less CDJ skill than my girlfriend would be headlining festivals with their farting basslines and cheese ball electro? What happened to tight mixing? Fluid programming? Proper journeys on the dance floor? To club promoters who are actually into the music?

no more ROCK & ROLLOur motivation to create something special on the web and in the clubs stems from the mainstream’s warped impression of what true EDM lovers do. However we’re CONVINCED the magic isn’t lost forever, and we know this scene can appeal to the mainstream without becoming commercial. We download two to three sets each week that blow our mind. If the clubbing corps would just give the new breed a chance again, the fresh talent on the peripheral of the industry would drive dance floors absolutely crazy. It would be a true house.music.re-evolution.

Instead, almost all the gigs continue to go to the legends. The ones that simply work through the motions to collect their fee. Promoters have stopped making it about the music and have concentrated soley on who can get the most people through the doors and into a drunk immediately. The same circuit of DJs dominate our clubs and it kills me. If I wanted to hear the same music over and over again, I’d listen to rock and roll.

So if you continue to read this column, think of it as constructive hostility. It’s my way of telling it like it is, under the pretence that it’s absolutely, 100% my opinion and nobody else’s (some days it seems that way). But if you do happen to agree with what I write here, please come to our parties.

Luke and Brad at Footwork – That’s how it’s done!

Brad and Isabelle going off!!It’s all about making a party live up to the hype for the promoter, DJ and floor. This past Saturday, when Brad Copeland and Luke Fair once again displayed how a perfect night of house music should be put together, it happened.

Mad family obligations delayed my arrival until just after Luke stepped up, but from what I heard after the show and through text messages during his set; Brad ‘warmed the room proper.’

Someone so skilled is essential for the overall success of a night like this. Luke plays such a distinct style from what most headliners play in this market right now and only a multi facetted talent like Brad can prepare the floor for such a unique experience.

When I walked in the room at 1am the place was sizzling, thanks to Brad.

After playing his last two sets in Toronto in a bar, not a club, it was amazing to finally have Luke in an underground space. And let me tell you he delivered like never before in this more appropriate environment.

Straight up, this was a top five set I’ve ever heard. Probably my all time favourite from Luke, this might even push it into the top two.

Luke at FootworkHis programming is absolutely flawless. Few move a room so deliberately… maybe Danny Howells or Sasha and Digweed when all the stars are aligned? He weaves in and out of genres and never loses pace; I’ve have to assume that’s super tough to do.

Luke’s ‘filler’ builds so much tension and intensity, the peak tracks go off with four times their natural force. All the tracks are so deep, smooth and sexy, even when they’re driving and deadly. It’s accessible underground house music, my favourite for sure.

The night was so amazing we could barely catch our breath to stop and take a couple shots. But we did manage to take a few good snaps that’ll help trigger the memories of this hard to forget event.

Check them in the gallery.

Hope you had a great birthday Anthony and Isabelle and thank you Brad, Luke and Footwork. We needed one like this.

Sasha & Digweed, Sander and Spooky | Pepsi Centre, Montreal

Up until last Friday I had succumb to the fact that these kinds of parties just didn’t exist anymore, at least not close to us here in Toronto. But Montreal’s Tribe Hyperclub crew came through BIG TIME with this one, reconfirming that with the right talent and production, the underground scene is still alive and kicking in Canada.

Sasha & Digweed, Sander and Spooky | Pepsi Centre, MontrealBeing an old, line-up weary crew, we arrived very early and were able to catch virtually all of Spooky’s opening set… which was absolutely fantastic! Digital progressive; bumpy yet methodical, Charlie May and Duncan Forbes were ultra impressive. One in our posse thought it was the best set of the night and in many senses, I can’t disagree.

I’d love to know what Spooky was doing up there. The ‘Live’ label should come with a program at the front door describing exactly what the set-up is. Nevertheless, this was our second time hearing the duo in 2007 and this appearance was every bit as cool as their DJ set at the WMC Proton Party in Miami.

I thought Sasha and Digweed were equally spectacular. Sasha played the most unique music; twisted, techy and very industrial sounding. Digweed definitely played the dance music out of the two; deep, driving and extremely groovy selections. I agree with some in our crew that the back to back session became a little stop and go, but that comes with the territory when you’re sharing the decks…. and only spinning MEGA BOMBS!!!

For as much as I’ll always have a soft spot for Sander, I don’t think he scored many points with the music heads when he opened with a Prince remix. From what I heard of the first hour and a half of his set, he didn’t dig too deep into the commercial cheese. He continued to move the room and sounded a little closer to his old, more underground form.

Huge props to the Tribe crew for the production of this event. The party was further evidence that great big room memories can still be made in this scene. The sound, though a smidgen too loud, filled the room with crystal clear precision. The stage presentation was incredible and the light show breathe taking.

The whole event was fueled by the booking of two DJs that in my opinion remain head and shoulders above the rest. Sasha & Digweed play the allusive bombs that seem tailor made to their styles. I’m certain these tracks are produced with only each of them in mind. Their styles contrast but perfectly connect at the same time. They seem to be getting better with time… I absolutely love it.

This was an extremely inspiring night for a promoter who is doing his best to recapture the ‘wow’ factor in his clubbing life. I dream of hosting an event of this magnitude and pray one day bringthebeats will because Toronto deserves a party that reaches the legendary status this one definitely achieved.