OAKLAND — Saturday night’s show at the Starline Social Club was what people in 1987 might have imagined music would be like in 2014.
Headliner Jacques Greene, bathed in a thick cloud of fog and lit almost exclusively by a collection of strobing lights behind him, bobbed and swayed his head as he played tracks from his latest album, Dawn Chorus. The packed house, when not making futile attempts to shoot video, bounced and swayed to the driving bass.
While Greene’s set was house music, with the beat taking center stage both on the songs and in the audio mix, it had an underlying ambient quality. The sparse and largely unstructured melodies gave a somewhat softer impression.
Even closer to the past’s vision of the future was Seattle electro-pop duo NAVVI. The core aspects would be familiar to someone from the ’80s, or even from the ’70s or ’60s. There was a singer, Kristin Henry, with a microphone. Her vocals had an ethereal quality but were recognizable as pop. She was joined by producer Brad Boettger, who had an electric guitar.
Where the future came in was everything else. Boettger’s guitar, for example, was joined by a pair of DJ controllers or samplers, their glowing buttons changing colors as he tapped out notes and melodies. Henry’s vocals, rather than being accompanied by pop instrumentals or even traditional electro-pop synths, were backed up by dark, heavy electronic beats.
That combination of dark electronica and pop vocals gave the performance that somewhat alien quality reminiscent of a nightclub in a sci-fi movie. Adding to the feeling were the visuals projected once and often twice on each wall, featuring things like a looping sunset, a cheetah running in slow motion, or a scene of an anime sword fight. But, even with all those conflicting influences, it still worked beautifully.
Opening the night was San Francisco DJ Selim X. Despite a solid set, the sparse early crowd didn’t provide a lot of energy for him to work with. His studio output is probably more representative of his abilities.
Between acts, Canadian DJ M.Bootyspoon spun some records. With his deck set up on the floor near the merch table it wasn’t immediately obvious to the crowd that the first of his two 25-minute sets wasn’t just music piped in by the venue while they reset the stage, except that people were compelled to dance to it. As awareness that it was part of the show filtered through the crowd as people drifted closer to him and got far more into it.
The second of the two sets got a better reaction, partially because of the awareness that it was a set—helped by the house lights staying down, unlike the first—and partially because the volume and tempo of the house music he was spinning was higher.
— Daniel J. Willis