It’s January. A Saturday Night. The temperatures are frigid and I’m standing outside the 930 Club, hands curling into little frozen claws, wondering what I’ve done with my gloves and feeling pretty damn lucky at the chance to make music in a building where I’ve seen some of my favorite acts perform.
The 930 club is a DC music institution and not many people can say they have never heard of it. This night, I would be performing in the club’s hip underbelly—the Back Bar, where I have logged in quite a few hours as a patron. The cool, subterranean room is a good fit for the debut of Mass R3lay, my electronic music project.
Hands stuffed into my pockets, I walk past the tour busses and head down the narrow flight of stairs to the Back Bar entrance. I am excited and I am terrified to head into completely uncharted territory. The Mass R3lay project is a first of its kind for me.
Nerves are to be expected. Deep breath. I yank the door open and step into the music and low lights. There are a just few people hanging around when I arrive. I meet up with the rest of the bill at the bar. These guys are as cool and down to earth as they come. They know their gear and are just as excited about blinking lights and chest-rumbling frequencies as I am. I tell them tonight is my “first time” and they are supportive and encouraging.
The room slowly fills with people and soon the music starts. I find it remarkable that each set offers something different. TÖlva—hardware based, improvisational and just plain cool. I wanted to pilfer his electronic noise machines the second I saw them. The sounds TÖlva summons are low, ominous—like the slow approach of thunderstorm, the loops build and fill the air with electricity and infections grooves.
Up next is Paradigm Paradox who creates grooves from scratch on the fly, singing over the electroc-pyschodelia in a dark voice that brought Ian Curtis to mind more than a few times. The hooks are catchy and more than once I found myself nodding along to the music.
Evilartform plays right before me. Man—if I wasn’t feeling like a hack earlier…the man steps up to his gear–the array of lights, buttons, and knobs straight off the mother ship–and gets everyone moving to a sound that is uniquely ethnic, highly accessible, and just plain good. I didn’t know his music and yet still found myself singing along. And like that, I find myself staring out at the crowd over the glowing bank of my own equipment that I barely remember setting up. It was late now (or really early)—which is just fine by me. Sonically, I don’t really know what is going to happen. It might be glorious or a glorious train wreck. Either way, best to keep the pool of test subjects limited.
I reach out a hand, hesitating just slightly before triggering the first two samples of the opener—one sound a nearly pure rumble, the other a reverb drenched guitar hook. I bring my fingertips up to a nearby controller, twisting two knobs in opposite directions. The growl fades away and the hook surges forward. I strike a glowing green button and the bass begins to pulse. I strike another button and the drum groove enters the fray—I step over to a grid controller and play my own drum groove in counter point to the main beat.
I’m off and running. No looking back now.
The set goes by fast. I spare the outside world occasional glances. People are watching, people are moving. I keep going. There are a few moments where I don’t think I can hold all it all together—but someone how I do. I sacrifice some spontaneity for control—but this is my first time and I need to feel it out. I need to know this beast before I truly can ride it.
When the last note hangs in the air, I step back and look up to see no one has run for high ground. There is applause and then the show is over. The end The beginning. Stepping out of the lights, I am greeted with a lot of positive energy and enthusiasm. Future opportunities are discussed. Again, I am floored by the vibe, the interest, and overall openness of this group of musicians.
In just the span of a single show, I learned a tremendous amount—from watching the others and from my own very personal experience. The result—I have a clearer idea of what I want to do with this project and how I want to do it. The path toward evolution is clear. I consider myself lucky.
Tolva: (couldn’t find a link)