(Our in-house House expert, DJ Ms. DD -- whose alter-ego, Michael Freedberg, has been covering dance music for the Boston Phoenix for more than 25 years -- texted us the following after hitting up the Together Fest this weekend. Enjoy.)
From Madrid, Spain, DJs Chus Esteban and Pablo Ceballos have, as a team, since their inception in 2002, become one of House Music's most loved -- and significant-- producers and spinners. The word in House Nation is that "these guys absolutely rule." At Underbar in Boston on Valentine's eve, they showed why.Playing to a dance floor more crowded than I've ever seen (and gorgeously dressed), they took to the decks at 11 and played right through till closing -- unlike most star DJs, who usually don't start at Underbar till midnight or even later.
Chus & Ceballos's signature "Iberican Siunds" is a compronmise sound, actually: a beat deep that's dark but not too big, a beat with exotic, tribal airs but never heavy-handed, featuring lots of jet-streak breaks, vocal drop-ins, break and vocal overlays, and rhythmic overlays, quick cuts and underlays. All of which juice the music up so gracefully, with such a mixture -- unexpectedly, often -- of dissimilar sounds, that somehow all of it makes sense together and so puts a smile on a dancer's face. At Underbar there it was, the Chus & Ceballos face: eyes wide smiling, even as the smilers danced, with hands raised. A smile quite distinctive: one that a dancer cannot help but give. It's a response noticeably unlike the intense, controlled coolness one usually sees on faces at house music gigs. Chus & Ceballos managed all this with tried and true methods. It is common in house music to hear vocal drop-ins and overlays of one rhythm track onto another, or rhythm breaks, atmospheric blasts, and rhythms re-starting. These are the engines that drive and repower the house music dance train. These Madrilenos however, did all of these with an ease and delicacy unlike any other DJ I know. Somehow, all of their rhythm tones work together. Somehow their many rhythm tracks carry, or blend with, all manner of voice drops, from Africanism to Lady Gaga to house divas and orgasmic moans, guys talking, girls making fun of themselves. Somehow, from standard stuff they create surprise. I never knew which voice would be dropped onto which rhythm, yet I heard not one drop that did not feel right, nor one rhythm overlay (or underlay: a deep rhythm laid under an upper-register one, not a common mix in house music DJ-ing) that did not freshen the funk. And they kept on doing it.I attribute the smile that Chus & Ceballos's set at Underbar put on faces to their ability to make symmetry out of so many dissimilarities. The symmetry at the heart of their dissimiliar sounds was more than just an attribute of their Underbar set.. It weas a message: a realization -- and a demonstration -- of the house music ideal, that house music brings all kinds of people together. The music often talks about this ideal, but rarely does it make it happen. Chus & Ceballos did that. And the dancers loved it.
This being the Together Boston Festival week, I was up for not just one but TWO DJ performances last nite. So, after the Chus & Ceballos gig at Underbar, I headed over to RISE, on Stuart Street, to see Mind Control (Peter Bailey and Richie Santana). I’ve seen Richie Santana DJ-ing at RISER, but never him and his Mind Control partner. I arrived at RISE about 1:45 A.M. and Bailey and Santana were already spinning. Santana was playing – Bailey watching the computer program -- a dark, deep, funk-tempo, instrumental rhythm, a sound that fans call “dirty house.” Having absorbed Chus & Ceballos’s intricate sound linkages for three hours, I was struck by the simplicity – should I say single-mindedness? – of Mind Control’s sound. Where Chus & Ceballos expanded my mind,. Mind Control concentrated it -- and my body and my spirit – on the flavor and hardness of their rock-candy like sound.Yes. After a gourmet main course full of complex sensations, I savored Mind Control’s indulgent dessert.Before too long, Bailey, especially, worked voice drops into the rhythm and several sound-effect breaks. As with the rhythms, these were nothing like the drops and breaks made by Chus & Ceballos. Simple and singular was the message. The point was made explicit when, at about 3 A.M., Bailey cut master DJ Danny Tenaglia’s and tranny icon Celeda’s club hit “The Underground” into his set. Of course RISE’s after-hours dance crowd is the Underground. And of course the underground likes itself. Bailey’s presentation of “The Underground” had a transparent air, an atmospheric, sweet tone that illuminated Celeda’s spiritual sermon like a spotlight being shone on her. Here the music became visual and more.Visual is becoming more and more a dimension of house music’s sound, and it was appreciated by the RISE dancers. Still, Mind Control’s visuals were direct and focused. Yet if Mind Control kept the dancers – on what soon became a packed dance floor -- focused on one facet, it was a very delicious facet. And one far more conventional of current house music tastes than the high-concept message flights of Chus & Ceballos.-- DJ Ms. DD