Boating out to Boston on a rainy and foggy Saturday night might well have been a lobsterman’s run -- this writer has gone on many such. But this time it was a DJ run, featuring many of Boston and Providence’s finest each dropping one-hour sets (well not quite: more about that later) on about 200 very happy, very damp people.
Among the two cities’ dance music fans, this, the Envyless Productions annual SUMMERWAVE cruise, created and hosted by RISE manager Tim Poleet, is a highly anticipated event. Tickets go fast. If you’re aboard, you likely know well at least the other attendees. Even before the party boat headed out to the open harbor the music was throbbing on both decks.
One thinks of party boat music as nothing to remember much, and one hour barely gives house music DJs time to warm up. Not this time though. Individual styles stood out strongly, confidently. As the set-up featured Boston DJs versus Providence spinners, every DJ wanted to make his or her statement. And did.
So it went: SketchOne and Andre Perry (Providence) DJ’d on the upper deck in tandem, a smooth swaying swing rhythm with vocals (some bawdy, some simply high fives) crocheted cutely into the 125 BPM drift; then Mike Swells (Boston), changing the sound gradually onto his signature style, a jazzy funk rhythm delicately mixed -- with feeling, you could see it on his face -- in classic no-PC program fashion; a fine-tuned set culminating in a rework of Giorgio Moroder’s “The Chase.” Jeff LeClair (Providence) followed with a harder set of steely techno, reminiscent of the sets he used to drop at Providence’s beloved Therapy disco (and which he favored from the big-name DJs he booked into Therapy as club manager).
Meanwhile on the lower deck Derek The Prince (Providence) used a PC program (oh well...) on a sound very untypical of his soulful vocal signature. Instead he played exotic rhythms, both African and Brazilian, and lots of drum-drum-drums, leading finally to the most drummed-up house music hit of all, Danny Tenaglia’s drum-crazy "Dibiza." After Derek it was the turn of Boston gal Ju Lee, who shape shifted Derek’s drumcode all the way to her entirely different “trance” sound, and did it so smartly it seemed entirely natural.
Finally it was time, upstairs, for the most anticipated set of all, by Boston’s Craig Mitchell. He sings as well as DJs, and is beloved for it. His signature is a soulful, sentimental sound, intensely mix-tweaked in the manner of David Morales circa-2000. Yet Mitchell has now moved far beyond Morales style. He played the mixboard’s tweak knobs the way Jimi Hendrix played guitar feedback, fretting the shape shifts themselves as shrieks and streaks and almost crying the music. At times his screaming music reminded this writer of Diamanda Galas howling in pain, at other times of the Art Ensemble of Chicago coaxing feral yelps out of musical dream states. The techno beats that Mitchell dropped relies on upper register noise shaping to tell a soundtrack-like narrative. Most techno narratives tell an industrial story highly critical of the machine world; not so with Mitchell, whose narrative was entirely personal, an inner streak of a soul in horror and heat.
Through all of this Mitchell had managed to say in slightly more than 30 minutes when all of a sudden his set was snuffed out by a man wearing an “EVENT STAFF” black shirt. It was perhaps the most unpleasant and certainly the most obtuse shut-down this writer has seen in more than 30 years of covering concerts and DJ gigs. It was a conscious insult to the fans that paid good money to attend the show and a brutal example of how little Boston’s entertainment authorities care what those of us who come into the city to savor the music think.