For anyone who has heard his work -- and there is a lot, on four CDs, from Blossom in 2003 to last year's Impermance -- AGORIA'S gig at Julep on Thursday night, September 20, was one of the most anticipated house music performances of the season. Would the Lyon, France resident, as a DJ, live up to the smooth, Euro soundscapes and robust, reverb rhythms that distinguish his track productions? After all, this writer has seen top-ranked producers come from Europe to Boston in DJ mode and crap out.
But not Agoria.
Though his set was short -- starting at 12:24 a.m., ending at 2 a.m., as in Boston it must -- he quickly laid down his recipe of music as life, a clatter of conversational snippets imbedded like raisins in a tort of reverb, murmur, and lullaby. Moving at a funky slow 120 BPM, Sebastien Devaud -- his real name -- danced at the Julep mixboard as, using CD players and no pc program, he lined up mostly sounds quite familiar to his fans, among them the sonata-like "Europa," "Singing," a track as glimmering as its title suggests; the soulful "Heart Beating"; "Go fast," one of his loudest and most techno pieces; and, finally, the sublime evocations of "Speechless," a production on which Detroit techno master Carl Craig collaborated.
His set began with a minimum of shape shifts, tweaks, or other DJ tricks. Track followed track in smooth dissolves as chatter and synth riffs moved in and out of a swirl of rhythm. Gradually, though, the sound grew more complicated, as layer upon layer of this and that broke the mood into many pieces that, despite all, managed still to fit together, like the variety of traffic noises on a busy city boulevard. This is not an uncommon theme in European house music work. It feels like soundtrack music, and this writer always finds its narratives revelatory when handled well.
Agoria handled it well indeed. His soundtrack stewed up all kids of street life sounds, shapes, steps, speeds. Sentimental airs redolent of Europop descended into the beat; voice slices found themselves chopped up by his DJ fade knob work. Brief overlays made the rhythm leap on a dime. Into the reverb came clanging and twittering. There was the huge stomp of techno, and the chip-chip of "acid." There was snare drumming and piano riffs and then more techno, low and macho, that gave way -- surprise! -- to the girly pitter patter of "tribal" style.
It was a set full of contrasts and combinations of difference -- sentiment and gossip, joking and window shopping, shoving and daydreams. It was, indeed, a dance of speech and the speechless, and it was frustrating that it had to end after a mere 15 minutes or so of music improvising upon itself, from risible noises to melodies sublime.
The opening set lasted longer than Agoria's and would have done better -- for the three DJs who perform as Wildkats had a lot of funky beat bop, rap, and wry humor to offer -- had the crowd not been waiting so intensely for the headliner. "System Crank" exemplifies the sound they brought, from the UK, to Julep: droll beats, lots of reverb, snarky talk, and teenage mischief, like house music hijacked by indie rock radio and recast as punk. Stuart Sandeman, Scott Dickie, and one American, Cory Baker, took turns recasting a laundry list of funky 120 BPM garments into patches of spiky pop that gave Agoria's more poetic city visions a foundation to build upon.