Though the two guys who DJ as CATZ 'N DOGZ come from Szczecin, Poland, of all unexpected cities, their distinctive work has, in just a handful of years, become widely known and respected in "underground" house music circles. Thus their Boston debut, at Phoenix Landing in Cambridge on Wednesday night, drew at least 200 fans. (This, in this area on a Wednesday, is a memorable number; trust me.) In the crowd were several faces familiar to this writer, including some local DJs and promoters (also Phoenix colleague Michael C. Walsh), and just about everybody was dancing, from the start of Catz 'n' Dogz's set to the very last note at 1 a.m. Indeed, the dancers wanted an encore.
It was that strong a set. Greg and Voitek -- a necessary Anglicization of their actual names, Grzegorz Demianczuk and Wojtek Taranczuk -- mixed beats and voices, melody and sound effects in an ever shifting pastiche of snippets and ribbons of sound riding on beats either thickly stomping, reverbs, or gingerly funky. Most evocative of all, however, were Catz 'N Dogz' voices. Both guys and gals vocalized in the mix, in just about every imaginable tone except actual singing. One heard chirpy disco dolls, glitched guy raps, sleepytime lullabies, wry monologues, moody cooing, and even one diva voice -- but only in sample, a flat line version of full throat soprano. Almost constantly in Greg and Voitek's set one or more of these oddly unfulfilled voices drifted into the mix, or murmured underneath it, or bobbed on top of it. At times one's attention was seduced away from the rhythm itself. This was so even though every one of Catz 'N Dogz's voice tones was, to house music fans, a familiar one in and of itself. What was not at all familiar was hearing from them so constantly, in a genre that in the past decade has become almost entirely non-vocal.
The duo used the Phoenix Landing's three CD players and mix board, and sparingly at that. A few tweaks of the tone knob, an occasional quick cut, a couple of pressure builds, were all that this writer saw them do. Most of their mixing effects were already built into the tracks they played. These included several of their top downloads at Beatport, including the flirty disco-girls of "Add Arp"; a funky, bottom beating "Jon Bovi" (ha!); "Everynight 24/7," their remix of a Balcazar original; "I'm free," rhythm and monologue; and, tastiest of all, their top download, the satiric "They Frontin'".
That track stood, in Catz 'N Dogz's gig, almost as a statement of purpose: the rhythm shoves your feet, legs, and hips to moving; meanwhile, everything riding on it -- sound effects and oddly off voices, and all -- symbolizes the fronting that goes on in a dance club, and, one wants to say, in modern life generally.
As for the dance floor, every move, every body twist, every smile, grin, raised hands; every item of fashion; every dance move gymnastic or just a wiggle, is, so Greg and Voitek wanted to make clear, a form of fronting -- and to judge from the non-stop energy that their slow-tempo (119 to 124 BPM) dance music kindled, a delightful game it was. We are taught to view "fronting" as a deception to be apologized for; but not at the Catz 'n' Dogs set.
This was wiggle music telling fake it voices to go right ahead and pretend all they want, to duck the main chance -- full-throated, actual singing -- and take a side road to -- one supposes -- a consolation prize.
Most of us in life have to settle for that, right? In Catz 'N Dogz' case, their "consolation" is their mastery of the house music underground itself, far from the ruling gorillas of techno, not to mention the arias and klieg lights of Avicii-land.