About 18 months ago, a much-talked about, but still quite unproven, female DJ named MISS JENNIFER -- a former model and a computer science specialist, according to her bio at Resident Advisor -- dropped a techno set at Providence's Therapy as strong rhythmically as any this writer had then heard. Even better, her techno rhythm convincingly negotiated a city-life soundscape as vividly industrial as an Einstürzende Neubauten encounter with skyscrapers from hell. There wasn't a blah moment in this newcomer's set, convincing in its funky complexity. She immediately became a "must-follow" on this writer's DJ watch list.
Thus my expectations were sky-high for what she would drop and sculpt in her set at Boston's Underbar this past Saturday. Imagine my surprise that Miss Jennifer's set did meet expectations at all -- though her sound did offer nuggets of a different provenance. At Underbar, Miss Jennifer painted a picture altogether more warm and human than the scarifying robo-cop imagery she dropped so powerfully at Therapy. It was, for the first 30 minutes or so, almost a "tribal" night, all snare drums and percussion, breezy and lithe, more Cory Daye than KMFDM. Some of it worked. She played many of her own mixes and edits, of course; especially enticing were her intensified mix of DJ Boris' irresistibly bumpy "La Musica" (Miss Jennifer's current top download at Beatport); a reverb bassline rework of "Sacrifice Substance" (intriguing title) by Gary Beck and Marc Fanciulli; and her edit of Ralph Berr's "Make It Panic," rhythm and streak noise studded with repeat-knobbed voice tooling.
The second half hour of her set worked less well. Granted that she was addled by sound system flare-ups, all too common these nights at Underbar; using a Traktor program, she was reduced to playing on two channels only, which, as a friend put it, "greatly limited her ability to juggle beats." I find this argument unconvincing; most of house music DJ's most basic moves -- and soundscapes -- were crafted by master DJs working two channels only. Besides, if having only two channels available so grievously limited Miss Jennifer's color choices, why did she drop a very weakly hued "S & M Bugging Device" (by Joel Fletcher; Miss Jennifer's remix), and its like, into a set which in the circumstances called for the strongest possible throb and rumble? Nor was this segments thinness bolstered by a beat and bassline rework of Blondie's "Call Me" chestnut. What was Miss Jennifer thinking?
Fortunately the question solved itself; for the last hour of her set rocked hard -- rocked with passion and purpose. In place of multiple channels, she cut and slashed the available sound, more than vividly, with constant fade knob work. The music cruised in extended overlay mixes; the heave and ho of a basic, sustained track found itself constantly goosed by blasts of rhythm faded in from the other track, otherwise faded out. Over and over Miss Jennifer prodded riffs with beats and rhythm runs with voice, synthy noise and brass rattle. The music also became more techno -- her edit of Gary Beck and Marc Fanciulli's "Sacrifice Substance" rumbled raucously -- and wilder in its deep funkiness. She was sequencing on gut instinct now -- finally -- and programming full-tilt bash and strut workouts, best of which was the five minute riff and chant track which SoundCloud -- it's available nowhere else -- has simply as "matsterp and miss jennifer.”
It's not the monster mash that Miss Jennifer put to the question at Therapy back when, and indeed neither "matsterp and miss jennifer" nor any other segment of her Underbar set painted pictures as primatial, or as digitally gory, as those that enggaed her fancy that Therapy night. Her message now is a sexy one, seductively fierce and potently tweaked; a smaller result for a larger amount of DJ work. As the room never filled more than half -- and this, on a Saturday night -- it's fair to ask whether those whose first blush of excitement at her sound came burned so intensely will ever accept a Miss Jennifer who merely simmers. No matter how dexterously.