Veteran track mixer CHRISS VARGAS plays Boston as often as any one and draws a large crowd just about every time. RISE Club on Saturday was no exception. Even the stairway up to the main dance floor had a waiting line on it. Inside there was hardly a spot for this reviewer to perch even as late as 5:30 am, by which time Vargas had been dropping mixes for almost three hours.
Vargas used his own PC program and control board as well as RISE's three-CD player and mixboard set-up to drop techno and more techno, mercilessly stomping and relentlessly riding the lowest frequencies feasible. Though he has a crate full of individually titled tracks -- "Red" is his current number one download at Beatport, and he did use it at RISE -- it was difficult to hear where one ended and another began, because Vargas's set was all about keeping on and on and on.
His signature is several "System Overload" mixes, of from 25 minutes to almost 60, that one finds at his SoundCloud page. These Vargas liberally applied, with very little evident editing at either mixboard -- just a few tweaks of tone or BPM pitch. His "System Overload" means what it says. It's a harsh, cold crush sound, a furiously booming stomp, stomp, stomp to which, now and then, Vargas adds the screamy upper register sound effects so de rigueur in most techno. Played loud at RISE, it surrounded the dancers, inundated them, crowded them with instinct and repetition.
There wasn’t much originality to Vargas's sound. A lot of it recalls techno work from 10 years back, even 20. The difference is in the remix, as Vargas applies his take to stuff that has already been taken. Emblematic of his renovative approach are his remixes of Pagano and Ivan D's "Back to the Future" and of Harry "Choo Choo" Romero's "Corruption." Segments of each upped the decibels of both bottom beat and screaming highs in his RISE set. Indeed, Vargas's renovation targets are easily remembered. One fan reminded me that Vargas's edit of Monica's "So Gone" -- a much-liked sound drop at RISE -- recalls X-Press 2's "Music Express." Indeed, Vargas's basic stomp, stomp, stomp -- the continuing entirety of his RISE set -- recalls a track this writer first heard 11 years ago on a Steve Lawler LIGHTS OUT mix CD and which was old even then (the 11-minute "Rosy Romantic" mix of UN7's "RRR").
Yet working the tried and true is what gives Vargas his fan base: they already know by heart the sound that he works and come to hear how he works it, reliably. Vargas at RISE met their expectations and almost made that his point, as if to say, "See now? I, Chriss Vargas, am who you know me to be and I will not let you free of me." It helps that his crushing stomp, so much harder than the rattle and hum of Victor Calderone, say, can fit many moods and mindsets, from the raw and bawdy to the macho of factory. At RISE the crowd was almost evenly divided between gals and guys.
The set did eventually evolve some, though not at all onto untroded ground. Vargas has a number of tracks with a funky walk and a breezier beat -- he calls them "tribal techno" -- and as 4:30 turned to 5 am these relaxed the inundation somewhat. Voices fed into the mix, too, slim like liquid from an IV needle, and a veneer of synthy melody, and by 5:15 am the music actually opened out to lush Europop and singing, as if awakening from a nasty dream: but only briefly. Very soon the big booming techno beat returned from its time out and inundated the dancers again. They didn't mind a bit. At 5:30 am, well past the time that fans begin usually to leave, RISE's main dance floor was three quarters full.