Making his first major visit to the Boston area in many years, DANNY TENAGLIA dropped a master set at Bijou on Hallowe'en night. The set lasted more than two hours, and not a minute sounded weak or suspect. Any doubts that fans may have had about Tenaglia's chops, given the absence of new track productions since 2007's "Dibiza," not to mention last year's announcement that he was retiring -- which proceed not to be the case -- were kicked aside by the power and ingenuity of his Bijou set. And any doubts that fans might have had about Tenaglia still possessing mojo certainly did not deter them from being in the room. Bijou was full and buzzing withy prominent scenesters and local DJs.
He played excerpts from his best-known CDs and from his hit tracks, mixed them in new arrangements, improvised extensions of them, free formed their sound waves. And kept his groove grooving. Now and then this writer recognized segments of Tenaglia hits and even some from his famous mix CDs LONDON and ATHENS, which came out a decade ago and still command a place in most DJs' crates. Tenaglia's remix of Green Velvet's "Flash" made that track a club music necessity -- and yes, he played portions of it, in unexpected points on his groove trip. Tenaglia also put Miss Kittin on the map by including her convo piece "Frank Sinatra" in a mix CD: he played the chill monologue from that track too. And of course he played pieces of his hugest club hits, "Elements" and "Dibiza," and toyed with them, costumed them, made them sound and feel like Hallowe'en ghouls and drags.
Tenaglia practically invented the combination of reverb bottom and trippy electronic top that has become "tech house," house music's most popular sound. At Bijou he kept on reinventing his invention. His reverb bassline is heavily filtered (as he himself proclaims in "Elements"), a sound both loud and quiet, a kind of all-enveloping, ear-filling whisper. His electronica top feels like one's neighbor tapping and scratching on your apartment wall, or overheard screaming -- tipsy or in sex -- in the next room ("behind the green door," maybe ?). As the whispery feel of a Tenaglia groove irresistibly tugs at you -- body bopping, head too -- it's a room you very much want to keep eavesdropping on.
All of his signature hits are like that: "You Turn Me On" (with Liz Torres), "Goosebumps" (with Lula), "Be Yourself' and "Music Is the Answer": (with Celeda), "Ohno" (remake of Marsha Hunt's disco classic "Oh no! Not the Beast Day") and above all, "Elements," "Voodoo Doll" (Kult of Krameria), and "Dibiza." All of these set a new standard for dance music's basic tale of sexy action calling to you, beckoning. Tenaglia's take sounds as silky as girlish disco and as bawdy as a guy making a booty call. It's funkier, too, than you first think. Tenaglia's pushy, shoving, nudging groove coaxes you beyond eavesdropping all the way to all-in participating. Almost before you realize it, there you are, dicing as the music dices, slicing as its rhythms slice.
So it was at Bijou. The groove puffed and pushed. Upper register noises flickered. He tooled vocal chants and tape-distorted "glitch" talk into the mix, an undertone, subliminal. Reverb basslines murmured, mused. The beat shivered and pranced, prowled, crawled.
His pace and accent established, Tenaglia began to complicate it and to build upon it. His upper register glistened with the streaky slimmer of electronica -- no one wields the lullaby potential of electronica as pliable as Tenaglia, or makes electronic crinkling sound as blushingly joyous. At Avalon back in 1997, this writer heard Tenaglia first experimenting with electronica high notes; then, his highs sounded a bit disconnected to the rhythm rumble beneath. But not at Bijou. Now Tenaglia's wry highs and lascivious lows complemented one another, as he used the fade knob to wash the music from high to low, low to high, or both together, almost like a ballet pas de deux.
He used a PC program -- indeed was one of the first major DJs to do so -- to feed tracks into Bijou's extensive mixboard and CD player complex. Much of what he played sounded pre-mixed, a tactic common to major DJs now: Tenaglia was one of the first to use pre-mixes. It sounds cynical, and in the hands of many pre-mix DJs it is so; but at Bijou, Tenaglia let no pre-mix go un-deconstructed. All set long he reshaped shapes, recombined elements (pun intended), played hide and seek with familiar stuff, dissolved things familiar into the unfamiliar. It being Bijou, Boston's temple of techno, Tenaglia played long stretches of techno -- but not the usual boom and stomp, not at all. Tenaglia's techno had a "tribal" rhythm; it moved with a wiggle as well as a boom, a groove for girlies to high-heel it in as well as for guys to do a sneaker break upon.
In girlish techno mode Tenaglia cut loose almost entirely. His upper register electronica free-formed: now abstract, now 1980s Italo. Ghostly, Gothic melodies seeped into the high notes; stomp took hold of the bottom. The music sounded like a caricature, Tenaglia's last laugh upon the dance music styles most overworked these days or predictable: techno, Avicii, Swedish House Mafia, you name it, Tenaglia isn't having it, he was and still is an underground guy, and at Bijou he found a fan base to join him in making costume joy out of candy cane sounds.
The last time this writer reviewed a Tenaglia set was at Therapy in Providence in 2007. Therapy resident Wil Trahan was the opening DJ that night, and he did the opening at Bijou as well. In 2007 he had to set a table for Tenaglia at the height of his "Dibiza" drums drums drums phase.
For Tenaglia's more sophisticated imagery at Bijou, Trahan played the music he does best: sexy, songful house music that leads to deep dark beats and back again to the songful. At no time in Trahan's opener did this writer want to miss even a bar of its persuasive depth.