On Saturday night, no fewer than seven of Boston and Providence's more prominent house music and techno DJs brought "BassWave," their traveling showcase of DJ styles to Good Life. The first BassWave night took place about a month ago in New Bedford, ground central for much of our area's DJ activity; it returns there, to Bar 908, on New Year's Eve. This, however, was Boston's turn to savor Jeff LeClair, master of crisp techno; Jack McDevitt and Ede Armand, who as "DBMK," throw down fireworks funk and improvise upon brash "tech house"; Justin Dupont, who plays "electro"; two up-and-coming DJs of authentic house music, Scott Sylvia and Normal Zack; and, upstairs, playing mostly rap-hop, "Jackie Treehorn." Treehorn was the lucky one. He played all night long from 9 pm to 2 am. The other DJs, working downstairs in Good Life's "Vodka Lounge," played one-hour cameos.
LeClair, who was Therapy's manager until the now much-missed Providence after-hours dance club closed late in 2011, is no stranger to Boston techno fans. He often opens at Bijou for that club's internationally known masters of techno -- indeed, this writer just recently reviewed his latest Bijou set. For BassWave, LeClair played softer textures than his signature techno. It was an almost introverted sound, of a narrow sonic range, single-purpose music with mellow reverb hugging the lower middle frequencies. A hush monologue slid over a few minutes of the rhythm, but for most of his hour LeClair whispered a rhythm gentler than any this writer has heard him bring. His instrumentation was, as always, the DJ minimum: two CD players and a mixboard, no PC program, played with a maximum of clarity and focus.
LeClair was followed by his set's exact opposite, the flail and fury, din and dazzle of "DBMK." Veteran mixboard masters often seen, heard, felt, and tasted at Therapy, McDevitt and Armand played their signature: big brassy tuba beats by the tuba-sized McDevitt, and twisted-distorted-abstracted drops by the bald-crowned Armand. The two played ensemble and also soloed. Their potpourri set featured plenty of 1975-1985 funk -- vocoder bleeps, glitch-speak humor, and Hendrix-like feedback screams -- and large glops of 1995, Armand van Helden-like scrum amid the bites of percussion and boom beats. A DBMK set can sometimes overplay its freak-a-zoiding, but not this time. The last ten minutes of their short set was honored by an Ede Armand solo not to be missed, a triumph of DJ abstracting of sound. He stretched the music, puckered its sound. Using fade knob, stutter buttons, and shape shift sticks on his mixboard, Armand feedbacked the music to falsetto pitch, at times as moving as a Byron Stingily plea.
After DBMK came Justin Dupont. I had never heard Dupont play and don't much like the "electro" genre that he dropped on the dancers -- electro as played to big audiences feels just too screechy like pro-forma arena rock -- but Dupont played his speed riffs and screech feeds with enough variety to keep me interested, even excited. As aggressive a sound shaper as any local DJ I've seen, Dupont never allowed his rude sound to grow tame, never let it rest or warble wanly. Whatever the actual track that Dupont used became something entirely else in his hands. It was a hungry man's set that grabbed for every sound sandwich within reach and some beyond reach and yet beat strong even at its most over-extended.
Two brief opening sets by Normal Zack and Scott Sylvia dropped on an almost empty dance floor -- a difficult mission -- featured some warm house music pleading for attention and, from what this writer heard, deserving of it at a better attended hour. Of which there are plenty to engage their music on Massachusetts's South Shore.
Meanwhile, in Good Life's upstairs room, "Jackie Treehorn," as he calls himself, played rap, Prince, and hip hop all night long -- not at all his usual sound, though those who've known him tell me it's his musical roots. Definitely Treehorn is no newbie to the genre, for whenever I wandered upstairs to hear him, he was playing tracks most unlike the usual 94.5 sounds. It was a beat-melodious, instrumentally sultry, voiced as sexy as the Prince track he started with. He used stuff culled from somewhere in hip hop's discard bin -- the vinyl oblivion whence the sharpest DJs since the disco years have often found their best envied triumphs.