Since I last updated HUB CAPPED, I finally got my first taste of Portland’s dance/EDM scene when I caught locals BEN TACTIC (pictured above) and LINCOLN UP opening a Red Bull Music Academy showcase that featured international bass heavyweights XXXY, Nguzunguzu, and Salva. I’m sad to report that, so far, I’m less than impressed with the local offerings. In Boston, when people go out to a dance club, they go to dance. On the average night at Middlesex or the Good Life, even if it’s early in the evening and the room is not totally full (or drunk) yet, most of the people there will still be on the floor shaking it. That’s the whole point of being there! At this event however, we watched in horror as the room filled up from half a dozen to nearly a hundred people without a single person stepping out onto the dance floor! FOR SHAME, Portland!
As far as the music itself went, Ben Tactic and Lincoln Up both had proficient mixing skills, but overall they left much to be desired. I’m a huge fan of the bass, funky, 2-step and hip hop rhythms they were implementing, but their track selections seemed very safe and lacked in standout, attention-grabbing elements. Additionally, I can do without seeing DJs rely heavily on vocal tracks from hits by artists like Michael Jackson, Prince, and Outkast. It strikes me as pandering, and if I wanted to go see a Top 40 DJ, I’d go to a Top 40 night. If I were to offer them any advice it would be this: usually for a DJ, less is more. Even the most deftly-weaved layering of several elements has nothing on a single track with a bone-deep groove, some good percussion and an original hook. And don’t be afraid to take some risks!
I had a much more positive experience on my first visit to the seasonal SICK JAGGERS party. Sick Jaggers seems kind of like the epicenter for Portland’s darker, withchier electronic and post-punk scene. My personal local favorites VICE DEVICE were headlining along with LA’s Deathday, but this time around it was openers A S S S that stole the show.
This duo of synthesist/knob-twiddlers have a sound that is more in line with early dark electronic pioneers like the Normal, Cabaret Voltaire, and even Throbbing Gristle than with any contemporary acts I could mention, and boy do they nail it! The cold, deadpan delivery and rhythmic industrial clatter hit a real sweet spot for me which nobody else in PDX has touched yet.
Another great Portland band I’ve discovered out here is, of all things, a band from Portland, Maine! At Little Axe Records’ recent communal meal/show/tea ceremony in honor of the Vernal Equinox, my fellow-New Englanders PLANETS AROUND THE SUN gave it their dark and trippy all, droning and chiming their way through a set of lysergic and delay-heavy folk rock which, to my ears, would not sound out of place on the Young God label. All the Oregonians who played that night, especially ambient-arpeggio synth fiend TUNNELS, were in top form... but there was something really special about discovering a totally new favorite from so close to home all the way out here on the other side of the country.
On the whole, it’s becoming clear that this city (like most cities) does some things exceptionally well and might not be doing others as well as I’d like. Of course, I may just not have found exactly what I’m looking for yet. The fun is in continuing to look, so I promise to report back with additional findings soon.
John Von Bittrich is a lifelong Bostonian chronicling his new adventures in Portland, Oregon, for the Boston Phoenix. He updates the Hub Capped blog bi-weekly.