Chus + Ceballos,
the A-list DJ/production duo from Madrid, Spain, dropped a set at Royale Thursday night as
strong and imaginative as any I've seen them do in Boston. Beginning precisely at midnight, Chus
Esteban and Pablo Ceballos laid down a train-track choogle as classic in tone
and progressions as those of 1950s R&B - and as up-to-date in surface
textures as an Instagram.
The train track
choogle is not a Chus + Ceballos signature - the sound that fans identify them
with is what they call "Iberican," a mix of tribal rhythms, streaky high notes,
and wind-effect breaks - and for the first half hour of their music it seemed
that they had changed their sound to something more aligned with today's infatuation
with techno. But that seeming was mistaken. The set eventually evolved to their
beloved Iberican. Fans cheered, raised hands, and chanted "Chus Chus Chus."
It was a less than
full dance floor, but those who came know their stuff. The focus on Chus is no
mistake. It really is DJ Chus who sets the pace for the two Madrilenos, he who imposes the mix-board
edits, he who crunches and stretches the music and designs the tracks that they
produce. Which is not to downplay what Pablo Ceballos adds to their
performance. At Royale he and Chus DJ'd in tandem almost throughout the set,
quite unlike their usual switching from Chus solo to Ceballos solo and back
again. Using two PC programs, two PC mixers, and four CD players, the team
played off one another - Chus deconstructing the music and Ceballos grooming
it. Often in their set the two would confer on choosing a tune for the next
segue. What Ceballos suggested, Chus stretched out and stomped on.
Though their ground
beats moved onto familiar Iberican turf, their shapeshifts collapsed it all
into new shapes and textures. They did play "Dark Beat," "Go ON," and "The Strong
Rhythm," three of their best-loved tracks, but even these were sliced and spun
out in new ways and , surprisingly, older than old ones - the soulful sadness
of classic 1990s house music pervaded all. Into the mix they dropped many more
vocals than usual, both natural and sampled; screaming divas soared up from the
rhythm, and Celeda's "Music Is the Answer" swerved in and out, as the music honored
not Iberican itself but the pain-remedying house music that Iberican was the
duo's celebratory answer to.
In the set's last 45
minutes, Chus kicked pain to the curb. He imposed ever more expressionistic
shapeshifts upon it, dropped ever wilder wind effects, stopped the music entirely
ever more unexpectedly - only to start it up again with a beat or groove unlike
what went before. Chop, slash, train choogle, breeze, stop - so the climax of
their set went on, a train escape to everywhere one could imagine being free.
And he did it without once leaving the bluesy, funky psychedelics that are