In just a very few years, the UK's NICOLE MOUDABER has moved into the top ranks of performing DJs and re-mixers; she also collaborates now with Victor Calderone and Carl Cox, and her bio adds that Danny Tenaglia himself is now working with her in studio. For house music and techno it doesn't get any better than these; thus her Boston debut, at Bijou last Friday night, was a top date for this city's knowledgeable fans. Reams of hype preceded her appearance -- usually a danger signal -- but Moudaber, after an hour and more of what seemed at the time more rave than house, lived up to the hype and then some.
For more than 60 minutes, her set moved through several phases, none of them easy to like. First she dropped a cold, metallic, cranky strut beat -- more riot grrrl than techno, a female Skrillex or Zedd. Besides feeling cold, the sound narrowed like a laser -- into a middle octave, almost without bottom -- in which she featured "The Reason Why," "Watcha playin'," and "Toe Cleavage" and similarly harsh, slashing tracks -- a pissed-off sound. Then came phase two, as, by way of a quick-cut mix, she ballooned her sound down to reverb and up to streak effects.
A line of disco-reminiscent reverbs followed, some of it excerpted from her number one download at Beatport, the remix of Carl Cox's "Chemistry." Then came another quick-cut, and off the music veered industrial: a panorama of screamy, clatter and slice noise music that brought to mind such German techno stylists as Lutzenkirchen's and Chris Liebing -- though less illustratively lucid.
None of these icy formats, neither riot grrrl nor nu-disco nor industrialist, moved the Bijou crowd much; there was a lot of standing around and talk talk.
But then Moudaber began to inch away from the ice. Using no PC and just the standard two CD players and Bijou’s mixboard, she began to vary her reverb and to soften the clatter and scream. Brief, pianissimo waves rippled through the rhythm. Piano-like melody wove into and over the beat. A backdrop of ghostly chants, redolent of Enigma and Deep Forest from the early 1990s, gave context to her new, "Trance Gal" persona, and -- as quickly as that -- the entire message of her set took on new dimension. The crowd loved it.
Playing "Don't Touch My Junk," "Chocolate Love," the marvelously lush "Hair," and -- so it seemed -- "Vertical Limit," one of her two hit collaborations with Victor Calderone, Moudaber embraced the full force of pushy-funky techno, countered masterfully by tiny touches of percussion, piano, or synth, which, in hers and Calderone's most visionary collaborations, ride above the rhythm like sexy dancers riding a magic carpet. The Bijou crowd went berserk now.
Hands raised, cameras flashing; some dancing; others standing in awe as Moudaber piled lush upon lush and small pimples of noise atop big blobs of crunch. For that's the seduction in "Vertical Limit" and "Hair," and in other, less identifiable, intricately blended tracks whose dreamy melodies and pouty chants Moudaber put cheek to cheek with one another.
Usually one associates such sentimental opulence with "trance." It was Moudaber's mix inspiration at Bijou to translate all of trance's exquisite joy into the language, shape and tempo of techno. Stride riffs and wavelets of upper register lullaby dissolved into pressure squeezes -- a classic DJ orgasmatron -- studded with sonic pearls and opals and then -- pow ! -- the sound burst into a loud, hip-bumping stomp of techno.
This was dominating stuff; the Bijou crowd did not want it to end, but it did -- with a "DJ Tool" voice lick cooing "wang dang doodle," no less. Howlin' Wolf and Koko Taylor smiled down from R&B heaven.
The night would have been a Boston success even had Moudaber not performed. Because the opening set, by DJ BRIENNE, pictured below, marked her return to Boston a year almost to the day after she suffered a horrific mugging near her then home. Brienne had been up to that night one of Boston's strongest female DJs with a soulful, classic house music taste few DJs cared to match. At Bijou, though, she played techno: a sweeter, more feminine techno than Moudaber's opening riot grrrl and harder-driving than Moudaber's later bliss-and-chant.
This writer still prefers DJ Brienne playing soulful house music: techno DJs are the flavor of the moment, while inspired soulful house DJs are rarer than ever. Still, Brienne showed her many loving friends at Bijou, this writer included, that she can go mano a mano with any local DJ -- and with many of the genre's A list too.