Friday night's SAEED YOUNAN performance was balm to those dance music fans that have had their fill of techno, techno, techno all the time. Booking Younan's seductively flirty "tribal" sound into Bijou, currently Boston's techno temple -- the club's allowed him to drop his sound; too many clubs require DJs to conform to theirs -- hopefully signals a big change. May the freshness in Younan's freewheeling set give impetus to its coming.
It won't be easy, though, because the fan base that gave rise, 15 to 20 years ago, to the elements of Younan's set is no longer there. Younan drew the Bijou regulars, who seemed to appreciate his mix of wiggly tribalism with flashes from house music's circuit boys and "bitch tracks" past tooled in. Yet much of the bitchy talk and fey swooning in Younan's "DJ tool" a cappellas must seem to Bijou's highly mainstream in-crowd as clichés from yesterday -- or as just noise. Still, for those on the Bijou floor who knew Mike Dunn's sardonic "God Made Me Phunky" and DJ Escape's in-your-face "Listen Bitch" -- both of which Younan played at length, plus some queenish drama by 1990s coif diva Candy J -- it felt liberating to be taken back 10 years and more to when house music was still developing, ad hoc and ad lib, and to the hot mess clubs where such talk-y preening went on throughout the room by people to whom that music gave a voice as yet unheard beyond the confines of, well, messy hotness.
From there, Younan made it look easy to project bitchy house music into the present. His sound has, if anything, become even more seductively girly than it was when he first gained attention a decade ago. Then his stuff was bawdy. It was workout music, too. Not so at Bijou. Now his sound is flirty, even dainty, atop bulging beats. He dropped parts of several of his own new productions: "Yeah Ha," a chant and samba; "Double Trouble," drums upon drums; "Kumbal Ha"; and his number one download at Beatport, "I'll Take You there," featuring voice by Franklin Fuentes (himself a veteran of bitchy 1990s house music and its scene).
It was a set with not one flat moment or miscue. Using, as he told me, "maybe six tracks, four of them on the PC," Younan was able to juggle precision on drums, voices, DJ tools, and screamy noise effects in always changing, never predictable combinations. Still, it were voices that grabbed the most attention. There was chanting, disco style. And there was rant. Voices stepped forward out of the blur into the clear, pointing a finger at the dancer amid a hubbub of beaty shifts, percussion moves, and drum exhilarations. Voices commented on the music, talked to it, babbled and scolded -- nicely. Younan used voice tools as beat pause pressure builds. He used them almost as percussion. And, late in the set, just before it veered into "electro," of all genres, he used them to chant "thanks for coming!"
Mike Swells, the manager and DJ resident at RISE Club, opened for Younan. He mixed a plush set of deep house, murmuring beats, and smooth transitions -- his signature. Swells too picked up on Younan's going-back mission, when, at the climax of his set, he played at full length Audiojack's ingenious recent rework of Jaydee's "Plastic Dreams," one of club music's most iconic hits -- from 1992.