Open on Sunday night because of the Monday holiday, Bijou Boston hosted Germany's MARTIN BUTTRICH for a two-hour set played to a dance floor as full of revelers as this writer has ever seen it. Even at the 2am close time, the floor was nearly full of bodies grooving and arms upraised.
The massiveness of Buttrich's sound was not expected at all. At a previous Boston appearance about 15 months ago he played a light-footed, comedic music that featured remembrances of cabaret funk (Kid Creole and the Coconuts especially) and a spawl of goofy Kraftwerk. None of this showed up in Buttrich's Bijou set. Instead, as the sound prevalent on Friday is "tribal techno" (techno beast-beats and tribal sensuality paired; thank you, Victor Calderone) tribal techno is what Buttrich played.
He made it work, and then some. Calderone's tribal-techno, reverb bottom and percussive top, feels like Smokey Robinson love music, a carpet of magic murmuring rhythms embracing a cutie pie's bird bite. Not so Buttrich's version. At Bijou his rhythms stomped, dark and big, muscle-man stuff; his top notes warbled, dreamy and trippy like classic space-disco. In Calderone's sound the guy dominates; for Buttrich, the girl has the lead role. His "Mademoiselle" and "Blonde Galipette," his current top downloads, are like that. He featured both at the mid-point of his set.
Guys there were, on the Bijou floor -- lithe and well-groomed ones -- and an even larger turnout of cuties. It was as girly a night as any Calderone gig. Front and center and to the sides, there they were, texting and hugging each other and moving in pairs, threes, cliques. Upon them Buttrich dropped a continuous groove at 122 BPM speed not once broken into until the first hour ended. (European DJ style favors the non-stop segue. Buttrich played his comedic set that way 15 months ago.) Heads bobbed, bodies pogo'd, arms metronome'd the beat.
Operating an uncommon PC program with three channels open, Buttrich used the PC's control console to squeeze and stutter his upper register detailing and, quite artfully, to bridge from one track to another -- seeming to tweak the shape of his groove even while maintaining its basic murmur. Though his first hour sounded simple to hear (and feel), at the mixboard Buttrich patched almost every bar of it ever so subtly -- pitch adjustments, speed tweaks, dissolve mixes and an easy sway between percussion and reverb. Most DJs liberally sprinkle talk tool-ins atop their sound; Buttrich too, but none of his tool-ins was a usual suspect. Never, for example, had I heard a DJ drop "Bim Sala Bim" -- title of a 1974 disco-funk classic -- much less a teasers' chant that seemed to say "Mitt Romney!" The dancers loved all of it.
In the second hour Buttrich complicated his combinations of rhythm and detail. Here he featured -- albeit much mix-boarded -- his own "Noodle Stories," "Groove Catcher," and "Around the Bay" as well as numerous sound frames which, in true master DJ manner, felt instantly familiar even though unrecognized. There was glitch talk and Enigma choruses and even wind chimes playing a Doors' theme (!), all of it shape-poked, pinched, and extended like elastic, reversed. Moves that mirrored the contortions of the dancers, and their cheers and screams, convincingly responding to the power of his beat. Powerful, it was.
There wasn't a wasted moment in Buttrich's set. Other than one brief sound system fail, every note mattered, each detail, all his mixes and bridges. It was a two hour poem of stomp and flirt, of girl and guy, of a dance every bit as gracefully passionate as the minuet and tango. Other DJs of the moment certainly do as well, yes. Chus & Ceballos reach more risky abstractions; Calderone extends the music of dreams more sublimely. Quentin Harris and Kerri Chandler best evoke the glow of soul. Derrick Carter is the master of the canons of funk and blues. But none of these, nor any DJ working today, has this writer seen drop a set more sumptuously dominant and finely articulated than the work that Buttrich dropped on a Bijou crowd as big as his music.
It was a set, and an event, not to be missed.
The opening music was played in tandem by Tamer Malki and Wil Trahan, two of Boston's most articulate DJs. This arrangement didn't work -- their styles are just too dissimilar. Malki played sultry techno, Lee Curtiss' "The Trouble" best of all; and Trahan played flirty. Though it was delightful to hear Trahan drop Joi Cardwell's "Love Somebody Else," for example, the song felt like a contradiction to the booms of Malki's music. Malki and Trahan always conquer a dance floor on his own; together, not so much.