Though many dance music club owners are said to tell their DJs what to play, it certainly cannot have been the case at Bijou Boston's Gold Room on Thursday night; because the set that Bavarian-born, 31-year-old DANIEL BORTZ dropped sounded extremely unlike any that this writer has heard. Here was not the stomp and edgy harshness of techno, not -- despite some online track purchase sites' characterization of him -- the sentimental softness of house music. Instead, Bortz's sound arose from three genres far away in time or place. There was the sprightly chill of disco in its bass lines; the rhythm in its drum beats of Brazil's samba; and -- most uncommon of all -- the orchestral fugues and sado-macho spiderwebbing of Enigma, a German/Romanian studio creation whose first two CDs took Euro-pop, goth, and much else by storm about 20 years ago.
In European pop, a sound with some resemblance to Bortz's has legs, though definitely ones less long than those of "progressive," house music, or techno. Europe digests the Bortz sound as pop, in tracks sometimes of FM radio length. On European radio stations it all blends fairly readily into more flamboyant versions -- as fans of Mylene Farmer, in particular, and the variete francaise artists influenced by her 25 years of work know well. Here, in the US, Bortz's enigmatic samba disco tucks snugly into Lady GaGa's highly embroidered tours de fierce. GaGa's work -- like its Farmer sources -- dwells miles apart from the blues, soul, funk, and jazz influences that beget the sound of America's dance club underground; yet in Bortz's 87-minute set there it was, a cousin of GaGa-ism filtering out of two CD players and mixboard onto at least 200 dancers who loved it; who cheered Bortz during his set's pauses; who sang his words, as only knowing fans of an artist can do. They danced delightedly till the closing hour.
It was a plaintive, even sad, set, taken at 117 BPM, occasionally pitching up to 120 BPM. Bortz started late -- he was the main act in Suol, a touring group of DJs whose opening tandem he followed -- but what his set lacked in extension it more than made up for in the intensity of its emotion. On a rhythmic bed mostly samba but occasionally meringue and sometimes UK Glam came sounds from distant places and times coaxing the dancers to reach zones way off the spotlight, sowing their imaginations or memories or both. This was a dance of wounded spirits, of discomfort seeking comfort, of unease lamenting -- as tracks like "Can't Sleep At Night," "No One," "Rescue Me," his current number one Beatport download, the goth-toned "Leaving Me," and even the samba beat and melodic echo of "Beautiful World" impart. This last track in particular left its plaintive bruise upon Bortz's entire last hour, replete with chorales, chants, and sighs from an exhausted soul.
He edited his sound only subtly, with gradual dissolves, expansive overlays. He tweaked his pitch here and there, fade knobbed once, broke the music a couple of times. When it was time to program a follow-on, he did not leaf through his create for long; he knew what he wanted to play, and when, and that was that. For all the liberation in his set from fact, and evocative of faraway feelings, he played every minute with exactness and always in complete control. So that the craft of his set put forth the very action plan from which its message reached out for deliverance. A paradox indeed; but so is life itself as we find ourselves living it.