Friday, May 08, 2009

I waited nearly 15 years to see Jeff Mills ...

The time flew by and somehow I never got around to seeing Jeff Mills spin. The most memorable near-miss happened in Toronto, in 1997 I believe, when I was locked, loaded and ready to hear him one weekend, only to have my plans derailed by a massive January snowstorm. 99% of the time, I'm not one to be deterred by a bit of bad weather, but it snowed all Saturday long and by the evening, I decided that driving all the way downtown simply wasn't going to happen, seeing how getting the car from the driveway to the end of the street looked like enough of a challenge as it was. The roads were such a mess all over the city that I figured that hardly anybody would be able to reach the club anyway.

The next day, I spoke to a friend who, to my surprise, had not only gone to the club, but had traveled twice as far as I would have needed to. The place was packed like you wouldn't believe, she said. And Mills was awesome. Fucking hell.

It all began with a surprisingly posh crowd in a club, Haoman 17, whose layout is easily predisposed to the instant deification of superstar DJs. The booth is elevated four metres above the dancefloor, a throne from which to look down on cramped clubbers dancing underneath a huge square-shaped chandelier array, facing a facade of LED video screens that flashed hypnotic red and blue ripple patterns all night long. Behind the booth is the main bar area, from which you can get a close look at the DJ masters doing their thing. And of course, Mills hits the hard stuff right from the start. He doesn't bother playing anything else, he never does. Every time is peak time.

Down on the dance floor, confusion started to set in after maybe half an hour. When Mills began his set, a healthy percentage of the crowd could be labeled as "politely stoked". Happy to be there, always liking a good party, but only passively curious about techno. Jeff Mills eats up these kinds of people. Soon enough, they were wondering "is this all there is?", you could read it on their faces. Yep, it's chest-crushing techno, hour after hour, that's what you signed up for and you didn't even know it. The bass was so loud, I could feel my skin being stretched by the vibrations.

It's great to see that the rise and fall of minimal techno was water off a duck's back for Mills. He hasn't compromised. With him, "minimal" was always about simplicity, it was about loops, it never meant "stripped-down". The perplexed onlookers started to clear out and the dancers took over. Through it all, Mills remained stoic and emotionless in the DJ booth, the prototype of the silent killer. He may have been aware that there was a crowd in attendance, if he did know then he certainly never acknowledged it. But that's expected, because he doesn't even acknowledge his own music -- no swaying to the beat, no head-nodding, he went about his business in his own way.

For his finale, he worked the filters like mad over the long, beatless finish of the final track, only to launch the beats again by switching over to an absolutely punishing track, such a pleasant bit of cruelty for 6:15 AM, and a kiss-off to the DJ who had to close down the club. "Whatever you got, try mixing it into THIS, because I'm outta here."

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