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By Jena Ardell
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The Vargas brothers ‘rock out’ their DJ sets
People were packed inside an East LA banquet hall normally used for quinceañeras, weddings and holiday parties when shots popped off down the street. In a SoCal second, the place was surrounded with badges and crime tape. The venue was trapped within an active crime scene—no coming or going allowed—and that’s not where you want to be when you’re throwing a late-night techno showcase of dubious legality.
Luckily, the Interface 2.0 party in 2005 was a family affair, and the oldsters at the door looked like they fit in with the neighborhood’s festive milieu. When officers inquired what the gig was tonight, the father of promoters Vidal and Vangelis Vargas waved them off.
“The cops kind of wanted to come in,” says Vangelis, 31. “Luckily, my dad was like, ‘It’s just a private event.’ ‘How many people?’ ‘Two hundred.’ ‘Okay.’”
In reality, Vangelis says, “there were, like, 500.”
And so it goes for LA’s techno-party darlings, the Vargas brothers, who have been celebrated as the architects of the SoCal techno resurgence. They’re sneakily successful, passing out fliers for their parties and stealthily joining the global techno renaissance with their own productions and DJ sets as Acid Circus. The bros (a younger sister is a regular at their events, too) have yet to make global-headliner status, but the duo’s remixes and productions, released under their Droid Recordings label, have seen spins by such techno royalty as Richie Hawtin, Adam Beyer and Speedy J.
When you happen upon these Ramones-styled digi-hipsters in the DJ booth, they’re rocking laptops that run Ableton Live, Traktor, Reason and loads of plug-ins. They’re also playing their own tunes and re-dubs, deconstructing and remixing them on the spot for a unique experience of rubbery chip soul and relentless, metallic percussion. To experience the throbbing bottom end and shuffling machinations of an Acid Circus set is to experience the egalitarian Southern California warehouse underground. It’s a little bit Doc Marten and a little bit DJ Harvey, but it’s all future forward.
“When people see us live, they see two guys performing, and it’s energetic and entertaining, and there’s a lot of movement and improvisation, including mixing song parts and samples,” Vangelis says.
“You’re going to see two guys basically rocking out,” adds Vidal, 29.
The brothers grew up in the San Gabriel Valley. (Their father is in international telecommunications, and their mother is in management at a utility company.) They were encouraged to become classical musicians and high-minded artists, but the rave underworld beckoned as they both attended college in the mid-1990s. Vidal was going out so much that he started an e-mail newsletter for 50 or so friends. Called Droid, it outlined the region’s techno happenings. By the dawn of the millennium, melodic, symphonic trance was king, and techno-heads were anathema. But the Vangelis pair were unfazed. Joined by friend Mohamed Espinosa, the trio pursued their own events as Droid Behavior in 2002.
“We always felt like outcasts,” Vidal says.
In recent years, the pendulum has swung away from trance and toward “minimal” techno. The Vargases have found themselves at the center of recession-party chic, where it’s all about four walls, a good sound system and a digital beat. The siblings are now getting booked at superclubs, and they’re working on a proper album in their studio in the three-bedroom Rosemead house where they spent their early childhood.
“They keep things underground and pure,” says LA techno star John Tejada, who joins the brothers at their Focus gig Tuesday. “As a result, their productions are heard worldwide, and they’ve taken it to that level purely by their honest love for the music.”
Acid Circus with John Tejada at Focus at Tapas, 4253 Martingale Way, Newport Beach, (949) 756-8194; www.focus-oc.com. Tues., 9:30 p.m. 18+.
Download some of Acid Circus’ live sets at droidbehavior.com/circus.html.