New York DJ Pase Rock headlined Detroit Bar recently, topping off a bill of another hipster dance night. These types of parties have been occurring with increasing frequency in Orange County over the past year, if my MySpace bulletin section is any indication (and it is, it is). If you go to these events with any regularity, you will notice several motifs and recurring themes.
One: A preponderance of laptops and Serato programs and a dearth of vinyl in DJ booths. This leads to these scenarios . . .
Two: DJs now have potentially way more tracks at their disposal with Serato instead of being limited to how much weight they can lug to the club. So why do we hear so many of the same cuts being played by Serato jocks on the regular? Why has the repertoire become so limited? It's as if everyone's reading the same DJ blogs, perusing Diplo and Nick Catchdubs' playlists, and jacking the same MP3s. The degree of herd mentality is staggering. At Pase Rock's gig at Detroit, I heard Daft Punk's "Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger" twice and Federico Franchi's "Cream" thrice. Granted, there were two rooms going simultaneously, and those are fantastic (if overplayed) tracks, but that's ridiculous and much more mortifying than showing up at a soiree wearing the same outfit as another debutante.
Three: C.R.E.A.M. No, not the Wu-Tang Clan classic, but rather Coke Reigns Everywhere Around Me. Short attention spans rule in this milieu, as blow's effects on the brain make people crave rapidly changing sensations RIGHTNOWGODDAMNIT. Pase's set featured many excellent selections (cheers for dropping James Brown's "Get Up Offa That Thing"), sometimes mashed together to become greater than the sum of their parts, but he rarely let them last long before he was onto the next transition. This is a frustrating tease, especially if you're really into a track, because you only have about 45 seconds to savor it. This is hardly a recent phenomenon, and I may be in the minority here, but the ADHD method of DJing does an injustice to the music's producers, as well as to the dancers in the house; it's akin to having one stanza represent an epic poem or to engaging in an orgy consisting entirely of coitus interruptus. (Of course, if you like "Harder, Better" or "Cream," you just need to wait for the next spin of it later that night. Who has a key bump for me?)
Four: Paparazzi in your face—plus, everyone's an amateur photographer now. Apparently, it's not a satisfactory night out unless you get your picture taken at least six times. I'm as narcissistic as anyone, but shit's gotten out of control. At the Pase gig, this young Asian cat wielded his camera like a weapon, brazenly walking up to clubbers and shooting them without a word—no "thank you," nada. The fucking gall. I loved it.
One new development I noticed at the Pase show was a banner hanging from the main-room DJ rig. It featured a dude in a balaclava flashing his middle finger, with the phrase NO REQUESTS emblazoned above him. Instant classic.
Omar Rodriguez-Lopez: It's a Calibration!
Love or hate their music (it's hard to be ambivalent about it), but you have to respect The Mars Volta. The (partially) Southland prog rockers give one hope . . . for something. Maybe for the triumph of music that requires long attention spans and a keen appreciation of supremely complex song structures, flamboyant instrumental dexterity and cryptic lyrics. That the concept-LP-oriented Mars Volta can thrive when popular music is dominated by artists adhering to the "keep it simple and stupid" ethos, and pundits concede that discrete songs and ringtones have supplanted the album as the preferred listening unit, verges on the miraculous. The Mars Volta may be more valuable for what they represent than for their music (which is often gripping, don't get me wrong).
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So I can cut Mars Volta guitarist Omar Rodriguez-Lopez some slack if his fourth and latest solo disc, Calibration (Is Pushing Luck and Key Too Far), isn't something to which I want to return with frequency. Dubbed his "electronic rock album," Calibration doesn't radically diverge from Mars Volta's m.o. It features many of the players (including Cedric Bixler-Zavala, John Frusciante and Money Mark) who appeared on Rodriguez-Lopez's 2007's Se Dice Bisonte, No Bùfalo.
Rodriguez-Lopez's guitars still slash and burn all over the place like Carlos Santana on seven hits of mescaline, but he's augmented them with more synths and weirder electronic embellishments than typically grace a Mars Volta release, while lessening the vocal presence. Prog-rock sprawl and dynamic switchbacks still prevail, though; Yes and Il Balletto Di Bronzo fans will more likely warm to Calibration than will Justice or Hot Chip aficionados. Dense, intense layers of sound swarm, mutate, do the fandango and spit venom in your ears-especially on the explosive "Sidewalk Fins." So, crazy business as usual for Rodriguez-Lopez. Long may he coax bizarre, labyrinthine music from his fevered noggin-even if it's often TMI for one's sanity.
For more information, visit www.myspace.com/omarcalibration.