Bonobo, Z-Trip, and Jason Bentley
On the third day of the inaugural Wavelength Festival of Music, it was definitely time for some electronica. Dressed in a fitted black suit with matching tie many of the women in the audience were in mid-swoon through the duration of KCRW Music Director Jason Bentley's set, but the crowd is small. The evening's program, curated by the dapper Bentley, was an effort for the Pacific Symphony to reach a younger demographic. Instead of grandmas in pearls and old men sipping Dewar's on the rocks, the night was about the kids. It turns out – the youth love EDM.
The evening featured two very different uses of a 10-piece string ensemble. On the one-hand, there was a DJ with four days of prep and on the other, a British downtempo sensation with roughly a month under his belt with the symphony players. For Z-Trip his collaboration almost didn't happen whereas for Bonobo it was all, but etched in stone.
Preparation is important. It's where the kinks are worked out. When there is no such luxury, however, one must rely on their skill. Z-Trip did that in spades. He told me after the show that he slept maybe two to three hours in the past couple of days–total. Even more remarkable is the fact that he had his first run through with the Pacific Symphony strings earlier in the afternoon. Unions, man. Setting up jam sessions is a no-no.
Bonobo's prep time was a different story. The intricacies within his music blended with the string arrangements almost seamlessly. Rich in texture, the strings added an atmospheric tone. Though complimentary in every way the pairing lacked some dynamism. The strings were in the background enriching the overall sound, but lacked that pop and punch.
Opening with “Prelude” into “Kiara,” the big-sounding orchestral arrangement was felt and the preparedness was widely apparent. Rather than featuring the symphonic team though they were relegated to a supporting role. It's not to say that he squandered his resources. That's not it at all. The strings unquestionably added to Bonobo's bits. It just makes you wonder if he could've pushed the envelope and incorporated the strings in a less predictable way. That said, bangers like “Ketto,” “We Could Forever,” and “Cirrus” definitely had the crowd moving and that's what it's all about, right?
The Z-Trip portion of the evening went a little differently. After a rousing introduction from Bentley the “Superman of DJs,” as he affectionately referred to him as, took his spot behind the turntables.
After dropping the saxophone sample from Pete Rock and C.L. Smooth's “T.R.O.Y.” the strings broke into Beethoven's Fifth. Cutting and scratching over the symphony players Z-Trip moved with furious precision and impeccable timing. There was some look of bewilderment on the orchestra players faces as their conductor guided them through foreign territory. With communication via eye contact between the DJ and Gutiérrez, there was some call and response between the strings and turntables as they navigated through the performance.
Running through a classical heavy set, Z-Trip mixed his brand of mashup with the Pacific Symphony and as these unlike musical components worked in unison the audience witnessed what few DJs have even attempted.
As they galloped through parts of Tchaikovsky's “Nutcracker Suite” before a mariachi breakdown, Z-Trip made it a point not address the crowd rather putting the focus on the symphony and its conductor. The gradual build up of Edvard Grieg's “In the Hall of the Mountain King” had the ensemble pumping like a well-oiled machine with the unit stopping on a dime at its conclusion.
Whether it was the hip-hopification of the Spring section of Vivaldi's “Four Seasons” or blending the symphony's live rendition of The Verve's “Bittersweet Symphony” with Krafty Kuts' “A Krafty Symphony” Z-Trip and the symphonic 10-piece provided a bold, lively set which showcased the strengths of its participants. We just have to wonder what would've happened if Z-Trip had a month to prepare. If there is a next time hopefully it will generate a larger crowd.
Critical Bias: Both Z-Trip and Bonobo are beasts. I just like my beasts to hone in on originality rather than playing it safe.
Overheard in the Crowd: “I am pretty sure we just met Jason Bentley's mom.”
Random Notebook Dump: Some kid was breakdancing during Bonobo's set and he was killing it. His handstands had people losing their minds. Note to kid: bring cardboard next time.