Last weekend was the Star Festival: a newly-minted, small-scale electronic music festival.
After a measly hour-and-a-half car ride (yay for local Kansai festivals!), Rei-the-man, Fanfan, Junko and yours truly arrived there early afternoon, somehow managing to be the very first car to enter festival grounds and probably not far from last to leave. In between: twenty-four (and some) hours of non-stop music, fun and dancing, the details of which shall remain safely out of the internets, just in case I do decide to run for public office one day.
Getting us into our afternoon groove upon arrival, was friend of the gang Bayon, pushing his usual nice selection of techy and dubby house.
To be honest, I could have rocked it to east-Mongolian goa trance if necessary: just for the pleasure of dancing barefoot surrounded by forests and mountains on a warm late-Spring afternoon.
In a concerted decision, our entire carpooling group decided to retire to our majestic campground for a replenishing afternoon nap (that’s what happens when your breakfast consist of one onigiri and two large-size kirins).
Sleep, food and drinks later, we parked our funky butts in front of DJ Harvey: club music veteran that had faintly entered my radar in the past, but I had never heard live. Definitely one of the two best of the weekend. As with most of my personal DJing heroes, his set was a very eclectic mix of styles spanning the range from funk/disco all the way to hard techno, with healthy doses of electro in the middle. Highlight among the highlights: his epic set-closing 15 minutes of I feel Love (most likely the Patrick Cowley remix, but, erm, my notes for the evening are a bit blurry). A nice homage to the recently departed Queen of Disco & Godmother of Electro.
Aftermath was a little more hesitant, with time spent between stages, getting glimpses of DJ Nobu and mainly enjoying 80kidz‘s DJ set (more than 5 years since last hearing them at some tiny Shibuya club). Solid electro, as always.
The transition to DJ Aki around midnight prompted a hasty retreat to other stages where the music did not associate so closely with vivid memories of hoodie-wearing tweakers joylessly dancing in some damp East-end basement (sorry hardcore D&B fans, I love you but that Amen break’s gotta die).
Rest of the evening/night was spent in the vicinity of the third and smallest stage (“Chillmountain booth”), enjoying some damn funky grooves till late. Unfortunately, I have no idea who the two-three guys taking over the decks in succession were, and the official website’s section for this stage only gives artist names with no timeslot information.
Eventually, 3-4am was deemed as good a time as any for a retreat to our tent, followed by some attempt at sleep. Incidentally, the overall small size of the festival grounds (less than 5 minutes to walk one end to the other), while contributing a great deal to the brilliant atmosphere, made for very trying sleeping conditions: forget ear-plugs, it takes some particularly advanced skills (or lots of alcohol) to get to sleep when not one, but two booming basses are shaking the ground under your ears.
Early morning tunes and good vibes were also courtesy of anonymous DJs at the nearby Chillmountain stage (I woke up to some loungy downtempo female cover of 上を向いて歩こう, which is more than I can say about most mornings). As it turned out, sleep was a lot easier to achieve, lying on the grass under the sun in front of the stage, than up in our tent…
After some tasty Thai breakfast, courtesy of the Japonica booth, we got treated to a brilliant closing set by Calm: old acquaintance from way back and easily my favourite Japanese DJ. Hearing his very special blend of deep house, electro, soul, jazzy disco and the occasional true-to-form reggae track (among others: a beautiful downtempo cover of Minnie Riperton’s standard) makes it easy to see why he is a staple of day-parties across the country: his music is the perfect soundtrack for a shiny sunny day.
With an unprecedented hour of extra dancing, way past official closing time (if you’ve been anywhere in Japan, you know that even the most free-form, disorganised, hippie event will end on freaking schedule, not one minute after it is supposed to), we slowly packed our way back. An hour drive later (did I mention: yay for local festivals!), we were replenishing our energy in Kyoto with some kaiten-zushi before heading home for some much-needed quiet sleepy time.
One more thing…
OK, now that we have established how unreservedly brilliant this whole weekend was, time to open the negativity spigot and rain some cranky-old-fartness on that post. Merely an observation, really: I am honestly not all that bothered by it…
So anyway: this is the year 2012 and DJing is dead.
Not electronic music, mind you, not even live electronic music, but proper DJing by people whose main job it is to skillfully blend two (or more) tracks while people dance to it.
Out of all the people I heard this weekend, setting aside two veteran DJs (who each had easily a decade or two over my own age), every single artist I named had absolutely no skill at mixing records (ranging from continuous tempo-deaf cross-fading to endless trainwrecking). Which would not be such a problem if they weren’t, you know, trying to mix records (instead of focussing solely on producing live sounds, which some of them are probably good at). Not only that, but I swear I seemed to be the only guy noticing that, all of a sudden, the smooth-playing track had turned into a laundromat concert, making it impossible to even dance to.
Having committed my fair share of blunders and trainwrecks, I’d be the last to throw the stone at another beginner-DJ… but it somehow boggles my mind that it would be considered par-for-the-course from festival headliners (some of whom really ought to be better by now: 5 years after I last heard them trainwreck their way through an evening). And don’t get me started on how laughably basic it is to achieve halfway-decent mixing on its own, using modern techniques (only a couple of these guys actually tried spinning records, and they were usually not the worst).
My conclusion being: nobody cares anymore… as long as the tracks sound good and the bass are compressed, there’s nothing a little reverb and a quick cross-fading won’t solve. The times, they are a-changing bro. I could live with that, if not for the fact that it makes for a tiresome experience on a dancefloor.