I’ll admit at the onset, with no small amount of shame, that I was, on a few occasions, firsthand witness to the rave scene of the late 90s. And not even the romantic, “naked on a beach in Ibitha” variety, so much as the “baggy flannel shirt in a decrepit roller rink on the outskirts of some dead Northwestern logging town” sort. So, I say with some authority, that if Friday night’s Brooklyn double bill of neo-techno was actually the hub of some tangible “new rave” movement, the new version is roughly three billion times less embarrassing than the original. No grody back-rub circles! Nary a glow-stick in sight!
The line-up featured impressive cameos from notable, yet still totally obscure, figures from the breadth of modern electronica. Portland-based ambient luminary (and former Atlas Sound touring member) Adam Forkner, who records under the name White Rainbow, made an appearance. A DJ set from Teengirl Fantasy (duo Logan Takahashi and Nick Weiss) added a bit of buzz. Gatekeeper and Blondes, a pair of locally adopted pairs both affiliated with hip London label Merok Records, provided the main draw.
When Gatekeeper had finished setting up, the venue was flooded with smoke-machine exhaust, to the point that a thick London fog started seeping through the walls of its makeshift bathrooms. Monster Island Basement, a Williamsburg DIY space that sells packs of cigarettes alongside the 7” records at its merch table, had no shortage of hanging murk from the start, but by the time the minimal Germanic beats started pumping it could have plausibly been located mid-forest fire. Epileptic strobe lights, and eery X-Files green lamps lit the smoke, harkening back to the dodgy suburban raves of yore. The music they produced was spartan, Manuel Göttsching-inspired techno, punctuated with moments of heavier, NIN-like industrial crunch—seriously tasteful, visceral stuff that had little in common with the cringeworthy Eurotrash bloat of the sub-Oakenfold drek that plagued the original scene.
Blondes, playing next, traded Gatekeeper's weight for more of an extended gracefulness, danceable but not exactly intense. Their synth lines stretched indefinitely towards the horizon, percolating slowly so that the grooves seem to slowly transmorph rather than abruptly change. The beats were insistent, but not overbearing. Blondes opted against overly dramatic lighting route. They impressively wrung live arpeggios from their analog synths, and still ending up kind of boring to watch. Shows like this are meant to be danced to rather than looked at, really. By that metric, the show was sort of a failure. A bit of movement here and there, but much more of the old, arms-crossed indie-rock dude special. Ample evidence of a new sort of vital electronics was there if you were looking for it, but when the most committed dancing at an overt dance-music event comes from the out-of-place 60s garage rock played in-between sets, it seems like quite the red flag, no? Is it even really dance music if it's only appreciated on headphones? Despite solid attendance, this burgeoning local scene might not have found its ideal audience as of yet. Or modern college kids need some new drugs. One of the two.