You could hear the boom from blocks away, and once inside, you couldn’t hear much of anything other than banging percussion bouncing around the Echostage in Northeast. On Friday night, DJs Danny Tenaglia and Carl Cox punched out a big-room, back-to-basics block of dance music to a gracious, if slightly thin, crowd. The night ebbed and flowed with slow-building surges of excitement, dressed up in strobing lights and lasers.
Cox and Tenaglia are old heroes of house and techno. Tenaglia came up playing house music in Miami and New York in the 1980s and ’90s. Cox made his name across the pond as a house and techno DJ at around the same time, steadily building his reputation playing high-profile gigs in Europe.
The booking was something of a curveball for Echostage promoter Glow. For the most part, the roster of DJs that Glow works with reads like a main-stage lineup at a major festival: names big enough to draw in baby-faced crowds similar to those found at Electric Daisy Carnival and Ultra Music Festival. People such as David Guetta and Calvin Harris, who have been feeding pop-infused house music to hordes of hungry young ravers. Cox plays these festivals, but at a stage off to the side, serving subtler fare at a tent called Carl Cox and Friends. It’s smaller, hosts an older crowd and tends to feature DJs that hover closer to the underground.
At this point, EDM’s rise in popularity in America and flirtation with mainstream pop has been well documented. Perhaps less well documented has been the parallel rise of more underground sounds around the country. Deep house and techno, styles of dance music that stray further from conventional pop structures, are steadily working their way into the eardrums of younger Americans. Music blogs that once covered only mainstream house and dubstep are now including more esoteric ends of the electronic spectrum. Off-the-grid warehouse parties are popping up with increasing regularity in major American cities. And dance clubs are able to fill their halls by booking artists that were, up until recently, relatively unknown in the States. Cox’s presence at American festivals has helped this in part, by cross-pollinating the scenes.
On Friday night, Tenaglia opened with a set of bold, brooding techno, methodically swapping low rumbles in and out of the hangar-like arena. And while the pumping kicks and dark synths were forceful enough to charge pockets of the crowd into a tizzy, it wasn’t until Cox came on that power flooded the entire room. The headliner worked atop a throbbing floor of bass, weaving kaleidoscopic percussion over a steady 4/4 drum, punching holes in his repetition with small tweaks of the mixer. His mixes between songs served not only to link two tracks together, but as standalone ideas: lacing upper frequencies of one cut with the grizzly low end of another. The result was a master class in simplicity and repetition; Cox’s timbrel ornamentation yanked sharply at moving limbs, both young and old.
With Cox’s headlining slot came all of the whistles and bells that Echostage has to offer. A screen-paneled stage showing shifting prisms and clocks, and cartoon industrial zones lit up the room. Columns of steam sprang from cannons as crescendos of sound crested in the speaker stacks. Lasers zigged and zagged, confetti trickled out here and there. It was something of an odd fit, this double bill on a big stage. It didn’t ever feel like the performers were playing on their home field. Lost was the intimacy often felt at smaller settings like, for example, Carl Cox and Friends. Plus, the vibe would have been better served without dancers on the sidelines and bottle-service patrons gazing coolly from the balconies. But, frivolous distractions aside, the basics did sound something fierce.
Yenugin is a freelance writer.