Volta Bureau leaves Artisphere crowd wanting more

October 9, 2011

These days, more and more DJs are incorporating live musical elements into their shows. Sometimes it works, but more often it doesn’t.

The Bloody Beetroots exemplify the latter. The hard-hitting DJ duo took on new life last year as a three-person live band, Bloody Beetroots Death Crew 77. With drums and electric guitar, the shows are so vicious and overwhelmingly busy that the scene is more mosh pit than dance party.

But then there are times when the chemistry between DJs and instruments is downright harmonious, with the live elements serving more as delicate compliments than sound-swallowing baggage. Such is the case with Volta Bureau, a new supergroup made of three acclaimed local DJs and producers that played its first show Saturday in Arlington, at Artisphere’s one-year anniversary party.

The trio includes DC dance party pioneer Will Eastman on guitar, Outputmessage (Bernard Farley) on vocals and Micah Vellian (Miguel Lacsamana) on bass and keyboard. They only gave us a taste — a 40-minute set of nine tracks — and like a perfect first date, it left us wanting more.

Farley carried the vocals, his creamy baritone floating gracefully over the house-meets-disco beats. Though Eastman and Lacsamana occasionally chimed in, they kept it simple: free from extravagant special effects, masks or mouse heads, Volta Bureau offered a pure and pleasant respite from many of electronic dance music’s current heavy-hitters.

The tracks improved as the set progressed, with each feeling more robust and polished than the last. Toward the beginning, Farley’s digitally teased voice was so soft — a coo here, a hiss there — that it almost got lost in the swell of other sounds. But then came “Hope,” the group’s catchiest song, and “Love Cubed,” its grooviest, where Farley really shined. The crowd nearly doubled.

The band’s closer, “Solid Gold Bones,” is its newest and deadliest weapon. A perfect showcase of Farley’s vocal talent melted over rich, spunky bass (reminiscent of classic Talking Heads or Australian synth-pop sensation Cut Copy), this is the one to watch.

One drawback of the evening was that so few were there to pay witness. The event’s low attendance, cheesy lighting and makeshift stage sometimes made it feel more like a high school dance than a professional show. Certainly, Volta Bureau is destined for bigger things. (The perfectly sepulchral basement of U Street Music Hall, where Eastman serves as co-owner, comes to mind.)

Those craving an ear-splitting rave should look elsewhere, but for a classic, upbeat dance party, this trio delivers in the studio and onstage.

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