Vivid Sydney Daily Report #8: Future Classic, Cory Doctorow, Jonathan Boulet

Day eight of Vivid Sydney heralded the arrival of a big weekend for dance fans: last night saw the sold-out Future Classic party roll into town with Isolee, Jacques Renault and Flume in tow and tonight, Amon Tobin brings ISAM to the Opera House for the first time. You’ll have to wait until tomorrow for our full review of ISAM, but in the meanwhile have a read of Jim Poe’s account of the Future Classic bash, Caitlin Welsh’s recap of Cory Doctorow in conversation and watch our interview with Jonathan Boulet.

Future Classic party with Isolée, Jacques Renault and FlumeJim Poe

When I get into the Studio for the Future Classic Studio Party, the place is packed and the dancefloor is lively. Sydney up-and-comer Flume is mid-set, rocking Biggie Smalls over an electro-breakbeat track mash-up style, and it’s a bit overmixed and noisy. More breaks follow, on a tangent somewhere between dubstep and G-funk. The crowd is pumped. The tracks are not bad, although some of them sound a bit like commercial R&B, but the kid doesn’t seem to want to mix tonight – relying instead on echoes and effects between tracks. And I could really live without him doing the hands-in-the-air thing like he was headlining a festival, and getting on the mic. Call me a purist.

While the Future Classic DJs mix things up between sets, I head out to grab a drink and check out the DJs in the lounge. They’re playing some choice classics of the ‘80s garage and electro-disco variety. Wouldn’t mind hearing a bit more of that inside, honestly.

But when I head back into the studio, Isolée (otherwise known as Rajko Müller) is on and things have turned around. The agenda is deep as expected. He’s playing his own material, which he has years’ worth to draw on, and it’s scintillating stuff. The nice thing is the crowd is really into it – people say minimal or deep stuff is over, but get someone who knows how to rock it and see how it moves people. The interesting thing is, here on the dancefloor this stuff doesn’t actually sound very “minimal” or “micro” at all. It’s chock-a-block with gorgeous strings, playful synths and keys, tribal drums and haunting soulful vocals. It just sounds like really beautiful and well-done house with a tech edge. And thankfully he’s one of those producers who knows how to play a live set like a proper DJ – the set is smooth as butter, with terrific buildups and breakdowns that stretch out the vibe expertly.

Jacques Renault comes billed as Mr. Disco, but during the 90 minutes or so I catch of his set it’s not really disco, garage nor even old-school house he’s rocking. Instead it’s an interesting simulacrum of the bright, bold big-club house of the ‘90s, the stuff we heard at Twilo or the Tunnel in a bygone era. We’re talking hard-hitting drum sounds with huge kicks and dry, untreated high-hats; power keyboard riffs and strings; predictable but totally effective buildups and breakdowns that ooze drama; sexy diva vocal samples. These days it’s hard to tell if DJs are playing this kind of stuff ironically – you know, with air quotes – or if they mean it. The reason it’s OK either way is because it’s exactly a million times more real and soulful than the horrible progressive stuff that a majority of jocks hammer; and when a party is packed at peak time, sometimes it’s exactly what’s needed. It’s a proven formula and hell of a lot of fun.

The downside? Same as back then: the predictability, the dry sounds – after a couple of hours, it starts to sound too much like commercial club music; and makes you pine for the sinister magic of old-school and deep house. Which is exactly why the “minimal” sound of Isolée and his ilk was so revolutionary when it first hit in the late ‘90s. (Actually, now that I think about it, the dynamic between the two schools just shows the typically clever and thoughtful programming of the Future Classic guys).

But give Renault credit: he’s a really good mixer – not only smooth on the fader but making good narrative choices, alternating the diva-y stuff with (good) progressive or tech (even working in some breakbeats). He builds the vibe section by section, knowing exactly when to tease the crowd with a bit of EQ action and when to just let ‘er rip. And I’m sure this was just a taste of his repertoire – would love to catch him on the next go round and hear him dig in the crates.

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