By Jeb Gavin
I make no secret of being a crazed, cranky old man. I’ve slipped into the role of Grampa Simpson like I was slipping into bikini briefs, then into a hot tub, then out of bikini briefs- with neither effort nor grace. So when I get told, “Hey, Netsky is playing a show at the new Soundcheck on a Wednesday night, you should cover it!” My reaction is of course, “ok.” Well, more like “OK.” I love music, and I want to see live music. But I also get up at 4 a.m. to eat a healthy breakfast and take a walk to prepare for the day ahead. I am skeptical of parties on weeknights where the headlining set doesn’t start until after midnight. I am wrong. I am often wrong. I was wrong in this case, and I will likely be wrong again. I now enjoy being proven wrong by DJs.
If you’ve never listened to or seen him, Netsky’s bio reads like Nick Kroll made him up for a sketch about Eurotrash: young, Belgian, obsessed with electronic dance music. Pretty sure this is everyone’s cliched image of an EDM artist. It’s tough to disprove because it’s routinely the case. It’s easy to dismiss a lot of these guys because the assumption is they’re playing the same tracks with almost identical equipment, however could they actually be different? Well, in the case of Netsky there’s an attention to detail and an inventiveness to his work that makes drum and bass feel more than just the same old frenetic cymbals and synth tones.
There was a freshness to his set verging on playful. Feeling some trap? Throw it in the mix. Intro from “Let Me Clear My Throat”? Suddenly Doug E. Fresh comes out of the speakers. It felt as if, should a whim (or the crowd) demand it, Netsky might’ve pulled out a remix of a 40 year old Toronto cast recording of Godspell to throw a bit of Shirley Bassey in the mix. For all its offshoots and subgrenres, drum and bass is a narrow band of rhythm. You drive a crowd faster and faster until climax, and then denouement is the sound of the system powering down before the next guy on the bill does it all over again. Netsky’s liquid funk smooths over the gaps with melodies, going beyond the sort of harmonious sound I’m used to hearing from guys like High Contrast.
This is not something I expect from a drum and bass DJ. I expect an adherence to the genre, pitching up or down as much as 10% but rarely wandering afield. I expect an exhaustive race to some sonic peak. Instead I heard a terrific set jumping out of genre and tempo, and everyone in the room seemed happy to be there.
Speaking of the room, I should mention this was my first time at Soundcheck on K Street, though definitely not my last. Of all the reviews I read in advance of the show, the only consistency was a complaint about the security. I found them professional and assertive, though I understand how if you’re looking to consume something other than alcohol in the club you might find their assertiveness intrusive. After the fact it reminded me a bit of the security at Nation, except it was less likely the doormen at Soundcheck were looking to supplement their income by finding and re-purposing contraband.
More to the point, the room itself is a well engineered cannon-barrel of sound. Tables are set in the back of the house and raised up a bit, sort of where the stage is situated at the opposite end of the room at U Street Music Hall. Likewise, a bar runs the length of the dance floor, off to one side. Come to think of it, the comparison to Uhall is apt- a long, underground space designed to place you within the music without popping eardrums. Netsky was a great introduction to the space, and Soundcheck served him well that night. I was still up at four the next morning, with an unexpected spring in my step.