All words: Jeb Gavin
Were I to supplant my own list of summer essentials for the ones Jonathan Richman rattles off in “That Summer Feeling”, far up the list- if not paramount, would be the late night summer dance party. Thus it was fitting the first time it felt more like summer than a particularly humid spring this year came late Wednesday night at the U Street Music Hall at Simian Mobile Disco’s DJ set.
Simian Mobile Disco is comprised of drummer James Ford and keyboardist Jas Shaw both formerly of indie electro-pop band Simian. Initially the two DJed together independent of the band, though now the duo are known more for their production and remixes of other indie bands and electronic acts, often in analog rather than digital. None of this is relevant to how good their set was, but I like history, and I learned of Simian Mobile Disco because of Justice’s remix of the Simian song “Never Be Alone”.
For the musical taxonomists, SMD both record and spin house music, typically electro house. For those of you not sitting at home cursing my casual attitude and poorly constructed arguments, house music usually clocks in around 120BPM in 4/4 time. It’s gateway dance music, constructed such that upon hearing it, you would find it more difficult to not dance. One of the more popular variants, electro house often quiets the bass a bit, relying on higher register drums and synth lines, and takes to up tempo British ‘80s music like a duck to water.
None of this mattered to the crowd of two hundred people in constant motion on the dance floor. The visceral reaction to dance music is one of its prime selling points: no matter how intellectually savvy or thought provoking the track, if you play it at a club and people don’t want to dance, the track doesn’t work. SMD did a masterful job of guiding the crowd (I’m guessing largely college kids, post exams) through the length and breadth of what can be accomplished with house music. As the evening progressed, the music moved from electro to deep and finally into hard house music; few if any vocal samples, though the beats were harder, quicker and more intense.
It feels silly to try and explain it as a journey, or courses in a meal to anyone who doesn’t care for dance music, but in properly DJing a set you’re cajoling, entreating, driving, and occasionally walking hand in hand with the dancers through the tracks you select. At least, that’s the idea. You can just pile up music in a playlist and let the tape unspool, but it is lazy, and doesn’t allow for changes in the room, responding to the audience’s whims or winning them over when they would otherwise walk out on you. Simian Mobile Disco did an excellent job winding the evening to their will. It’s not something you see much live these days, and unexpected from former rockers who prefer to record and remix on analog equipment. I am looking forward to their return, hopefully before the end of summer.