J u l y   2 0 0 3

Aural Report

Twisting dials with a flourish
The megabyte hippies are real
by Kurt Dahlke

e don't need another hero, I think. We don't need to know the way home.

Electro-tribe: the face of the phenomenon.

Ah, but in this case I don't know if the people involved want life beyond the Thunderdome. And much ado has been made of the cyber-phenomenon known as the electro-tribe, but I'm here to tell you of the vitality of these megabyte hippies. They are real.

Just to verify, we stride down the substantial stairs to the basement bar of Portland's Club Nocturnal, where you can get a Pabst or a $20 bottle of wine (among many other clever drinks, eats and tater-tots). The lime-green walls, right angles and shiny planes, while professionally stylish, are a rebuke to the soft, fabulous spring evening we've left behind.

For the Thunderdome crowd, though, the style is entirely appropriate.

The evening makes me unsure about the concept of live electronic music performances – at least the kind where a young man is planted behind a PC in an alcove, as here at Nocturnal.

Sure, the Kraftwerk crew gave it a fine whirl, but there's something about watching someone leaning over in front of a computer screen that is less than thrilling. For spectating, try figuring out what subtle change was caused by which gentle push of a button, then give up and get another pint.

Tonight, various techno-musos go at their keypads solo, then occasionally join together for Nocturnal's first-ever drum-machine circle (or cyrkle, if you live in the dome).


But first, dizzystarhouse interfaces with his machine for some smooth grooves that balance the line between glitch and harmony pretty nicely – propulsive, but not too disjunctive. He stares intently at his monitor as we tap our feet and bob our heads.

A voice simulator then summons Indexwerk to the desk He provides testament to the inclusiveness of this scene with his utterly convincing guise as a high-school sports star. This, of course, is meant as no offense, but we rarely expect to see lots of muscles in adidas sweatpants funking out on the PC.

Indexwerk occasionally does a goofy jig while kicking the most straight-ahead dance music of the evening.

His disco beats and relatively conventional song structures bring to mind Depeche Mode, among other pioneering '80s groups.

When the drum-machine circle at last begins, it's a group of (mostly) the same guys sitting in front of their laptops at two long tables. The thrill of their synergistic discoveries escapes most of us non-performers, but the deafening, grating, metallic beats arrive chaotically intact.

We flee to the sidewalk.

Next, dampkrane emerges from the circle with a solo set of the most adventurous of the night's offerings, and the loudest. Lots of whipcrack sounds punctuate his depth charges while galvanized crabs skitter about. It's a challenging audio sculpture at 120 decibels.

Deep Sea Invasion.

Last call is 12 a.m., so next up, Deep Sea Invasion, is my final taste of the night's cocktail, branded Intelligent Dance Music. Deep Sea also does a goofy dance in front of his two boxes while tapping buttons or twisting dials with a flourish. He mixes layered beeps, beats and bass-lines with an atypical melodic, harmonic and rhythmic bent that makes the songs both accessible and interesting.

I know now that it's time to find my way home from the Thunderdome, but if you enjoy experimental, microchip-processed music, check out Club Nocturnal or any of the guys mentioned above. I can assure you at least that listening to their music while sitting at your own computer can be a wonderful (and entirely appropriate) experience.

But at the end of the day, how entertaining is it to watch these guys, essentially less-demonstrative conductors minus any orchestra, play? Well ... such music can certainly be a transporting accompaniment to an evening at the bar, as long as it's not so loud that the knife-sharpening sounds make your ears bleed.

And as long as the tribe-member flipping toggles in the alcove doesn't try to dance.

E-mail Kurt at orangeandorange@msn.com, and don't miss his previous reports.

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