Since 2001, Darkmatter Soundsystem has been at the forefront of the L.A. underground, when they helped to popularize breakcore, drum 'n' bass' noisy cousin, and dubstep, locally. Over the years, they have released their own harsh-sounding and forward-minded electronic music in a variety of formats, while keeping fist-pumping dancers enthralled across town. Their sporadic, but incredibly popular parties have not only bolstered the crew's reputation, but introduced the city to a number of cutting edge artists, one of whom returned on Saturday night for a surprise engagement. Below, we take you through the night.
Darkmatter's Derrick Estrada, best known as Baseck, sends out a mass text message alerting us that there will be a "special guest from Canada" at the party.
We arrive at an address that came via text message earlier in the day, an off-the-radar DIY art space situated amidst a cluster of warehouses east of downtown. It's a destination well-known to those who frequent underground parties, an intimate, one-room venue with a house PA that sounds better than your many above-ground establishments. We park in the alley as a small crowd of scruffy, mostly male, party people line up at the door.
Darkmatter Soundsystem member Nemeton spins as the first big wave of patrons enters the party. Her selections seem rooted in the early years of industrial music-- think Throbbing Gristle or Coil-- with piercing metallic clangs and multi-bar stretches of discomforting ambiance, although the presence of fractured rhythms that either scatter across the tracks or bunch together (there is no middle ground here) marks the pieces as contemporary. The look of the crowd that has just formed is appropriately reflective of the music, a hodgepodge of industrial-strength boots and mismatched post-rave outfits.
Minion, another member of the Darkmatter Soundsystem, powers up his laptop set as Baseck scratches vinyl and fiddles with a Game Boy next to him. Minion's work is exceptionally bass heavy, to the point where anyone in close proximity to the sub woofer can feel internal organs rattle. His beats race across the floor and the only way one can dance to this is to forget everything you ever learned about catching a groove and just start moving. Similarly, Baseck's hands flit between turntables, mixing board and the Game Boy with alarming dexterity. Amidst this cathartic chaos, the secret Canadian guest enters the room. He's a conspicuous figure, taller than the bulk of the people in the crowd with long, blond hair hanging over his face. People make double-takes.
Baseck scratching alongside Minion.
At this point, everyone seems to know that Canadian electronic wizard Venetian Snares, a.k.a. Aaron Funk, is the special guest. Out on an enclosed section of sidewalk that served as the smoking area, the buzz was loud. Towards the entrance of the venue, Funk was checking his text messages, wondering how so many people found out that he was playing this gig, a performance so secret that Estrada said he didn't tell anyone, even those involved with the party, about it. I glanced around the patio and noticed the proliferation of cell phones in use.
Not only are cell phones good for mapping out party destinations and bragging about the secret show going on right this second, but they also make good glow sticks.
Speaking of glow sticks, either the fixture of '90s rave culture never went away or they are making a big comeback. As Trillbass's hip-hop and dub-derived mix drastically shifts tempos swiftly and seamlessly, the crowd in the front twirls thin, neon sticks. They move with grace and speed, never missing a beat as their arms move in drum major formations and Tesla-like coils of light trail behind them.
Venetian Snares makes his appearance from inside an alcove at the front of the room. He hunches over a mixer, his hair forming a curtain behind which he twists knobs, melding profanity-laden samples with spastic rhythms and waves of distortion. There are screams coming from various corners of the room as half the crowd dances and the other half stands and stares in awe. For this crowd, Venetian Snares is akin to a rock star. He's an influence for DJs and producers who focuses on the rhythm of speed and the beauty of aggressive sounds. He's an artist who lured many a heavy metal and hardcore fan over to the electronic underworld and gave faith in music to industrial fans whose native scene had long since mellowed.
A snippet of Venetian Snares at Darkmatter.
Venetian Snares is almost finished while Baseck and Diskore are still scheduled to play a 2x4 set before the 4 a.m. closing time. As much as I want to see the final performance of the evening, there's a long drive ahead and a story to write. It's time to leave.