Despite foreboding clouds and a few rounds of mist-like rain, dancing began in the early afternoon at this year's Detour Festival and continued until the witching hour. For much of the day, the electronic grooves were confined to the courtyard of City Hall, where DJs like Paparazzi and Kid Lightning dropped Daft Punk-influenced bangers for neon-clad, (mostly) teenage hipsters who only lost the beat to pose for the occasional photo.
But despite an ever-swelling crowd at City Hall, the dance party didn't begin to truly rage until after sunset, when Hercules and Love Affair took the stage. The New York City-based collective founded by Andy Butler created one of this year's standout albums in its self-titled debut, a ten-song collection that weaves together Greek mythology and disco production wizardry. The question then was how would a group that crafts such polished beauty in the studio fare on stage, particularly without Antony Hegarty (Antony and the Johnsons), who sang on five of the album's tracks, including lead single "Blind."
Hercules and Love Affair kept the disco and house-head spirit of its studio work in tact with what was essentially a DJ set performed by a full band (both Butler and singer Kim Ann Foxman are DJs). The band played without pause, subtly altering the groove as the pieces of the mix deftly segued in and out of each other. Vocalists Foxman and Nomi Ruiz weren't content to simply hit notes, they were the hype women of the evening, jumping and shimmying in time to the music as they used drum and bass solos to shout commands like, "Disco clap! Double-time!"
And, oh, was the rhythm section potent. Throbbing disco bass lines and steady four-on-the-floor beats kept the crowd-- mostly male and a good decade or two older than the kids at City Hall-- on their feet. They continued to dance, and the band continued to play, even when the amps cut out, leaving only the faintest hits of drums, horns and handclaps audible. When the sound was at last restored, the band was in the midst of its finale, a cover of the Blue Oyster Cult classic "Don't Fear the Reaper."
Thanks to a delay in follow-up act Cut Copy's show time, I had the chance to roam the grounds for a bit. Back at City Hall, veteran DJ Adam Freeland, whose 2003 club hit "We Want Your Soul" was perhaps the most scathing critique of consumerism this decade, threw some new school anthems, like "We Are Rockstars" from Does It Offend You, Yeah?, into his set. Meanwhile, next to the Caltrans building, Peter Butter Wolf slyly mixed together Visage with James Pants and Kraftwerk in his audio-visual set.
Cut Copy is hot right now, so hot that it was hard to turn a head without spotting someone in one of the band's oversized black and white t-shirts that recall the garb of Frankie Goes to Hollywood and Wham. In the downtime between Hercules and Love Affair and Cut Copy's sets, the crowd had nearly tripled in size to form a motley mix of people varied in age and subcultural alliance, all of whom seemed to be able to sing along to every one of the band's songs from the get-go. Sonically, the Australian group draws heavily from Technique-era New Order, that moment in time when it became clear that acid house could and would rear its head in the pop world. It's all metronomic drums, sweeping keyboards, simple, repetitive lyrics and lights, so many lights that it was easier to watch the crowd than squint to catch a glimpse of the band. On the Spring Street asphalt, one elementary school-aged boy with a striped ski cap pulled down to his eyes furiously busted breakdancing moves until his mom came to collect him. Up towards the front, scores of tightly-packed people screamed as they hoisted rave hands in the air as if this were a John Digweed DJ set. And when Cut Copy closed with the hit "Hearts on Fire," the audience roared in song.
Thinking that some peace and quiet might be in order, I headed over to the Silent Disco. Paul V., host of Indie 103.1's Saturday night mix show Neon Noise, played a set that could only be heard by those who had rented a pair of Koss headphones. Trying to find someone to explain the purpose of dancing to a beat that only a select few can hear, and no one can feel pulsate through their toes, was an impossible feat. People wearing headphones either can't or don't want to hear someone trying to get their attention. I stood their deaf to the party for a few minutes until the crowd screamed the few lyrics to Depeche Mode's "Just Can't Get Enough" that everyone knows. Meanwhile, Cut Copy's countrymen, The Presets, were paying homage to Pet Shop Boys in their live rendition of the club hit "Are You the One?".
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Silent Disco video clip. Strange to watch if you can't hear the music.
Local DJ/production duo Guns N Bombs had the difficult task of performing live for the first time as Mars Volta drew the bulk of the festival's crowd to the opposite side of the block. Despite that, Filip Turbotito and Johnny Love built tracks that, similar to Cut Copy, bear the mark of an acid house influence. As the set progressed, smatterings of people danced towards the stage from the Silent Disco, slipping off their headphones as they approached the stage, while still more headed over from City Hall. The party animals danced as Guns N Bombs beats grew harder and faster, while some of those going on twelve-hours of non-stop dancing collapsed onto the curbside and rode out the rest of the night.
By Liz Ohanesian