Saturday, December 04, 2010

Magda and Marc Houle Played District 36, Dec. 3

Exiting the subway station at Herald Square, I was struck by an immediate feeling of displacement. Midtown South, with its mid-rise office buildings, skyscrapers and proximity to Times Square, is a weird, weird place to see minimal techno. But to their credit, Blkmarket Membership and District 36 are betting that Manhattan is ready for a big, new venue dedicated to electronic music. I really hope they're right.

The building is near Fifth Avenue on 36th Street, with the Empire State Building peaking out a couple blocks south. Barricades and ropes corral the entrance from the street, and bouncers flank the doors. Middle-aged pedestrians walked by in the night, glancing curiously at the black-clad smokers and the throbbing bass escaping the walls. Once inside, another bouncer frisks each patron thoroughly, and then it's up another set of stairs to the ticket booth, another ticket check, and finally into the club proper.

The space is enormous. The sound system is robust, enveloping. Bass reverberates like thunder and dozens of strobe lights flicker and pirouette, hitting an enormous disco ball and forming a splash of colors and images on the imposing walls. It is a venue built for maximum effect, a two-level arrangement that recalls the aircraft hanger aesthetic of Terminal 5. But instead of an expansive stage, DJs are suspended over the crowd in a booth, confirming District 36's monogamy with electronic music, but displacing the intimacy of warehouse and loft parties.

Magda and Marc Houle are dominant names in techno, and their sets were suitably physical affairs, pummeling the speakers with brutal force, but also with a certain anonymity. In a recent conversation on Resident Advisor, their new albums were afterthoughts. Although such works encapsulate their styles - Magda's fascination with cinematic noir and dark disco, Houle's more rockist leanings - the mettle of a DJ is demonstrated in his or her ability to command a dance floor, rather than recording original material. Their particular style is pretty much devoid of those one-hit "bangers," creating an overall mood over the span of tracks, rather than fist-pumping through recognition.

It's dark, often difficult stuff, and I still struggle to fully enjoy the music, as much as I respect the people and the concepts. The technical expertise is astounding - Magda's She's A Dancing Machine makes Girl Talk look like child's play - but accessible, it isn't. So, I left District 36 feeling satisfied, but not entirely at ease. And perhaps that's the point.

Rest of the photos after the jump.

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