Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Underground Quality

Here is my latest RA review.

In many ways, 2009 has been Underground Quality's year. DJ Jus-Ed's charmingly homespun label has been the launching pad for a string of releases from the likes of Nina Kraviz, DJ Qu, Fred P, AKA Black Jazz Consortium, Jus-Ed himself and perhaps the release of the year so far (from perhaps the producer of the year), Levon Vincent's "Games Dub." Yet with UQ, you get the sense it's not just about the music they release, but also how they go about it — rants against illegal uploaders, special promotional CDs for one-off gigs with plenty of unreleased material, appearances with the roster of artists all wearing personalised UQ shirts — so far removed from the icy cynicism of some of the larger house and techno outfits. It is this joy in the process of house, in the community and inter-relatedness of the music, that made the recent Underground Quality night at Tape an absolute must-see.

For the first time in the label's history, six of the label's roster were brought together to play under one roof, a Cold War d├ętente that saw the Russian contingent of Anton Zap and Nina Kraviz playing alongside their American comrades. Given the hodgepodge nature of the night, the first few hours were characterised by a free-for-all behind the decks with each act taking turns to get the crowd going. From the proud MCing of Jus-Ed, the perfect counterpart to his capriciously funkadelic cuts, to the wild hip-shaking of Kraviz, it was an opportunity to see how each act would put their stamp on the evening before the sets proper kicked off.

The relaxed opening was useful in giving an overall impression of the UQ sound, but somehow lacked the homogeneity that characterises the label. As such, it was the individual sets that best managed to combine the individual flair of the artists with the all-embracing appeal of the collective, and Nina Kraviz kicked off proceedings before handing over to Anton Zap. The Russian take on this quintessentially US sound is an interesting one, and these two offered vastly different approaches to it—Zap studiously unlocking the beat, with Kraviz allowing her soulful ruinations to take her and the room over.

Handing over to Fred P proved a turning point in the evening, as the beats became more thugged out, yet no less prone to set feet a-stomping. His new material provided some excited smiles in the crowd, but it was Levon Vincent who really showed why he is hailed by artists as disparate as Marcel Dettmann and House of House. At times coy and understated, at times flirting with melancholia, his clanging beats never let up, and when he dropped the B-side from his upcoming Novel Sound release, he brought the house down to its knees. Following on from a set of such epic proportions was a tough task, but one that DJ Qu set about with relish, and not without a little aggressive tomfoolery of his own, all growling low-ends and staccato midranges.

Aside from the hard work put in by Jus-Ed and his crew, Tape should be praised for allowing such a special night to take place, and for providing a hub in Berlin for this sort of music to flourish. Underground and quality.

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