Monday, 25 January 2010

Overground Quality

Here is my latest RA review on the Underground Quality night at Panoramabar.

"January," said French novelist Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette, is the "month of empty pockets! Let us endure this evil month, anxious as a theatrical producer's forehead." Clearly, given the theatricality on show at Panorama Bar, this was not something that concerned Jus-Ed and his Underground Quality crew as they rolled into Berlin to take over proceedings for the reopening of Berghain's illustrious upstairs space. Given that this was an opening night of sorts, following not only the three-week long refurb of Panorama which included the addition of a wooden floor and a devastating new sound system, but also the first opportunity to catch Jus-Ed, Levon and Qu this side of 2010, it would be understandable to see a few nerves on show. Yeah, right!

It is testament to how far UQ have come in the last year that the idiosyncrasies they made their own—personalised shirts and the like—seem increasingly less quaint, and more like a well-defined trademark. 2009 was of course kind to these New York house honchos, but with tracks like Jus-Ed's "Sweetness," DJ Qu's "Party People Clap" and Levon Vincent's...well...almost everything, the artists on show managed not only to stand out from the crowd, but lead the way for others to follow out of the quagmire of deep house mediocrity. And, hell, you know when you see off-duty DJs like Dor, Dettmann and DJ Pete in the crowd that something special is going on.

Entering Berghain is always somewhat of a ritual unto itself, but on Fridays, when only Panoramabar is open, the ritual becomes Herculean, and given the number of people waiting in line by midnight, tonight was a popular chance to give it a shot. Whether or not this was for the reopening or for the arrival of the UQ boys remains unclear, but from the get-go, this had roadblock written all over it. Once upstairs, it was nice to see Levon, Qu and Jus-Ed taking turns behind the decks.

As usual, Jus-Ed was giving the mic a good work out, much to the chagrin of some of the snootier members of the crowd, but his charm and effervescence made these vocal interludes a winning respite from some of the austerity on show at other Berlin nights. Established UQ cuts like "Games Dub" were thrown around with reckless aplomb, and soon a steady head of steam was built up, just in time for Vincent to step up and deliver the first set of the night. As the man responsible for some of last year's most grandiose dance floor moments, a Levon Vincent set is never something to be sniffed at, and true to form, established Strictly Rhythm fare was worked in with newer cuts like his "Double Jointed Sex Freak" to reinforce his reputation as one of the most vital jocks and producers around.

DJ Qu came next, toning it down a tad after Levon's stomptastic ramble, opting for slinkier cuts that placed a greater emphasis on the groove. Handing over to Jus-Ed proved an interesting change. Ed is of course, first and foremost a DJ, but I couldn't help thinking that he seems almost more content these days breaking new artists than trying to cement his own reputation. Either way, he delivered a suitable set, lacking in breathtaking moments, but well above average.

For anyone who attended UQ's night at Tape last September, the label's reputation will forever remain untarnished. Having said that, the night seemed to lack a certain something (Fred P?), and it seemed like the reopening of Panorama had brought with it a less musically concerned crowd. The DJs, the sound system (bar the odd tweak here and there), and even the wooden floor all delivered admirably. Quality? Sure. Underground? Not any more.

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