Steve Bug @ Honkytonks, Melbourne (18/11/06)

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Walking into Honkytonks on Saturday night, a person could be in no doubt as to the continuing popularity of German DJ Steve Bug with Melbourne’s clubbing community. The club was rammed, the tickets were sold out, and Mr Bug was heavily anticipated with a crowd of party people, cognoscenti and some detritus from an earlier engagement party all drinking, milling, and many gazing expectantly towards the decks awaiting ‘Da Minimal Funk’ master.

Of course, as is very common, Steve Bug ascended close to an hour after his allotted start time. Ascended being the operative word: the gig was so crowded that he thought the best approach to the decks was by climbing over the back of the dj booth and jumping ever-so-nimbly into the space right in front of the decks. When the crowd realised he’d suddenly materialised, the cheers rose: yep there was no mistaking the fact that Steve’s an icon to minimal and house fans in this town and they’re not afraid to show it.

Using Final Scratch for most of his set, Bug got stuck straight into the trademark stripped-back funk for which he’s most famous, as is his Poker Flat label. And for the next two hours – after which the departure bell tolled – he proceeded to most capably blend current and recent MNML sounds. With a nod to the Names Of Note: Troy Pierce’s ‘23 bitches’, Marc Houle’s ‘East to West’ from Minimise to Maximise (the M_nus compilation of a couple of years ago), the new Ricardo Villalobos promo remix of Depeche Mode’s ‘Sinner In Me’ with its’ killer break 2/3 of the way through (trademark Villalobos, really); Bug really wove a tight web of bouncy, low slung but highly swung minimal sounds. The crowd were screaming, the sweat was dripping, the bar was another century away as the crowd swarmed.

But. And there’s definitely a but here. For all of his interview material about the aesthetic of choice, of a widening musical palette, of Chicago, of acid house, of Detroit… it was a MNML by numbers kind of set – at least for the 2 hours I saw. It was certainly competent in the main (a few loose mixes here and there) however it wasn’t far reaching and he wasn’t pushing any buttons. Well he was, but no buttons marked “shock”, or “surprise” or “highly explosive”. He was more than enthusiastic, so it wasn’t a lack of interest. In fact, I’m pleased to see there’s a highly aerobic trend in European DJing at the moment: Le K, Passarani and Bug have all put in highly energetic and animated routines behind the decks of late. Perhaps our distance from the whole European scene gives touring DJ’s an awkward dilemma in that they’re not sure what risks to take and what to play safe? Perhaps our warm up DJs give them signals about our taste? On the night Aram Chapers and Mike Callandar did set a very minimal scene with The Hits like Nathan Fake’s ‘The Sky Was Pink’ getting massive crowd reaction. So who could blame a DJ if they bounced off that and offered what they thought was an appropriate slice of their 20,000 file collection?

Whatever Steve Bug mentally processed to determine his musical direction on the night, the result was straight down the line minimal sounds. I heard a splash of acid. A hint of house vocals. But no explicit deviation from form. And, in the end, whilst what he did was perfectly enjoyable, it wasn’t remarkable to this reviewer as it lacked the depth that a real curatorial approach to DJing can provide. There seemed to be a hint of a next level beneath, above or even sideways from that sound that he never reached. Whilst his set pleased the fans on the night , I don’t think it will be filling the memory banks for any but the most starry-eyed and newbie of minimal-haus fans. The chicken feathers, however, will remain for a long long time (in my clothes, let alone my mind). However, as we left, the place was still rammed and the floor was congested with frugging fans so perhaps we’re not easily amused: but I had certainly hoped for something more than we received.

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