James Zabiela @ Brown Alley, Melbourne (20/05/2011)
Mon 23rd May, 2011 Event Reviews 668 viewsin
So, here’s the deal. I took on coverage for this event not knowing too much about minimal and techno – I’m more about two-step beats, filthy basslines and smaller, more intimate crowds when it comes to clubbing in Melbourne.
However, somebody once told me that once you stagnate when it comes to trying new things, you might as well be dead – and with a burgeoning interest in the more established genres of techno and house, a line-up boasting internationals like James Zabiela, Robert Hood, Midland and Tom Budden at Brown Alley seemed like the perfect place to begin my education in house and techno.
I arrived at the Colonial Hotel an hour after doors had opened, to a crowd beginning to fill up most of the venue. It’s been a while since I hit up Brown Alley for a gig, so wandered around the venue for a bit, checking out the array of talent. It’s obvious that events such as Darkbeat at Brown Alley are put together with much thought and care, from the diverse array of sounds and feels in each room, with both well-established locals and internationals on the line-up, a generally excellent sound set-up and one of the best light and visual displays Melbourne clubs have to offer.
Settling into the main room just as Rollin Connection took over the decks was a wise decision – rolling waves of dirty, bass-heavy tech-house mixed in with dancier numbers and almost DJ Shadow-esque interludes of spoken-word and ambient sounds had a spare but building crowd on their feet and moving around. My few previous experiences at Brown Alley have been with an interesting mix of people, and it was great to see all sorts.
Tom Budden followed in the main room immediately after, playing a delicious mix-up of minimal techno. Budden’s approach was more focused on the darker side of things and not quite as quite as up-in-your-face – I was pleased to recognise a recent SCB single and a track or two from Kompakt. It was unclear what was responsible for the diminished sound quality during Budden’s set, but from where I was standing, something sounded decidedly absent in the mix – the treble was overwhelmingly loud to the point where I decided to go and explore the other acts playing the venue.
The Garden Bar had pulled an impressive crowd of people with Volta in the mix – the decidedly funky, upbeat techno she was mixing with adept precision suited the more intimate, laidback surrounds of the upstairs area perfectly. As she wrapped up her set, I realised it was half an hour until James Zabiela was due to play, and headed back down to the main stage to catch the tail-end of Midland’s set.
Shame I didn’t get to see more of UK-based Midland’s 90-minute set – his dark, housey vibes with an emphasis on deep atmospherics and throbbing, insistent beats sounded glorious to this little bass-music connoisseur – the perfect prelude to headliner, James Zabiela.
Zabiela is no stranger to Australian shores and with a fearsome reputation as seriously talented, a huge crowd had gathered on the main floor in anticipation of his set. Anticipation was thick in the air and Zabiela certainly didn’t disappoint. Zabiela is one of those DJs who clearly enjoys their job – from the get-go he was moving around the booth with an elated grin, mixing furiously and working the crowd up into a frenzy.
What is particularly impressive about Zabiela is that he tries not to confine himself to one genre – he dug deep through his collection to bring Brown Alley an eclectic, technically-adept and most importantly, hugely danceable set spanning deep tech, breakbeat, house, experimental and everything in between.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t stick around for too long after 3am, but opinion seems unanimous on Zabiela’s set: Brown Alley was left absolutely floored by his skills. A brilliantly put-together line-up, a consistently quality venue and a laid-back, appreciative crowd: the perfect mix for a killer night. This little bass fiend will definitely be back.