HAHA pres. Basic Soul Unit @ Marrickville Bowling Club, Sydney (07/07/2012)

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Last Saturday saw the latest edition of HAHA Industries’ ongoing series of parties at Marrickville Bowling Club. It was my first time at a HAHA event and I’d heard plenty of good. From the names they’ve booked in the past I figured it would be right up my street. The place was not packed, but the crowd that had made the journey to this “oasis in the middle of an industrial wilderness” (as the sign at the door advertises the club) on this chilly winter’s night was pretty up for it. Eric Downer was warming up the floor with a well-paced set that included a good deal of electro breaks.

Just as I got settled Downer faded into Slam’s 1993 classic A Positive Education, a dark and sinuous implosion of progressive/acid house quintessence that always gives a set a majestic feel. Someone on the dancefloor, which was still gradually populating, called out “Ohhhhh! Yeahhhhhhh!” That’s what I’m talking about. It’s a good instance of how a well-played classic can set the tone for an evening perfectly. Headliners Basic Soul Unit and Alphatown definitely work the same vein as Slam and their influences from the old school, bringing to the party different variations on hard-hitting but funky tech-house with with a welcome sheen of soul and melody.

Once Caldwell got things thoroughly cooking, the three lads in Alphatown stepped up to their machines, which had been set up right on the edge of the dancefloor, as if they were punk musicians at a loft party. Alphatown are a locally grown act – as one of them reminded us, “These tunes are created right here in Marrickville!” – and their enthusiasm was offset with a warm, familiar welcome from the crowd. I hadn’t heard them before and I was pretty impressed. Live PAs of house music can be hit or miss; the test is always, “Is this as interesting as what a decent DJ could be doing right now?” In this case the answer was a big thumbs-up. These guys have been at it for a while and their sound is pretty tight: thumping bass, just the right kind of choppy, clattering mids and highs (with the occasional sunny splash of tribal percussion), tweaky electro sounds, and trippy vocal samples of Janis Joplin and the like. Whenever it started to get a bit too same-same, they’d flip the script – with the three of them working together, there was a great organic feel to the proceedings.

Next up was a DJ set from Toronto’s Stuart Li, also known as Basic Soul Unit. Li has plenty of quality productions under his belt; as often seems to be the case with producers across the border from the Midwestern capitals of house and techno, he brings a particularly raw, twisted take on both sounds, along with rugged, melodic feeling as befitting his moniker. I fell in love with his sound thanks to tracks like Things Pass (off Tensnake’s brilliant In the House mix), a wickedly beautiful tribute to the acidy roots of deep house that had the heads back in New York going mental when I dropped it at a party there.

But as often happens when a producer headlines as a DJ on a Saturday night, Li left the deep stuff in the back of the crate, throttling up the sound, going right for the tech end of the spectrum. Pounding kicks and gut-churning bass were offset by cascading sheets of analogue synth, generally of the darker variety. At several points you wouldn’t have said this was house at all, more like banging funky techno a la Dave Clarke. That seemed to suit the mood of the smallish but passionate crowd of punters just fine. But Li, who was spinning vinyl as well as MP3, also lived up to his moniker, ensuring there was plenty of melody swirling in the mix, and throwing in Norma Jean Bell’s ghetto-garage classic I’m the Baddest Bitch as if to prove that house is as hard as techno any night. It may have been windy and cold out in that industrial wilderness that night but Li kept us warm with some basic soul.

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