Boom Boom @ 'Secret Venue', Sydney (21/07/2012)

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For those who have a hard time believing the house-music scene in Sydney is booming right now, a look at last Saturday night’s calendar of events should quell any doubts. In one evening, local househeads were presented with a choice between the Boom Boom party featuring old-school legend Lil Louis at a secret venue, the Reckless Republic party at Spice Cellar with a late-night set from fellow Chicago hero Chez Damier, and Sven Weisemann headlining around the corner at 122. Two acknowledged house masters and an acclaimed new jack from Berlin in competing parties just a few blocks apart? Was it New Year’s? No, it was just another Saturday night in the small-bar era.

I decided to tackle reviews of two of these gigs partly in order to demonstrate the richness of this golden age, but also out of greed – a househead for 20 years, I’d nevertheless managed to miss hearing both Lil’ Louis and Chez Damier spin and I didn’t want to miss the chance. (It was a tough call to give Weisemann a miss, especially when I heard later what a good set he played.)

Late last week it was announced that due to a foul-up with Air Canada, Lil’ Louis’ was stuck at home and his first-ever Australian tour would be cancelled. This was a serious bummer for all involved with the Boom Boom party (and kind of derailed the concept of my Chicago-themed pair of reviews), but I decided to go anyway as I hadn’t been to one of their events before. From reading about them online I got the sense of a crew committed to the spirit of the underground.

It turned out to be a good call. I got there early, and the secret venue revealed itself to be a Greek club and restaurant on the top floor of a building facing Hyde Park, with a view of the ANZAC Memorial out the wall-to-wall windows. The event had been billed as a ‘rooftop party’, which didn’t sound too promising on such a chilly night, but it was actually more like a ‘penthouse party’. With the club’s tables and chairs piled up in the corner, the place resembled a dance studio, with a big open, unadorned space and hardwood floors. The decks were set up right on the floor to one side. Simon Caldwell was warming things up with a mostly vinyl-based set of warm and funky deep house (making sure, as he often does, to work in at least one supreme classic – in this case Downtime, Paper Music Issue #1’s definitive nu-house epic).

I liked the feel of the impromptu party space as soon as I saw it. As much as we romanticise warehouse parties, the fact is warehouses are dirty and out of the way, and tend to have poor acoustics. The best underground venues are ordinary rooms, often right in the middle of things, temporarily transformed by really creative promoters. There’s something about spaces like this that makes the music sound different – even deep house sounds tough and gritty on a rented sound system.

The place, smallish in the first place, filled up quickly, as the lift kept arriving full of party people. The energy of the room was knotty at first as the line at the overworked bar took up half the real estate. (One gripe: $10 beers! Yikes!) But about the time the Paradise Lost crew took over from Caldwell, things started to crack open and the dancefloor got in swing. When one of the tag-teaming partners dropped Lil’ Louis’ late-period classic vocal Club Lonely, I imagine a lot of people in the room had the same succession of thoughts I did: chuckling at the cheekiness of the selection, feeling a moment of regret at what we were missing, and then appreciating such an essential classic in an authentic underground setting. More bombs from that era followed, including LFO’s speaker-destroying self-titled track, because that’s what you do at a proper underground party, you get out the real stuff!

I left at the peak of the night to catch Chez Damier’s set with the feeling things were in good hands. How amazing would it have been to have Lil’ Louis playing in a venue like this? We’ll have to hope we get the chance to find out.

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