Hello hello hello! WELL I thought that my review of Waterworks would be my last post-lockdown summer event review, and in a sense it was; the summer is definitely over, and events seem to be genuinely stabilizing right now, (as are Covid case numbers, with hospitalisations and deaths finally falling). My Waterworks review was as focussed on evaluating the organisation behind the event, and the wider goals of dance music, as it was on the DJs themselves, whereas this review I’m about to write is going to be more DJ-focussed in the way that a standard dance music event review would be. HOWEVER, it’s still a post-lockdown event review, because it’s still part of my wider evaluation of what I do and don’t want from events in this new world that we live in. Oh and also it takes fucking ages to get to the point, if you don’t like context then this ain’t gonna be for you bbz; I didn’t write notes on the dancefloor, this is just a recording of the story in my head and why it mattered to me, blasted out before I have to go to work (I'm just going to leave all of the youtube links to the tracks mentioned at the bottom of this article, will clean it up later).
I recently went to an event in Bristol that really disappointed me, particularly because I had built it up in my head as a perfectly reliable event that couldn’t fail. I convinced my mates to get the super pricey tickets, including one mate in Bristol who hosted us, and another who actually took a flight from Glasgow to get there (the train would have been £150, mental). We had an amazing time catching up at the pub beforehand, and again whilst having a nut roast at the canteen the next day (before splitting), but the club was distinctly disappointing to me. It was at the Marble Factory, which used to have low ceilings and perfect sound, but has now shuffled into a distinctly Printworks-esque vibe with great sound and visuals in the middle of the space and mehness everywhere else.
But the main let down of that night at the Marble Factory was the DJs, who all sounded like they had got themselves super drunk and over-excited before the show and kept themselves going by smashing coke, never quite stopping to think about how the crowd would take it. Of course this is bullshit, I’m sure said Marble Factory DJs did think about the crowd, but the music just felt so jumpy and difficult to latch onto, jilting between loads of ambient interludes and pummelling techno / D’n’B. I can definitely enjoy a set that varies massively in tempos and energies, but it’s got to be done with a little more care, be hosted in a slightly better venue, and not rely on obvious classics that just don’t sound that exciting anymore such as Jeff Mills’ The Bells and Bicep’s Opal (Four Tet remix). Of course this is very subjective and I’m sure that I would have had a great time if my internal constitution was a bit different (to be fair we had peaked at the pub at 3pm), but also dudes, it’s post-lockdown; shit has changed guys! Of course there are still going to be plenty of ravers who want to go out and dance to music built on shock and confusion, such as the Detroit techno classics which used overt paranoia to intensify the vibe (I can’t remember the name of the track I’m thinking of, but it basically samples news reports about drug deaths). That’s just not what I want right now, I’m not so deep in the dance that my high will be catalysed by big sudden BANG BANG BANGs.
What do I want? Well, that can be found in the DJ sets I saw last night from Four Tet and Chloé Robinson (fka Barely Legal). They took place in one of Four Tet’s runs at the Brixton Academy, which always have super cheap tickets, no lighting except three ikea desk lamps on the DJ booth, and a lineup of all-star selectors. They’re fantastic showcases for DJs, because it’s such a bizarre brief; the Brixton academy is a fucking huge gig venue, and when it does host DJs they tend to be massive headline acts with massive productions (like Skrillex, who I reviewed back in 2012 when I was a lil bb). I went to two consecutive Four Tet Brixton Academy nights back in October 2018 when I had just moved to London from Berlin, and they were the perfect reminder of the particular energy that I love in UK rave culture. There’s something beautiful about taking a massive dramatic space, putting some DJs with three desk lights up on stage, and trying to unite the room with a massive variety of tunez.
My favourite set from those two nights back in 2018, was the final, one-hour closing set, from Chloé Robinson. It was so colourful, blasting in between intense industrial techno and gorgeous Dubstep cuts like Digital Mystikz’ Anti-War Dub and James Blake’s Limit To Your Love. She’s been one of my favourite DJs for years now, because she’s so unique and fun, dancing to her now feels the same way that I would imagine dancing to the cutting edge Jungle DJs in the mid 90s did. Joe Muggs profiled and interviewed her in the second to last chapter of his oral history of soundsystem culture, Bass, Mids, Tops,;
"Some of the subjects of this book have had to constantly fight to find their own musical territory: shifting, testing, exploring. This seems to be especially true for women, for whom paths are less well trodden and roles less well defined…. When Robinson was breaking through, the very few women making bass music tended towards a more serious image, but she wasn’t having any of it, with a Brummie directness, a predisposition to roll out the party bangers… She didn’t produce music, and she wasn’t affiliated with any particularly hip label or in-crowd, she just DJed a lot, and thankfully did that really, really well. With this no-nonsense approach, she continues to piece together her own version of 2010s bass music eclecticism."
In the years since I last saw her play Brixton Academy and Joe Muggs wrote her profile, this crazy thing happened called covid, and Robinson left the country and moved out to Mexico, trying to make sense of life against the backdrop of her whole profession disappearing. Having always been a pure DJ, she responded to this total shift by trying something new; making the music herself, with the aid of friend and confident DJ ADHD. It’s been really interesting to watch (via her Instagram stories, yes DJ Instagram stories can be interesting!!!), as she just threw herself into it and wasn’t afraid to share the music in its earliest forms, screenshotting responses to it from friends such as Four Tet, who commented that it was the best new dance music that he had heard this year, and another pal who said that it just feels like Chloé. When I managed to get tickets for the 2021 edition of Four Tet’s Brixton dates, and found out that Robinson would be closing out the show, I was very excited.
And boy did it deliver. I’m really glad it did, as it was the swansong night for my flat in Tooting Broadway (ie: very very South London, 30 minutes from Brixton on the tube), having lived here for 3 years, and also the first time that I’d been out dancing post-lockdown with my previous and current flatmates, both of whom I love dearly, both of whom are less into lyrics and more into ‘the beat, and what it does to me’ (shout out to a very drunk 2018 Mark for that quote). We rocked up a bit late, and had a lot of chats in the lobby of the academy over very expensive beers (£7.50 and you don’t get to keep the can!!!!!), safe in the knowledge that although we were currently missing an absolute stormer of a B2B from Joy Orbison and Floating Points, that there was no rush, all the DJs tonight are definitely going to kill it. We had to hit the dancefloor when we heard one of Mark and I’s favourite dancefloor memory tunes through the walls, Gerd Janson’s Re-work of Julie McDermott - Don't Go, sliding ourselves towards the front of the space and feeling a bit kinda ohhhhhh yessssss. They transitioned that into one of the two tracks I’ve heard out at almost every event this summer, Overmono’s So U Kno, all was good in this world and we just had a really silly time.
At the beginning of Four Tet’s set, things changed; a single, yellow light shone down from the very high ceiling onto a disco ball behind the DJ booth. Love this, I love that they decided to bring those three desk lights back, but also brought three disco balls and three bright lights that can be shone at said balls at opportune moments, still super super simple set design but a little recognition in there that we don’t have to always do the same thing just because we have a fun tradition going. Four Tet’s set was super fun, wheeling out a load of recent bangers that fans would know; Baby, Only Human, his remix of Caribou’s Never Come Back, Overmono’s So U Kno (twice in one night!!!) and the other tune that I’ve heard out so many times since lockdown; an unreleased remix by Four Tet (and maybe Skrillex!) that appears at 1:38:46 in this set here. There was also this fantastic remix of Lumidee’s Never Leave You (Uh Oh), the same one that Anne-Marie recently sampled and flagrantly ripped off, I could imagine people who have been forced to listen to said rip-off on daytime radio really appreciating being able to hear that iconic ‘uh oh’ refrain played back in a way that was actually surprising.
And that’s the thing about Four Tet’s set, yes it did contain a load of his own tunes that any superfan could have predicted, but he did it so well, it was such an exciting journey. In the midst of writing this review I had a brief chat with a mate sleeping over at my flat, just before he had to run to get the train to work (we both took the morning off, hence me blasting out this review in record time), and he was saying that he loved how the DJs last night were really messing with us, which I thought was funny as I had just written that bit above about how jarring my Marble Factory night was. What Four Tet did was demonstrate how to play with tension and shock value in a way that’s actually exciting because of the care and effort that goes into it, like a zipwire across a canyon which feels sturdy enough that you can actually enjoy the adrenaline. Great work. And yes again, this is subjective, I just think it’s fucking cool when a DJ plays a massive drop but delivers it with the slight of hand you would expect from a pickpocket. Although in this metaphor, the pickpocket isn’t taking stuff from your pockets, he’s smuggling a naughty bassline in there, just a little something something to keep you feeling good.
And then we come to Chloé Robinson, the closing set. For the first half of this set, she showed zero interest in playing tracks that the audience would already know, seeming to focus almost purely on her own unreleased tunes, boss move, particularly because said tunes are very special. Remember that friend of Robinson’s who said that her tunes sound like her? They are awesome because they condense all of the frenetic energy of a Barely Legal set into her own formula, a kind of swung out, syncopated Techno that’s not a million miles away from the ‘jacking house’ that fellow Birmingham gal Hannah Wants used to produce (take this tune for an example), which was never quite embraced by the heads, partly because of the misogynist criticism directed at its breakout star.
Anyway, fuck I don’t have long to finish this thing which is kinda funny as I really mainly wanted to write it to shout out Robinson, mate you smashed it, I was left feeling so excited to see where you take things next. And also shout out for playing another Mala tune (Mala is one half of Digital Mystikz), his iconic remix of Alicia Keys’ Feeling U, Feeling Me. I love that Four Tet and Chloé Robinson come from totally different musical backgrounds, the former started off as a gorgeous folktronica producer (when he started DJing resident adviser actually wrote ‘Kieran Hebden of Four Tet, a DJ? You wouldn’t expect it but it works!’), and the latter started off as a DJ playing Grime, UKG and Drum’n’Bass, and they’ve both managed to develop their own dancefloor sounds that are totally unique but totally naughty. Love it.
Check out Will's other articles here. He was did not receive payment or free tickets to any of the post-lockdown events reviewed on Loose Lips, this is all for the love.