The Hare and Hounds is the kind of concert space that every city longs for. With a long and storied history—including UB40's first ever gig—the past decade has seen the pub-come-cult-venue establish a reputation as one of Birmingham's most reliable sources for true music aficionados. Never limited by concepts of genre, the Hare has opened its door for a wide variety of acts, ranging from Diiv to Mouse Outfit; Floating Points to Super Hans, with an equally diverse array of promoters. A more recent addition to the Hare and Hounds clan, MoodFix have been quietly putting on some of the most satisfying club nights in the country, spurning egos for intimate evenings with a series of fantastic selectors.
Given MoodFix's predilection for soulful house music, it only makes sense that this was the second time that they’ve booked Dan Shake, this time in conjunction with Leftfoot. Over the past few years Shake has become a central figure within the UK house scene, as evidenced by the necessity of his room upgrade at the Hare last Friday. This rise to fame was probably somewhat inevitable given his steady slew of releases, as well as the initial renown he garnered for being the first non-Detroit act signed to Moodymann's Mahogani Music. Since then he's launched his own label (the unimaginatively named Shake), dabbled in acid house and toured extensively across Europe. Given the relatively small capacity of the Hare, the promise of a rich and diverse set felt tangible.
Thanks to the versatile Nexo Alpha sound system in the minimally named Venue 1, the newly refurbished pub was the perfect place to host a DJ of Dan Shake's growing stature. First up to the decks were Leftfoot residents (and Birmingham stalwarts) Adam Regan and Matt Beck, alongside the young MoodFix maestro Jack Barber. Having seen all three of these guys spin at various nights around Birmingham, what's always evident is the sheer joy they seem to take in playing out music. Be it percussion-heavy afrobeat or a warm house cut centred on a steel drum solo, their focus is always on generating a feel good atmosphere. Indeed, the lack of pretence is what makes these nights so inviting—at its heart MoodFix is centred on the pleasure we find in both music and dance. Even as an off-kilter sample might leave you trying to guess at a record's heritage, what really matters is that the whole room is sweating.
It’s a credit to the supporting DJs that the transition in tone was relatively smooth when Dan Shake took to the stage. Like previous MoodFix bookings, Shake specialises in house music that pays homage to its heritage, taking both musical cues and more straightforward samples from funk and soul. Whether it's the jazzy piano line of Harvey Sutherland's 'Bermuda' (a previous MoodFix booking) or the Fat Larry's Band sampling 'Luvwomanboogie' by Bobby Analog, these influences repeatedly shone through. When I was growing up my Dad always told to me to look at my favourite artist's favourite artist, and if this set was any indication, Dan Shake has always been a fan of a groove. As lo-fi house continues to spread in influence, even though it wouldn't be accurate to call Dan Shake's set maximalist, it certainly felt exuberant by contrast. At the best of times it conjured up the image of a Brazilian street party, with whooping whistles and a storm of hand-beaten drums.
However, though Shake is obviously aware of dance music's roots, he spent the majority of his set relentlessly playing house music. Though this might seem an odd complaint for a house music producer, it would have been nice to hear more of the tracks at the source of the samples, rather than hours of their derivatives. Any critique based on lack of subtlety is moot though, since subtlety was clearly not the goal. The sense of journey the best sets create may have been lost, but there was also never a moment when a hand wasn't jabbing and a hip wasn't shaking. Even so, when the set veered towards techno with the teeth grinding 'Take You There', the catharsis was palpable. Heads that had been relatively stationary snapped to attention. People heading out to smoke stood hesitantly by the door. The change of pace even gave tired tunes like Robert Hood's 'Never Grow Old (Re-Plant)' a new sense of urgency. It wasn't long before Shake veered back towards more soulful house cuts, but his digression hinted at an awareness of progression and diversity.
Unfortunately, by nature of Shake's upgrade to the bigger room, there were also a larger number of dancers with little concept of personal space. It was a sad recurring theme to see people prioritising their perfect group photo over a boogie, especially since MoodFix have always prided themselves on intimate audiences of music lovers. Ultimately, the best DJs know how to please the crowd they're faced with. Perhaps in a smaller room we might have got something more nuanced, but faced with a horde of sweaty faced revellers, Dan Shake did what any good DJ should do—he made them move their feet.
By Blaise Radley | Loose Lips