After stopping at venues up and down the East Coast, touring in lower-central Canada and the Midwest, Richie Hawtin’s CNTRL: Beyond EDM tour finally made its much-anticipated stop in Madison Saturday to what was a particularly welcoming audience. Interestingly, Hawtin held a panel at the Madison Media Institute prior to a sold-out show at the Majestic Theatre.
The goal of the tour was to inform music producers and DJs as well as the public about the electronic music genre. The panel, which consisted of techno-maestro Richie Hawtin, Detroit techno legend Kevin Saunderson, established minimalist Gaiser, DJ innovator Ean Golden and Drop Bass Network founder Kurt Eckes, elaborated upon the technology involved in both music production and live performance, the history of the genre and the music industry.
The seminar addressed things like finding your sound by avoiding mimicry, marketing yourself as someone with a unique experience to give and maintaining integrity in a commercial music world. While the educational seminar served as the basis for the tour, the show that followed served as a celebration after a day of enlightenment.
Ean Golden, the first opener, properly warmed up the crowd with a set that provided an eclectic blend of musical tastes. Many were mesmerized as they watched Ean operate several controllers: twisting knobs, scratching (a skill that has been overlooked by DJs in current times) and pushing buttons, all of which triggered changes in what was being played.
After what was a true performance, the second opener Gaiser gave the audience a full body massage by exploiting explosive bass. This is not to say that the sound was overpowering, but it enveloped the crowd in a cocoon of resonance. At one point during his set, he playfully teased the audience holding and releasing the low frequencies, which created an effect that had everybody swaying back and forth in a state of hypnosis.
Bouncing about while he mixed through songs, it appeared as if he was playing rather than performing. Along with his ability to develop goosebump and hair-raising buildups and drops, as opposed to the saturated and indistinguishable climaxes that have plagued recently popular electronic dance music, Gaiser’s set was exceptional to say the least.
Following Gaiser, Saunderson was set to takeover the decks. If the name Kevin Saunderson does not ring a bell, he is one of the Belleville Three, a group of Detroit musicians considered the originators of the techno music genre. Rightfully so, Saunderson is a legend in electronic music.
As Gaiser phased out of his set and Saunderson began his, the boisterous cheering served as evidence of his status as an icon. Saunderson traveled through crisp, addictive beats that kept the crowd absorbed and desiring more. It was near the end of his set that a genuine sentiment that all were blessed to be experiencing something special permeated the atmosphere of the theater.
Finally, the moment everyone at the theater was waiting for arrived, as Hawtin inducted the audience to what those fortunate enough to have seen him before would describe as pure euphoria. Hawtin, known for his flawless construction of entrancing rhythms, subtlety built up incredible tension that once released, left the crowd in a downright frenzy. As Hawtin maneuvered through harmonious textures, he resembled a mad scientist hell-bent on the discovery of the unknown. The sonic journey Hawtin took those at the Majestic Theatre Saturday night will become a part of history for the Madison live music scene.
After Hawtin ended his set, the crowd stomped and hollered, a demonstration of the need for more. Resisting this wish he closed his laptop, which insisted the night of musical elation was now over.
The performances by all four DJs provided a much-needed escape from the suffocating sets of the many DJs that perform in Madison who come across as desperate to entertain and reek of a self-conscious desire to impress. Also noteworthy was the crowd, which seemed focused less on the DJs than they did on the music, atmosphere and people around them. This attitude towards creating a greater overall experience among concert-goers is clearly lacking at electronic music shows and it is crucial that this changes if the music is to maintain its significance. Now, while I realize this night was special, a definite anomaly, I still cannot accept the fact this is not the norm. Why can’t all DJs perform like this? Why can’t all electronic music shows feel like this? I suppose only time will tell if CNTRL’s ideas behind music avert the current trend toward superfluous, non-exploratory electronic music.