with DJ Spooky
The 9:30 Club, Washington, DC • December 15, 2001
Prisons — especially in the arts — can be metaphorical monsters, replete with high, barbed-wired, invisible walls, phantom guards armed to the teeth, and vigilant mobs patrolling the perimeter, ready to pounce at the first sign of transgression. Many artists, like most people, are content in their cells — especially if it has garnered them a little respect and a lot of money. But, eventually, they die. Unfortunately, most of us don’t realize who’s imprisoned and who’s free until somebody points it out to us. And, once they do, somebody gets abandoned.
On Saturday, December 15, DJ Spooky’s accusatory finger was jutting out all over the place. With his nerdy ski cap, laptop, and wrists of rubber, Spooky cut up one hell of a show. And, as far as the DJ thing goes, it was definitely a show. The triple screens danced with him at his best and wacky images — including Dubya as Osama. And the man mixed it up with the frenetic creativity of a mad professor, giving drum n’ bass treatments to everything under the sun — even marrying the genre with its reggae progenitor — giving such classics as Dawn Penn’s “No, No, No” that choppy beat. The club kids were confused, wrestling in their baggy pants. It was pure genius. But then, foaming at the turntables, Spooky went on this utterly insane scratching extravaganza. The video screen flashed epileptically, and the crowd roared as Spooky’s wrists seemed to smoke on stage.
Everybody was so captivated by the performance that nobody saw the main conflict on stage. LTJ Bukem, the man we’d all come to see, “the godfather of drum n’ bass,” had been ready to go on for a few minutes by this point. Spooky didn’t care, giving that wry smile to Bukem’s glare, as he rocked the crowd. Breaking serious DJ etiquette, Spooky seemed to be thumbing his nose at Bukem as he played way over his set. Getting off when he damn well felt like it, Spooky left the stage to thunderous applause.
LTJ started immediately with his atmospheric d n’ b. The club kid crowd went ballistic. After being stunned stationary at Spooky’s deft scratching and Osama bin Bush video show, they were ready to dance. Stoically, Bukem provided them the beat. MC Conrad supported him with his chanting rhymes darting in and out of the beat and synth effects. Folks danced, hopped, twirled, sneakers skidded and aerobicized along the floor as that d n’ b beat went on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on. It just wouldn’t stop… and it started to wear thin. Unlike so many other dance forms, the changes in atmospheric are too subtle, and live, all one gets is that beat, commanding you to dance, or buy Coke, or some subliminal message from Brave New World. It was getting harder and harder to understand Conrad’s marathon chants. Who knows, he may have been saying “Everybody’s happy nowadays” or “2 + 2=5.” We’ll never know. There was a bizarre, worker-bee purity to the entire experience as DJ, beat, crowd, and dance carried on in ad infinitum repetition, but while many droned on, so many more simply zoned out.
As Bukem continued on (it was hard to tell when he was actually doing anything — in fact, at some of the best mixing moments, breaks, etc., he was off drinking his bottled water), people started to fade and disappear. It was an incredibly long set that demanded a lot of abandon to enjoy. The autistic continued to dance, but their numbers continued to thin.
One longed for the creativity of Spooky, an artist who can push at the boundaries of a genre. Not one, like Bukem seemed to be that night, trapped by one. Those in Cell Block Atmospheric can dance on until they become an exhibit like Alcatraz Island. However, one has to wonder how long they’re willing to stay cooped up in the genre with Bukem before they long for freedom.