Pop Surgery's Synth, Illum Sphere's Post-Dubstep Brilliance
You go years and years without a DJ night devoted to vintage analog-synth-dominated electronic music, and then two pop up within a month of each other. Don't you hate it when that happens? Uh... no, actually.
As discussed a little over a month ago in this space, Pop Surgery debuted in the Rendezvous's Grotto basement in December. (Voltage Control, which also happens January 6, at the Living Room, is the other such night.) Pop Surgery's concept: a dance party for people who love the chilling, alienated sounds of pre-techno synth maestros, as well as Italo-disco and krautrock's more kosmische keyboardists. Dr. Troy, who runs the renowned Seattle-based reissue label Medical Records, mans the decks with Nary Guman (aka Jason Polastri). The January edition will move upstairs to Rendezvous's Velvet Room, so the sound will saturate the entire bar—a setup that Troy thinks will increase chances for a bigger crowd (the event's kickoff was lightly attended).
The good doctor and his accomplices plan to spin Visage, Chrisma, Severed Heads, stuff from Cabaret Voltaire's 2X45, Tangerine Dream's Risky Business soundtrack, and a lot of other deep cuts rarely heard in 21st-century public spaces. This idea deserves to thrive. Even though its DJs play tracks from mostly the '70s and '80s, Pop Surgery's not really about triggering warm 'n' fuzzy nostalgia, as few Americans were aware of this stuff back when it was flourishing. It's more about simply exposing buried treasures from a much-neglected niche of electronic music—and perhaps busting moves to them.
Manchester producer Illum Sphere classifies himself on his Facebook page as "experimental/mutant/whatever." That seemingly facetious, nebulous description does contain some truth, however. Immersion in Illum Sphere's tracks leaves one grasping for familiar categories with which to pin down their elusive nature.
Sure, Illum Sphere's songs spring out of dubstep's low-end-loving stratum, but they soar out of the genre's typical old-school mire into more coruscating territory occupied by figures such as Rustie, Hudson Mohawke, and Joker. Like those artists' work, Illum Sphere's productions can sound euphoric and thrillingly complex. Dancing to them requires more thought and agility than it takes for most producers' output. And while Illum Sphere's music is cerebral, it also exudes a robust physicality. He creates the opposite of disposable conveyor-belt dance fodder (not that there's anything wrong with that). His creations require several listens to discern their piquant convolutions, but the payoff is deeply satisfying. It's telling that Illum Sphere's least compelling work is his remix of Björk's "Hidden Place." He doesn't need to grab on to anyone's coattails.
Pop Surgery: Dr. Troy, Nary Guman, Jason Polastri, Thurs Jan 6, Rendezvous, 9 pm, free, 21+; Illum Sphere, Sleepyhead, Nordic Soul, Wed Jan 12, Baltic Room, 9 pm, $8, 21+.