Once again on Friday I skipped the major showcase at Neumos, focusing just on the Planet Mu Label Showcase at the Baltic Room and the Trust Showcase at Sole Repair, followed by the first dB Afterhours, “Mi Casa Es Su Casa”, at Motor. I got off to a late start and wholly missed local DJ Ill Cosby’s set at the Baltic Room, which was too bad as I’d wanted to check him out live. Instead, I went straight to Sole Repair, arriving after 10 to find KEXP DJ Kid Hops taking turns with Suntzu Sound at the DJ table, as they do every month with their dance night Trust, the sponsor of this showcase. I knew from experience that it’d be a great time for dancing, and I was not disappointed, spending an hour or so before heading off to check out the Planet Mu Showcase.
The Baltic Room was a different scene than Wednesday night, brighter lit with screens hanging mid-room for video displays. In a scheduling switch, Ikonika was up first, followed by Starkey. When I came in, the music sounded loud and complicated, spurring a lot of fist-pumping and cheers from the crowd, but Ikonika proved deft at bringing it down to a basic beat and then building up and down from that. She really brought it back to a slow languid feel for last 10 minutes of her set. Although Ikonika was visibly grooving and working during her set, Starkey was a lot more active, constantly bouncing around the controls, with occasional breaks to talk to crowd. Musically, he had more of a hip-hop/dubstep style, partly just through his choice of vocal samples, but also in the slower dub-like beat he used. I didn’t stay very long, as I wanted to hear the finale at the Trust Showcase, but long enough to decide Starkey was pretty good but not quite my style.
Around this time, I started to wonder about the difference between a DJ set and a “live” set. The schedule had indicated Ikonika was doing a DJ set while Starkey was doing a live one, but both were using the same equipment — a pair of turntables, a laptop, a sampler/mixer and other electronic gear — and there was no readily apparent difference in what they were doing, just in the style of music. (To further confuse the issue, according to the festival website, Ikonika did perform live after all.) This would be a recurring question over the weekend.
Back at Sole Repair, the room was packed for headlining DJ Trus’me, playing house music well-blended with disco, soul, funk, and even finishing the night with a straight-up jazz piece. I was able to watch from backstage a bit while Trus’me worked, where it was clear he was just mixing together different records, and I thought maybe that was the difference between a DJ and a live set. Both artists may be using pre-recorded music, whether samples or whole songs, but live artists crafted their own original melodies or rhythms out of those parts, while DJs just layered, blended, and maybe distorted existing music without fundamentally changing it. The live artist creates, while the DJ synthesizes. That seemed like a good distinction at the time.
With the night-time showcases done, it was time to head down to Motor for dB Afterhours and dancing to deep house music made by LawnChair Generals and Catz ‘n Dogz. I thought the contrast with Trus’me’s set was interesting: whereas he had blended in a variety of songs from different styles of music, changing it up frequently, these sets were all about exploring a single style through slow changes over a long time — but it made for just as effective dance music. I also liked that the sound levels felt well-balanced, with the music filling the club without being overwhelmingly loud. Knowing I still had two more days to get through, including some events in the afternoon, I didn’t stay for Dinky’s set, but still felt this was a good end to the day.