Review: Detroit Soul. with Kevin Saunderson (Origins, KMS, Inner City)
Kevin Saunderson, alongside Derrick May and Juan Atkins, aka the Belleville Three, is one of the holy figures of the Detroit Techno Movement, especially during its infancy when it was still an underground scene. Kevin and his music group, Inner City, were influential in spreading techno to the masses, changing music forever. Seeing him play is on the wish list of every techno fan. So, this was just enough for me to drag me out of bed on a cold wet Melbourne Night.
Originally, the event was going to be played at XE54, however, in a very last-minute decision, the nightclub Alumbra wasn’t structurally safe and had to relocate to XE54 for the time being, and forced the event organisers to relocate to Radar. Although some XE 54 regulars tried in a desperate scramble to sell their tickets, most embraced the venue change. Being placed in the CBD, there were a few walk-ins and this led to an incredibly mixed crowd. Young and old were keen to see Saunderson work his magic.
I appreciated the changes that has occurred from when it was previously known as Lounge. The dancefloor space expanded and opened up more invitingly. The industry standard Funktion 1 speakers placed alongside the stage ensured excellent sound and neon lights wrapped over the walls and ceilings ensured one felt they were in a Millennium Falcon going at lightspeed.
On the decks Mrs Farina was halfway through her set. She was purposeful with a combination of pleasant melodies and short and sharp chord jabs. The techno was clear and crisp much like a rice paper roll where you can taste all the distinct flavours and in combination, is incredibly tasty. As I sat in back-corner, hurriedly scribing details of the night on a scrap piece of paper, one guy, walks past me and gives me a puzzled look, to which I ignore. I probably won’t see him again, I told myself.
It’s only 10 pm and the dance floor is still empty so I take a walk outside. One guy I speak to me tells me that he is “willing to shovel shit to play for organisers (Stable Music)”. He also introduces me to Kazuma who was working with his laptop as if he was a Starbucks, picking tracks just a casual couple of hours before he was due to play. He’s got a few songs he wants to play but he allows some freedom and will see what happens. I see a very excited Matt Radovich with a big smile walking around.
Back inside, C:1, picks up from where Mrs Farina left with accessible vibes and the closest thing to family-friendly techno. However, like an Angler Fish at work she drew in a crowd as she slowly mixes heavily and more percussive sounds. The hypnotized crowd suddenly found themselves weaving and heaving through a dense forest of pounding percussion and oscillating notes. The pace picked up real quick but the crowd didn’t mind. The neon strips turn into a sewing needle of patches and dots, Nike Tn’s and tracksuits lit up on the dancefloor, an old man in a tropical shirt winds back the clock, Melbourne has come to party.
Time to order a drink. I’m standing in the line for a while and wondering why it’s taking so long. I notice a guy, a guy who has the dimension of a meatball, barrel-chested, a ribbed white jumper, complete with a backwards baseball cap begins the incredibly tedious and difficult task of ordering a drink. Knowing a line of people are waiting behind him, decides to order a drink which is so out of place, the confused bar staff has to ask the manager if it’s even possible to pull off and after a few minutes of intense drinks-making serves him this cocktail. To which, the meatball man then pays in $50 notes. He turns around and struts off along with his trophy wife in techno unfriendly high heels, satisfied knowing he had wasted everyone’s time. I realized he’s the guy that looked at me weirdly from earlier in the night.
Kazuma Onishi takes over C:1 on the decks at midnight and slowed things down, which allowed space for more elements in his tracks to move around and facilitate some emotions. The meatball guy who looks like he can PayWave for a new BMW whenever he wants migrates back to the bar order a drink with yet another $50 notes causing bartenders to scramble through the dusty cashier. Perhaps, I'm judging too much and he has a deep understanding of the Inherent and underlying risks of contactless card payments?
Matt Radovich, who is very deeply Detroit obsessed comes on and warms the crowd with some moody and dramatic Detroit inspired classics. People heave to the driving tunes and are enjoying themselves, so much so that one particular guy managed to knock over 4 drinks with one fell swoop of his arm. I make a trip to the toilet and see meatball man walk in, he has to rotate 180 degrees and walk through sideways to avoid knocking down the toilet door.
Finally, at 2 am, the act we’ve all been waiting for, Kevin Saunderson arrives onto the stage, to rapturous applause. After a soulful start, Kevin showcases his incredible dynamism; a combination of poppy elements, groovy basslines and looping 909 drums mixed in like peanut butter. He mixes tracks in either incredibly smoothly and gentle or boldly crunchy. He knows how to grab the attention of your ears and transport you somewhere else. Lights bounce off the wall and the dancefloor swarms with people dancing in rapture.
Suddenly, the power goes out. No one in the crowd is sure what happened but we enthusiastically sing happy birthday to radar’s 2nd anniversary. Once the power came back, there is a distinct change of tone, the techno soul I felt eariler became a lot more monotonous, pounding and unrelenting techno. It became physically demanding and you have to be fairly inebriated or high to keep listening, which seemed to be most of the crowd. I became fairly bored and decided that with less than 20 minutes before the set ended this was the time to leave. As I walked out, I notice meatball man sitting on the couch looking fairly disinterested and in contempt. Maybe I should grab a drink with him sometime.
Words: Thinh Thanh