Lineup: Terry Francis, Rrose [Live], Regis & James Ruskin
Venue: Fabric, London
At the apex of their success in 2011, Karl O’Connor & Dave Sumner decided to pull the plug on their label/collective Sandwell District, before it became assimilated into the mainstream; before it became tedious and before exhausted its originality. Since the label/not label’s birth in 2002 (the label tag is something O’Connor is a little ambiguous about), Sandwell District helped to define the Techno landscape of the noughties - a menacing, abstract, streamlined sound owing as much to the DIY aesthetic of 80s Industrial, as to billowing warehouse Techno. Fast forward to 2013, and we find ourselves queuing outside Fabric for the launch party of their mix CD, with a live set from Rrose to look forward to alongside Sandwell District’s headline slot, and resident Terry Francis playing a warm up set.
Partying at any of London’s major clubs tends to come at a certain expense - with the recent endemic of belligerent snapback sporting morons, we’ve tended to shy away from the larger clubs in recent years. Fabric in particular appears to attract most of the punters by its name alone. However if one thing was to tempt us out of the woodwork, it’d be the reformation of the Sandwell District collective, and in truth, there couldn’t be a much more fitting setting for the Sandwell sound that Fabric’s cavernous network of underground tunnels.
On entry, I couldn’t help but think Berghain’s seemingly arbitrary door policy is that bit more understandable, when confronted with a huddle of boisterous, chanting football fans, and a frenzied individual who appeared to have paid his entry fee for the privilege to shake hands with as many people as possible. Whilst the aforementioned chants slightly hindered our enjoyment of Terry Francis’ riproaring set, it’d be hard to deny the man’s talents as a DJ, both in terms of mixing and selections - borne from fifteen years of hard graft.
The enigmatic Rrose then took to room two’s stage for a rare live set, dressed true to name as an elegant woman – something that sparked a nightlong gender debate, which is probably what Rrose wanted all along. Beginning with a dense wall of rumbling low-end peppered with static, Rrose slowly revealed a thudding pulse underneath the thick fog of noise. As the mix progressed his texturally rich soundscapes began to take a more obviously danceable form. Running the gamut of his discography with powerful live renditions of tracks like ‘Secretion’, Rrose brought proceedings to a fitting peak, culminating with one of the last releases on the Sandwell imprint - the grainy, industrial-rave inflected, ‘Waterfall’. With Francis’ set comprising mainly of synapse shredding tracks pitched up to 130bpm, Rrose’s immaculately crafted yet comparatively woozy live set led to a discernible drop in crowd energy. Looking back, he probably would have been better suited to the opening slot, although we can’t complain too much.
I’m sure many were sad to see Dave Sumner (Function) unable to perform due to ‘unforeseen circumstances’, although truth be told, as last minute replacements go, James Ruskin is a pretty fucking good one. The last minute set change seemed not to faze either party, perhaps due to the fact they have worked closely together in the past, as O/V/R. Between the two of them O’Connor and Ruskin traversed a set of pounding warehouse tracks, interspersed with the sub bass manipulations of Wax and Roman Lindau, building from Rrose’s hour of brooding sound design. Sandwell District completely abolished the tried and tested rave formula of tension-climax-release, opting to keep the ball constantly rolling and the serotonin rushing - the only reprieve from the sonic onslaught came with the violent swing of Pev & Kowton’s ‘Raw Code’.
The arrested futurism of dance music is always prevalent in any good Techno set - incorporating the elements of space; speed; violence; and above all its visceral thrill into a few hours of music. Sandwell District’s launch party, (despite some flawed programming) encapsulated all of this, pushing the Martin Audio sound system to its limits while never losing focus of sending the crowd into explosive ecstasy.