The doors opened at 7 p.m. last Friday night, but the real show at Chicago’s Congress Theater didn’t get going until after 10. If you consider the bevy of electronic musicians to be had, the ticket price of $35 seemed like a serious bargain. For that small fee, an enormous crowd was treated to the stylings of seven smaller or local acts, not to mention the real draw of the evening: international talents Basement Jaxx, MSTRKRFT, and Modeselektor. The theater was crammed to the brim with young electronic fans whose dress ranged between club style and full-on rave mode, and the walls (and the floor, and people’s chest cavities) throbbed with the volume of the music. It was, needless to say, a good night for electronica.
10:00 pm: Modeselektor
Modeselektor, a German act, was the first of the big fish to play that night. The crowd was ready to hear what they had to say, and a dazzling visual show consisting of mostly of black and white geometric patterns (interspersed with visions of periodic smiley-face tablets of ecstasy) kept them on their feet. Their music had a heavy but still danceable beat, overlaid with well-placed computer sound effects. They mixed a fast-paced set of modern house music that had the crowd in prime form for Basement Jaxx.
11:30 pm: Basement Jaxx
The crowd was really excited for Basement Jaxx, the headliners of the evening (although strangely not the last act of the night). Touring in support of its most recent album, Scars, Basement Jaxx played an eclectic set of chilled-out house music that kept the crowd dancing but not deaf. Their female vocalist was stunning, especially on early single “Red Alert”, although that was unfortunately the only song that featured her singing in earnest. Felix Buxton and Simon Ratcliffe spun quite a few songs from the new album, most notably “Raindrops” and “Twerk”, which featured sampling from Michael Sembello’s “Maniac”, much to the crowd’s delight.
“Raindrops” was the emotional high point of the set. Layering a club beat under a flowing rhythm, Basement Jaxx had the crowd in the palm of their collective hand with that track. Their visual show consisted mostly of the band’s logo mixed with images of the slightly creepy owl face from the cover of Scars. The crowd seemed familiar with many of the tracks, and got especially excited when the group sampled Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” near the end of their set. They drew out the pinnacle, Wayne’s World moment of the song out, leaving the crowd tense and wanting, before delivering the climax of the song, and granting the room release.
1:00 am: MSTRKRFT
MSTRKRFT took the stage last, and by that point, a few folks had snuck out early; some people had been there for six hours at that point. Those who stayed were rewarded with a fun set that sampled many of electronic’s greatest heroes. DJ Jesse F. Keeler and AI-P seemed to be having a great time, and danced around the stage, in between chain-smoking and apparently adding many of their sound effects by hand, lending their set a great improvisational quality.
They started out playing songs from their second album, Fist of God, including crowd favorites “Vuvuvu”, featuring climactic raises in pitch and tempo, and “Heartbreaker”, a rising hit with a memorable piano line forming the beat. People were pretty into the music, which made it more forgivable when the middle of the set began to all melt together. The crowd kept on dancing gamely throughout a couple of songs that were indistinguishable in rhythm or origin, but just before things could get tired, the guys picked up again with some well-placed samples.
MSTRKRFT sampled musical mentors Daft Punk several times, not to mention Benny Benassi’s “Satisfaction” and Justice’s “Stress” and “D.A.N.C.E.”, the last of which really got people, well, D.A.N.C.I.N.G. Their set closed out with a mash-up of Daft Punk’s “Aerodynamic”. During the song’s shredding guitar bridge, the group sampled straight into “Thunderstruck” by AC/DC, which put the crowd over the edge. Cheering fans hung about the stage clapping for more, but the men had quietly slipped off stage, leaving their equipment to play out the end of the last song. It was an appropriately electronic ending to what had been a memorable night of dance music.