A few months back, the Netherlands' Incubate Festival invited XLR8R to curate three nights of parties during its week-long run. Last weekend, those parties—all of which featured almost unbelievably stacked dream lineups—went down at the Midi Theater in the city of Tilburg, located in the Southern part of the country. This is what we saw.
Interestingly enough, the XLR8R-curated festivities began in a relatively non-danceable fashion with the spooky sounds of Holy Other. Just after 9 p.m., the Tri Angle Records artist climbed on stage, clad entirely in black with his head and face shrouded by a dark hood. Performing live, he effectively recreated the songs from his excellent debut EP and also slipped in a few new tunes, all of which treaded in the same lurching, R&B-influenced, and ominously psychedelic territory he's known for.
Next up was UK duo Demdike Stare, who also performed live and showcased an absolutely impressive set of visuals. Much like the pair's nightmarish videos, the live show was an unsettling combination of vintage found footage and creepy psychedelia, which only heightened the effect of the duo's music. Alternately cinematic, dark, sexy, violent, and hypnotic, over the course on an hour Demdike Stare served up a head-rattling mix of booming drone, analog synth soundscapes, slowly pulsing techno rhythms, and clacking, machine-like drum sounds.
Third on the bill was yet another live act, albeit one of an entirely different flavor—San Francisco's Ghosts on Tape. The man doesn't perform live often, so this was a special treat which found him manipulating his vintage samplers (which literally take floppy disks) and other bits of hardware into upfront house and techno, all the while touching on classic electro, old-school Chicago, vogue, UK funky, and Bmore. Throughout it all, Ghosts on Tape's signature choppy drum sounds kept things moving, along with his consistently thick kicks and basslines. Even better, nearly every tune was unreleased, which hopefully means that some amazing new Ghosts on Tape music is set to be shared with the world, preferably in the not-so-distant future.
Arguably 2011's top producer, Boddika maintained the hard-edged dancefloor vibe, dropping a DJ set that was heavy on crunchy synths and fat basslines, not to mention '80s electro influences. The UK DJ/producer definitely dropped plenty of his own tracks, along with what sounded like several selections from the Swamp81 catalog.
Similarly hard-hitting was fellow UK artist Untold, whose impeccable mixing allowed him to smoothly offer up a hearty helping of big snares, tough organic drum sounds, 808 percussion, and sinewy synth melodies. Toward the end of his set, his did shift from the stutter of UK bass music into some jacking house selections, a move which won the Hemlock Recordings boss even more appreciation from the crowd.
The only lowlight of the evening came at the hands—or, better said, the voice—of a fat-faced "MC" who somehow weaseled his way onstage and grabbed the microphone, to the delight of absolutely no one. Apparently unaware that simply being British, wearing a Supreme hat, and knowing the names of the DJs is not a sufficient resume for MCing a party, the tubby lad seriously threatened to ruin the entire vibe of the party. Thankfully, he eventually realized that his repeated cries of "yo" and "this is the sound of the Untold" were generating far more scowls than cheers from the crowd, leaving him with no other option than to quietly slink offstage.
Rounding out the evening was none other than Loefah, the Swamp81 boss and DMZ co-founder. His impressive dubstep-oriented history aside, Loefah's set was anything but nostalgic, as he put together a sonically rich collection of deep, futuristic sounds that touched on house, funky, garage, and more. That said, the bass sounds were unsurprisingly huge, although the music remained propulsive and melodic, particularly as he moved into steppier, snare-heavy garage territory as the set progressed, leaving the Tilburg crowd satisfied as the night came to a close.
The second night of XLR8R's residency at Incubate was one for the DJs, and began with a set from none other than yours truly, which I'll simply describe as "adequate" and move on from there.
Up next was another XLR8R-affiliated artist, the talented—and increasingly techno-inclined—Contakt. The TURRBOTAX® co-founder indulged his Midwestern roots, warming up the party with rich, melodic techno that offered deep, rolling beats, a steady rhythmic pulse, and drawn-out analog synth melodies.
At that point, the night was taken over by some of the top names in forward UK bass music, beginning with Blunted Robots co-founder Brackles. True to form, he kicked off his set with some classic house and garage, keeping things upbeat and fun as he slowly transitioned into the harder, percussion-heavy sounds he's known for. With each cracking snare and grimey bassline, it became apparent that Brackles is one of the few DJs who has tastefully continued to carry the torch for UK funky, building upon its infectious drum patterns and moving the sound into the future.
The impressive DJing continued with fellow Rinse FM standout Oneman, who began things with a bit of a curveball, dropping a few straight-up wedding tunes to perk up the crowd before deftly moving into disco, '80s electro, and breaky house and bass tracks. The 502 Recordings boss always brings unparalleled mixing skills to the table, inserting tiny flourishes that demonstrate both remarkable skill and a true dedication to his craft, something that's often missing in the era of Serato and laptop DJs. On top of that, his set was undeniably fun and upbeat, with lots of vocal tunes. Plus, the genre-hopping only continued throughout his hour behind the decks, as Oneman touched upon R&B, hip-hop, dancehall, and more, all without sounding gimmicky or losing the crowd.
Girl Unit was the next artist to step up, and quickly took a completely different path from Oneman. Rather from hopping from one style to the next, the Night Slugs artist seemed to realize that he had a very distinct sound, and, more importantly, knew how to effectively operate within that sonic space. Regardless of the tune being played or the genre it was taken from, Girl Unit's selections usually featured some combination of hip-hop/R&B drum patterns, bouncy basslines, warbling neon synths, vintage 808 sounds, and hints of '80s electro. It's a potent formula, and one he seems to be using to map out the future of hip-hop and R&B, at least from his own unique perspective. The crowd in Tilburg certainly wasn't upset about it.
The final UK artist of the evening was another DJ extraordinaire, Hessle Audio co-founder and Rinse FM selector Ben UFO. While it sounds cliché, Ben UFO seems to appreciate the notion of taking listeners (and dancers) on a journey, steering away from would-be "big tunes" and technical trickery in favor of subtle shifts and impeccable track selection. On this evening, he combined tasteful, clacky house tracks with bits of soulful techno, both of which offered plenty of washy synths. He wasn't flashy, but at some point during the evening, just about everyone gradually realized they were hearing an amazing set.
Speaking of amazing sets, one of the weekend's definite highlights was the second night's headliner, Detroit legend Theo Parrish. Spinning all vinyl and leaning heavy on his own rotary mixer, the man went deep and went soulful, digging into his record bag for one amazing tune after another. There was plenty of funk, soul, disco, and grown-up house music happening, but he also managed to play Steve Reich and make it work on the dancefloor. His set elicited nothing but smiles, and when the party wrapped at 3:30am, a particularly dedicated contingent of the crowd stuck around, chanting his name and singing what sounded like a soccer anthem, only with Theo's name inserted in the lyrics. The love was palpable, and actually prompted Parrish to throw on an additional record—the weekend's only encore.
After the late-night revelry of the first two editions, the festival's final day actually found the XLR8R festivities getting started in the late afternoon. TURRBOTAX® resident Rem Koolhaus kicked things off tastefully, putting together a lengthy set of NY house, mature bass music, and Underground Resistance-style techno. Without delving into hyperbole, the NYC DJ was similar in style to Ben UFO, insofar that he subtly assembled a session full of expansive, big-room tracks that sounded great without being over the top or resorting to easy crowd pleasers.
Speaking of crowd pleasers, Ireland's Space Dimension Controller began his set with Phil Collins' "In the Air Tonight" and stayed with the '80s electro/boogie for the first 20-30 minutes of his set. Not that we're complaining—the music injected some fun into the proceedings before he moved into washy, groove-heavy house, NY-style garage, and pounding techno. Over the course of his 90-minute set, Space Dimension Controller proved himself quite adept at moving between genres, weaving together a pastiche of fun styles and ultimately winding up back in '80s territory with songs from Cybotron, J.J. Fad, and 2 Live Crew before all was said and done.
More serious was Germany's Motor City Drum Ensemble, who also dabbled in bits of boogie, '80s electro, and '90s club sounds, albeit without seeming camp or pandering to the crowd. He also served up plenty of the soulful, mid-tempo house groovers that he's known for, much to the delight of those on the dancefloor.
Julio Bashmore then stepped in behind the decks, and kept things soulful by starting off his set with a series of slower, deep-house selections. However, he quickly moved into more upbeat pastures, mixing in a number of contemporary tracks with several of his own productions and some choice house classics. Things increasingly gravitated toward the UK-bass world as he continued, although Bashmore never put on anything too grimey or stompy, instead electing to maintain the jazzy, piano-bar vibe (we mean that in a good way) he seems to thoroughly enjoy.
The final act of the weekend was none other than Jackmaster, the Numbers co-founder whose DJ skills have become the stuff of legend over the past year or two. With his first record, the night's "party" feel immediately spiked, as Jackmaster threw on a series of vintage house and techno gems. In a bit of a surprise move, he elected to share the majority of his set with Space Dimension Controller, and the pair spent the hour trading off between newish UK tracks and an increasingly silly selection of old-school tunes. As the party wound down, the duo appeared to be digging deeper and deeper into their record bags, keeping things fun and just a tad goofy, wrapping up XLR8R's Incubate residency on a lighthearted note.