On Saturday, Sonic Groove celebrated its 20-year anniversary.
Sonic Groove is a piece of NYC music history waiting for its own annoying congratulatory documentary, one of those music movies that overstates the significance of something journalists thought couldn’t be overstated. That’s to say that it played an important role in music culture, not only for New York but also nationally.
The lasting names of Sonic Groove are Heather Heart, Adam X, and his brother Frankie Bones, often called “the godfather of rave culture.” Bones had successful releases as early as 1988, but it’s really in the culture of the music and its dissemination where Sonic Groove made its most significant mark. Their Sonic Groove record shop (1990-2004) and STORMRave events set the standards for a movement that would outlive its once overshadowing style. Droid’s “eat sleep shit techno” motto comes direct from Frankie Bones’ mouth. Today the Sonic Groove name lives on as a record label, run by Adam X out of Berlin.
Although I anticipated a big Brooklyn warehouse the show was actually at a synagogue in Manhattan, not far from my work. I passed by the chandeliers and stained glass of the upstairs room and made my way downstairs to the real event. Although I expected an overwhelming Interface-style sound system to commemorate the occasion, I was met with something less impressive, though it sounded just fine. With the crowd and DJs in the right frame of mind, the space becomes whatever it needs to be, and that’s what happened on Saturday.
Frankie Bones’ 2am celebratory hype had the greatest effect on the crowd, and Bones, Adam X, and Abe Duque all put down solid sets, but the two women on the lineup were the most memorable. Heather Heart started the night with out-of-fashion throwbacks and aggressive, shuffle-less acid. The all-vinyl set was a joyous celebration of the legacy she and her partners had crafted, and Heather exuded an infectious enjoyment as she mixed.
Unlike Heather Heart, European visitor Dasha Rush showed little emotion on her face during her performance, but through her music shined with the strongest set of the night. Dasha played a focused, controlled set of inorganic, electronic rhythms, minimal in the formal sense, “trance music” in the tradition of American minimalists and having nothing to do with the dance genre of the same name. Simultaneously cerebral and bodily, controlled releases of nameless sounds allowed a choice between close listening and the forfeiture to ecstatic mindlessness, an other-worldly state beyond shuffling, nodding, and mnml finger-wagging.
I conducted an email interview with Dasha Rush, winner of the prestigious Set of the Night Award. You can listen to one of her tracks while you read.
Bijan: What type of music do you make?
Dasha Rush: I make electronic music in various styles. Not really into defining it. But if I were to simplify, I would say techno, experimental, ambient and so on… It’s hard to describe your own sound. I think the listener can do it better. But I would say my sound describes a part of me and how I see through my “filter,” and how I react, in a way, to what surrounds me emotionally/intellectually…
B: How did you get into this music?
DR: I always loved music, since I was small. My way of coming to actually composing electronic music was that when I was a child I always wanted to play piano, so my parents brought me to music school. After approximately two months, they were splitting instruments among the kids. Piano was saturated with demands, and as my parents did not have close relations to school administrations, as the way it worked in Soviet times, I did not get a chance to play piano. So I got “Dombra,” a three string instrument which did not really inspire me. On the contrary I was shocked from the esthetic view of a little girl. So I ran away from that school. My Dad said that music’s not serious, that my grandma played piano, and it was useless in the end. So I did gymnastics and dance instead, but was listening to vinyl my parents had and dreaming with sounds and about sounds. One of the vinyl was particularly interesting, a band called “Zodiac.” It was electronic instrumental music, and the electronic part of it was intriguing me. I was very curious – where are those sounds coming from? Then my adolescent time came. It was the same time as techno /rave culture was coming up in Russia. Spent lots of time there. So I discovered an enormous world of different sounds, and of course was caught by it. Started digging more, learning how it was made, etc.. then began to DJ. And from my little frustration I think, it was a sort of revenge at bad luck with classical education, I started trying to make my own electronic sounds. It took some years before I found my way and got to where I am now. By the way, not really planning to stop.
B: Tell us about Fullpanda.
DR: Fullpanda it’s my small record label, going forward with me and people who are working with me. I created it when I was living in Japan. The name came from personal jokes with my friends. They use to call me panda, they found I looked like one..:) So far Fullpanda is a techno label, and we say: “All you need is ears,” meaning that if you want to know more, the music speaks better. It’s a label among the others, but our point in it is not business, it’s passion first…
B: Describe your live setup and process from Saturday night. What was the blue box?
DR: Haha , My setup was pretty minimal , for reasons of long travel and customer service… In detail, I use Reaktor 5 standalone , 2 FLP studios running at the same time, couple of vsts. A Kaoss pad for external Fx , and my little baby “Blue box” that I built /soldered myself in a workshop in “Schneider’s Buero,” created by Manuel Richter from leaf-audio and Matthias, creator of Curetronic modular synth.
B: Your set exhibited a formal minimalism that stood apart from the other sets of the night. How do you restrain yourself to keep the pace and let elements out slowly?
DR: Ow , that’s a difficult question. Well I don’t really analyze things when I am playing live. It’s more of a feeling and emotion which I want to transmit.. I don’t know if it’s minimalism, that’s the way you perceived it…
B: You’re really quite serious-looking up there, not that the music is any less serious. Are you just focused, or what’s going on?
DR: Yes, it’s simply technical concentration. So many buttons to touch. Also, if I may say so, mostly I’m into head music more than fully body music…so my corporal or facial expression is sometimes disconnected, but trust me there’s a lot going on in the head and heart.
B: Any thoughts on the West Side Jewish Center?
DR: Well, I found it funny, the choice of the location. In a way it’s interesting because,if you think about it it’s two elements of completely different culture indirectly coming together for a night.
B: What’s your relationship with Sonic Groove? How did you end up playing this show?
DR: Musically: My relation to Sonic Groove is that I just released an EP on SG. Also personally, I and Adam X are friends and colleagues who share the same passion for music. We have already shared together, and enjoy each other’s production.
B: How did the show go for you? How did you feel about your set? Any sets in particular that stood out to you?
DR: I enjoyed playing and sharing those moments with people I don’t even know, really. About my set, well, we always critique ourselves. There were moments that I could do better, but that’s the thing – when you play live, you can be surprised in a good or bad way. About the other artists, I enjoyed the music, because most of the artists played old school records that I know…so it brings memories. I liked Abe very much…as well as Frankie, and Adam…and some artists upstairs as well. I have no particular highlight.
B: How was the New York crowd for you?
DR: New York crowd rocks. But seriously, New York, Berlin, Rome, London are slightly different in certain aspects, but people are people…with energy and beautiful and ugly moments… people are basically the same everywhere – they want to enjoy, dream, and so on.
B: Have you ever been to Los Angeles?
DR: Never. But maybe one day…
B: Where else in the US have you performed?
DR: USA is pretty unknown for me, I have played Mexico so far…
B: People who have been away from electronic dance music for awhile might hear your set and say “This sounds like music I was listening to in the 90s.” How has techno in fact changed since then?
DR: Change in the music mmmm well electronic music progresses, evolves,morphs all the time. There are always sounds coming back, like particular Detroit sounds, acid house, I could go on. It’s hard to invent something completely new, so old waves combine with new elements due to technology but not only that. An important element of it is the personal emotional memories attached to it. It’s very subjective. For some people they could hear one sound that reminds them of the time when they dreamed, were impressed in some way, touched in some way, and they associate those sounds with a certain period in time. So it’s relative… and not only in electronic music.
B: Your sound is particularly tough, somewhat of a resurgence of previous strains of techno that were more popular. Do you think that there’s a resurgence of this sound, or are you on your own thing?
DR: I think I am doing my own way, but others may hear it different and I don’t mind. I have several projects, not only pure techno, so I think I am just going my own way experimenting, discovering, learning.. and making sounds based on what I feel now. As simple as that.
B: Do you make music with a particular sort of listener in mind? How would you characterize that listener (even if it’s just yourself)?
DR: Too much analyzing music or thinking about the listener is not how music has to be experienced, that’s what I think. Music, you feel it or don’t – does not matter if it’s coming from the past or future, underground or out from space….it’s sensible matter…it has a minimum of logic and is more sincere expression.
B: What are you working on now?
DR: I am working on my third album, have not many words about it now. Alongside that are several EPs, remixes for different labels, as well as on Fullpanda and Hunger to create my other experimental label.
B: Anything else to add…
DR: A big smile…and much love.
a version of this review/interview was also posted to thirteen.org