Approaching New York at night, it's easier to appreciate the city from a distance - the bridges strung with light, the thousands of glowing windows, and the towering structures. Closing in, traffic backs up and tension builds. The grandiosity remains baffling. Saturday was opening night for District 36, the newest Manhattan megaclub if the website intro was any indication. They'd already cancelled a few acts they'd booked for lack of preparation, but that night was the night. A perplexed or mostly ambivalent crowd waited at midnight, as some were hand-picked by the guant bouncer whose eyes darted around. Some dressed in their finest, precariously balanced, made it to the door only to be scanned and sent to the back of the line. In others words, rejected. The larger, girthier bouncer kept yelling, "I need ya'll to clear my front!!" He directed this at people milling about outside the rope, dazed at having been deemed unworthy or hearing "Once you come outside, it's back of the line!" People who didn't meet mysterious criteria were left to find a more caring venue, one that hadn't gotten lost in mimicry of a certain infamous disco club. We didn't make the cut. "Sorry, you can try again - back of the line!!" The bouncers carried on barking and we walked away laughing. Some party!
National Underground was deserted around midnight. One doorman tending to the upstairs level with the live band was in relatively good spirits, while the other one who watched over the basement DJ fare looked forlorn. He didn't respond much to enthusiasm. Inside the DJs were fishing for turntables, a pre-recorded mix playing, albeit a good one. A few dudes loped around in the dark and the sound rattled. It really was a basement and the party was supposed to go until seven in the morning, locked doors at four. There were some tense vibes, which I hope were later alleviated. We moved on, to Sullivan Room. The streets took a turn toward slightly raucous. Some joints were bursting at the seams. Ladies swerved into their boyfriends and fortune tellers sitting in the Sullivan Street window beckoned us in for a glimpse at our future. Maybe they could have predicted, "You will have an mildly interesting evening hopping from place to place, spending a lot and finding stale atmospheres."
The line at Sullivan was less onerous. I overheard gripes about other venues and soon we were inside grasping our tickets across lit candles on the low table, an entry with a strained seance feel. I was kind of astounded at how much money we'd spent so far for so little. I wasn't truly bothered, though. In a way, it put my mind at ease about what I'd thought I was missing. The party is wherever you are, not necessarily in New York. Next, coat check was obligatory. People scrunched up their faces and complied. "I've paid for the ticket and now they won't let me in because I have a leather jacket on?" Absurd. We made our way to the stairwell through sequins and semi-cogence to see the main act upstairs. The opener played the acapella, "House music is a spiritual thing, it's a body thing." It can be, but in this situation I wasn't particularly convinced. Perhaps I've heard it so many times.
Something has changed in my outlook, that's for sure. On this trip anyway, I was struck by the circus of commerce more than anything else. I don’t think I believe in struggling so much any more - for the past, for the notion of what should be - and I was disinclined to convince myself it was a great event, or to drink it into greatness. I was in a good mood, though in the constant strobe and hopeful loitering I sensed heaviness. Some nights the music is uninspired, the promoters who are nice to attract fans look tired. Not every performer can be on all the time, and not every vibe can be alive. I guess the expectation that it always will be is kind of unrealistic. That said, the best times that day involved food and conversation, and music in the car with the full moon shining through the moon roof.
Earlier this morning I read: The soul is a perspective that pushes us to go deeper and think further and live wilder. I frequently hear the word "soul" applied to certain techno and house music. That may not make sense at first glance, being that both are driven by technology. But technology arises from our desire to create, improve, and express ourselves. Music perceived as soulful may be that which resonates with the innate quest to be in tune, or evolve. It may be music that sounds unrestrained, or contemplative and enjoyable, even if inspired by dire circumstance.
I took notice of Seventh Sign around 2006, when Carl Finlow's mysteriously groovy "Count On It" caught my ear. Now the new Solab record has brought the label to the front of my mind once again, causing me to re-discover past releases. The discography doesn't disappoint, mostly warm and dark with melodic electro tendencies. Solab are Glasgow producers Graham Wilson and Ross McMillan. (Wilson co-owns Seventh Sign and McMillan also produces under the name Carlos Nilmmns.)
When I gave "Elko" a perfuntory listen on my laptop, I was still digesting their October release on Lifeworld called Celestial Tales. November's "Litho" and "Elko" may refer to stone rather than space, yet they too gravitate toward the cosmos as layers of synth accumulate. Both gather momentum through well-paced addition and subtraction. "Elko" has a rough-hewn low end and serenely circular harmonies, for a basement with a view of the stars. The more dramatic "Litho" begins with a soft padded kick drum and soon arpeggiates itself into euphoric orbit. Solab hold my attention for the entirety of the EP with interesting sound elements and smart composition.