Electric Frog Summer Festival
To call the third installment of Electric Frog a success would require too many qualifying remarks: the truncated lineup (Electric Frog was originally a two-day event), nonsensical set-times, a no-show from Instra:mental, the paucity of good booze, and disappointing sound systems at both the Optimo Warehouse and the Pressure Tent.
Save for a few sterling hours of music from Optimo and DJ Funk, much of what masqueraded as A-list dance music fell staggeringly short of the mark. September’s lineup does look like a marked improvement, but until Derrick May, Omar S and co. actually turn up, we’ll not hold our breath.
Nick Curly’s early afternoon slot seems out of place; his deep, languid tech-house mines a groove suited more to the shadows than the overcast skyline hanging over the sparsely populated Pressure Tent. Leavened by flashes of Balearic disco and floating, Chicago house synths, Curly’s chuggy 90 minute set drifts pleasantly enough without being particularly memorable; something that, as the day unfolds, becomes a recurring theme for the monotone iterations of steam pipe techno that follow.
Of all the Pressure acts today, Karotte is the most egregious abuser of the steam pipe break, a trope that continues to ride on the coat-tails of the most middle-of-the-road tech-house. Gathering a considerably sweatier throng than Curly, Karotte’s metronomic mixing (as oddly cold and calculated as the Teutonic stereotype suggests) has the desired effect on the sweat-matted faces of the front row, but given the amount of omnidirectional jaw movement in evidence, he might as well have dropped an acetate of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer; no-one would’ve been the wiser.
Prefacing Optimo’s extended set (Instra:mental, who were due to play after Twitch and Wilkes, had managed to miss their flight) in front of a poorly-attended dancefloor, Pro-Vinylist Karim’s elegant, vibrant selection was crying for the sort of attention directed at the colourless Pressure Tent. Twitch’s opening salvo is a ten minute blend of saxophone house (!), replete with effervescent horns and twinkling jazz piano. Other highlights take in the supple house vocals and Berghain-like litheness of Tyree’s Nuthin Wrong and the terse, oscillating vocoder disco of Ritmo Especial, but Larry Heard’s timeless The Sun Can’t Compare tips the swelling ranks of Optimo devotees over the ledge.
Marc Houle’s live setup does a marginally better job than the hyperactive smoke machine of obscuring the intricate arrangements of his best Minus releases (the pulsing, industrial clank of ‘On It’, or the desert plains drifter guitar of Sweet), and the swampy PA system stifles the nuance somewhat. Though the creeping, horrorist edge still manages to resonate, he acquiesces too easily to the crowd’s demand for harder, faster, stronger. Note the absence of better.
Once Houle downs tools, Dubfire’s headlining slot before an oxygen-starved rabble is greeted with the customary wave of rapture, though in many ways Dubfire’s lolling soundscapes don’t deviate all that much from what’s gone before: sleek, pleasant, yet dismally perfunctory. This might have passed muster at a time when Minus were still considered avante-garde, but in the polyrhythmic genre-melt of 2011, this inward, pure-bred tech-house just doesn’t cut it anymore.
Nitzer Ebb’s appearance seems another example of the fashion for booking cult 80s bands for electronic music events, though the lineage of machine music from which techno draws makes the faux-Teutonic outfit a relevant throwback. Industrial disco anthem ‘Let Your Body Learn’ sounds as fresh as it did in 1988, though the same can’t be said for Douglas McCarthy’s voice: though it crackles with the menace of old, the acoustics swamp his guttural rasp, diluting what could have been a truly visceral experience.