July 28, 2008 8:13 AM
Text and photos by Dennis Romero
It’s a relatively new medium boxed in by opposing conventions: rocking out versus remaining faithful to the linear, lockstep groove of the modern dance floor. Few – perhaps Kraftwerk, the Chemical Brothers and the first incarnation of Deepsky – have breached the envelope. We’re talking, of course, of live electronic music – an oxymoronic pursuit to some. On Saturday the Berlin nu-tech duo Booka Shade took its live show for a second time to a packed house at Avalon Hollywood, sincerely attempting to put a fresh spin on its two-album catalog that includes its sublime spring release, The Sun & the Neon Light. Did beautiful, cobalt grooves emerge as Arno Kammermeier and Wlater Merziger sweated over two laptops, a digital drum kit and several synthesizers and sequencers? Of course. Who could resist the bittersweet, voice-box serenade of of its latest single, “Charlotte,” or the melancholic break-house of one of its first breakout tracks, “Night Falls”?
And still, Booka Shade struggled to connect with a packed dance floor filled with Armani Exchange-sporting beefcakes and 40-year-old Chinese grandmothers modeling Forever 21 miniskirts and $10,000 Rolexes. Avalon’s Saturday homage to the DJ, “Avaland,” was celebrating its fourth anniversary. To be frank, it was a bacchanalian crowd, riding a nonstop wave of bubbly, tech-house rhythms in the hours before Booka took the stage at 1:20 a.m. The minimalist DJ trio Droog warmed up the floor and fed it a protein rich diet of bubbly bass and piercing percussion. Booka Shade tried to keep up the pace with a mostly sequenced, back-to-back series of beat-matched tracks – DJ-style. And still, it’s hard to absorb the breadth of a brilliant remix such as M.A.N.D.Y. vs. Booka Shade feat. Laurie Anderson’s “Oh Superman” when clubland is listening with its feet but ignoring its other senses. The dance floor is blind, and live electronic acts have been struggling for 30 years to open its eyes.
The black-clad Booka duo pounded on drum pads and shouted at the audience with glee, but it’s clearly tough to rock a crowd of rollers. The audience – slave to the rhythm – was just being human; we all get hypnotized by a heartbeat. Still, it’s hard to blame Booka Shade for this disconnect, especially when it’s tried so diligently to find a place between 20th century stage pop and postmodern e-music. Danish techno sensation Trentemoller has had the same problem – translating the nuances of artistic techno for audiences that want it harder, faster and longer than a porno director.
When I interviewed Kammermeier last year, he was proud to point out that Booka Shade refried and remixed its songs during live shows, so that each appearance was unique – “always with a different arrangement.” Few at Avalon Saturday seemed to notice, and the duo got its biggest reactions from its tried-and-true staples. “Let’s see if you know this one,” Kammermeier announced as the pair kick-started its last track of a one-hour set. It was “In White Rooms” and, on cue, the crowd went a little wild – at least until the DJ came back on.