It seems sort of arduous to think of what Red Bull Music Academy has done for New York in the past few years; essentially pulling double-duty between its annual hop around the world (with the next edition being in Montreal in Autumn) and keeping things rooted in the Big Apple for us lucky people. However, as is the case with most things that grow into themselves – a comfort level had been established with the NYC edition of Red Bull Music Academy.
The minds behind RBMA who pump out excellent written content, book tremendous live acts (such as Diamanda Galas and Anonhi as of this current edition alone) and curate events with the likes of Spike Lee, Madlib, Dizzee Rascal, and the Sun Ra Arkestra would eventually find their way to the underground sounds that inhabit the streets from dusk until way past dawn and carve it into a celebration of local talent that would take place smack dab in the middle of its month-long extravaganza. Well, that sorta happened at Technopolis – an event that had a great concept and some unfortunate snags in its execution.
Let’s establish this from the top – the performers were great; from Galcher Lustwerk bringing Ken Ishii’s “Extra” to light in front a curious crowd in Zone A – to Ital time-stretching Jamie Lee-Curtis’ transcendent scream from “Halloween” that demanded the attention of Zone B – the tone was established that this was a vibe that was indelibly rooted within New York’s underground dance world.
However, the issues really stemmed with a clearly obvious circumstance – you could hear what was going in the other room during everyone’s set. This was highlighted more-so towards later in the night, when DUST played a shellacking, high-octane live set that cut through Zone B’s intimate setting like a wildfire. It took a good bit of effort from the likes of Umfang, Aurora Halal and Max McFerren to keep the room’s attention and they certainly did that in spades.
Umfang’s terrific set hovered around 140BPM with fluid transitions and unbridled intensity that set up nicely for Halal’s ontologically-taut set that veered between techno, electro and a fever-dream this writer had the night before last. Finally, Max McFerren showed up poised to bring an entirely distinct flavour to the proceedings; as the alum dropped some breakbeat/electro madness that one could only fathom by breaking out into a dance sequence that exists solely between Thriller and The Robot.
All in all, the music and most of the crowd was engaging to counteract a very obvious oversight on the part of the organisers of the event. Perhaps that’s what most noteworthy about the night; you can turn a blind eye (or in this case, ear) to putting an event together, but the nucleus that holds it up is the music that’s being pumped out – and that was more than enough to keep things focused on what RBMA is about – getting good music out to anyone who wants to hear it.
Photography from RBMA by Drew Gurian and Jeff Thibodeau.