Tuesday, October 30, 2012

‘Drumcode Halloween Fright Night’ at the Great Suffolk Street Warehouse, 27th October 2012

What is there to write about a night like this?  I stood in a dark room full of flashing lights and listened to essentially the same song for about six hours.  Mission accomplished!  Putting on a night like this can seem disarmingly simple, you just need a good sound system, a nice space, some toilets and bar and some DJs and you're set, right?   Obviously it’s not as simple as it sounds, I've been to enough crappy, badly organised and oversold nights to know that. Fortunately Drumcode go to great lengths to create a nice atmosphere to dance in, and even though the night takes place in some pretty grimy industrial surroundings, there’s an unmistakable attention to detail that you just don’t get at a lot of other nights.  From the moment you enter until the moment you leave you’re gently but firmly in a solid pair of hands.

The weather had taken a turn for the chilly and wet over the last few days, and I was dreading having to queue outside in the miserable night waiting to get in.  It’s a particular annoyance of mine to have to spend ages waiting to get in when I already have a ticket.  Last time I saw Adam Beyer was at the Hearn Street Car Park in April, and I remember miserably queueing up outside in the cold and the rain.  People huddle together, desperately clutching print outs with barcodes on them waiting desperately to get in, trying to fight off boredom and the cold.  But there was a good omen!  Earlier in the week, Drumcode sent me an actual honest-to-god ticket through the post, with a hologram and everything!  In this age of online booking, getting a physical ticket in the post is a rarity, and there was a nice sticker in the envelope too.  

When I entered the place at about half 11, it was relatively sparsely populated.  I picked up a drink and had a look around, realising that at some point over the last few years I've been here before.  The night takes place in the arches under a railway bridge, and they soar  pretty high over your head.  There are six of these, two of them are taken up with DJs.  The other ones are bars, toilets, chillout spaces and a cloakroom.  Even though the place becomes pretty damn busy later on, there’s still always room to move around and if you need a place to sit down and rest for a minute there’s always somewhere to go.  They've got a load of portaloos set up in two of the arches, and I'm pleased to say the queues weren't too long, and they stayed pretty bearable throughout the night.  It seems a like a pretty prosaic thing to mention, but  (literally) crappy toilet facilities can kill a night like this stone dead, especially if everyone starts pissing against the walls because they don't want to queue up.

One of the main reasons I enjoy these sorts of nights is the general niceness of everyone there.  We’re all in the same boat, so to speak and one person acting violently would ruin it for everyone.  You can go to clubs in Soho or Camden where there's always at least one knuckle-headed bruiser just waiting for the wrong person to catch his eye.   But here there’s a certain expectancy that you’re going to be a good Samaritan if you see anybody having trouble.  This ranges from someone who’s dropped something on a crowded dancefloor, at which point people will generally clear a small space to help someone find it, or to making sure that the boggle-eyed, sweaty and confused guy staggering around in the frantic glare of a strobe light like a shot elephant is alright.

So it was a nice crowd and a pretty well-dressed one too.  This was after all a Halloween party, and costumes ranging from the lame and to the elaborate were on the dancefloor.    Gore and blood seemed to be on the cards, and occasionally you'd see something lurching out of a cloud of dry ice like a refugee from Silent Hill.  Some of the fake injuries were disarmingly realistic; it’s weird to be dancing next to someone who looks like they’ve had their face sliced up with a cut throat razor, or had the skin peeled off their bodies.   There was also a face-painting station by the front door, so throughout the night the amount of people wandering around bleary eyed with smeared Jokerlike skulls painted on their faces only increased.

This enthusiasm for the macabre was matched by the organisers and Drumcode had made a nice effort to create a Halloween mood.  Behind both DJ booths were two excellent backdrops.  In one room were two large skulls, and throughout the night they had different things projected onto them.  They were faintly hypnotic at times, with huge staring eyes looking around at the crowd.   After a few hours I realised that you can get a surprisingly large amount of design variety on a skull template, I saw blood trickling down them, Day of the Dead influenced designs or electroshock bolts running down past the staring, googly eyes.  In the other room there was a display made up of coffins, skulls and pumpkins, with blue and green graveyard spotlights illuminating the scene.  

Aside from this, there was also a freaky Halloween live show happening in one corner of the room.  People in professional and disgusting looking zombie makeup were being held in a cage in the corner, lurching around and grabbing at anyone foolish enough to get close to the bars.  When they were out of the cage I saw them being leashed on a chain, and led around by a kinky gas-mask wearing long-coated person who treated them with the disdain a zombie deserves.

All of this stuff, enjoyable as it is, is stage dressing though.  What we're here for is the music.  But it's difficult for me to write about techno sets like these.  What is there to say?  Frankly for me, one song melts into the next without any noticeable gaps, and the DJs while obviously talented slightly interchangeable.  What's important is the constant hammer smack of the beat, which very quickly has a hypnotic effect.  The acoustics here are great, the percussion beating hard off the brick walls, and thumping deep inside your lungs.  Occasionally within the throbbing drum beat you get a little synthetic melody or vocal sample that only underlines the heavy nature of the rest of what you're hearing.  It's a sensory overload, something that gets deep inside you, working its tentacles into your brain, your arms and your legs.

It's strange how time seems to get a bit elastic when you're in a place like this, something that was amplified by the clocks going back mid-way through the evening.  You wander into a place at midnight, and 6am can feel like a very very long way away, but then the music takes over and suddenly you're sweaty, used up, scuffed up and it's very early in the morning.  

So I can't really pick out a DJ that I particularly liked more than the others.  Maybe there are techno connoisseurs out there who are shocked that I can't tell the difference between the sets of say, Maetrik or Joseph Capriati.  Don't get me wrong I think they were both great, but I just don't have the critical faculties to be able to pick out any distinguishing details between them.  But not being able to describe why I like it, I do know THAT I like it, and anything that can keep me on two legs dancing for 5 hours or so has got to be worth a damn.

Eventually, at some point on the early Sunday morning the tank ran low on petrol, and my friends and I made a break for the exits.  The night bit harder than I thought it would, so we hopped in a taxi outside the tunnels, and soon were tucked up drinking delicious tea.  It was a brilliant night, Drumcode really know how to go the extra mile to keep their audience happy.  They're a cut above most other people organising these things, and long may they continue.  Judging by how I felt on Sunday though, I think maybe I'll give it a few months before the next one.

All images used with permission of wo0 photography : wo0.co.uk

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